My complacency was shredded at a Friday night Shabbos meal.
“I invited some coworkers,” the husband explained when I dialed up for a meal. “They were curious about how the Jewish Sabbath thing works.”
“Should be interesting,” I said. “Doesn’t perturb me in the slightest.”
Little did I know how perturbed I was going to be.
In the end only one coworker came, with his girlfriend. “Joe didn’t want to come,” the husband explained. “He didn’t have anyone to come with.”
I was puzzled. “What are we, chopped liver?”
“No,” the host explained, “It’s just that non-Jews don’t go to parties if they don’t have someone to go with them.”
I continued to look puzzled.
“Like a girlfriend.”
I was still puzzled. “Did you tell him you were going to have single, unescorted women here, and we’re totally unselfconscious about it?”
He smiled indulgently. “In our culture that’s normal. He feels weird going somewhere alone.”
Well! Talk about perturbed! I started wondering: should I be feeling self-conscious now? I go everywhere alone. It has simply never occurred to me that I need another person – let alone a guy – in tow to justify my presence.
When it came time for the company holiday party, my curiosity turned to anxiety.
“I’ll order a kosher meal for you,” the HR lady said. “Does your plus one need one too?”
“Um, no… There is no plus one.”
She gave me an odd look. “Well let me know if you need another kosher meal.”
I wondered if I should take a page out of Joe’s book and just not go. What do non-Jews do in this situation? They don’t all have boyfriends all the time, do they?
I turned to Dear Google, the Wise One, for the answer to this question. She was encouraging.
“Don’t be afraid to go to your company holiday party alone,” she rah-rah’d. “Go alone and rock that party anyway.”
Right. Phrased like that, you just know it’s going to be awkward. Especially when you’re not the party-rocking type.
“You’re going to the party? It’ll be great!” a coworker said, with the too-interested leer that either means “I can’t wait to see who your boyfriend is” or else “I can’t wait to see you in a dress.” Both equally discomforting. But I was determined. I wanted to go.
So I went.
There were an even number of place-settings at the table. They had to remove the one next to me.
“You’re here alone?” a coworker asked. “Oh no, that’s great! Really!”
Suddenly, I felt a gaping hole in the space next to me.
“Rock this party anyway,” I reminded myself. “You don’t need a guy to give you confidence and worth.”
Well, maybe not self-confidence and self-worth. But the eyes of the beholder should not be underestimated.
“I can’t be the only one with this problem,” I complained to a shadchan. “Do you have any decent guys who want to a do a holiday party arrangement?”
“I do,” she said, flipping through her binder. “Here, take a look at this one. What do you think?”
“Can he chit-chat with strangers while pretending to know me?”
Great. Forget “a guy you can take home to your mother.” Now I was picking a “guy you can bring to an office party.”
Disgusted with myself, I handed back the binder. He wasn’t my type anyway.
So this year, when the invitation went out, and the HR lady came around to say “Just let me know if you need a kosher meal… or two,” I said “When do you need to know by?”
She gave me three weeks.
Great. That gives me three weeks to decide whether to go alone, to go at all, or…
“I need a guy who can be scheduled three weeks in advance to be available immediately motzai Shabbos for double-wrapped, reheated steak and beer,” I told my flatmate. “Help?”
“I’ll go with you,” she offered. “But I’m not drinking beer.”
“I can’t take you! I plan to marry a man one day.”
“Women switch back and forth all the time.”
Okay, change that. I have three weeks to decide whether to go alone, whether to go at all, to find a guy, or to come out of a closet I’m not in.