A totally underrated thing about girlfriends is that they make great hostages. Not in the sense that you should threaten to neutralize one per hour if your demands aren’t met, but rather that they’re forced to come along and suffer through any event with you, no matter how long or boring it is or how many guitar solos J Mascis is allotted. As long as you buy the tickets and furnish the requisite number of drinks, they’re legally obligated to stick it out. (Torts of negligence can and have been filed.) But unlike someone in an actual hostage situation, your detainee is expected to have fun—or at least do a convincing impersonation of someone having fun—unless you, yourself, are not, in which case the table is open for freedom negotiations. Having an indentured plus-one around all the time, though, is something that people in relationships take for granted. It’s only after a breakup that you come to fully appreciate the convenience of the arrangement you once had. When you’re single, the act of making plans becomes a complex structure, puffed up full of variables, threatening to collapse at any moment like a soufflé—except rather than delicious pastry cream, it tastes like fear.
A Party of Two is bound by relationship code to tolerate each other’s freakish personal tastes. When you have a designated companion, your sole concern about the Eurythmics reunion can be: Will I be able to beat out the other synth-happy vultures snatching up tickets? But as a Party of One, the more pressing issue is: Which of the seven billion people that exist might be psyched to go to the show with me? Of course, some events are universal crowd-pleasers, spurring whole clusters of friends to jump immediately on board. No sooner are the shows announced then plans coalesce fully formed, and you find yourself part of a big, happy Sweet Dreams scrum jumping up and down in Section C3. Then again, not everybody in your Myspace Top 8 may appreciate the fierce on-stage chemistry of Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart. In such cases, recruiting accomplices one by one feels like masterminding some kind of 1960s heist caper starring The Rat Pack. Everyone wants to know who’s already in; just in case it’s a third wheel they hate or, worse, nobody at all. Frank and Sammy might end up going on side adventures together, just the two of them, but no way would Sinatra ever be Joey Bishop’s wingman.
Nobody ever says “You had me at ‘Laser Floyd’.” Recruiting friends for an outing like that takes some serious persuasion skills. The modern urban nightscape is loaded with other things your friends could be doing; to get them to choose your plan (and pony up for Ticketmaster costs), you have to wield a charm that’s one part Neil Strauss seduction and two parts P.T. Barnum showmanship. You may know in your heart that psychedelic laserplay set to the music of Pink Floyd is always rad, but it’s not enough to just say so. You have to sell the plan, like it’s your Kickstarter project. Doing so might require giving your buddy an impromptu PowerPoint presentation that syncs up “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond” with swirling screensavers—all the while unspooling a series of bulleted lists on the soul-crushing perils of conformity. In other words: no picnic. The only thing more difficult would be talking your really determined friend out of going to Laser Floyd. “Is it seventh grade again?” you might ask this friend, but it won’t register at all.
Maybe you try crowdsourcing instead. “Who wants to tie one on at Comic-Con?” asks your Facebook wall, blinking and shining with hope. What good is having grossly intrusive personal contact with everyone you’ve ever met if you can’t throw a question out to the social-media tides to see what splashes back? Unfortunately, what does wash ashore is often as useless and gross as the polluted debris of a Greek shipping magnate’s drunken yacht-side bacchanal. There are questions your Twitter feed is great for; for example, “anyone know a great acupuncturist?” But when the question is, essentially, “Anybody wanna hang out?” the response is only the sound of waves lapping onto an empty beach. You’re still just as far away from going to Comic-Con, only now everyone knows, and it’s the adult world equivalent of the entire high school reading your journal. Or maybe you do get a response, only it’s from the last person you’d ever want to be alone with—the divorced guy from Marketing who, at least twice a week, strongly urges you to come out for Happy Hour. Now you have to lie about going to Comic-Con or quit your job and live down this ordeal in Bon Iver’s log cabin in Wisconsin. Either way, you’re worse off than before.
Of course, the perfect person to bring along is already staring you in the face; or rather, you’re staring them in the face every time you get caught eye-humping an attractive subway stranger. If initial plans with friends are stalled, the other option is to double-down on a date. You buy two tickets and hope for the best. You take a leap of faith and aim to land in good company. The show is probably far enough out that you could, hypothetically, be up to your eyeballs in new-relationship floor-sex by then. Purchasing the tickets with no prospects lined up is like giving Future-You a fistbump for having it more together than Present-You, who remains resoundingly free of rug burn. It’s external motivation to get out there and actively solicit dates. It’s being the change you wish to see in the world—what Gandhi would surely have done if he were alive and not dating anyone and maybe had a hankering to go see Seussical.
Unfortunately, people who possess tickets do not necessarily have an easier time getting dates than people who do not possess tickets. And now that you have tickets, suddenly this fun thing you wanted to do has morphed into a ticking time bomb. Prior to purchasing, you might have just not gone if no date turned up. Now that you’re all in, not-going would feel like confirmation that, in sitcom terms, you’re the asexual Screech of your friend-circle—with all attempts at romantic fulfillment hilariously doomed. As the deadline draws closer, chances increase that if you do secure a date, this will probably be the first time you two actually go out together in public. Which is bad news because big, splashy events do not make ideal first dates. They carry with them an air of prom-grade pressure since the eventness of such a date practically demands it be a Special Night, with every icky expectation that phrase implies. It’s too much too early; the amount of money you spent on the tickets being proportional to the size of the statement you might be making. It’s like a magician opening up with the Prestige trick and then telling the audience, “I’m coming home with you tonight.”
The company you keep says a lot about you—especially when you’re completely alone. “Clearly no fun to be around,” it might say, or “Olympic-level self-love champion.” It all depends on the situation and how confidently you carry yourself during intermission at Yankee Stadium, knowing full well that nobody ever makes it onto the Jumbotron alone. There are, however, some events which are fashionable to attend by yourself—and, should you appear at them, are the equivalent of being photographed in really flattering candlelight. Solo visits to gallery openings and author readings, for instance, are cred-enhancing as they hint at hidden depths—like a secret fluency in French. Attending concerts alone, though, might hint at personal problems—like public fluency in Elvish. Meeting new people at the show might seem like a way around this. But hovering on the edge of conversations, as if you were at a fancy cocktails party, is more likely to get you elbowed in the sternum than included. What might win other concertgoers over is if you dance like nobody’s watching—or, better yet, dance like Joe Pesci is watching and threatening grave harm if your moves aren’t sufficiently funky. Considering you have to shout to be heard anyway, and the fact that there’s literally never anything to say at a concert beyond “This is my jam!” perhaps it’s okay not to swap witticisms with strangers there.
A few months ago I found myself resigned to hoping that the first NYC-area Portishead show in 13 years would sell out right away—just so all the decisions related to going would be made up for me. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to just throw in the plans-towel altogether, embracing the spontaneity that is every unattached person’s birthright. Instead of being the patient zero of potentially unpopular ideas, I’d simply receive them, like a Dickensian orphan waiting to fill his gruel-bowl with so many Rocktoberfests and Mermaid Parades. When plans are kicked around in emails (subject line: “YOU GUYS!”) I’d be the first one to respond, sure, I just wouldn’t ever lead the charge—at least not until safely locked inside of an “us” again. The thing is, there’s always an inherent risk in making plans, whether you’re spoken for or not. Unless you want to be the couple who quietly puts off an imminent breakup just to honor orchestra seats for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, buying tickets does not guarantee a future together. Also, even if you do arrive at an event with a perfect McDonald’s commercial cross-section of friends, the show itself might suck and one of those friends might throw up all over everything, and now you need an outing to get away from your outing. It’s liberating to realize that even in the best-case scenario, plans can go foul, because that means the reverse is true, too. Perhaps even in the worst of all possible worlds—shuffling along through the outer realms of Mohegan Sun with that tool from Marketing—your night could turn out amazing. Just don’t plan on it.