By Ashley Fetters

There’s an art to being happy alone in adulthood.

It has to be learned; it has to be practiced daily and dutifully tended to. But I promise it can be done. Really. Being unmarried, single, childless, yet satisfied and fabulous — it’s possible, I swear.

I mean, I think. It’s been almost four years since graduation, and four years since somebody I loved said to me, “We should talk about getting married” — and with these last four years of mostly solo, mostly happy early adulthood under my belt, I’m, like, pretty sure the keys to being alone but feeling complete are as follows:

  • Get a job you love; dive headfirst into it.
  • Know who your favorite friends are; make them your neighbors, your cooking partners, your dining cohorts, your workout buddies, your travel companions, your designated non-judgmental receivers of drunk/why-am-I-still-awake texts.
  • Remind yourself regularly that three’s not a crowd at all if you like spending time with both halves of a couple.
  • Read good books, all the time. Quit the ones you don’t like immediately.
  • Own exquisite bedsheets and wear the comfiest, most absurdly ugly pajamas you can find to bed.
  • Challenge yourself frequently to conquer alone what you think you need a partner for, whether that’s dancing or trail hiking or a Valentine’s Day meat platter for two.
  • Sleep right in the damn middle of your mattress, and every now and again as you fall asleep at night, appreciate how nice it is that your whole bed — and all your time, and all your money, and all your personal space and DVR space and bathroom-shelf space, and all your wine — belongs to you and you entirely.

It’s a good regimen, if I do say so myself. In my experience, it works about 51 weeks per year.

☐ ☐ ☐

This photo is a photo of my sister-in-law. That’s my nephew on her lap, and they’re participating in our family’s yearly Thanksgiving tradition, in which we all write down what we’re thankful for then share aloud what we’ve written. It’s a lovely tradition — really, it is. First on all of our “thankful lists” is always each other, and as you can see from the caption, my nephew always reveals what exactly has been holding his little-boy world together that year by giving thanks for stuff like Cars 2, macaroni and cheese, policemen, firemen, and, as an afterthought, his sister. But now that I sit at the grown-ups’ table, this yearly ritual is often the loneliest I feel all year.

For me, annual Thanksgiving festivities mean sharing a table with eight other adults, some close to my own age, who all married young and married wisely. When they share their “I am thankful for” lists, they express gratitude for their partnerships of nine years, of twelve years, of thirty-seven years, of forty-two years; for their two beautiful children, their three beautiful children, their four beautiful children. Everyone else seated at this table has managed to maintain for decades what I seem to only ever be able to hang onto in half measures, or for a few months or years at a time. They gaze warmly and sometimes tearfully at each other as they give thanks for partners who really do stick by them in sickness and in health, and for the opportunity to wake up every morning next to their best friend.


Maybe this is one of many table-for-one phases I’ll know in my lifetime, or maybe I’ll just keep on carving out a cozy space for myself in the world, accepting the challenge of building a life alone that feels meaningful.


So what’s cropped out of this very festive and #thankful Instagram, I suppose, is me — the aching ninth wheel, fumbling through “I’m thankful for my job, and, um… my education, and my apartment.” And then maybe lamely adding “And being able to sleep late on the weekends if I want to, heh,” all the while wondering why the cool job and the grown-ass-woman apartment now seem not brave but selfish, and why the lifestyle so thoroughly optimized for Doing Whatever I Want now seems so crass and small.

☐ ☐ ☐

I don’t really know what the moral of the story is here. Maybe it’s “Loneliness is real and it happens to everybody, no matter how loneliness-proofed you think you are.” Maybe it’s “Commit to someone you love while you’re young and don’t overthink it.” Maybe it’s “Be better than this Ashley Fetters person is at being in relationships” — or “Be better than this Ashley Fetters person is at being alone.” Maybe it’s just “Always remember to pack some Xanax when you go home for the holidays.”

But it’s hard to know the moral of a story, I suppose, when you also don’t know how it ends. Maybe this is one of many table-for-one phases I’ll know in my lifetime, or maybe I’ll just keep on carving out a cozy space for myself in the world, accepting the challenge of building a life alone that feels meaningful — fifty-two weeks per year, forever.

Or maybe one day I’ll accept the challenge of building a life with someone else that feels meaningful, 52 weeks per year, forever.

I guess I’ll have to keep you posted.

Ashley Fetters is the digital entertainment editor at GQ Magazine. She lives in New York.



By Catie L’Heureux

The photograph captures the view from my family’s lake house. Here, my dad sears whitefish on the grill while damp towels rim the peeling wooden deck and Michigan cherries cluster in tin bowls. On the dock we sip wine from stemless glasses and savor the fading sky, anchored in white Adirondack chairs. Here, I am happiest.

Posted to Facebook just before my college graduation, the photo belies my jobless angst: A newspaper internship had been revoked due to budgeting issues, then unexpectedly reinstated. I would soon be squatting in a filthy basement in a Chicago suburb all summer, bemoaning my lack of a real job. After the sunset and a few other shots, that was it: A year has passed since I’ve shared a photo to Facebook. I don’t Instagram. I seldom tweet. I don’t use dating apps. 

This post-college aversion to social media was abrupt in the same way adulthood bulldozed me. Living in a house with four girls who had all found full-time work, I grilled chicken and ate bagged salad every night, refusing to meet my eyes in the mirror before bed because I loathed the uncertainty, and I didn’t like myself. I cried a lot. I spent most evenings after the internship sprawled on my mattress scrolling through Facebook, tapping likes on happy photos of the friends I’d stopped meeting. Posting my own status or photo was unimaginable, because those choices were inevitably rooted in insecurities and looming failure (Does that profile picture show my best angle? Why haven’t more than 15 people liked this photo in the past hour? I tagged X in this photo yesterday; why hasn’t he liked it yet?).


This post-college aversion to social media was abrupt in the same way adulthood bulldozed me.


These anxieties taxed a mental energy I didn’t possess. So I stopped posting to Facebook, intermittently tweeted (to show prospective media employers an unfortunately tepid social media “savvy”), and wrote 40 cover letters in earnest until a magazine editor asked me to fly to New York for an interview. I got the job, and soon arrived with two suitcases at an all-women boardinghouse in Manhattan to start my new life (an experience I ended up writing about for the magazine).

My withdrawal from social media is inanely average. I didn’t cut myself or contemplate suicide, though I do identify with reports on the mental-health epidemic afflicting college students nationwide. I was fortunate to recover stability so quickly, stumbling into a salaried job that allows me to support myself without my parents’ help. It’s also important to acknowledge that my digital hiatus makes me less of a contributing citizen, for now. I read The New Yorker; I work at a general-interest culture magazine; I listen to NPR; but my absence from social media is ostensibly apathetic.

Here, then, are the things people don’t know. There is the wilting white rose on my desk, purchased after a solo dinner at an upscale restaurant last Saturday night. There is the faux-leather address book on my dresser, in which I thrillingly (nerdily) alphabetize new words with definitions from my phone’s Merriam-Webster app. There are the two museum tickets at my elbow, one of which will next weekend be shared with a guy I met at a bar who forebodingly wears Prada shoes. There is my favorite summer dress hanging in the closet, worn last summer while I indulged in the warm afternoon alone, reading Joan Didion’s essay collection on a bench in Central Park. There are the dear friends who still tag me in Facebook photos, knowing that I may not see or like their posts for weeks. Above all, there is a private solitude I share with no one but myself.

After graduating and moving to New York, I often vacillate between loneliness and aloneness. Friends are scattered throughout the city; I sporadically meet them for drinks and come home to a compact room with pale walls and a silence that can be deafening, or serene. Solitude defined is: a state or situation in which you are alone because you want to be. This idea — an actual desire to be alone — never occurred to me during college. It is now imperative, though still unsettling. Absence from social media engendered this freedom for me, for now. I think of our preciously unfettered 20’s and Susan Glaspell’s "The People" swirls to mind: “This is our little while. This is our chance.”

Catie L’Heureux is an assistant editor at New York magazine’s The Cut.



By Marina Csomor

I am faced with a great internal struggle whenever I find a house show or pop-up restaurant or art opening to attend. The initial thrill of possibility of who I might meet or what I could discover at such an event is soon overtaken by a creeping anxiety. But who can I get to go with me?

Although I’ve been living in Detroit for six months, my circle of friends is sadly still limited. I have a few friends living in the suburbs, a few others busy with full-time jobs and boyfriends, a few friends of friends and college acquaintances I know are nearby — but he is rarely willing to make the long, congested drive to the city; she is probably doing something with her S.O.; and I just asked her to hang out a few days ago.

I’m not good at asking for company, and as an introverted only child, I am used to embracing independence and riding solo. But it’s amazing how solitude loses its sheen when it’s a ceaseless reality rather than a bold choice. Sometimes I just don’t want to face a crowd of strangers alone.

Walking into Detroit’s contemporary art museum one Saturday afternoon in April, however, I am excited to be unaccompanied. I’m heading to a panel called “The Art of Food Sovereignty,” which has combined just about all of my callings — art, community, whole foods and social justice — in one talk. I’m ready to absorb the wisdom of like-minded individuals, and alone, I know I will be more approachable. This is my chance to infiltrate a community I have been longing to find.

The talk is great, and I feel fine by myself in the audience. I enjoy looking at the faces around me, noting the abundance of oversized glasses, thrift store threads and carefree bed head.

During the discussion, one of the panelists, a combination artist/farmer, passes around a bowl of greens she picked fresh that morning. I laugh to myself as the bowl gets to me. With no plates and no condiments, I know many people would find this communal snack absurd — even pretentious — but to me, it’s perfect.


Her joy, her ease, her light are apparent — and I find myself again wishing I could be more like her. I haven’t felt that happy in a long time.


These are my people — those I imagine to be that rare breed of authentic hipster, who like art and recycling and DIY because of real interest in radical change, not because it feels profound to be “different.” I see the potential in this crowd to be the supportive and stimulating collective I haven’t yet found in Detroit.

After the talk, there is a reception in the next room where an accompanying exhibit is on display. Fresh salad and medicinal tea are served. The panelists are mingling.

I walk to the gallery, on a mission. One of the panelists — the one who brought the greens — is a woman I have admired for many months after stumbling on a magazine feature about her life as an artist and farmer in Detroit. She is someone I dream of working with — of being, really. I know I must talk to her.

I grab salad and walk around the room, one eye on the display of canned fruits and veggies artfully arranged by color, and the other on her. She is happily hugging the friends who came to hear her talk. Her joy, her ease, her light are apparent — and I find myself again wishing I could be more like her. I haven’t felt that happy in a long time.

The moment I see her alone, I pounce.“Hello, my name is Marina,” I say clumsily, “and I am really interested in your work with art and food and community. I was wondering, does your farm ever take volunteers?”

She smiles, unaware how much I need her to say “yes,” and instead tells me that they usually just work with people in their neighborhood. I think she senses my desperation and adds that sometimes they have volunteer days. “Why don’t you take my number,” she offers. Actually, her email address is on this information card, so “why don’t you just take this and send me a message.” One last smile, and with that, she’s moved on to her next admirer.

I take a final turn about the room, pretending that everything is fine, hoping maybe someone else will strike up even the smallest conversation with me. But they don’t, and I bolt.


Above all, this year I have realized the importance of showing myself compassion when I feel like I’m falling apart.


Walking back to my car, I feel awkward and hopeless. What am I doing? Why am I so lost? As I put the key in the ignition, I begin bawling.

I can’t seem to stop the tears, so I let them keep pouring. With the darkness of this last year, I have cried so many times in public that I don’t even care that the drivers of passing cars can probably see my red, raw face.

I cry in embarrassment at the regression of my social skills. I cry for my desperation to find someone, anyone, who will be my bridge to community in Detroit. I cry because her niceness is just not quite nice enough.

I consider calling my mom, but I’ve shared so many desperate moments with her over the last few months that I figure I might as well spare her from this breakdown.

When I get back to my apartment, I lie down on my bed and pull the covers up to my chin. I ignore my to-do list and the sun shining outside, and open my laptop to watch a movie.

Above all, this year I have realized the importance of showing myself compassion when I feel like I’m falling apart, even if it means being unproductive or antisocial. So, I let myself spend the rest of the day in bed.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll send her that email. But not today.

Marina Csomor is a designer and writer living in Detroit.