A few years ago, I completed the cinema. I saw everything that was out that week there was to be seen. Everything. Each week, they rotated a different Hindi movie and by God I saw that too. I saw it all. I was a vessel, a conduit for films, the eyes they had to pass through to get truly released. I completed the cinema. I even saw Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.
I told a friend proudly about my achievement, and he replied flatly: “Fiona, you really need to get a boyfriend.” It’s strange, to suddenly see yourself as you hadn’t realised others see you. I laughed, but I didn’t agree. I don’t agree.
I wasn’t seeing anyone at the time, for a long old stretch. Seeing nothing and nobody but films, I guess. I became accustomed to going alone. No discussions about what to see, no deal breakers. Just me and my evening, seeing whatever I wanted. To be honest, I came to prefer it. Oh and — I was living by myself too. Completing the cinema and living alone have a lot to recommend them, but to extol their virtues too loudly feels somehow unseemly. I didn’t need to learn that. You just feel it.
To be alone is anomalous, even though that’s how we all come and go. To choose so ostentatiously to be alone is quite another thing. It has a hint of deviance. A couple is the minimum accepted unit of currency for a lot of transactions. I understand this completely, because I’ve been shown it for so long, but that doesn’t mean I agree. I don’t agree. I don’t think it fits with me, which makes me feel sometimes like I don’t fit.
(Where do you put the loose, unused bits of your flatpack after the whole thing has been assembled and it turned out they weren’t essential, whatever the hell they were?)
I do confess there is the occasional exclamation mark— a worry that if I slipped and fell on a Friday evening, I wouldn’t be missed by anyone until Monday morning when I was later than usual for work. (At that, I’d console myself by thinking that I use the internet far too often for me to go unnoticed for long. Besides, I don’t have a cat I have to worry about eating me when I go down. I’m allergic to cats, on several levels.)
I can accept that perhaps I was taking things a little too far back then. One day I went to see three films on the bounce and struggled, when leaving the third, to recall what the first had been called or even been about. The cinema is always a means to disappear and still a busy mind, and I’ve never been very adept at knowing my limits.
What I was doing then, I see now, wasn’t completing the cinema. It was piecing, cobbling together foundations for the lifelong relationship I will have with myself. Making friends with myself. Taking myself out.
Being alone does not mean the absence of another person, even though that’s what we’re told it should feel like. “Alone” isn’t just a state we pass through on our way somewhere else more permanent. People say their husband, their child, their whoever is their best friend. Why can’t we be our own best friend? I’m not being self-help glib here. It’s not an American notion. It’s been corrupted by that, but think of it again.
Okay: other people unlock parts of ourselves we never knew existed. Friendship is fundamental. But why don’t we point this inward? In the same vein, I can hurt myself in particularly wounding ways no one else will ever be capable of — but also I will be with myself forever, never apart. Shouldn’t I at least take myself to the cinema once in a while and see if I get on?
Imagine it. To think warmly on memories that involve only yourself, to reminisce with yourself about yourself — to think of a future where you are happy, and have made yourself so. To be alone. No more, but certainly no less. Content in solitude, and not just for the time being. Don’t wait for someone else to barrel in and effect change, in whatever form you may be hoping for it to come to you. Take yourself out.
The other week, I was talking to a friend about someone we know who had started a new relationship. “He has a calming effect on her,” my friend said. This was meant as a positive — and it is a positive, I suppose, to some people. But what does it mean? What do you think it means?