Not again! I thought to myself as I pawed through my massive “purse.” My fingers continued to aimlessly scrape the bottom of my bag as I faced the reality that—with my keys left at the office and none of my roommates answering my forlorn text messages—I was stranded on the streets of New York City.
In my mind I was left with two choices: Take 90 minutes to go back to the office for my keys, or treat myself to dinner at the restaurant I was dying to try down the street. The siren call of a good meal won.
OK, maybe a nice dinner wasn’t my only other option. But I can’t help but feel a little proud that the idea even crossed my mind. I wasn’t always so comfortable dining alone.
There was a time, not so long ago, that the idea of marching into a hip restaurant and asking for a table for one would have made me uncomfortable at the very least or, quite possibly, terribly depressed about my single status. Shouldn’t I have someone to go with me by this point?
Despite the well-worn joke among friends that I would definitely not be married before 30, I admit I hoped the jokes would be wrong. It’s not that I was sitting around waiting for a man—I’ve traveled extensively and started a business, after all!—but I did, and still do, want to get married. I wasn’t one to dream about my wedding, but I had fantasized about married life since I was a teenager. Making a home together, cooking dinner, yelling at the kids, waking up with someone. And the other things you do when you’re married—taking romantic vacations in exotic places, having a partner to indulge in fancy overpriced dinners for date night, maybe buying a house. It all seemed pretty great.
So I used to nod along in agreement as my single friends bemoaned all the married-life perks we miss out on in our nearly-30-and-still-single state. Fresh out of college, at the ripe age of 23, I distinctly remember having a conversation with a coworker about his girlfriend who had just turned 29. We were all giving him a hard time, because hey, you know, she’s going to want you to put a ring on it before she turns 30, bro! (I mean, duh, we all know it’s the age we turn into pumpkins if we’re still single. AmIright?)
I guess it’s no surprise that, as my mid-20s creeped into my late-20s, I was getting a bit anxious. I had already cycled through many roommates who had moved out upon their happy nuptials, and the summers of weddings every other weekend had morphed into summers of baby showers and birthing stories. I wanted to move into the next phase of my life.
And then came the turning point in my sad single-person narrative.
As I sat drying my tears after a breakup, I had an epiphany of sorts (very Bridget Jones, I know). I realized I wasn’t mad at my ex for breaking up with me, per se. But I couldn’t help but resent him for robbing me of my chance to move on from the terrible purgatory of waiting to get married.
I looked around my apartment and suddenly saw it for what it was: a waiting room. It was filled with the cast-offs of my now-married roommates, the cheap placeholder items that would be replaced by wedding registries full of high-end items. The too-large couch, the Ikea bookcase, the chintzy TV stand, mismatched pots and pans, assorted bedding. I was simply holding on for my turn to put aside the shabbiness of single waiting and emerge into what I saw as the bright, shiny world of beginning my “real” life. Married life.
It might sound silly, but that moment of realization was incredibly freeing. Why did I need to have a husband to decorate my apartment? Why did nice things only come in the form of a wedding gift?
So I did what I should have done a long time ago: I shed the mantle of shabby single life and swapped it for a brand new one that was brimming with life and—if I may say so—style.
After banishing the castaway furniture and the depressing dishware, I began the work (and joy) of redecorating. It wasn’t even an expensive undertaking—I scoured Craigslist and West Elm sales and eventually fell in love with a set of plates at Ikea, of all places. But I loved it. Finally, I was happy to come home at night and curl up in my corner chair. I loved having friends over for drinks in a space that I was proud of and serving meals, even just for me, on those new dishes.
It’s been a slow transformation, but I started extending my “Why wait?” mantra to other areas of my life.
I had been longing for a beach vacation in a secluded bungalow—one of many honeymoon daydreams over the years—so when I came across a 50 percent off sale in Belize, I booked it. Alone. It was the most rejuvenated I had felt after a vacation in years.
I’ve tried to do some gardening (miserable fail) and hosting dinner parties (much more successful). I’ve worked on my spiritual life and taken a couple of coding classes. It’s been great to develop my sense of self for me now, no matter what my life might bring. That’s a lesson that I think will serve me well no matter what state of life I find myself in—single, married, or otherwise.
Back at the restaurant down the street, as I eagerly waited for my waiter to bring the first course, I knew that I would enjoy my meal unspoiled by the bitter taste of a life on hold. So yes, I’m proud of my fancy restaurant dinner for one. It was delicious. Maybe one day I’ll get to share that little spot with someone else. But for now, it’s pretty damn great on my own.