And the newfound joy of “masturdating” in public
During a conference call with life coach Kimi Lu, the question, “Do you guys masturdate?” came up. The Wonder team and I were in the early stages of planning our first pocket event, a self-care workshop, when we first heard of the term. Since I had no prior knowledge of it (which apparently refers to the art of dating yourself), I heard “bate” instead of “date” and replied, “Yes, of course. Who doesn’t?”
Moments later and the phonetic misunderstanding clarified, I found myself switching answers: “Wait…no…I actually don’t.” That realization made me more uncomfortable than the fact that I outright confirmed—to a room of colleagues and a well-respected life coach whom I only just met—that I on the regular make sweet, sweet (self-)love.
When was the last time I consciously set up an activity designed for my enjoyment of my own company? I had no answer.
I had never taken myself out on a date. I had never eaten alone at a restaurant. I had never been to the movies by myself let alone thought to block off a couple of hours in a week to do an activity by myself, for myself. I had never actively carved out “me time” outside of home. It was only always the byproduct of finding out I had extra time on my hands or, as mentioned above, the party for one in the bedroom.
“When was the last time I consciously set up an activity designed for my enjoyment of my own company? I had no answer.”
For months following that conference call, I was stumped; I pored over the things I did for and with the people I had a relationship with. The dinner dates and nights out, after-work drinks, down to my family’s “Sunday is family day” rule: these reflected the amount of investment, love, and care I had for people who’ve added and continue to add value to my life. How was it that I left out my relationship with the one person guaranteed to be stuck with me for life?
There was nothing surprising about it though; I put myself in that position. In the big picture of high-priority relationships and obligations, that position was really no position at all. I allowed some unchecked discomfort from being alone––most especially in a social setting—to nip the promising prospect of masturdating in the bud. Three’s a party. Two’s company. One is…just sad.
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My personal experience aside, some considerations about the human relationship: first and most importantly, people are social creatures. On that, I could have rested my case and gone on without ever having dated myself. Anthropologically speaking, mere survival depended largely on early humans functioning in groups: something evident in their teamwork, sharing food with one another, networking, and the creation of a shared culture. It’s a principle that still applies today. Astoundingly enough, even in civilized society, relationships still have a lot to do with survival. Research by PLOS Medicine found that social relationships have an impact on a person’s physical and mental health. This particular study reported that social interaction has the power to increase a person’s chance for survival by up to 50% with health benefits that are “comparable to quitting smoking and exceed those of losing weight or increasing physical activity.”
On the other end of the spectrum, a handful of health-related perks are likewise linked to being alone. The solitude from solo dating comes with its own posse: clarity of mind, stress relief, and a better grasp of self-awareness. In the article “The Capacity to Be Alone as a Stress Buffer” published by The Journal of Social Psychology, researchers Reed Larson and Meery Lee discovered that spending time alone is an effective way to decompress and recharge your internal mental battery. People who regularly do this develop empathy, self-confidence, and mental strength along the way, too.
“Sitting there, I realized that it wasn’t so much being alone that I was worried about. It was appearing lonely.”
For those working in creative industries, momentary social isolation does a lot to boost productivity and fine-tune the creative process. Gregory J. Feist, a Professor of Psychology at San Jose State University, explained on BBC Future that through this practice, artists are better able to “make sense of their internal world” and use that understanding to effectively communicate ideas to other people.
Opportunities for self-reflection––rare as they’ve become and whether or not you are an artist looking to get in the right headspace––are worth grabbing when they come to the fore. They’re just a lot harder to come by in the company of others.
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In an attempt to tweak this part of my dating life, I gave dating myself a try. I used a realistic and sustainable date night template: dinner for one, a movie for one, and afterward, coffee for one. Part of it was also basking in the giddy-with-anticipation feeling before a first date. Given my non-pursuit of masturdating, I had never considered making getting ready to date myself just as enjoyable a ceremony as getting ready to date someone else is. I had every reason to, but the knee-jerk reaction was hard to fight. To make an event out of something with myself in the center of it felt weird. It felt needlessly self-indulgent. I honestly believed that this kind of effort was more worthwhile with another person at the receiving end. That only revealed to me the true state of my relationship with myself. There was nothing noble about selling myself short (yes, even to myself), yet there I was: big on the self-love movement, but never exploring beyond the surface-level “treat yo self” aspect of it all.
I resolved to have a hell of a good time out of that dinner and a movie, marked a day in my calendar weeks in advance, and decided to be deliberate about the date I was going on. I got dressed up for myself and was actually genuinely excited for what was to come. One of those things being a glorious Steel Plate Cooked Garlic Butter “Salpicao” Steak at a restaurant that I always “wanted to try but could never find the time for.”
I was overjoyed by the liberating feeling of getting to decide just for myself: the weight of extra accountability somehow lifted and the strain of things fighting for attention somehow tempered. My enthusiasm, however, morphed into unease. I pledged to steer clear of smartphone use in order to be in the moment and that turned out to be a bigger challenge than I had let on. Because when you sit across from no one and have nobody to converse with, you’re left with silence and space that takes time to get used to: the bare naked feeling of participating in social activities with no social lubrication to mimic the comforts of having company.
I realized, sitting there, that it wasn’t so much being alone that I was worried about. It was appearing lonely.
With gazes from strangers, some blank staring, and a lot of awkward hang time, I was reminded of an incident involving a friend who happens to be a solo dating enthusiast. He was enjoying alone time at a restaurant when the hostess sat two people going on a date at the table right next to him. The girl in the couple looked over and began making small talk. “Hi! What are you having?” she asked. My friend, mid-chew, just pointed to the food in front of him with his mouth. “Aw,” she responded. “Sad eating alone, no?” My friend wolfed down his one good bite and said: “Girl, magbe-break rin kayo.”
A bit of sass to that girl’s crass, but I understood his reaction completely. There it was: confirmation that being alone is associated with loneliness. A falsehood I did buy into myself.
I’d say getting over this was the trickiest part about dating myself; nevertheless, it was a hurdle worth overcoming. It took a while to get the hang of all that time, space, and silence, only because suddenly, there was really just so much of them. But with time, there was the liberty to do the things I wanted to do and be a little selfish. With space, breathing room, and a distraction-free place to get reacquainted with myself. With silence, a desire to be more thoughtful about what I filled it with next time.
Compared to the dinner date for one, catching a movie at the cinema by myself was a cakewalk. It was just another way to learn that being alone in a crowded room can be a source of enjoyment, too. Over coffee afterward, I helped myself to a couple of chapters from a new book and finally felt it: solitude. More importantly, gratification with myself for learning how to stop caring about what people thought and for becoming content with being alone. I was learning to become self-sufficient in the efforts to find my bliss and that act alone made me very happy.
Still, as illuminating as the first try at self-dating was, it was technically just that…a first date. In the same way relationships with other people call for some form of maintenance, the art of dating yourself requires regularity, too. So now, me, myself, and I? We’ve never been more certain about being in good company and we’re stoked for the pivotal and exciting second date we have next month.
Art Alexandra Lara