A date night at the Bijou Art Cinemas on East 13th Avenue: I feel flustered and find myself battling between excitement and insecurity. I take my time getting ready: hair and makeup, on point. Outfit: classy with a pinch of sex appeal. I’m not worried about my looks — the worry comes from the date itself and where this night might lead (and the last-minute conundrum: not being able to recall the last time I washed this thong.)
Nearing 7 pm: I’m out the door, my head a flurry of thoughts as I make my way to the theater.
Walking up to the building, I notice the rhododendron blossoms surrounding the entrance, which matched the delicate intricacy of the cream-colored structure. I open the front door and find myself bathed in dim lighting that sets the mood. Buying my ticket, I stand awestruck, looking over the selection of indie movies galore.
I pick a seat in the cozy theater and shut off my phone (goodbye, outside world). The previews flicker to life on the small screen. Settled in and ready for the film, I reach for my glass of wine and realize how comforting it is to be with myself; to be alone.
Alone — a loaded word that is undergoing dramatic shifts as growing numbers of people adopt it as a lifestyle, more so than ever before in U.S. history. People young and not-so-young are trading in the traditional milestone of marriage for a different kind of commitment: being single.
Singlehood, by choice or circumstance, is no easy journey and is often bombarded by social stigmas or pressure to hop on the Tinder train for the occasional validation of a one-night stand. Plenty of single people, however, are choosing to date themselves instead of giving into the pressure to shop around.
“Self-dating” is a term for those flying solo with a self-oriented goal. It is a commitment to oneself — passions, career and dreams — and it builds an intimate relationship with yourself instead of hooking up with another person (or people) in the stereotypical romantic way.
It means getting to know yourself, for yourself.
Step One: Therapy
“I’ve made a new resolution,” I said on a phone call while suffering a bad case of mal-connection. “I want to get into a relationship with myself.”
Meg Blanchet, a local holistic healer with plenty of relationship therapy-themed workshops under her belt, replied with a pause — either processing or trying to hear me over the static — and then belted out with a laugh like a hug: “That’s just wonderful!”
Blanchet, 59, is devoted to helping cultivate healthy relationships in any aspect of a person’s life, starting with the relationships people have with themselves. Her perspective on self-love was sewn in her Santa Cruz upbringing and has helped Eugeneans who are divorced, married and everything in-between build healthy relationships with themselves. She describes the need to get to know yourself as paramount; the relationship needs to be honest, accepting and intimate.
“If you’re not in a relationship with yourself, then you’re not going to be in the right relationship with others,” she says.
Right. I’ve heard this before and read it in a handful of late-night, lonely Google searches. You can only love others if you love yourself. So, where’s the magician and how do I pull self-love out of my ass?
Blanchet recommends courting yourself. With quality time and a focus on yourself, something inside eventually starts talking back, giving you guidance for the rest of your self-exploration trip. She explained to me how our body and mind know what we really want, but it’s up to you to take the time needed to understand and know how to listen to what these parts of you are saying.
“You’ve got to listen deeply inside of yourself and think, ‘What gives me joy?’” Blanchet explains.
The rewards of spending more time with yourself — as opposed to chasing after any attractive distraction walking by — are subtle. You’re not given a pat on the head or a golden star for getting to know yourself.
What you do discover, according to Blanchet, is another kind of happiness. “You’re going to be looking less to others to complete you — more to be sharing with you instead of to be completing yourself in some way,” she explains.
“I think you’re better able to recognize what’s going to really be the most wholesome relationship for you,” she continues. “Nobody else can make you happy. You can be happy with someone or without someone.”
Table for One, Please
Courting myself? OK. I’m attractive, have a fine personality and I find myself absolutely hilarious. The only thing that stood between me and a self-date to paint the town was hesitation of trying out something far from my norm.
For eight years, I’ve either been in some form of committed relationship or on a binge of one-night-stands to keep loneliness at bay. So, I decided to start off dating myself with baby steps: something small, simple and with little to no chance of talking myself out of it.
A movie it is, then.
As it turns out, the Bijou Art Cinemas is one of the top spots for moviegoers taking themselves on a date.
Julie Blonshteyn, who has been working at Bijou Arts Cinemas for nearly two and a half years, guesses about 20 people come to the theater by themselves during an average week. She describes seeing so many independent moviegoers as incredible.
“It happens a lot more here than in other places because of the kind of environment this is,” she says. “It’s more like art-house movies,” Blonshteyn adds, noting that in comparison to movies shown in multiplex theaters, art-house movies are “more cerebral … I can think about it, and a lot of times there will be people who want to talk about it who have seen it, and we can stand in the lobby or sit in the courtyard and discuss movies. That happens all the time.”
Richard Hayley, a young 20-something in Eugene, frequents the Bijou for some quality alone time. Unlike its more crowded sister theater in the downtown area, this artsy cinema is a quiet retreat. “That’s one of the draws, because I have a low capacity for human interaction,” he says. Hayley’s experience of choice at the Bijou is attending a rainy day matinée and sipping beer using Red Vines for a straw.
On my first self-date to the Bijou, I sat in the dark, fidgeting with insecurity. A conversation sparked in my head. I rambled on about how interestingly the silhouettes of people bobbed in front of me and giggled over jokes I made, amazed by my own sense of humor. I realized something: This is me enjoying my own company.
And damn, it felt empowering.
After venturing further outside my comfort zone of sitting alone in a dark theater, I found that once you go to a place by yourself — whether you’ve been there before with friends or a partner — the whole scene can change. You may notice new details or spark up a debate in your head. You may even realize you don’t actually like a place as much as you did when you were smashed and flirting with that questionably cute bartender downtown while your friends belted out karaoke songs.
As I went more and more places by myself, a checklist slowly started compiling itself. Yes to that bar, yes to that park, and stay the hell away from that one club.
Scattered around Eugene are plenty of havens for the single crowd. Poppi’s Anatolia is a quaint, Indian and Greek restaurant downtown with plenty of tables for two — for you and your favorite book (or glass of wine).
Apart from the busy downtown crowd, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the University of Oregon’s campus has a fairytale-esque courtyard where you can have an existential chat with yourself after strolling through exhibits.
Bike rides and strolls through your part of town are a given and are easygoing ways to catch up with yourself.
When you go places alone — phone off and all — you’re sharing opinions, ideas and experiences with someone who plays an irreplaceable role in your life. You’re getting to know yourself.
So, Are You Seeing Anyone?
This question gets eased into catch-up chats with a handful of my family members and old friends. I can always tell when it’s coming: after a discussion about how I’m doing and right before diving into a career-choice talk.
They pause, give me a smile and ask sweetly, “So, are you dating anyone new lately? I know it’s been a while.”
By this point, I’m internally screeching; on the outside, however, I reply with a patient smile and a “no,” explaining how this year I’m focusing on myself and my career.
I don’t have time to be somebody’s somebody, honestly.
Pressure to date comes in multiple forms and can affect people young, old and all across the broad spectrum of identities. But one particular audience is given quite a bit more attention than others: women.
If you identify or were socialized as a woman, being in some form of a romantic relationship is usually held as a milestone of worth and validation. To top it off, you have the largest realm of media portrayals directed at your love and sex life.
There is a growing number of media promoting the idea of women being single, although most of them wind up alluding to getting married, getting laid or eventually being in a relationship.
But there are plenty of women who are choosing to throw themselves into passions, careers and friendships instead of indulging another round of serial dating.
According to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, 150 million people 18 and older identified as single in 2013 (the majority of which had never been married, widowed or divorced), and 53 percent of those folks were women.
It can be isolating and overwhelming for some women who decide to be — and stay — single. During moments of weakness, I desperately turn to Google to help me find a sense of camaraderie.
Although articles that intersect across multiple identities are still largely outweighed by the generic headlines of “How to Succeed in Life: Be in a Relationship or Get Laid, A Guide for White Heterosexuals,” a shift is happening. Resources are popping up with themes of being single and how it’s a damn good thing.
Hannah Orenstein, a 22-year-old freelance writer currently living in New York, has written for Cosmo, xoJane, Thought Catalog and other popular on-and-offline publications. She reminds me of a more modern Rory Gilmore who took the Cosmopolitan path as opposed to presidential campaign reporting. Orenstein is sweet, fashionable and determined as fuck.
A handful of her articles reflect what it’s like to be a woman in her 20s who is fulfilled, adventurous and doing it without a relationship.
Orenstein explains how being single can look like different things to different people. “I think in general there are two different phases of being single. One is really not seeing any body at all and the other is you’re not seeing any one particular person, but you might be dating multiple people or you might just be hanging out with a couple people on a casual basis.”
At times, we need some extra lovin’ in our lives, while at other points we may need to focus on ourselves. When you choose the latter, pressure can reach beyond the media hype of finding your soul mate; it can come from your family.
Orenstein giggles about her own experiences with her grandmother who relentlessly tries to play matchmaker. “How to Deal with the Pressure to Date from Family & Friends,” published on Her Campus, is an article she wrote in response to her own experience with insistent family members, as well as the prodding that comes from friends.
Women have their own priorities, and dating or hooking up may not make the cut. “I think for that person the best thing they can do is to just take time for themselves and reconnect with what they love to do,” Orenstein says. “Maybe they’ll want to date somebody later on, maybe they don’t, and either way that’s totally fine.”
Those who identify as men are also smashed into a mold of what their love and sex lives should look like. The idea of “getting some” or feeling the need to play the role of someone’s romantic savior are often projected as achievements worthy of a reward by friends, family and media.
But maybe instead of “tapping that,” men should be more focused on getting to know themselves — who they are, how they act and how this plays into the world around them.
Non-binary folks and people of color have more neglectful or misrepresenting media attention plastered all over their experiences — most of them often inaccurate and tokenizing.
Whoever you are, it can be a blessing to step back and examine what the hell your life actually looks like. Finding your own identity and what that entails, how it needs to be taken care of in order for your relationship with yourself to be strong and sustainable, is all a part of quality time with your own damn self.
Lonely, I’m So Lonely
Once I committed to myself and moved past the exhilaration of those first couple of self-dates, things got a little bumpy.
To be honest, after a year and a half of dating myself, I’ve spent countless nights snuggling up to a pillow wishing it had a pulse and daydreaming about my vibrator having a “human companion” setting.
Self-dating is more an obstacle course to fulfillment than a solo stroll at sunset. Most of us are taught from a young age that romance and a sex life are fully dependent on other people — a mindset that can eventually lead us to cluelessness as to what our actual desires and needs are.
A while ago a friend of mine lent me the book Loneliness as a Way of Life by Thomas Dumm. As I flipped through its pages, a surge of both familiarity and comfort came from the author’s take on the difficulties of being alone.
In his book, Dumm points out how being alone has become a negative experience for people of all different races, genders and sexual identities, and how solitude, when approached with a healthy attitude, actually can be of utmost value in love, loss and life in general.
“For being alone is not only the worst we can experience,” Dumm writes. “It is also the inevitable moment of some of our greatest experiences. In the solitude of ourselves we learn something that is otherwise unavailable to us — how to become who we are. This is no small accomplishment.”
One of the biggest hurdles in being alone is doing just that. The steady increase of online social networks, dating and hook-up sites, plus the wonderful world of smartphone apps, has caused an enormous growth in socializing accessibility.
These readily available resources to the hook-up scene might be the exact reason so many folks these days experience being alone as an obstacle rather than a blessing.
People have an overwhelming amount of access to finding someone when they’ve got the itch. Dating and sleeping around have become the norm, and apps like Tinder are an increasingly popular outlet for one-night fulfillment.
In the “Being” section of his book, Dumm examines how these fickle means of socializing are a spectacle that expends all of our energy — energy that could be spent nurturing our own resources to get to know ourselves and build healthier, richer connections with other people.
“The inclination of modern life, with its distractions and shallowness, obscures the deeper fact of our separation from each other,” Dumm writes.
If you can “find yourself” amidst this readily available, steady sexual income, that’s an empowering discovery on its own. On the other hand, some people might need to step back and take a good look at themselves, by themselves.
When you shut off your computer and put down your phone, you finally have time to work on yourself. But this could be a difficult state to uphold if you’re used to the constant stimulations of scattered socializing. Or, as Dumm concludes at one point, “the condition of loneliness emerges from our attempts to solve the problem of divided love.”
Maybe you’re not in love with your dozens of Tinder crushes, but in the commitment to dating yourself, you could find your affections going towards someone who really, really deserves it: you.
I didn’t choose to be single. My ass got dumped, and a shit-storm breakup ensued. What I did choose was to take myself to the movies on a lonely night.
When the film ended, the lights came back to life and I walked myself home with a pleasant wine buzz and in that after-movie daze. The feeling of accomplishment was intoxicating; I did something for myself, by myself.
I wanted more.
So now I choose to continue finding out new ways to show myself love, exploring where I like to go, who I like to be around and what I like to do (and what I actually like in bed).
There are endless amounts of circumstances that cause singlehood: an abusive relationship, a spouse who disappears from your life unexpectedly or a relationship that just wasn’t right. Sometimes, choosing to be single may not be the most viable choice to make for financial, health or familial reasons.
At any stage of your life, however, you always have the opportunity to devote time and energy towards getting to know yourself — or, rather, your self.
This may mean taking yourself out to dinner or sitting with yourself while watching the sun go down over those lazy, distant mountaintops. It could mean traveling by yourself or making a solo relocation to new digs, a new city.
And it could mean taking a few seconds out of the day to ask yourself how you’re doing.
Whether you’re in a relationship, sleeping around or a combination of the like, go to a movie, grab a drink or take a walk … by yourself. Spark up an interesting conversation in your head and develop a relationship with the one person you’ll always be with.
Say hello to yourself.