In that time of life when most single (and attached, for that matter) young men and women spend their weekends at parties or bars, I find myself particularly singled out.
I don’t drink, and do not wish to spend copious amounts of time in the midst of those who do, so I have never frequented a bar, tavern, pub, or anything of the like.
I’m also a bit of a social hermit. Please don’t misunderstand: I love people, but I’m more of a one-on-one hanging out in either total silence or deep conversation sort of girl. I can count the number of close friends free enough (and willing enough) to simply spend an evening together on one hand. And two of those handful live over five states away. One lives across an ocean.
I’m at the stage between education and family. Pursuing a career, but not aggressively enough that it takes up my evenings. It’s an enjoyable time of life: free, spontaneous, full of discovering life and its idiosyncrasies. Sometimes it is a bit too free, considering I’ve found myself nailing photo frames to the wall at 11pm, not realizing until the next morning that my neighbors likely found the intrusion less than pleasant.
As free and exciting as it is, however, I must admit there is a cost to freedom. A loneliness sets in when no one cares that you finished that big project at work today. When you need an opinion on which lamp to buy and there’s no one to ask. When the cop pulls you over for a broken taillight because there’s no one to tell you that it’s gone out. When you go to a coffee shop at 7pm despite your low budget and caffeine tolerance simply to be around people.
Maybe tonight someone will want to chat. The baristas are usually friendly, and I know most of them by name. At the very least, I can people-watch and imagine interactions with my fellow coffee shop squatters.
Surely I am not alone in these circumstances. In fact, I know I am not. I meet many a similarly-stationed young woman in my weekly coffee shop hop.
But not as many as I expect to meet. I expect other girls to be like myself. If you’re lonely go out, even if it’s by yourself. If you’ve watched too much Netflix that week go out, even if it’s by yourself. If you’ve seen so many British talk shows you can speak your thoughts in Scottish, Irish, and posh London accents, you go out. Even if you’re by yourself.
But my fellow females are not this way, it seems. They are far more sociable. They either accumulate a vast array of acquaintances with whom they can while away the cafe’ hours, or they avoid public appearance to perpetuate the idea they are not, in fact, lonely.
Young women consider loneliness – and subsequently being in public alone – an embarrassment. I’m often curious at these actions. Are they afraid of vulnerability? Are they bored with things they could do on their own in a coffee shop (reading, writing, and the like)? Are they not actually lonely at all and I’m the only one insane enough to go looking for strangers to alleviate my boredom before calling up those two friends who live nearby?
Am I the only one who gets so distracted by the pleasures at home (read: internet) that I rely on the pseudo-accountability of a public arena to get anything profitable accomplished? Perhaps my insecurities set me apart from others sharing my circumstances, but I would rather not think this way as it feels somewhat rude, self-centered, and just a bit vain.
But there must be a reason why often of an evening I find myself at a coffee shop surrounded not by similarly-minded females, but (like tonight) young men with laptops and smart phones. Perhaps a notebook or two.
Traditionally men are less sociable than women. Is this an example? Yet perhaps they are here for the same reasons I am: the desire for potential companionship, but failing that, at least some profitable accomplishment.
Rarely do I find myself in a room of people who think or act like myself. I’ve always been slightly concerned by this as I consider myself quite normal; I watch friends group up, laughing, talking and enjoying simply being with one another, yet I’ve never found my group. I’m discovering that just maybe the reason I can’t find that room full of kindred souls is because we are of the type to avoid rooms of people…
Perhaps these coffee shops full of young men (and admittedly the occasional girl) are my people. All content to do our own thing, surreptitiously observing one another, content with allowing another to make the first step toward friendship, yet all secretly hoping for that perfect casual conversation starter. Like, “may I share your table?” or, “that’s a great song they’re playing,” or, “what are you working on?”
More often than not, the evening wanes and we filter away at our individual paces, having spoken only to the barista for those brief minutes of necessary communication. The feeling as you drive away is one of both satisfaction and disappointment. Satisfaction that at the very least you spent your time more profitably engaged than you would have watching that random movie at home by yourself. But disappointment at another night gone by that held the promise of human interaction, and flitted away sadly unfulfilled.
You go home. You watch that movie anyway. You resolve next time to include a friend in your evening plans. And perhaps the next time you do; but it’s not the same. And you feel the pull to revert to what you know. Floating in a sea of strangers, watching, hoping, knowing. Knowing in your heart of hearts that this is who you are.