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.”
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.
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.
So, so good! Read the other parts in the series:
Planning the end of a relationship is probably the closest many of us will ever get to knowing what it’s like to plot a murder.
Oddly enough, the most honest moment in a relationship usually arrives once it’s over. It’s the “speak now or forever hold your peace” part of the wedding, only inverted. You tell the couple why they’re terrible for each other, and the couple is you. Suddenly, the preceding months or years have an air of unreality—like they never happened at all or turned out to be one long Christmas Ghost hallucination.