You may know my friend Mike as Michael Alvear, cohost of HBO’s The Sex Inspectors. But to me he is just Mike from way back when we were both foraging for work as writers in Atlanta, before I was ever on The Tonight Show and he was ever starring in a television series of his damn own. Anyway, recently my friend Mike asked me if I ever get lonely, and I was shocked, I tell you.
Not by the question itself. Seeing as how Mike is an expert on relationships now that he has a TV show that seriously invades people’s privacy, he figures he can ask me serious questions about my state of loneliness. Everyone else just assumes I am either buried in various boyfriends or, if they are my really super-close friends, they simply use my reliable state of solitude as fodder for ridicule. So no, the question itself did not shock me. What shocked me is that I cannot remember the last time someone seriously asked it of me.
So I had to seriously think, and that is another shocker, because I am a humorist and thinking seriously is something people literally pay me to help them avoid. But I had to seriously think about my answer before stating it to Mike, because if I had answered him with one of my normal derisive quips, it would have been problematic. Rather than busting me for skirting his concern, Mike would have totally let me slide and never brought it up again. But then he would have worried about me.
See? You do not want your good friends to worry about you when you’re pretty sure there is nothing to worry about. So when your friend asks you a serious question, especially one like that—don’t you ever feel lonely?—you have to understand that they are already a little worried, so answering it, the serious question, with anything but the truth is just going to make it worse in their heads.
Mike asked me this question because he has not seen me date anyone in a hundred years. That does not mean I haven’t dated; it just means he hasn’t seen me do it. But he is my good friend, so if I had been doing it in any measurable amount at all, he would have noticed. So basically, what I guess I’m saying—and it pains me to acknowledge this—is that Mike’s question was a valid one.
“Mike,” I said, and here he knew I was about to be serious because I said his name in a serious way, “I don’t feel lonely. Here is what I feel when it comes down to it: I am so happy to be free of any bad relationship that I haven’t gotten around to longing for company again in any lasting way. I love my solitude like an emotional concentration camp survivor. I’m free and I feel it every day. I wake up and go to bed knowing it. I walk outside knowing it. I breathe in and out knowing it. Seriously. I love it.” And I mean it.
I also confess I don’t know how long this will last, because I’m aware I might not always be reveling in my solitude. The day might come when all of a sudden I stop being ecstatic over it and realize I forgot to get around to having a husband until death did us part. I think about this a lot, too, because I’ve been pretty happy lately, or at least happy for someone who is known for having the personality of a large sardonic vat of acid. And since I am a large sardonic vat of acid at heart, I don’t really trust happiness to last.
So because of this I sometimes see myself at sixty with all the loneliness I should have been feeling now all of a sudden catching up with me, with no way to handle it except to try and entice neighborhood guys to come over by claiming I need help with hard-to-reach zippers and such. “Sometimes I think I need to be working on ensuring that doesn’t happen,” I told Mike, “but it seems I’d have to be dissatisfied with my state of solitude right now in order to set about changing it, and right now I just can’t get around to being dissatisfied with it. It’s like when we go to that Thai restaurant and I always order the same thing. We’ve been there like twenty times, but I love that entree so much I’m probably gonna have to order it twenty more times before I venture into other parts of the menu. I really, really, seriously love it.
“Does that answer your question?” I asked Mike. He did not answer. But he did not look worried, either.
Illustration by Peter Arkle