“Just One Today?”

Singular vs. Plural.

There are so many things that are celebrated as being singular.  Cheese slices, pudding snacks, child birth…even the U.S. military changed their slogan in recent years to “Army of One.”  Yet, we (and for my purposes, “we” is used as the royal “we,” meaning people in general) insist on clutching onto the notion that a person doing something by themselves is somehow questionable.  Take, for instance, the action of one person walking into a table service restaurant.  So many unthinking young hosts blurt, “Just one today?” while glancing over your shoulder in the hopes that the family entering behind you is part of your group.  As a warrior of words, I often feel my proverbial feathers ruffle when confronted in such a blatantly ignorant way.  And while I tend to justify that person’s faux pas by assuming they’re too young to know better, it’s not only the young who make such verbal stumbles.

Psychologically, when the first person I meet in a business makes such a statement, intentional in their meaning or not, it darkens the remainder of the visit in that establishment.  Perhaps it’s the word “just” as followed by “one” that is like fingers on a chalkboard.  It’s as if they’re saying, Couldn’t find anyone else to enjoy lunch with you? with the word “loser” implied by the slight twitch of the lips and snarky tilt to the eyebrow.

To be fair, the occurrence of such ignorance is becoming less these days as compared to even five or ten years ago.  But there are still those uninformed people who cast their subtle judgment on others through laziness and complacency.  Like calling the sky simply blue.

The impetus for this post comes from reading a blog post entitled, “My Son, The Pink Boy” on Salon.com this morning.

The lack of personal responsibility of others we encounter in our daily lives is staggering.  We’ve become a world of lazy, judgmental elitists in many ways, as if  we can replace simple courtesy and manners with our disdain for something in which we lack understanding.  Psychologists call this “over compensating.”  As if a lack of self-education is what passes for normal.

There are those who thrive as individuals doing things that many feel somehow require partnership.  Going to the movies, dining out, traveling…things that are ‘traditionally’ taught as needing someone to do these things with.

Not so.

That type of herd mentality is widespread.  The word loner has taken on ominous meaning in our society.  Usually, one hears it after an individual has committed horrendous acts.  “He was always a loner,” as if that were the reason for the actions done.  And while it may be true that those more likely to commit crimes against their fellow humans prefer to keep themselves and their mental illness away from others – more so that they’re not found out than anything else – it’s not true that all people who prefer their own company are mass murderers.

Recently, I decided that I had become “too reclusive.”  Though it’s my natural state – for I’ve always subscribed to the belief that one can be alone and not lonely – I got it into my head that I needed to socialize more.  And so I went online and found a group that met once a month for coffee and conversation.  My first outing was this past Saturday.  The group was touted as one that “treat(s) everyone like they’re your best friend!”  As an introvert, I tend to arrive at most uncertain destination quite early so that I can stake out a quiet corner from which to observe and absorb the atmosphere of the venue prior to the descending of the hordes.  It helps me to maintain my own equanimity in such situations when I’ve become more familiar with my surroundings.  And once there, I was none too sure that I had made the right decision.  Can one force himself to be social if his natural inclination goes in another direction?

The experience was less than satisfactory, and let me tell you how…

  • The hosts were so busy trying to film the event to post on their website, they pretty much ignored anyone they didn’t already know.  So I felt like an outsider right from the beginning instead of anyone’s “best friend.”  I checked their site after the fact, and sure enough, there were many video posts.
  • The group had apparently known each other for a long time, for they seemed to close ranks in cliquish knots, rebuffing those who attempted to join conversations.  Of the three individuals I was able to begin actual conversations with, one was only there to chat up single women and wanted me as his wing man, another was promoting his singles business, and the third was so caught up in herself that it was difficult to get a word in edgewise, and when able, the conversation was abruptly yanked back to the topic of her.

It is quite possible that I was already prejudiced against forging any real new friendships in such a fashion – like cattle being herded to slaughter – but I tried to stay objective to the experience.  Two hours after I had arrived, I made quick goodbyes (there were only three people to say goodbye to), and skedaddled.

Exhausted, I replayed the morning in my mind on the drive home.

I’m so used to doing things alone, I thought maybe the few close friends I’ve maintained over the past 35 years were quite sufficient for my survival.  Even when attending large events in which I know many people, I tend to have to retreat numerous times throughout to someplace quiet to regroup mentally and emotionally.  So perhaps trying to be an extrovert was the wrong approach for a lifetime introvert.  Maybe that particular group was just the wrong one for me, or perhaps any group setting would be too much.

Or, more likely, it’s that some of us are wired differently than others and we shouldn’t try so hard to “fit in” with situations that make us uncomfortable.  So the next time a host at a restaurant asks, “Just one today?”, I will reply, “Yes, always.”