Friends, Singletons, Countrymen: One is Just a Number

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

How do you ask someone on a NOT date? As in, you know someone who seems really cool, who you’d like to be friends with, but you don’t know how to find an excuse to hang out without coming across as either misleadingly interested or creepy?
— Rebecca, seconded by R

In many ways, this is similar to asking someone on a romantic date. You still want to talk to them a bit first so that you don’t seem creepy, and you still want to be really clear about your intentions (obviously), but the ways to go about the second part are totally different. It’s really about what you ask and how you ask it.

The first and most important part to not seeming like you are hitting on them is not to touch them. It is a weird and stupid part of American culture that all touching is seen as potentially sexual. We can talk another time about why this puritanical holdover is dumber than most stupid things America does, but for now, the point stands. You don’t have to be weird about not touching them, but if there is an opportunity for an arm graze or a hug or a back pat, don’t take it.

Focus your ask around whatever reason you think they would be really cool to hang out with – If he has really great style, compliment his outfit and make sure that you specify that you want to talk about his fashion sense. If she makes biting, insightful points in your English seminar, tell her you really appreciate it and would love to hear more about her take on the pieces you’re reading, and her recommendations for other books.

Keep your language really un-sexy. Avoid the phrase “get to know you better,” because somewhere along the way this has developed the subtext of “without clothes on.” You can come right out and say “I would love to be friends with you”: it’s flattering and to the point. Or you can be a little more vague and say “I want to get your opinion on x very important and un-gendered thing that you will likely know about.”

And lastly, invite them to something that you would never do on a date. Ask them to do something with a group of your friends (who will also not be on dates) as a low-pressure friend date. And definitely ask them to go to Sharples with you. Preferably for breakfast or lunch, because there are few things as un-sexy as fish taco bar. Of course, all of these provisions may fail. We Swarthmoreans are notoriously thickheaded about other people’s intentions. But in the worst-case scenario, “This is not a date. I just want to be your friend.” seems to work pretty well.

I know that I’ve been using fewer personal anecdotes than originally promised, and I’ve been doing that for a couple of reasons. Partially, it’s less risky for me to write the column when it’s harder for y’all to figure out who I am, and partially life stories take up space and these columns are already averaging 400 words over recommended length. But I recently passed a milestone that I feel compelled to share. I just celebrated my Selfiversary.

For those of you who don’t know what this dumb made-up word means, it means that I have been single for over a year. I just like calling it a selfiversary because it sounds like I am celebrating being with me, rather than celebrating being alone. Somehow it just seems nicer. For many people, this would not be a landmark occasion and it really shouldn’t be – I was single yesterday and I’m single today and nothing has changed – except that it is really weird to me. Because before this year, I had effectively not been single since I hit puberty. I mean, I had, but not for more than a couple months at once.

Naturally, I had hoped to celebrate this solo bat mitzvah in style, having achieved some level of poise and assurance in my year of living singly. I wanted to do something fabulous like talking to other human beings, but the universe had other plans. It gave me the KFC Doubledown of viruses, leaving me succumbing to the healing powers of my bed and drinking orange juice by the half gallon in my underwear while watching Pretty Woman (Hence no column last week. Sorry, but you do not want to see the draft my delirious fever-brain came up with). Clearly, I have not achieved self-actualization.

And yet I will admit that I have been fairly Zen about the whole Singleton birthday. Especially compared to the wreck I was when I passed my previous single milestone. It is easy to see this kind of marker as the beginning of an unwanted trend, the start of a 40-year walk in the desert that ends, not in Canaan, but with 50 cats and endless reruns of Murder She Wrote.

This is of course ridiculous thinking, but it seems to be the mindset of my parents. Now that I no longer live at home, they are unable to take the hands-on approach to my love life that they used to adopt. (I have been set up on a date by my parents. It was made even more awkward by the fact that I had a boyfriend at the time I hadn’t told them about.) Instead, they have taken to giving me the entirely unhelpful advice that I should date every male I know, which they reiterate every time I call home. Each phone call seems to have a section that goes something like this (names and details have obviously been changed):

SM: “So I had dinner with Paul Bunyan the other day, and…”
Dad: “Who is Paul Bunyan? Have you mentioned him before?”
SM: “Yeah he’s my friend. He helped me out with that logging problem.”
Dad: “Do you like him?”
SM: “Um, he’s nice.”
Dad: “Is he sweet on you?”
SM: “Probably not.”
Dad: “You should kiss him.”
SM: “Wait, what?”
Dad: “You should kiss him. It’s the best way to figure out if he likes you.”
SM: “Um. He’s kind of tall. I think he would see me coming.”
Dad: “Now you’re just being ridiculous.”

In case you were wondering, I have not kissed Paul Bunyan, and will continue to not do so unless he gives any indication that he has interest in me outside of being an occasional dinner partner.

I am taking a different tack with the whole situation. I may not have achieved inner peace, but I would like to believe that I have learned some things while spending some quality time with me, myself and I. The first, most obvious, and least often said, is that being single is not a big deal. It does not mean that you will die alone, especially when it happens in college. It does not mean that no one loves you. All it means is that you currently do not have a significant other. Simple as that.

I do have a few brief words of advice for making the best of your single time:

1. Hang out with friends.
Obviously, you are and should be doing this anyway, but it’s more important when you are single to have a lot of social interactions that are not based around finding a hook-up or significant other. These things are great, but getting them should not be the focus of your life.

2. Masturbate.
Not 100% necessary, but keeping yourself relatively sexually satisfied makes not having a significant other much less frustrating.

3. Find a traditional couple activity that you like to do alone.
I went to my first movie by myself fairly soon after I started driving, and it felt so deliciously grown up that I kept doing it. It doesn’t hurt that my two favorite movie activities are seeing independent comedy/dramas like City Island, Blue Valentine, and The Brothers Bloom that I find in my procrastination-fueled internet life and attending romantic comedies in order to get cathartically mad at the stupid gender and relationship tropes they support. Few people like to see movies they’ve never heard of, especially when the plot summary includes “Rinko Kikuchi as a trendy mute demolitions expert,” nor do they really like to attend movies in order to create rage. This is clearly an example specific to me and my personal weirdnesses – for you it might be going to restaurants by yourself, or taking long walks on the beach while holding your own hand. Whatever it is, it feels strangely liberating to celebrate yourself the way dating people do.

4. Be okay with staying in.
If you do not want to go out one night and would prefer to eat ramen noodles in front of a Veronica Mars marathon, it does not mean that you have given up. It means that you like quality television and know the value of taking time for yourself.

5. Be nice to yourself.
This encompasses a couple things. It means treating yourself well – going to the gym if you want to, eating vegetables sometimes. But it also means stopping the negative self-talk. I am not afraid to go all Dr. Phil on your ass and say that you are a worthwhile person, and you have to start believing it. Being mean to yourself doesn’t help anything, and when you’re single, the two of you are spending an awful lot of time together.

We never know what happens next. In a week, I could be on a big blue ox ride toward happily ever after with Paul Bunyan. But more likely than not, I will still be single. And that’s fine.

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