Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

My Superpower Is Being Alone Forever: Party of One

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.

Previously: "My Superpower Is Being Alone Forever"

Joe Berkowitz (text) is a writer living in Brooklyn, if you can even believe that. He also has a tumblr.

Joanna Neborsky (art) is an illustrator living in Brooklyn. She makes books and animations about books.

54 Comments / Post A Comment

laurel (#4,035)

Haven't even finished the first paragraph yet but I've run down here to say that when I read the part about girlfriends making great hostages under the show audience illustration I thought, "Dinosaur Jr., guitar solos."

E (#14,552)

The problem with girlfriends though, is that your hostage taking comes with an expiration date. Once we hit 6 months, trying to get me to go to a Joanna Newsom concert or improv is sort of like trying to get a great dane to go to the vets. Then you have to fall back on your buddies all over again.

fiveoneeight (#872)

Get out of my brain, Berkowitz!!!

I really like these.

davetar (#1,114)

Being a smoker can make a solo outing a little more tolerable. Or less. It has an effect, anyway.

Bittersweet (#765)

Would you really want to make it on to the Yankee Stadium Jumbotron alone?

(Loved this.)

deepomega (#1,720)

Being in a relationship doesn't make this easier unless you are happy only ever socializing with one person. (I am not.) What gets really bad is other entrenched couples, who use each other as excuses for never ever doing anything fun with you. "Sorry, other couple is busy, so……" they will trail off. So what? Did you lose the calipers you use to unhook the umbilical you use to share nutrients and fears? Fuck you. Come hang out with me.

laurel (#4,035)

@deepomega I have a friend who is not allowed to come watch football because his gf doesn't like football. I blame him.

turd_sandwich (#5,660)

@laurel this hurts me

Danzig! (#5,318)

@laurel My bestie from childhood got married to the most unpleasant woman I have ever met and he cannot go anywhere without her. It pains me.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

I relate so much it's scary.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

I recently bought two tickets to see The Spits without knowing if I'd get a second date out of this nice person. She ended up meeting me there and it was good. A few days earlier I went solo to an art opening and that was good too.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@Deleted by user who didn't relate as much I'll brush aside the hyperbole. My ex-girlfriend was very negative and didn't give anything or anyone a chance, but maybe that's where my optimism lies, knowing I escaped unscathed (mostly) and the next person I date will be sweeter (maybe) about doing stuff together. Table for none, I'm cooking at home.

City_Dater (#2,500)

When you find yourself resorting to insane active recruitment tactics, the answer is always Just Go Alone.

And Hostage Girlfriend will stop pretending to like the stuff you like after the 6-month mark unless she's such a mess it would be easier to leave her at home anyway.

WaityKatie (#79,377)

@City_Dater I have adopted this. I do get elbowed out of the way a lot and spend a portion of the time beyond annoyed by asshole conversations around me, but it's way cheaper than constantly eating the costs of tickets I can't use.

dr annabel lies (#14,107)

I just go to stuff I want to go to on my own. What's not to love?

Es (#178,756)

@dr annabel lies
Me too! even when I had a boyfriend I used to go to the cinema on my own because getting him to go was like pulling teeth.

Of course, this is one of those grass is greener things. The downside is that if you're not actually into the same outings, you eventually start feeling guilty since the other party isn't having fun. That leads to fights and trying to find someone else to go with, which of course leads to other fights.

WaityKatie (#79,377)

@forget it i quit I hate going to things I love with people who do not love/do not get them. It's the loneliest feeling in the world. And also, they often ruin the events with their yawning and resentful sighing.

kayjay (#12,791)

As the long-time girlfriend of a prog musician, I have been the Hostage Girlfriend on many, many occasions. Now if I don't want to go, I just shrug and say, "Too proggy." End of discussion.

And dudes at prog shows are frequently alone with naught but their Dream Theater tee-shirts to keep them warm. Seems as if you get what you get if you like what you like. Going alone seems preferable to hostage situations.

werewolfbarmitzvah (#16,402)

@kayjay Oooooooooh yeah, I'm the wife of a guy obsessed with prog rock and jazz fusion, and OH, the venues full of lonely 60 year old men with ponytails I have seen.

kayjay (#12,791)

@werewolfbarmitzvah Really. Because said boyfriend is also a prog musician of some notoriaty, who has recently played in a band of prog musician of lots of notoriaty that toured a lot. Now I'm wondering if I've seen you out there with your husband amongst the pony-tailed Comic Book Guy clones. Because, as you know, only about 3 ladies ever show up to any other those things…

Randy Reiss@twitter (#179,442)

@kayjay @werewolfbarmitzvah I mercifully stopped dragging my wife to turntabilst shows, which eventually expanded to hip-hop shows in general with the exception of the upcoming Kanye/Jay-Z show. The DJ nerds (and hip-hop heads) are my people, not hers. I've come to accept it.

Zinga (#178,737)

BTW, that Portishead show in Asbury Park was a-maz-ing.

kayjay (#12,791)

Oh, and also, I love the theremin.

turd_sandwich (#5,660)

I attest to the success of the shaking-your-moneymaker method. of course drum and bass heads all are old, angry ravers and there's that much in common from the get-go.

schadenfraulein (#178,749)

Yeah. Anyone in LA want to go see the Stooges in a couple weeks? The show was supposed to be in September but Iggy broke his foot so it was postponed but I would've had a date then but but……. Sob.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@schadenfraulein When Iggy Pop is onstage, no date is needed. Iggy Pop is your date.

blergh (#177,628)

@schadenfraulein Wait. The Stooges are playing in LA in a couple of weeks? So I'm in NYC. I'll go with you!

schadenfraulein (#178,749)

@Danzig! I was thinking someone more attentive. And less……sinewy. P.S. You look cute in my avatar.
@blergh What's your sinew situation like?
On a serious note, I usually have no problem going alone to stuff like this, and I'll be fine if I end up giving my ticket away to a stranger, but my (married couple) friends are going too and now I'll be the third wheel. Oh well.

blergh (#177,628)

@schadenfraulein 3rd wheel, schmerd schmeel! Go see the Stooges! And I need to check on the price of plane tickets to LA…

Rose@twitter (#10,984)

Maybe it's because I'm not a dude, but I never really mind going to concerts alone. It's always easier to get a good spot in the crowd when you don't have to worry about a marginally unenthused partner.

WaityKatie (#79,377)

@Rose@twitter Until Giant 7 Foot Man comes 15 seconds before the show starts and stands directly in front of you. Or is that just me?

City_Dater (#2,500)


That just happened to me last time I went to a show alone! I tapped him in the middle of his (giant wide) back and when he turned around, I smiled winningly and said "guess you didn't notice me all the way down here." He was all right with switching places, considering it literally made no difference whatsoever in his view of the stage.

Rose@twitter (#10,984)

@City_Dater @WaityKatie Yes, at least alone you can ask to switch places or subtly skirt around tall guys. And you don't have to feel like an asshole for bringing your tall boyfriend to the front of the crowd even though you know he doesn't really care. (Those are the guys that I really have an issue with at some select concerts.)

apb (#9,461)

@Rose@twitter I don't like going to rock shows with other people because they either want to leave earlier or stay later (less often) than I do.

brette (#178,755)

i want to be you guys' friend.

Danzig! (#5,318)

Speaking of, anybody up for seeing Plaid in Denver on the 18th? I'll buy the drinks!

Plaid! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuIY4nE3fho&feature=related

Deb@twitter (#178,798)

"Unfortunately, people who possess tickets do not necessarily have an easier time getting dates than people who do not possess tickets." #truth. I have a job where I am swimming in tickets to fun things, but I always have to do the inviting, and frequently I just chicken out if it is too soon for "tickets" with a dude and friends are so specific I know when and what they will like. And, sigh, who knew this would be a "problem?" Jeez.

Now I know how to sidle in just as whoever I am seeing starts and scoot right up to the stage so going alone is almost preferred these days, but the seated events are tricky. And I find that the bartenders are looking for someone to take a shot with among the couples and have gotten more than a few free ones. Does this only happen to ladies though? What about the lady bartenders?

The practiced alone-ing can be positive though. If someone ever feels like a hostage, now I just go it alone. But I might also be less apt to be the hostage in the future ;). Is that bad?

astrangerinthealps (#178,808)

You're thinking way too hard. Just go alone. It's what I always do. You have to practice the right look for when you're standing by yourself. I recommend looking at other people, not staring necessarily, but looking intensely enough that they'll feel awkward looking at you. Eventually your superpowers will get so finely honed that when somebody begs you to take them to see some live music you'll hesitate: is it really worth the grief of having to coordinate schedules and watch somebody's spot while they go off for drinks? I promise, this will happen. Get out there, life is short.

WaityKatie (#79,377)

@Fflora To me, the one advantage to going with another human is having someone to save your spot when you go for drinks/pee, although I have still had altercations with douches who don't want to let me back in even when there is someone saving my spot. My solo-concert strategy is calculated dehydration and not moving throughout the whole thing. It is the only way.

Paul B@twitter (#13,135)

Hey Joe Berkowitz, my name is Paul Berkowitz. I don't live in NY these days, but when I'm back around, we can go see Dinosaur JR shows and stand next to each other and look like we have friends who come with us to things and then leave and still go home separately and drink canned wine and listen to Disintegration by ourselves. I'm already a champion at the latter, although I prefer boxed wine. And as for the former, that sold out Daft Punk show in Coney Island was worth going to alone. As was the Butthole Surfers reunion and whatever forgettable movies I've gotten a free ticket to. And all those Vice Magazine parties at Glasslands or whatever where they have free liquor so you can go and see some trendy DJ and drink as many miniature Cold 45s as you can in two hours because at least in that case you're not drinking alone, you're drinking "alone."

Danzig! (#5,318)

What's even worse is when you're into really niche things, like say, Chicago Footwork, and when you can't get anyone to see a show with you, you show up alone to find out that the artists you love are playing to 7 people plus bar staff, and they go at it like it's a job.

"THIS IS MY JAM!" I am going to try to say this sentence in various contexts at least once a day.

the hess (#179,146)

it's normally me forcing boys to sit through 10 minute extended mascis solos. need to meet better boys.

NFK (#8,747)

All the alone forever superpower people should unite and form the Alone Forever League, but without tights.

Meaux (#81,163)

@NFK. I'm in. Definitely no tights, but I'd be OK with leggings.

SeaBassTian (#281)

I'm not straight… but I'd think that not recognizing the fierce on-stage chemistry of Annie Lennox would be a dating deal-breaker.

Screw_Michigan (#8,015)

When I had to drive three hours to see shows and didn't live on the East Coast, I'd regularly buy an extra ticket in case I could get someone to go and split the cost of gas with me. Then I got burned by people on a $75 Wilco ticket (scalped it for $35, was glad I could get that) and a $25 Nada Surf ticket and decided that I wouldn't buy extra tickets anymore. Then I moved to DC and stuck to my decision and I love it. Of all the shows I've been to here since 2008, I've only attended a handful with dates or friends. I'd much rather go by myself and enjoy the show and chat with others or perhaps meet other people than have to escort others and hope they are having a good time or manage their feelings. I've had enough of that.

Bringing dates to shows that cost more than $25 just isn't worth the hassle and financial risk anymore, unless I know they are big fans of the band and that they will have a good time.

servseqaw1 (#179,498)

'NO man in an island i guess

sasuke4267 (#179,706)


Absolutely hilarious: the male version of 'chicklit': what would that be called?

@Ivona Poyntz@facebook "DickLit," obvs.

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