“It’s okay that I am alone.”
“But maybe is there something wrong with me?”
“Maybe I’m just too picky.”
“I’m young, I should be out there having sex.”
“But I hate having sex with people I’m not really attracted to.”
“Except when I’m traveling.”
It was amazing how many times I could have the same thoughts, without arriving at any resolution. During the fall of 1998, another thought started to run through my brain at certain moments while riding the BART train to work or getting ready for a party: “Singledom as my natural state.”
Cut to New Year’s Eve of that same year. In retrospect, it makes sense that quirkyalone was a New Year’s baby. New Year’s Eve at midnight—like the senior prom and the buddy system at camp—is one of those moments when everyone is asked to line up two-by-two. It’s also one of those turning-point-holidays when we appraise our lives. I was in New York visiting my friend Tara. Tara and I share a long, rich history. We spotted each other as kindred spirits among a sea of JCrew roll neck sweaters at a stuffy liberal arts college during orientation, and both subsequently fled to schools in New York. During those years, we collaborated on zine called Cupsize (a stapled and photocopied publication that fearlessly covered everything from the taste of grape soda to bi chic).
Throughout that weekend visit, we wanted to catch up, so we talked about many things, from that wacky new television show Ally McBeal (did we love it or hate it?) to our attempts at careers. One topic of conversation recurred: the continued mystery of our singledom. I would hate to lump us in with Bridget Jones types in this obsession, but we did seem fixated. Cup after cup of tea, story after story told of love attempts gone awry, and the ultimate question: Why was it always this way for us?
But off to our party.
On so many previous New Year’s Eves, we had made the mistake of trying to go out in Manhattan (way too cold to enjoy the night). That year we made the wise choice of attending our friend Marissa’s party in Brooklyn. By the time we got there (outfits carefully chosen, vegetables and dip in tow) Marissa’s two-bedroom apartment had been transformed into a dance floor with an exposed brick wall and a disco ball. The living room was packed with her colleagues from the publishing world and from college. Prince exhorted us to live like it was 1999, which it was (almost). I was feeling the buzz of alcohol, the pleasure of being around people I rarely see, a certain high of dancing to the Spice Girls semi-ironically (“If you wanna be my lover, you better get with my friends”).
I was also scanning the room. I’ll freely admit that most of the New Year’s Eves when I arrive unattached, I’m on the lookout for a set of lips to help punctuate the holiday and escort me from one year to the next. Things were not looking good. No mysterious strangers. But even at 11:45 my eyes were on alert. It seems ridiculous now that I kept looking so late, but I’m not a quitter, and if there was any possibility for a midnight kiss, I was going to find it.
Being on such a hunt, my sensory perceptions were very acute that night. As we began the countdown to 1999, I was very much living in my own private music video, glancing around one last time while also playing the observer. Bottles of champagne swam through the crowd. Confetti flew. People hugged.
More than anything else I watched. In that last scan, I saw that at that party of more than seventy young, hip New Yorkers, there was no lack of love. But the love was not romantic or sexual. No one kissed. In all my obsessive wondering if I would be the only one not kissing on the dance floor, it was a stunning omission: no one was kissing. That New Year’s Eve Party Totally Devoid of Midnight Kiss was a turning point, when I started the transition of thinking I was the “only one” to seeing myself as part of a group, a moment, and even a social movement. Something clicked.
The morning after, Tara, Marissa, and I met at a diner for our traditional New Year’s Day brunch. We talked resolutions, jobs, TV, and of course, about the party the night before. After polishing off our coffee, pierogies, French toast, and home fries, we bundled up to walk to the ATM. That’s when and where it happened: in an ATM vestibule on a brutally cold windy New Year’s Day. I punched in my code. While waiting for the money to spit out, I turned around to them with that spontaneous declaration: “You know who we are? We are the quirkyalones!”
There was no theory. There was no definition. But I could see that Marissa and Tara understood. They smiled with an instant recognition. Of course we were single; we were a gang of cool, adventurous, distinctively attractive women leading often-improvisational lives. To put this state of being into a single word gave new life to our conversation. It also provided a point of reference, a word that later on, others were able to use as a tool to communicate and organize themselves.