First we discussed our experiences of date night. Kim's instructions were to go to dinner and a movie by yourself; none of us quite did that. J.C.H. has done that ever and relied on past experiences to discuss it. Sonja went for a frozen yogurt by herself. C.R. went to a wine-and-design class by herself, complete with her own half bottle of wine. I went to dinner and an improv show by myself. M.E. chose not to do this activity.
We all talked about our own experiences, why we might avoid this kind of thing, and how none of us felt the feelings Kim suggested came up in these types of situations might apply to us. Those of us who are typically uncomfortable or disinclined to go out on our own were almost never afraid of being perceived as weird or losers. I posited that, as a crowd of nerds, we had all stopped worrying about that sort of thing long ago.
Our reservations were more idiosyncratic. I won't tell you whose was which, but they included:
- fear of engaging in rumination due to anxiety and not finding our solo activities distracting enough to keep the rumination at bay
- fear of being approached by strangers, of looking available and interested in others because we were alone
- difficulties with loved ones who perceive our need for alone time as an indication that we don't want to spend time with them
- and mine, which was basically that I'm fine going shopping or to an improv show or to eat by myself, but the great joy for me in seeing movies is discussing them with friends and loved ones afterward, and if I go by myself I'm denied that pleasure.
We moved on to addressing Lauren Bacon's The One Question You Must Ask:
When you’re on your deathbed, what do you need to have experienced in order to feel you’ve lived a good and fulfilling life?
A few of us had a lot of trouble with this question. All I could really settle on was that I wanted my family to know they were loved. J.C.H. indicated that she wanted to have made people's lives better, somehow. Several of us agreed with that. M.E. got really specific, down to travel and opening a red panda preserve. C.R. and I, who have near identical career trajectories (she's a few years further along than I am), both felt that the thing we're devoting our time to (Ph.D.s in Information and Library Science) aligned with the idea that we want to make the world a better place, but that neither of us would lie on our deathbed thinking, "Boy I'm sure glad I published all those articles," or, "Yay, I wrote a book. I have lived a good and fulfilling life." Sonja admitted that she does want to have a book published through traditional methods and physically in print, referencing it as a form of immortality or a legacy.
We also talked about how, for some of us, the idea that we should direct our priorities based on the speculation of what an assumed future us might want is a bit sticky; we've each changed and grown so much already, and none of us is over 40. Who knows what our priorities might be 30, 40, or 50 years from now? Who can say what we will wish we had done?
We then came up with a couple of ways to frame the question we felt were more useful.
First, a question that Lauren Bacon frames: What do you want to be remembered for? Many of us found this more useful, though I still settled on "For loving my family" and had a hard time getting beyond that.
Then, If you were to die very soon, what would you not have done yet that you would have wished you had? This was a useful, but tough question, because one of us had experienced the sudden and unexpected loss of a dear friend very recently. But it did frame things more immediately for us. Ever the slacker, I was still thinking, "I think everybody knows I love them, I feel like I'm in good shape." There are lots of things it would be a bummer not to have done, but nothing that would be a deep regret for me.
In the end, I'm not sure any of us got more comfortable with being alone than we already were or found clarity to help us prioritize better, but we definitely had a great conversation. I'm looking forward to next time!