She wondered how to fill the gap in her life left when her sisters moved out. Making God her “plus-one” did the trick.
Posted in , Apr 27, 2020
I sat at one end of my couch with my dinner for one: toast with a bit of cheese. The sound of each bite—had I always chewed so loudly?—seemed to echo around my new apartment. I glanced at my phone. Nearly 8 p.m. I’d had a long day at my new job. I’d been looking forward to getting home.
Now that I was here, though, I didn’t know what to do. Play music? Watch TV? Do some vacuuming? There was so much…silence. I set down my plate and picked up the phone. Should I text my older sisters, Kristin and Priscilla? “It’s too quiet. Please send help, stat!”
I put down my phone, knowing that request would never fly. I could imagine their reply: “You’ll get used to living on your own. Just give it time.”
It had been two months since the three of us had gone our separate ways. If anything, I was even more lonely. My sisters and I had been roommates for nearly a decade in New York City. Sure, we’d squabbled over whose turn it was to load the dishwasher and take out the trash. But there was nothing like coming home from work to two people asking, “How was your day?”
Things changed after Kristin got married. At first, she and her husband, Ciaran, lived in the apartment with us. When our lease ended, they moved out. By then, Priscilla was getting married too. Our lives were clearly going in different directions. Almost overnight, it seemed, I went from seeing my sisters every day to having to make plans to get together.
Priscilla lived more than an hour away in New Jersey. Kristin was a subway ride away, not close enough that I could just drop by. And they were busy with their own lives. I didn’t want to bother them. Priscilla and her husband were house hunting. Kristin and Ciaran were expecting a baby. And me? I was experiencing empty-nest syndrome…in my thirties.
Our old place had been a constant blur of activity. Game nights. Impromptu fashion shows with our latest salesrack finds. We were always laughing. One night, Kristin and I came home from a Zumba class and found Priscilla in the living room, eating dinner. The perfect audience to show off our newly learned choreography, even if we both had about as much dance talent as Elaine on Seinfeld.
“Play the music!” I instructed.
Priscilla blasted the Zumba song on her cell phone. Kristin and I put on our best professional dancer faces and moved in time, arms swaying. Left hip, right hip. Then we walked with wide, exaggerated steps, circling around. Priscilla howled.
“I want to try!” she said. She jumped up from the couch and joined us. We were laughing so hard, we could barely take a step.
Those days were over. I hadn’t giggled like that since I’d moved in. At first, I’d been excited to live on my own. I had a busy social life, a good group of friends and hobbies like my improv class. How hard could it be living alone? But I was so used to operating as one of a trio. Everyone knew me as Diana and her sisters. When I talked about what I was up to, I always said “we” and “our,” as if I were part of some clandestine government unit.
Now, even when I was out with friends or at improv class, my stories fell flat. Without Kristin and Priscilla, I felt lost. Unsure. Uninteresting. And no one wanted to hear about how much I missed them.
It didn’t help that I was new at work. I’d been at my old company for nearly six years. There had always been someone to grab lunch with. Not anymore. I found myself pulling away even from the people I did know. Somehow even God felt missing and my prayers lost in the unfamiliar silence.
Everyone had been so supportive when I told them I was going to be living on my own. “Once you get settled, you’ll love it,” they all said. I looked around my living room. The pictures were hung. The Wi-Fi installed. The furniture where I wanted it. Nothing needed to be done. There wasn’t anything I could buy or rearrange to fill the emptiness. I leaned back into the couch and closed my eyes. “Please, God, just help me out here,” I said. “Can’t you see I’m lonely?”
No response. No still small voice. Just the silence.
That weekend, I pulled out my laptop and did what everyone does to find answers. I typed “loneliness” into Google.
Up popped an assortment of articles, a few videos and links to a couple of scientific studies. I clicked on one. Loneliness was an epidemic, the researchers said. Nearly half of Americans reported feeling sometimes or always alone. But those very feelings caused people to withdraw, to grow depressed and discouraged, to view even friendly faces as threatening. There were significant health consequences. Loneliness, research had found, was as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!
Whoa. This was serious. I could see all the ways loneliness was dragging me down. I had to do something, or it would only get worse. “Surround yourself with people,” one article advised. “Go where you can meet others. Make conversation. Keep at it!”
The idea of putting myself out there, by myself, was terrifying. Even at office holiday parties, my sisters had come with me. At my improv shows, they would sit in the front row, laughing loudly even when I bombed. I needed to know someone was there for me, if just in spirit.
God? We hadn’t exactly been buddy-buddy lately, but it struck me that putting myself out there meant taking a leap of faith. If I couldn’t do that with God, there was no chance of success with anyone else. I’m trusting that you’ll be by my side, Lord, I prayed. In social situations, I would think of him as my plus-one.
I started with improv. At my next class, I sat in my usual spot in the corner of the room but, during break, pulled out a bag of chips I’d brought. “Anyone want some?” I asked, holding out the bag. “Ooooh, yes,” one woman said. The guy next to her took some too. We munched away silently, and that was that. They turned around, and class resumed. I’d accomplished absolutely nothing.
I tried again. The following Monday, I texted the class on our group chat: “I’m going to a comedy show tonight if anyone’s interested.” An hour passed. Then another. It was almost showtime, and no one had replied. I felt embarrassed. Rejected. Should I still go? I wondered. I remembered the advice from the article, to go where there are people. Besides, I had to do things I enjoyed—activities that made me feel like myself again.
I walked into the theater. Would people judge me for being alone? “You can take a seat there,” the usher told me, pointing to an area by the stage. I glanced around. There were plenty of people sitting by themselves. Like me, they were just there to laugh. By the time the lights went down, the place was so packed I forgot I was there by myself. Everyone cracked up at the same parts.
I left the theater feeling confident. I’d connected with people even if I hadn’t talked at length with anyone. And the show was great. It had been months since I’d laughed that hard. At my next improv class, I had something to share besides chips.
A few days later, I got an e-mail at work: “Charity bake sale volunteers needed.” I signed up, figuring some others from my department would go too. But when I got to the event, I didn’t recognize a soul. I was assigned to a registration table with two other volunteers. One of them was an older woman with the funkiest eyeglasses. I said the first thing that popped into my head.
“I love your glasses! I’ve been searching for a good pair since forever.” She and I gabbed like old friends, discussing the pros and cons of shopping for eyewear in New York City. The time flew by. At 2 p.m., my shift ended and I got up to leave.
“What’s your name again?” the woman said. “You seem like a delightful person. I’m so glad to have met you.”
I beamed. She didn’t know anything about me. I hadn’t regaled her with tales of living with my sisters. I’d just been me.
“I’m Diana,” I said. “It’s so nice to meet you too.” Thanks, God, I thought. For having my back.
With every encounter and experience, I felt my world expand. I pushed myself to do things I enjoyed, and the more I did, the more comfortable I felt striking up conversations with strangers. Best of all, I felt good about being on my own. Being myself. Even with my sisters, I wasn’t shy about making the first move.
“Let’s get dinner,” I’d text. Hanging out with them was different now. We didn’t know every detail in each other’s lives. But that meant there was so much for us to catch up on.
“You’re so busy!” Kristin said when I told her and Ciaran all that I’d been up to—shows, happy hours, dates, even church shopping—over dinner one night.
“Seriously,” Ciaran said. “You’re more social than any of us.”
I smiled. I liked the way they saw me. Really saw me. Not just as a sister or a roommate. But as me. Someone living on her own and loving it
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