Self-Validation

I went to a movie by myself today. It was an experiment; a social experiment. Except this time I wasn’t analyzing how people interact, or how I interact with other people, but quite the opposite. This time I was trying to uncover something much more important and much harder to pinpoint; how I interact with myself. And hopefully ultimately, what it is that I’m really searching for. And believe me, I realize that’s a lot to hang on one 2 hour matinee.

So I drive myself to the theater, with the nervous anticipation of a kid starting their first day at school. I keep reminding myself I’m doing this for myself, and nobody else. But I can’t help wonder what other people at the theater might think of me, or how pathetic I’m sure this will look to them. But I buy my ticket for one with my head high and the confidence of this decision in my heart, and I can feel their eyes on me as I calmly purchase a snack and make my way into Theater 4.

Or at least I think this is Theater 4. I’m so preoccupied with myself that I don’t really check the theater number that carefully before walking in. But now I’m inside, and I’ve walked far enough in that the other people in their seats can now see me. And now I don’t want to look lost or stupid by walking back out. So I hesitate for a mere second, and then I just gather myself and go straight to my assigned seat.

Now that’s the great thing about the Kabuki Theater, you get to pick an assigned seat. So even when the theater is nearly empty, and you usually have the complicated task of trying to decide where would be most comfortable to sit relative to the few others in the theater, here you don’t have to worry about any of that. You’ve already been assigned. You already have your place. So you can walk confidently to that exact seat without thinking twice or questioning your identity.

I sit down in my usual favorite seat, my sweet spot. You know, that exact middle seat in the first row of the back section. The row with no rows in front of it, but only that staunch metal railing, always there ready to hold up your feet for you and let you relax without the bother of some annoyingly chatty or antsy person in front of you. But once I’ve settled into my little centered oasis, the concern about the correctness of the theater returns. So I swallow my pride, and turning to the pair of guys behind me (who are the only other people in the theater by the way), I calmly ask, ‘This is Theater 4 right?’ They smirk and reply, ‘Yep, Theater 4. So if you’re here to see Love and Other Drugs, you’re in the right place.’

I thank them, relieved, and turn back around to resume my privacy. The two guys continue with their interrupted conversation, and I begin to notice myself eavesdropping. I catch a few words I recognize, and I have a momentary urge to turn back around and pipe in my two cents. But then I catch myself. I’m not here to learn about interacting with other people. To be honest, I already know I’m good at that. No, I’m here to learn how to interact with myself, while the self is in a particularly uncomfortable place for a self to be alone.

So I sit still, and try to focus on myself. But what the hell does that really mean? I sit silent, block out the ambient noise and conversation around me. My thoughts start to wander, and as usual, I start to think about my schedule. I think about what I plan to do with the rest of my day after the movie. I think about Christmas gift shopping, and what errands I’ll need to run on my way down to the Peninsula tomorrow. All trivial things, you notice, about what might happen in the future. As usual, I am failing at letting myself just be present, in the present, with myself. And the failure of it starts to upset me. So naturally, the next stage sets in of frustration and self-doubt. And then the fidgeting starts.

By the time my phone rings, I’m starting to go mad inside my head, wondering when the hell this damn movie is ever going to start. But saved by the ring. It’s Gayle. She’s returning my call from earlier to talk about plans for the week. I pick up, but have to warn her right away that the movie I’m waiting on might start any second, and so we agree to hang up and just have her message me. Disappointed at my loss of a momentary distraction, I reluctantly hang up and return to my former state of anxiety.

I’m just about to sink into its familiar depths, when the big screen springs to life, and the previews begin. I can hardly contain my sigh of relief, and I happily nestle further into my seat, with my Sour Patch Kids on my lap and my feet comfortably perched on that trusty railing. The movie is typical but good; the usual arc of a good romantic drama. Boy meets Girl. Boy is a messed up commitment-phobe, but wait, so is Girl! So Boy and Girl start getting it on, but then of course strings start to attach themselves, and Boy falls for Girl. Girl is wary and doesn’t let herself fall, until Boy starts to doubt. Then Girl finally gives in, as Boy starts to get scared. Girl sees Boy get scared, and breaks it off in tears. And we reach the point in the drama where it is socially acceptable for audience members to cry. Then time passes, and Boy realizes what he’s lost. So Boy chases after Girl, tracks her down and confesses his undying love, at which point you can bet every woman in the audience is pumping the water works. And it all ends happily and neatly, as we all expect it to, though we complain endlessly about how archaically unoriginal it all is.

The credits roll, and as expected I’m in tears. As expected, I cried when Jake Gyllenhaal set his true pale blue eyes deep into Anne Hathaway’s and declared that he needs her. But also as expected, I come out of my movie trance without any deeper understanding of my life beyond the usual, ‘oh why can’t that be me?’ thought. And I must admit, I’m a bit disappointed. But what did I expect? I come to the movies – people come to the movies – as an escape from daily life, not as a means to dig deeper into it. So why did I think this experience would be any different.

I sit through all the credits, as I always do, and try to catch glimpses of the names scrolling by, scanning for something somewhat familiar or eye-catching. I listen to the song accompanying credits, and I hear Regina Spektor sing ‘I never loved nobody fully / Always one foot on the ground.’ And I smile to myself, feeling for that brief second my story told in those few lines. And when the credits finish, I dry my eyes, pack up my trash, and walk slowly out of the theater. I’m calm, but the disappointment still lingers. Now, on top of the usual automatic depression from seeing a unrealistically happily ending romance movie, I also have the addition of something worse – the heavy truth that my experiment failed.

I get to the bottom of the stairs, and decide to pop into the bathroom for a quick pee and face check, which only ends up making me feel worse as I now also have the reassurance that the zits on my face have gotten just noticeably redder. And let me digress for a second to say how ridiculous it is! Depression and stress have been proven to encourage the appearance of acne, and then the presence of the acne causes even more depression and stress. It’s such an unfair, unnecessary, vicious cycle.

Anyway, coming out of the bathroom, I remember that I should get my parking pass validated before leaving. So I pull out the little pink slip and head to the ticket counter. There is only one woman working just then, and she is clearly in no hurry whatsoever. So I get to stand there patiently while the couple in front of me puzzle excessively over which seats they should select to maximize their movie experience. (So maybe there is a downside to having assigned seats here after all).

I’m trying not to be annoyed, when I look to my right, and there on the edge of the counter is the damn ticket validation stamp, positioned all nice and friendly right there so you can do it yourself! What a brilliant idea! I waited all this time, only to find out that – well it really doesn’t matter now. So I walk nonchalantly up to the counter, stick in my ticket, and imprint my own validation.

And then it hits me. I just validated myself! I went through this whole damn experiment, sat through 2 hours of adorably routine romantic fiction, and gained absolutely nothing new or insightful out of it until this. All it was for, all I really wanted out of this experience was simply that; self-validation. I went to a movie by myself today. No scratch that. I went to a movie for myself today. And in the end, I found self-validation. And I wore that smug self-satisfied smile on my face the whole drive home.

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