I love going to the movies. A small contingency of Wildcards would enjoy weekly “$5 Movies” on Wednesday nights at the local theater. We still do on occasion, but now that some of us have moved, and life has gotten busier and more “adult-like”, it’s been harder to make Wednesday night (sometimes any night) work.
As an experiment of sorts, I recently went to the movies by myself. I’ve always liked the idea of being brave enough to go alone while simultaneously thinking it’s weird to go to the movies without someone else. Also, I have social anxiety mixed with a desire for a stronger self-identity, so it seemed like a great idea to stretch my comfort zone and gain a little autonomy.
I chose the movie Gifted with Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer (because I just adore both of them), and decided to see to in the early afternoon on a Sunday, when the theater theoretically would be less crowded.
The theater I went to lets you choose your seat when you buy the ticket. I always try to sit dead-center in the theater, usually in the middle of the group I’m with. My instinct this time was to snag a seat in the back row, so no one could sit behind me and judge how alone I looked. However, the back row was all taken. And since there was no group to keep me feeling like my edges were protected, I defaulted to an end seat for an easy escape from those prying eyes I was sure would be judging my every solitary move.
Now, even though I’d just had lunch, I stopped at the concessions for my usual order of popcorn and bottled water. This is defensive mechanism two (or three if you’re counting my seat-choice-strategy as two moves), performing a familiar habit in an unfamiliar setting. Plus, munching popcorn could give me something to focus on other than wondering what that back row is thinking about the weird loner on the end near the front. Concessions roadblock: there were only two popcorn sizes — regular and large — and I usually get the itty bitty “junior” size at my usual movie spot. Of course, a rational person might have simply asked if they offer a kid’s size, but remember — social anxiety! I ordered my ridiculously large “regular” and strutted as confidently as possible up the stairs in search of my theater.
Even though the lights were up and shining like a freaking spotlight on my lonely little self, and the people in the back were whispering and giggling, I settled into my seat as casually as I could. I allowed myself one text to my husband letting him know I’d survived thus far, then put my phone away (this is something I’m working on in general, to not depend on my phone in “vulnerable” social situations).
The lights went down and I relaxed. For two blissful minutes, I settled deeper into my seat and focused on the previews.
Then an older couple came and sat right next to me. Right. Next. To me. No buffer seat. It didn’t make sense. Literally the entire theater, other than the back row, was open — which they would have seen on the screen when they bought their tickets — but they chose the seats directly beside the one single person. My heartrate kicked up a notch, but I realized I was more annoyed than anything.
It did make me a little more conscious of myself throughout the movie, if I laughed at something they didn’t, when I had to brush tears from my eyes. I’d get brief anxious whispers: what if that was rude to laugh at? What if they’re judging me? However, the movie itself was so good, I kept getting sucked back in, until the next moment I’d giggle or sniffle and remember I wasn’t quite as “alone” as I might have liked.
The high that carried me home was fantastic. I’d done this brave, out of character thing that turned out overall pretty great. I felt fearless and confident.
Now, when I think about trying it again, that familiar anxiety rears its head, but I’m able to remind myself I survived it once. Even better, it didn’t feel like I just “survived”; I felt — for a little while at least — almost invincible. It’s worth the fear to give it another go.