When I first decided to take a vacation, being single annoyed me. My reasoning was, if I had a husband or boyfriend, I’d have a built-in travel companion to share the experience and the expenses. If I was part of a couple, I rationalized, my $1500 vacation budget might stretch to $3000 with better destinations, fancier lodging and someone to share the wine at dinner (hey, everyone knows a bottle is a better value than buying by the glass). I hemmed and hawed and bitched and moaned about having to fork up over a grand for some time away until I realized how fortunate I was to be able to pay for a solo excursion. I said a prayer of thanks then proceeded to the travel agent to book a cruise.
Shipboard travel wasn’t my first choice, but it’s really the most convenient, most economical way to visit multiple destinations in a short period of time. A cruise can be less expensive than the same amount of time at a hotel, the latter of which won’t include food and traveling around town to get it. Also, given the safety concerns of a single woman traveling solo, a cruise means that almost everyone you come in contact with has been checked by Homeland Security or TSA. Anchors away, indeed!
After convincing myself that I’d made the best, most rational vacation choice I imagined the peace of sitting alone in my stateroom with a book, or stealing away to the ship’s library to work on this blog. No phones, no emails to answer, nobody asking me for shit, it all seemed so peaceful and…lonely. Which brings me back to my original problem with solo travel, the problem of being surrounded by groups and couple having fun while I’m sitting alone reading a book. While I definitely needed to recharge my batteries with some hard-earned R & R, spending 7 days without significant social interaction is my 7th circle of Hell. So I did what any self-respecting yet exhausted extrovert would do: I vowed to make new friends on vacation.
Wait a minute, I haven’t been completely honest with you. When I said “make new friends” I secretly wished I’d make a “special” friend on my cruise. You know, sitting at the bar watching the NCAA tournament or on my snorkeling excursion, I hoped to catch the eye of a cute, single man traveling with his buddies or his Nana-and-them. We’d commiserate about all the happy couples, or the perils of traveling with a big family. We’d share a tropical drink on the Lido deck, a dinner at the teppanyaki restaurant, a dance at the erstwhile disco. Then we’d park our beach chairs together for a few days, have a few smooches onboard and resolve to keep in touch after disembarkation.
Let’s just say that my social enterprises didn’t go according to plan. Instead of meeting a potential suitor to share meals I ate by myself. At the buffet, at the sushi bar, at the fancy dinner during which I read a book and stared at couples of all ages paired off romantically. For a while, I felt forlorn. Everyone knows that single people don’t go to restaurants alone because we eat at home over the kitchen sink or in front of the TV. Solo dining practically screams, “I have nobody to be with right now”, so doing it on a cruise says “I’m here alone because I AM alone.” For a while it made me uncomfortable, especially when I got bad buffet seating because I had nobody to save a good table. Then I really started paying attention to the interactions of older couples. Gramma and Grampy are really grumpy after having spent the last 40 years up in each others’ faces. Most of the octogenarians were sitting together at breakfast, staring at their stewed prunes in complete silence. Plenty of couples sat around together reading their respective novels, which I’m assuming were more interesting than the prospect of conversation. Still other marrieds were on the incompatibility plan, with one member of the couple chatting up any and everyone in close proximity while their mate looked angry and bored. Now I ask you, if you look angry and bored on vacation, how in the world do you look in the rest of your life?
So, if my cruise observations were any indication, marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Or most of the people I saw on vacation were in bad marriages at least from my perspective. The way I saw it, being single on vacation didn’t put me at a disadvantage after all. I met plenty of people, talking to couples (who, it seems, didn’t want to talk to each other) and groups of women in equal turn. I ate with folks if I chose, read my book when I wanted to be alone, and had plenty of fun whenever I wanted it. Perhaps I was better off than the couples around me: I pretty much always agreed with myself about when to eat, when to nap and how many cocktails I could have each night AND I could always find someone to talk to because I’m just that much fun to be around.
Mostly, my vacation taught me that I’m a pretty fun person, and that I should probably get off the Internets and interact with the humans in real life. Because I can. Also, I’ve learned that I’m sorta hiding in the online dating space, letting it stifle my ability to meet the kinds of people I want. You know, the kind that can carry on a conversation without a computer screen. One can only use match.com for so long (and watch The Social Network so many times) to realize that Internet socializing is hiding behind the 1s and 0s unless you already know someone in the flesh.
So, dear friends, as soon as my internet dating profiles expire (damn those auto-renewals), I’m plotting my foray into the real world. And I’m probably going to book another vacation alone, just for fun!