I stumbled upon my most recent step on Friday. My plan had been to go home after work, but instead I made a detour to the mall. My original intent was to pick up something I needed: a new charger to replace my worn and frayed iPhone adapter that was finally dying on me. Once I got there, I even further detoured off course: I went to Victoria’s Secret. I had been needing new panties for a while now, as well as a new bra. They were having a sale. My daughter had mentioned to me that I never seem to buy myself anything, I’m always buying things for them. So I buckled down and I entered.
Most women would be appalled by going underwear shopping. There is little in this world more mortifying than standing in front of a mirror, under unforgiving overhead lighting, and trying on underwear. You might as well glue massive belts of silly putty all over your body for as lumpy and pasty as you look under those lights. I spent a couple of years as a fat girl, then more recently as a well-rounded girl. Unforgiving is a kind word for it. However, since losing 20 pounds in my break up with Ben, my body looks – to be frank – amazing. Flat tummy, toned arms, thighs and ass just the right amount of fleshy without having too much jiggle to them. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a little cottage cheese on the thighs and stretch marks here or there. I’m 32 years old for god’s sake and I’ve had 2 children. But all things considered, I look great.
So for the first time since high school, I was happy with what I saw in the mirror. I tried on bra after bra, panty after panty, and I reveled a bit in my new found sexiness. I held my head high, I had confidence in what I saw. When I left with my bag full of delicious goodies, I felt damn good. I walked outside and the sun was shining. I bought my cell phone charger, stopped at a jewelry store and had bought the cute little robot necklace you see in the picture above, when my tummy growled. I considered all the fast food places I could stop at on my way home. Everything sounded gross. Burgers, fries, sub sandwiches, tacos. Yuck. I considered for a moment the sushi place by my house whose sushi I love. I could just get some take out… and take it home… and eat it alone at my dining room table… Sigh. That didn’t sound good at all. I was happy, I was energetic, the sun was shining. I didn’t want to go home. It struck me then – why don’t I just go out to dinner here? The Blue C Sushi was right around the corner. When the idea fell upon me, it settled my soul immediately and I smiled to myself. Perfect.
People were lining the walls waiting for a seat. I approached the hostess and she smiled and stared. I could hear her brain trying to find a polite way to say “Just you?” so I saved her the trouble after a long silence.
“Just me!” I said, and smiled.
“Oh, okay. Well, there’s a seat open right there along the bar if that’s okay?”
“That works!” I said, and seated myself.
This is great, I thought, no wait when you’re a one instead of a two or a three. Blue C was a perfect place to break the hymen of eating alone as well. I didn’t have to sit in uncomfortable silence as I waited for the waiter to approach with a menu, I didn’t have to look over a menu then wait for the meal to come once ordered. The food was already there, making its way around the conveyor belt. I sat down, pulled down a California roll ( I usually start with a California roll, it readies my palette for what lies ahead) and began to mix my soy sauce and wasabi. The waiter asked what I would like to drink, then brought me my Diet Coke. I was sitting next to a couple and their daughter. They weren’t speaking, just eating and watching the cartoons on the wall as I was. After 5 or 10 minutes, they stood and left and I was at the bar alone for a while. Next a couple sat down, but they left a chair open between themselves and me. I ate my California roll slowly and watched the cartoons. Samurai Jack was playing. I had always liked that show. Pity the sound was off.
I had pulled down some edamame and began to snack away at it when someone came and took the single seat beside me. It was a man, I’m guessing in the range of 22-23 years old. He had nautical tattoos on his arms and a clean haircut. I guessed him for a navy man. He ordered a Sapporo and took down a plate of California roll. He excused himself and took the soy sauce and wasabi from near me. The restaurant is set up for couples, so there was only set between us. I checked my email. There were a few from work that I checked and answered. The man next to me was doing the same thing. I pulled down the vegetable tempura as he pulled down a plate of my next choice: shrimp tempura roll.
We had been sitting there for about 10 to 15 minutes, the two of us, not speaking except to say “excuse my reach” as we got more wasabi. I figured he was pretty harmless in the predator category, and I considered one of my future steps: the park bench. You sit and you have conversations you never would have had, if you hadn’t been alone. That was the adventure, right? So I took a leap. It felt awkward. I went for it.
“Do you usually eat here by yourself?” I asked him.
“What?” He hadn’t heard me. The music is a bit loud there.
“Do you eat here by yourself very often?” I rephrased. He shrugged.
“I’ve eaten here by myself a few times. I usually come with my friends.”
“I’ve never had dinner by myself.” I said.
“Really?!” he said, surprised. That made me feel less weird. “Well, this is a good place to come because you don’t have to wait in line usually, and you don’t have to wait for the food to come, you just pick it off the belt.”
I nodded. He seemed receptive to conversation. He told me about being in from the navy (so I was right!) and how he was stationed on the Lincoln and they were just in port for a month or so. He was from Dallas originally. No accent though. He introduced himself (his name was Preston) with a handshake. I told him about the Project and he was impressed by my decision to take a handle of things. He said being alone isn’t so hard as long as you’re like me – outgoing and social. We shared stories about our tattoos, traded stories about visiting L.A., NYC and San Diego. We sat and talked for about an hour as we ate sushi and he order another Sapporo and I got a refill on my Diet Coke. I talked about my kids, he talked about his parents. There was no flirtation about it, but there was a good social connection there. It was neat. When we were full, we got our checks and left. We didn’t exchange information, but I thanked my temporary friend Preston for his company.
I don’t consider this my “Dinner” step, though technically it was dinner. This restaurant wasn’t a real fancy restaurant with linen napkins, I wasn’t at a table or a booth. It was much more like my Lunch step, I think, only it was later in the day. But I liked this experience so very much. I like that it was spontaneous; I didn’t plan it out and ready myself and walk out the door. It was a natural part of the course of my evening. And that’s what the Project is about, isn’t it? Finding value in my everyday aloneness. Not forcing myself into aloneness, but taking the aloneness that is there and finding the good in it. Settling into it. That’s what I did, and it felt natural.
As with all the steps, I reveled in the fact I had nowhere to be, and no one to answer to. I could take as long as I wanted to eat my sushi and speak with my new friend Preston because it was just me. If someone had been there with me, I would have learned more about them and there is value in that, but since no one was there I was able to learn about this entirely different person. And I also learned a bit about myself. I am easy to talk to. I draw people out. I am always going to be okay being alone, because I am an innately social animal and in some ways I will never be alone. Place me in any setting and I will find a way to thrive. That is a noble attribute.
The Project is working, you guys. Look at me go!