Masturdate [ mas-ter-deyt ]
Verb (used without object), mas-tur-dat-ed, mas-tur-dat-ing
1. to engage in dating oneself
I went on my first “real” date in February of 2018. I was 33 years old. He was 45 minutes late. To be honest, I wasn’t overly excited to be there. I knew there was some significance to the event, but it was kind of like taking your first ever sip of alcohol. You didn’t really care what it was just so long as you did it, and it was usually with whatever was on hand like peach schnapps or a warm cheap beer someone snuck out of their dad’s stash. At 33, I was experienced enough to know the first was significant, but also well aware of expectations and to keep my bar low. This was going to be the peach schnapps of first dates.
The date itself was wrangled out of an intoxicated man who tried going toe-to-toe with me through shots of tequila. When closing time forced the two of us out onto the street and our flirtations turned into him kissing me against the wall as I waited for my ride home, I figured I’d give it a shot. The last 15 years of subtle hints falling flat were out the door. I had already gone without any sex or intimate interaction for 3 years at this point, and it wasn’t because I was beating guys off with a stick. I just accepted I wasn’t a dateable, romantic person. I never closed that door, though. I had crushes, I attempted to flirt, I thought I was putting out hints, but it all fell on deaf ears. I was reminded of the time when frustration got the best of me, and after matching with over 30 guys on a dating site without a single one of them sending me a message or responding to an opening “hey there” from me, I went AWOL. I took a book out of the dude-Bible and sent a blanket message out to every single one of my matches. Each one a Mad Lib: same structure but with spaces to include unique facts and figures pulled from the recipient’s profile. We all know how much everyone loves spam …how could this go wrong?
My various hypotheses, theories and experiments over the years had all resulted in the same outcome: I was delightfully platonic and utterly incompatible with romantic love.
Two weeks after my raiding party, I managed to coax 2 ongoing conversations that ended with me offering multiple dates/times/locations to meet in person and both of those gentlemen giving me the kiss off with their best “haha you’re funny…”. End scene. Cut back to a brick wall at 19th and Samson on an oddly warm February night (or was it the tequila?): I pulled his head and his tongue away from my face as my car approached and told him, hopefully cutting through the tequila haze, “You have to ask me out on a date. I’m not going to ask you. You have to ask me.” He giggled, and paused. This was the moment of truth. In this pause, I wanted to shake his head by the ears and tell him, “Do you even know who I am?! I’m a fucking treasure, and I didn’t need my mother to tell me that. I’m the one people want on their beer league team AND their quizzo team.” This unnecessary pause by my slightly less tall and far more inebriated potential paramour, though par for the course, was another gut punch. As I pulled away to get in the car, he asked for my number and, through gibberish words, promised to ask me out. That was more than I had gotten in the past, so I chalked it up as a definite maybe.
Two days later, contact. He asked me out to dinner and even made a reservation for a Friday night.
I remember leaving work early that day just so I could exhaustively prepare myself in that typical ritual of cycling through outfits, hairstyles, etc. I also left enough time to stop and get a bottle of wine in case ::gasp:: he brought something sweet. I got to the restaurant right on time, which was an actual feat for me. He wasn’t there yet, and no text from him. I proceeded to drink an entire bottle of wine while the waiter and hostess gave me pained looks of sympathy, all while fielding his awkward calls to the restaurant’s landline, full of various excuses as to why he was late. His barrage of texts didn’t help. I was here and I was gonna see this thing through if it killed me. I should have left. Instead, I “dated” him for another 3 months because, like I said, I’m not a quitter when it comes to toxic situations. “Dating” is a word used solely for ease, by the way. That excruciating dinner at a center city BYOB was the first and last time my ex actually set up a “date”, made a reservation, paid, etc. Three months later I found myself outside of Melrose Diner at 4 A.M., breaking up with him over the remembered price of a corned beef sandwich I had just eaten (and paid for!). Truth be told, the time between these events was less than noteworthy.
Each one a Mad Lib: same structure but with spaces to include unique facts and figures pulled from the recipient’s profile.
What I did realize, however, was how much time I had wasted. Not just the past 3-4 months spent as a “girlfriend”, but rather the last 15 or more years as Casey: Perpetually Single Platonic Female Friend. I fit that role so well! I knew how to play it, and I knew all the lines. I had a lot of fun being that person even though there was a significant amount of disappointment. I was invited to all the ski trips and beach houses, but I had to sleep on the couch in the hallway because all of the couples had priority on bedrooms. I was invited as a plus one to a bunch of weddings because I was the last resort when the other girls they were interested in said no. I started to actually believe the only way to live a better life was to be with a partner.
I was having less than bad luck in that department, but with my magical coping skills I channeled all of that misery into recreational sports and beer leagues. What a roller coaster that was! Men across Philadelphia finally wanted me… to play 1st base. I drank from that cup for over 10 years, assuming this was the most satisfaction I could achieve being desired for being a woman. I was on up to 8 teams at one time, running from league to league and field to field, juggling more offers than I would ever produce on Tinder. I was actually having to let men down. I was hot shit, but I was also denying myself any kind of happiness or satisfaction outside of my Sport and Social avatar.
I watched as friend after friend met their partner, got married, branched out, and adjusted their life course. Ultimately, they experienced and achieved things off the field that I felt were unavailable to me. I had put all of my eggs in one basket at this point. Unfortunately that basket was not compatible with arthritic knees and meniscal tears. By 2016, the walls were closing in and I had to hang up my cleats. I fell into a supremely deep depression as the perception of my identity and inherent value was largely gone. I made myself believe that I was now undesirable on or off the field. Again, I played the part I felt I was handed and maintained a cactus-like stature amid the driest of droughts. Pure survival mode was initiated, and for 3 years I lived like an automaton: Work, Eat, Netflix, Sleep, and the occasional social outing that I had to mentally prepare myself for, to only come home completely emotionally drained and yearning to be anything but a cactus anymore. It was an uncomfortable period of numbness. In my mind, I had successfully shifted from a hopeful outlook on love, to something more pragmatic and clinical (if you want to consider that a success).
My various hypotheses, theories and experiments over the years had all resulted in the same outcome: I was delightfully platonic and utterly incompatible with romantic love. I felt my only recourse was to go nuclear and completely snuff out that frustrating flicker of hope that had burned for so many years. It was overly dramatic, it was survival, and it was an unexpected catalyst. I didn’t know it at the time, but that nihilistic cataclysm would eventually birth my foray into “Masturdating”.
Alone always implied there was an absence of something or someone.
For years, I wouldn’t go to a movie theater by myself. The prospect of going into a movie alone was absolutely mortifying. The completely unfounded feeling of peer pressure felt like a vestigial artifact left over from my adolescent and teenage years. As if others in the theater would see me sitting alone, pity me, and then post about the sad girl watching the latest Pirates of the Carribean by herself. It was absurd for a 30-year-old to think that way, but there I was. That was of course until the interesting new mix of apathy and depression kicked in. Suddenly I felt invisible and otherwise unbothered by previously bothersome bullshit. This incredibly unhealthy mix led to a major breakthrough, however. I started going to movies alone. Every. Single. Week. My depression was being soothed by the latest blockbusters and buttered popcorn. My apathy put a chokehold on any self-conscious hesitations I may have had. I was literally and proverbially in a very dark room, but I was enjoying the show either way.
My ventures had not expanded outside of the movie theater just yet. This was still Masturdation-lite. I was soothing myself, more than anything else. I stuck to movies as my go-to solo activity as there was still some anonymity built in. In my mind, attending events like concerts, performances, games, or going to a restaurant were activities reserved for people with plus-one’s. The amount of money I wasted purchasing two tickets to a concert, failing to find a companion to attend, and then bailing on the show all together was downright criminal. I actively denied myself experiences because the embarrassment of being alone seared through my psyche like a raw nerve. Nearly 2 years went by before I was presented with the opportunity of going on a “real” date and achieving non-single personhood. The lure of being in this exclusive club was such a powerful draw that I shrugged off that disaster of a first date and continued with the relationship more for the experience rather than the connection. I thought I was finally going to be able to go out and experience all of these things I had told my single self I didn’t deserve. After a few months of being an official girlfriend, I was both devastated and delighted to discover my previous beliefs were absolute HORSESHIT. Perhaps otherwise obvious to any other reasonable person, I instead had to experience how horribly wrong I was about the doors that would and would not open due to being in a relationship. As it turns out, they are all open if you are willing to step through. This realization came much later in life than I had hoped, but it arrived right when it was supposed to.
I didn’t need to be with someone in order to experience things that brought me joy.
I had spent years and years fantasizing about how being in a relationship with someone would finally change my life, and in a way I was right. The grass was not greener on the other side of singlehood, but the experience shed a desperately needed light on the relationship I had with myself. I was not going to get out of an identity crisis while also maintaining a state of near-total avoidance. So started the next more intensive phase of Masturdating.
2019 hit, and I was well out from under the dating experience. A serious resolution for the year had formed in my head: Casey Goes Masturdating. I was going to take myself out! Whatever concert, restaurant, festival that I would have otherwise recoiled at the thought of attending alone, I was going. This feeling of focus and motivation was unexpected but familiar. It almost brought about a sense of nostalgia, as this inner drive had been dulled down for years in an act of self-preservation. If I couldn’t feel, I couldn’t hurt. Thankfully, I was revving back to life and beginning to see how being alone was actually a great opportunity. I started off the process with a bang: a nosebleed ticket to the opera, and dinner at a new restaurant around the corner from the theater. I immediately reaped the rewards of Masturdating, as I was able to relocate my seat to a better view without any hassle.
I expected dinner would prove to be a little more tricky. I sat at the bar and readily explained to the bartender that I was on a date with myself (if only to address my personal elephant in the room). I happily took up the mantle of being the quirky lady eating alone, without an ounce of regret. It was truly the best date I had ever been on, even though the bar had been set exceedingly low. This positive initial experience led to a year full of concert outings, being a tourist in my own city, solo and third-wheel travel, participating in a few midnight Rocky Horror Picture Show performances, saying goodbye to Skeletor Karaoke at the Troc and becoming a regular at Fergie’s Friday Night Live Band Karaoke, rediscovering my love of standup, and taking up a keen interest in absurdist theatre. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fantastic people-watching you can do when you sign up for a Paint Night by yourself. Worth every penny.
Through the power of Masturdation, I began to redefine what “alone” meant to me. Alone always implied there was an absence of something or someone. By defining aloneness in this way, I constantly put myself in a deficit. Following my long awaited yet unexpected epiphany, the definition of being alone shifted into the realm of opportunity, flexibility, and personal growth. Through Masturdation, I rediscovered myself. I didn’t need to be with someone in order to experience things that brought me joy. I was alone while I pushed to the front of the pit at The Met in order to get as close to Lizzo and her flute as I could. I was alone when I offered Gary Clark Jr. my spliff as he played on stage at Underground Arts. I was alone for my first WWE Smackdown experience and subsequent run-in with one of the stars at the bar afterwards (photo evidence exists!). When 2020 rolled around with the shutdown soon after, the idea of being “alone” came screaming to the collective forefront. As postponements, cancellations, closures and quarantine forced the issue of aloneness on millions, I was ready. Not only was I beyond grateful that I had worked at a frenzied pace in 2019 to make up for lost time, I was also thoroughly prepared for the inherent solitude of 2020. I already had a year under my belt of practicing and perfecting the art of spending good quality time with myself. Whether it was fate, luck, or coincidence, my foray into Masturdating came at the perfect time. I no longer felt an absence in being alone. After all, I’m a pretty good time if I do say so myself.