There was a baseball event in Chicago last night, and I was happy to attend because lately I have not dedicated enough time to being around others. I have been working longer hours than usual, and the past six months have been an indistinguishable whirl of airport codes, hotel robes, and room service. There’s not a single thing I would trade about it.
When I’m home, which isn’t often anymore, everything is regimented. Get to the gym, then to the office by 7am. Push through meetings, drink six cups of coffee, take conference calls on lunch breaks, and maybe sneak a radio hit with the office door closed and hope that no one knocks. After work, I take the dog for a run, cook dinner for one with a baseball game on the radio. By time I hit the sofa, there’s a 50-50 chance I’ll be asleep before the third inning of a west coast game. Some nights, I bypass the sofa altogether and head straight to the bed.
In your late 20s, you lose a lot of friends, and the past two years have been an Agatha Christie novel of disappearance and inevitabilities. Some get married and have kids. Others couple up with partners who dislike you and drift away slowly before changing their phone numbers. They may not feel like it, but these people are still your friends in the sense that they would show up at a once a year cookout (as long as their children don’t have dance recitals or soccer games) and would likely attend your funeral, but they are no longer the friends that go to baseball games and eat sliders as the sun rises over Diner Grill after a night of drinking.
They are not available for impromptu brunches or to take your plus-one for a concert, so, please kindly stop calling. Your virtual Rolodex has recedes… and then there were none.
But unlike the disappearing friends of your early 20s, who you have to worry are on a bender or got evicted or have been arrested, these people disappear because they are successful. You can’t even get mad at them, because you’ve changed and you’re successful, too. It’s not simple to pinpoint at what moment you all transitioned from ill-informed and fungible to professional and static, but subtlety your late-night drunk fits turn into early-morning brunches, your American Apparel T-shirts are ditched for Dior and instead of hand-me-downs, you’ve got Prada. No one stresses about splitting the check or who ordered alcohol. Someone just throws in their credit card and you go your separate ways for Bikram yoga or a pedicure instead of trawling discount stores for groceries and pregnancy tests. It’s inevitable that some get left behind. If you didn’t have the friend who constantly needed a sofa to crash on or the train-wrecked on Facebook once a week about their unemployment and venereal diseases, how would you feel good about yourself?
But regardless of path, we’re all adults here. Happiness and success come in multiple metrics. For some, it’s marriage, children, and owning a home, or as I like to call it, the path of least resistance. That’s not to sleight good relationships; for those, I’m grateful, but so many are tragic and maintained out of convenience instead of lust, adoration, and respect. You combine your lives by comparing who has a nicer toaster, duvet cover, and television and then you split the bills or join your bank accounts. And after a brief period, you birth something that moves, kicks, thinks, and eventually articulates that serves as a distraction from the doldrums of life not just internally, but to onlookers as well. You’re diversified in a way that provides leniency when something does go wrong. If you’re fired? At least you have love. And if your partner leaves you? Well, bury yourself in work and Little League coaching. The chances of everything being taken away at once are slim, after all.
I concede there are many ways to feel fulfilled and complete, but that’s a progressive view that isn’t supported by all. For some, the moral compass of society and “what is good” and “what is normal” might have been hammered harder. As such, there are people who see three pillars—marriage, career, and children—as zero-sum. If you don’t have all three, you’re deficient. If you’re not actively seeking all three, there’s something wrong with you. And occasionally, you encounter these people in person, and they project their biggest fears onto every single person they find.
Pardon me, correction: They project the fears of failure and deficiency onto every single woman they meet.
At the baseball event last night, I wanted to catch up with my peers—other baseball writers and fans of the game. And for the most part, that’s what happened. They drank beer, and I had a bourbon. We traded clubhouse tales, trade rumors, fantasy baseball strategies, and our thoughts on the shift. We quizzed each other on trivia (I couldn’t remember much about the 2005 NL MVP vote, but did alright on the rest). Being the only woman in the crowd, I was even applauded for my ability to abandon a conversation quickly or unnoticed, the best fight-or-flight skulking skills that women deploy when cornered by an unsavory male at the bar on display.
When it was time to go, I made my rounds, saying goodnight to the host and to old and new friends. In my final goodbye, I interrupted a friend in conversation with a stranger, and since it is a pet peeve of mine in social settings that people do not introduce themselves immediately, particularly in small groups, I extended my hand and said, “Hi, sorry for interrupting, I’m Cee, and I’m going home,” and the bearded man on the receiving end extended his own hand and said, “Oh yes, I know who you are.”
He didn’t tell me his name, but continued. “Cee, I wanted to tell you… you’re very beautiful. And you’re intelligent. I know that life is hard on you because you’re single, but I want you to know that you’re not going to die alone.”
Stunned, I continued to shake his hand for longer than appropriate before recoiling. “Oh, wow! We’re going straight there, huh?” Trying to ease the awkwardness and the tension in my neck, I said the first thing that came to mind. “Did my mom send you here?”
He continued for too many minutes, digging the hole deeper. He told me he was married and that he wasn’t hitting on me, but wanted me to know that I was desirable, and, that someday I would be loved and married.
He just knew it, he said.
It felt shameful, like I was eavesdropping on a conversation he meant to have about me, not to me. I was in a rush to avoid a parking ticket, but suddenly I was on trial for rushing home to an empty apartment. He knew from reading my work that I had been single for a long time, and he brought up something I mentioned on social media six months ago—a stranger helped me get my car out of the snow during the polar vortex—as an example of why he felt bad for me. I stood frozen as he took pains to tell me about the joys of having children and how I wasn’t to worry, because I was a viable candidate for mating, breeding, and traditional conformity. It was unsolicited, it was unwarranted. It was projecting at its worst and a back-handed compliment to everything I have accomplished.
I left with a smile on my face, not out of happiness or misplaced sense of politeness, but because I was so taken aback by the brazen judgment of someone I had just met. I called a friend to tell him what had happened and to let him know the great news about my future as predicted by a random judgmental prick who had saved me from singledom in a way that felt oddly familiar to when my Pentecostal coworkers at one of my first job who would pull me aside just to let me know that they were praying for my salvation. My friend sang You’ll Never Walk Alone as I drove to my apartment with tears of laughter in my eyes.
I thought about this stranger who thought he was doing me a favor by reassuring me that my life would not always be off-track while I brushed my teeth. I thought about it in line for coffee this morning and again during a rather dull conference call. I wondered not only about what he said, but also what he meant, and perhaps how many other people I have met look at me with those same eyes of sadness for the fact that I’m not married. I fretted about this perception of Cee Angi, lonely baseball writer and sad single sap who has nothing but a spaniel and Baseball-Reference to fulfill her until Prince Charming comes alone. I abhorred his insinuation that I was at this baseball event to meet a man who could stifle the loneliness and fill me with happiness, particularly since I was there for the drinks and company, not attention.
In the end, however, I felt worse for him than I did for myself, but I also feel as though it’s our duty to control our own messages and that if someone doesn’t understand where it is from which we come, then you have to speak up rather than giving someone the license to disrespect you or treat you inappropriately.
As such, let’s start over.
“Hi, sorry to interrupt, I’m Cee, and I’m going home. But before I do, I’m 29 and I live in Chicago with my dog, Lola. I work in Project Management and I’m a freelance baseball writer, and I’ve never had to borrow money from my parents nor have I felt the urge to get coupled up because I can’t pay my own rent. I am a workaholic and I’ve put my careers first because they are of utmost importance to me. Some measure their success in love in marriage and others, myself included, measure it in in disposable income and the ability to hop on an airplane at a moments’ notice.
Further, some of us are intentionally single. I could be in a relationship if I wanted to be, but I haven’t found anyone worth tolerating, worth fighting for, or worth the compromise. I’m a fan of silence and having the entire bed to myself. When I cook dinner and have a bottle of wine on a Friday night instead of spending it with a man, I never stop and think, ‘Oh, pity me that no one will buy me dinner!’ I think, ‘This week has been exhausting, I can’t wait to take my pants off and sit on my oversized chaise and watch baseball games and Netflix.’
There are moments when the societal pressures of conformity creep in and I wonder if I’ve made the best decisions for long-term happiness, but they are fleeting because I remember that life is simpler and often happier when you’re the center of your own attention.
I am not some hopeless case that deserves pity and judgment until I decide to let someone move in with me. If anything, I, like all strong single women, should be applauded for navigating tough periods in life without the traditional societal safety nets so many have become reliant on.
Now, can you tell me the top five candidates for the 2005 NL MVP?”