When you become single after a long relationship, one of the many changes in your life is an abundance of free time. And how you fill that free time is up for scrutiny when you’re dating and have to impress the person across the dinner table. Except oftentimes it doesn’t feel like you’re having dinner in a restaurant, it feels like you’re having an interview in a conference room with no windows and environmentally unfriendly lighting.
Maybe it goes something like this:
“So.. what do you do for fun?”
“Um.. I run half marathons! Well, I ran one. In September. And I’m training for another one in March. Here in the city. Yeah, so, I’m getting back into training and–”
“–oh, cool, yeah I did a half Ironman last month, gearing up for the full this summer. Where’s your favorite running spot? What’s your pace? What’s your favorite goo? Have you ever thought about doing the marathon…”
In college and immediately afterwards, when people asked you about your interests and hobbies, you were expected to earnestly and intently discuss the typical Facebook categories: favorite TV shows, movies, music, and (if you were really trying to flex your intellectual muscle) books; how much you love your family and friends; and then one quirky hobby or obsession, like your determination to try every new chocolate cake recipe you find.
Fast forward only a few years, when a person with a good education and regular job with one quirky interest is no longer intriguing, if even interesting. And such a thin resume certainly won’t impress your date, who probably spent the summer between high school and college translating his quirky interest into a way to raise money to feed undernourished children around the world.
I’ve been told that when applying for anything–admission to any educational institution, jobs, promotions–you need to distinguish yourself from the competition early and often. Your resume has to be not only well-rounded and packed with activity, but also catchy enough to distinguish you from the rest of the applicants right away. In a moment in our societal evolution characterized by our eagerness to identify, solidify, and promote our own personal brand, you need an elevator speech not only for your company, but for your quiddity. This turns out to be something between your life’s mission statement and the pithy description that shows up after your Twitter handle.
Having unique interests doesn’t cut the chase. You must have unique activities in order to stand out. You love anime? So do millions of over-intellectualized suburban teenagers. Tell me your hand-drawn anime cartoons are being featured at an underground art gallery. You like to cook? So does my dad. Tell me you’re writing a cookbook based on your creations from your organic sustainable rooftop garden. And don’t fall for any questions about your television-watching habits, because you may find yourself in a conversation something like this:
“So.. are you into any TV shows?”
“Well, yeah, I record a few shows.”
“Oh.. what do you watch?”
“Ummm let’s see here where do I begin!? I guess I’ll go chronologically through the week. There’s Glee and the New Girl, Modern Family and Revenge, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, Community, the Office, Grey’s Anatomy, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and the League. Oh and some HBO shows when they’re on, True Blood and Game of Thrones. What about you?”
“I don’t own a TV.”
Unless you are a professional television critic, regular television viewership has come to be seen as an indicator of anti-intellectualism. Watching television is only interesting if you pepper your conversation with obscure quotes from Arrested Development, ironically watch reality shows starring people who are too tan, or earnestly watch any of the premium channel shows featuring violence and graphic sex. Certainly no one would want me to admit that I absolutely DO record and watch Say Yes to the Dress, which is in fact incredibly difficult because of its erratic off-season schedule which airs new and old episodes in succession.. but I digress. By now my dinner partner has written me off as a couch potato with little to no intellectual capacity.
The way I describe it, my life may sound as if it’s split between watching and discussing television. It’s not; though it took a stranger to get me to see that clearly. I recently had a flirtation while on a vacation. The man I met was sweet, sincere, and boyishly cute. He was also working a full time job, attending classes most evenings to earn his masters degree, and bartending every Saturday. Oh, and he had a dog. When I told him about my life, he was impressed. All I could think was, You’re impressed by me? All I do is work ONE job and look after no one but myself. But when I got back to New York I realized that although I may not pull down $1 million a year or cure cancer or broker world peace, I do have my shit together. I am self-sufficient, I’m a good friend, and damn it, I like my life.
Then again, I have a feeling no matter how much I like my life, some luxuries will always elude me. I was recently humbled when I found myself in the apartment of a man my age with a 60 inch television equipped with not only HD but also 3D viewing options, complete with goofy theater-style glasses. He’d previously been without television for a year and claimed to have been quite content with that arrangement. So either I’m not the only girl getting the Friday night dog and pony show in extra dimensions, or I’ve just witnessed how much money someone with a sizable income is willing to spend on something they really don’t care about.
But I guess I should just throw on those glasses and enjoy the show.