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.

15 thoughts on “Friends, Singletons, Countrymen: One is Just a Number

  • February 28, 2011 at 5:27 am

    "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."

    Ok that is DEFINITELY telling someone you're into them and if it's not, I don't know what is. Frankly, I probably don't know what is…STILL don't say that to a friend. Nobody REALLY cares about books, c'mon…

    Also, asking someone to go to fish taco bar with you…need I say more?

    And a real question:

    What are you thoughts on platonic cuddling, and how do I get someone to platonic-cuddle with me without creeping them out?

  • February 28, 2011 at 8:19 am

    This sounds like thuggery; kind of like that for which romantic comedies are known. lol.

  • February 28, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Good question, @Peter. On another note, how do I get someone to platonic-screw me without creeping them out?

  • February 28, 2011 at 9:48 am


    WHy are you trying to make the relationship columnist answer that question? I'm still not going to cuddle with you. STOP ASKING.

  • February 28, 2011 at 11:25 am

    What about hyper-sexual cuddling?

  • February 28, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Specifically looking at number 1 and 3 "making the best of your single time."
    I appreciate the SM for this column but a single year single is not very long (by the standards of many of us here) and these two suggestions seem to assume that the reader has not already been doing this for years… It gets pretty old especially when all you friends are dating so they are not as available.
    I would like to encourage people to do this to a certain extent; HOWEVER, if you want things to change then you should not keep doing it.
    The biggest problem I am having this year with dating is that people in my class year have stopped going out on weekends. As we go through Swarthmore the people we meet in classes, athletics, interest groups, etc. stay relatively consistent so if we want to meet someone new then it must be done outside of these areas.
    Being single can be nice (If you have never experienced it) but if you have grown tired of it then GO OUT. I would be happy to go out to dinner with you, watch a movie, dance for hours, or cuddle all night but if you don't come out on a Saturday night (for example) or meet me halfway then we will never find each other. No one is going to come and knock on your door and announce that you are now on a date.
    So yes, enjoy being single, but also go out, ask someone out, even to lunch, and don't look with fear and skepticism at every person to show interest in you. Relationships can occur naturally but they are far less likely when you don't leave your room / library of choice.

  • February 28, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    God, Alex '12, why do you just assume I'm talking about you? There are others! So self-involved… In fact, I can't even be sure who you are, because for all I know there are multiple people named Alex in 2012 who would be awesome to cuddle with!

    Also…why not? And how do you know I wasn't hoping the anonymous relationship columnist would cuddle with me?

    And Susana: I met your bf, like, a week ago.

  • February 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    I personally find romantic love overrated these days; people are afraid to be alone. Why don't we just focus on just being friends with others? There is so much more long-term satisfaction in that. More likely than not, most relationships will end after a certain period of time. Given this, why don't we put more value on what will probably carry you through the tough times in life?

  • March 1, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Amen to comment #6.

  • March 2, 2011 at 1:10 pm


    Hopefully the list of people you're sending "why won't you cuddle with me" emails at 4 in the morning isn't long enough that you can't figure out who this is. Also, there are two Peters in 2011 and I know who you are.

    Sorry, Gazette public. I'm sick and bitchy.

  • March 2, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Um, Ms. SM, I'm back. I think I've replaced Lucy with you. So I'm gonna do it – I'm gonna go and ask my little Red-Haired Girl out (in reality she's a dirty blonde freshman). Now I know this sounds pathetic/elementary but how should I act/conduct myself on a date and what counts as a "date" at Swarthmore? Do we have to leave campus? Can I just ask her to some campus activity? And if the latter works how do I ask her in a way that she doesn't misconstrue as me asking her on a friend-date. Charlie Brown has been friend-zoned far too many times. It's time for me to finally win (at baseball of course)

  • March 3, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Oh jeepers. I should check this more often.

    @Peter, it seems that your question has caused quite the controversy, so I think I might just leave it alone. I'm also a little creeped out by the fact that you trying to get me, someone you may or may not actually know, to cuddle with you.

    @Susana, that's pretty easy actually, because you don't have to do much. You should tell whoever is in charge of screwing you, either your roommate or friend etc., that you want a platonic date. They are in charge of making sure the the screw-er of your partner knows that. A lot of people go into Screw platonically, and most dates don't end romantically anyway, so it's generally not a big deal.

    @ Barber's Son, I'm glad you're going to go for it! I actually whooped when I read your comment, and I think my neighbors may have heard me. (oops) I actually have another column idea coming out this week, so I can either wait to answer this new question for you after break, or you can email me at so that I can get back to you before then. Of course, you can use a non-swat address, so I won't know who you are.

  • March 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    @Don't Give Up, y'all are really good at expanding beyond what I'm able to say in my limited space/time and that's great. Of course, you are right. A year being single is not very long. There is no way that any one person can have the full range of relationship experience, especially by college age, and this is one area that I have less experience than many people.

    Given the basis for your objections, I'm surprised that you didn't object to #4 as well. I based my recommendations on the assumption that people would be spending some time out interacting with others. I also wanted to emphasize that the one and only goal of being single shouldn't be to find a significant other, which Zach has sort of echoed. But that assumption isn't really one that should be made, especially at this school, and I probably would have caught it if I hadn't written this column really, really late at night. I think that we can all agree that limiting your social interaction primarily to one medium is unhealthy, whether that medium is QT with Mulder and Scully, interacting with people you've known for the past three and a half years, or going out to parties. You need a decent mixture.

    In defense of my original column, no one will knock on your door and announce that you're dating, but I don't necessarily agree that saturday festivities are the best ways to meet people. Maybe I'm just not that smooth, but I don't think I've ever actually made a real connection with someone at a party. It's probably that I'm not that smooth. I've found that I meet most romantic prospects when I'm happy, friendly, and approachable, mostly mining classes and friends of friends, though random meet-ups at coffee bars and in pterodactyl hunts are always exciting. At the very least, the recommendations above should help with achieving the happiness portion. If other people's seduction/acquaintance-getting techniques are drastically different, well then do what works for you. And give me tips.

  • March 4, 2011 at 5:25 am

    OH is THAT what Susana meant by platonic-screw?

    I COMPLETELY misinterpreted THAT one…

    Now that I reconsider my initial interpretation, it verges on paradoxical…

  • March 7, 2011 at 10:23 pm


    I've seen the likealittle page, and I think that it's a lot like the Missed Connections that the gazette used to put out, except completely unedited. It's cute and fun, but unlikely to be effective. For awkward Swatties, it might be a no-risk way to make a move, but it's probably not going to land most of the time.

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