“What I Wish I Knew When I Was Single”

“What I Wish I Knew When I Was Single...”

She let her friendships fall to the wayside every time a guy came along. Now, years later, she regrets pulling her disappearing act. Here's why.

By Elissa Schappell
here is an old Dion song from the 60's called "Run Around Sue." In college, when this song came on at parties, my friends would scream, "Elissa, they're playing your song!" and dance around me, singing along with the verse, "Ah, she likes to travel
I didn't think much about what anyone might think, or feel, when I cut out of a "girls' night out" dinner to do drinks with a guy.
around, she'll love and she'll put you down. Now people let me put you wise, she goes out with other guys…"

I am not proud of this fact, indeed it is one of more humiliating facets of my history as a single girl: that despite the fact that I had wonderful friends, friends who patiently endured my endless ranting, friends who brought me soup when I was sick, friends who made me laugh, and in turned pretended my bad jokes were genius, despite all this I still, at the drop of a hat, would forget the friends I was with at a party, in a club, in a restaurant, and choose instead to romp off in pursuit of a new conquest. The exhilaration of meeting someone new, the thrill of flirting, the drama and intensity of those early sexual experiences, the possibility of pain, either inflicted or received—it was like a drug for me.

I didn't think much about what anyone might think, or feel, when I cut out of a "girls' night out" dinner at the local Chinese place, to instead go for drinks with a guy. And if later, one of my friends said in a snarky tone, "Well, I hope you had a good time," I felt a pang of guilt. I'd promise myself never to do it again.

But, of course, I did.

Because mostly it didn't bother me to stroll in at 2:00 in the morning, hair a mess, to find my roommates happily snuggled under blankets, talking and drinking wine. It didn't bother me that the conversation
These women, though I counted them as my friends, had no idea, through no fault of their own, what I was like now.
would stop. It didn't bother me, much, that when their conversation did resume I was aware of being ever so slightly on the outside. I suspected that if I were to log some hours on the couch, bowl of M&Ms in my lap, friends settled around me, I too might converse in this code. But, I wasn't willing to spend the time when there were boys to be trifled with. I could have that sort of girls' night any time I wanted, right? It was different with a boy. I figured that, if given the chance, they'd do exactly what I was doing. It never occurred to me that their staying home might indeed be their choice.

I liked the fact that men rarely wanted to talk about their feelings, except those that pertained to me, and they didn't demand emotionally intimacy. They didn't ask you to bare your soul, just your ass, and that wasn't nearly as scary to me as having someone really know me.

If my friends had been nudged to the periphery of my life when I was dating, when I met my husband Rob, they mostly disappeared in a landslide. From the moment I met him I knew he was The One. Not intentionally, but before long we were spending less time hanging out with my friends, and more and more with his. I didn't talk to my old friends much. "We hardly ever see you," said two of them who had moved together to another part of the city. It became harder and harder to keep in touch with them, let alone those who lived in other cities.

It wasn't until recently that I realized how much I missed by bailing on my friends to chase amorous adventures. An old friend from college sent out a fundraising letter to our class, this in turn sparked a long e-mail exchange, a sort of virtual reunion, between a bunch of my old friends, and former roommates. Despite the fact that many of these friends now live hundreds of miles away from each other, they still clearly were a part of each other's lives. Many of the letters began with, "I still keep in touch with..." and then there was a list of names. I was not on any of these lists. They spoke in a warm shorthand to each other, reliving past vacations their families had taken together—or just the girlfriends, meeting in the Caribbean, at golf resorts. They alluded to each other's fertility troubles, miscarriages, illness, the death of parents and, of course, spoke of each other's children fondly.

As I wrote my letter I was painfully aware of how I didn't feel so much like I was catching up, as I was walking into a party late. I was re-introducing myself. These women, though I counted them as my friends, had no idea, through no fault of their own, of what I was like now, or what my experience had been when we all lived together.

I wasn't part of this sisterhood. I thought how invested they were in each other's lives. They had been tending to each other the way they had in college, and I hadn't. As a result, I didn't reap the bounty. I didn't deserve to. As I read the emails I felt a pang of longing for their easiness with each other, an easiness built on the sort of intimacy one forges with a friend late at night, sitting on a sofa under blankets, maybe drinking wine, just talking.

Elissa Schappell is the author of Use Me, a novel-in-stories; co-editor with Jenny Offill of the forthcoming anthology The Friend Who Got Away; and a contributing editor of Vanity Fair. Less of an idiot now (she hopes), she treasures her female friendships.
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