The Best Date of Your Life
It starts with a black dress. Tight, and yet comfortable, though it doesn’t have pockets. Add some jewelry because bright yellow or orange or turquoise makes me feel more of this earth, and these colors all have stories and histories. Cozy shoes, woven from the women who live in Otavalo, Ecuador, and purchased long enough ago that they have formed to my feet in a perfect hug. A new purse, yellow and red, bought along one of the market streets in Oaxaca City. A little mascara, a little concealer on these pesky chin pimples that love to flare up during my hormonal cycles–one of the beauties, and downsides, of having stopped birth control pills almost a year ago. Getting to know my cycle intimately means accepting all of her full expression. With these adornments, I throw on my new sweater-wrap and walk out into the crisp night. Ready.
The destination is a little place called El Destilado, one of those restaurants that has hundreds of photos on TripAdvisor and enough comments of “the best meal of my life” that one can already taste the complex flavors on the tongue: chocolate from the black mole (pronounced mo-lay, meaning sauce. Think guacamole), citrus splashes, Oaxaqueña cheese, the smokiness of mezcal. I walk into the restaurant and sit down at the bar, waiting to be taken to a second bar, the bar in the back–the place to go for those of us who do not have reservations and are waiting for no one but ourselves to show up.
When did the concept of a self-date night become a thing? I’m sure there’s a social media trend dating back 2–3.5 years of hashtags and articles. There is probably an organization or 2, a life coach or 17, who recommend self date nights as the cure to…disenchantment with oneself, I suppose. It is a feeling that I’m learning about intimately. Thankfully, the sense of self-frustration doesn’t fully manifest to that of disenchantment. I always seem to find enough magic in the weirdness of me, my excitements and eagerness and curiosity, that I can let those negative voices pass through. It starts with a black dress. Tight, and yet comfortable, though it doesn’t have pockets. Add some jewelry because bright yellow or orange or turquoise makes me feel more of this earth, and these colors all have stories and histories. Cozy shoes, woven from the women who live in Otavalo, Ecuador, and purchased long enough ago that they have formed to my feet in a perfect hug. A new purse, yellow and red, bought along one of the market streets in Oaxaca City. A little mascara, a little concealer on these pesky chin pimples that love to flare up during my hormonal cycles–one of the beauties, and downsides, of having stopped birth control pills almost a year ago. Getting to know my cycle intimately means accepting all of her full expression. With these adornments, I throw on my new sweater-wrap and walk out into the crisp night. Ready.
El Destilado serves fancy menus–you know the type. The Chef Specials of 6 or 9 or 12 plates, each plate decorated immaculately and served with a description. I, recently unemployed after finishing a contract leading a semester-abroad program, have saved up a bit, and yet, balked at committing to the full 9-course meal. I felt the opulence of it all, and I opted for the 6, as well as a new twist on a traditional mezcal cocktail. The waitress, Carolina, escorted me to my place at the back bar, a dark-wooden cave filled with sunset lighting and books on Mexican culture and calaveras, the Mexican skulls. I sat down on the high stool and draped one leg across another, opened up my notebook, and began to doodle.
Some women on self dates perhaps can fully immerse themselves with the food and drink, staring whimsically at the world while they savor the flavors. I tend to be a bit too distracted for this, and so I had come armed with my own accouterments–a pencil, pens, a notebook. Even a book, “Women Who Run With the Wolves,” which has been my literary guide for the last two weeks. In the book, the amazing Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes of “La Que Sabe,” the woman who knows. She’s an archetype as old as time, crafted form various indigenous stories both in North America as well as parts of Central and South America. She brought the first woman to life, carved from the wrinkle on the underside of her foot. I haven’t been able to look at my feet the same way since. If you are barefoot, or not, I encourage you, whoever you are, to look at the underside of your feet– stroke those love lines, those wrinkles formed from time, that have helped hold you up. They suddenly seem to be the rivers carved through dry desert basins, the slink of a snake on the soil, the line a tear makes when it falls down a cheek. Thank goddess for these feet that hold me.
With my kit of preparations, I sat on my bar stool, noticing the tables around me. Close by, there was a table with a couple and, I believe, a mother-in-law. My story mind begins spinning as I stealthily…or not so stealthily…write their stories with my thoughts. They’re recently engaged, and the man, Peter, perhaps, seems nervous in his bowtie. The mother, Jean, clearly the mother of the woman, is eager, excited, and gesturing, and the woman, Eve, is all ease. She holds her mother’s hand, looks into her lover’s eyes, and yet, Pete seems elsewhere all night, looking off, and away, and drinking more mezcal than the others. I have no right to write their lives, of course, and yet, I imagine them as such, looking for clues in their interactions as to who they are, as to who they want to be.
The first course arrives. The chef, a German woman who recently took over the kitchen, arrives to explain it to me. Three miniature tortillas coated with different moles, and topped with flowers. I ask her how to eat them, and she gives me her preferred order. Each tower is a baby cupcake, and the concoctions take 2.5 bites to consume. They are divine. The type of flavors that send a visible chill through your body. Sweet with the tiniest hint of spice, and the dark cream of powdered chocolate, and the crisp fried flakes of tortilla, and I melt into myself. When Carolina comes back, I ask her to switch my meal from the 6-course to the 9-course. I cuddle myself into my seat, and sigh into my smoky cocktail, and write a little, and wait.
The next two and a half hours pass this way–the presentation of a new plate, the accompanying drink if there is one, new stories traded with the waiters (who, when they find I can speak Spanish, come over more to trade tales of working in the kitchen and teasing my Ecuadorian-Costa Rican accent). I get to know the chef, who also lived in Ecuador, and when she learns it was my birthday a few days before, she prepares a special dessert, el ponché. It is a purple pudding, similar to colada morada, the typical drink made of purple or black corn flour and served during Día de los Muertos. The meal I’ve just finished is its own rebirth, a look into the darkness that can creep into any soul; I’m sitting down with that messiness, inviting it to a drink, to a dinner, to 9-plates worth of love.
When I finished the meal, I wrote in my journal:
Thoughts on self date as my meal comes to a close…I enjoy sitting at the bar, and talking to the staff in Spanish. Would this experience be the same in English? After a free mezcal, a cocktail, and a fizzy wine, I’m left in a state of deep contentment, coupled with sweet exhaustion, that fullness of an experience that may just all be for me…I don’t know if I could go and be social now. I feel deeply satiated. Full of food, and love! They just gave me a birthday pudding of fruits I’ve never heard of and a single candle and I’m bursting with warmth. I can live this life!”
A self date night need not be so extravagant. Some of my closest friends tell me they do this all the time. One takes herself to Thai restaurants in D.C. while she studies international development. Another treats herself to her non-FODMAP, non-dairy, non-gluten delicacies for lunch in Chicago. It may not seem revolutionary to many, but to me, spending so much time alone, strangely is.
In spending time with myself, I’m see myself. Who I am. Who I want to be. All the parts, how they make up a puzzle of the whole.
Even in work that has been largely adventurous this past year–living in the Costa Rican jungle for 4 months on a ranch, leading Nat Geo trips this summer, guiding college students through their own soul and body-tending on a semester studying health, I have always been with others. Other workers, other lovers, other friends, other students, other mentors. I don’t leave myself much time with myself, for myself.
I think that filling up my days with others is intentional. While working in Phoenix for 3 years, I don’t remember many nights I actually just made chicken pot pie for myself, or sat down to a meal I had prepared with love. There had to be someone else to enjoy it with, and often, I would embrace the happy hour culture and eating out world that the U.S. loves to offer. Buying into that consumerist notion that it’s not enough to just be alone–go out, celebrate, treat yourself with others, and spend. Distract yourself. From yourself.
It’s a story sold to those wealthy enough to consider such delicacies. Though a self date night need not require such fanciness, it does require some income, and more importantly, some time. Is it possible for mothers, for women working 2 jobs, for those in difficult relationships, for those living with disabilities or living in fear, to indulge in this way? Not always, not often. It’s similar, I think, with living alone. The concept appeals to me as liberating, thought it is not available to so many women, women of other races, women of other socioeconomic classes, women from other families and opportunities.
I have never lived alone. I’ve lived with my nuclear family, then roommates in college, in a sorority house (a whole other chapter book waiting to be written), with fellow teachers, with strangers and old friends turned new again, with a partner, in a ranch house with farmworkers, in a green house with a lover, in the houses of home stay families, and so on. Each place has taught me a lot, each person has taught me more.
Like many women, I have placed a lot of my worth, and self-formation, in the care and keeping of others. But what I’m realizing, time and again, through break ups and break downs, is that my soul is asking that I stop looking outward and rather, cultivate the interior. Decorate her, see her, love her, spoil her when I can. Tend to her, most ardently. To other women reading this, wherever you are, and whatever your situation is, perhaps it just starts with us looking at those wrinkles on our feet, and taking a moment to breathe, to look into the mirror, to smile at ourselves.
So many women have paved the roads before us. I’m reading bell hooks “Feminism is for Everybody” and just the reminder that pants, choosing to go braless, the right to contraception, the right to abortion, the right to a seat in a classroom–these were earned by the hard work of women before, and that struggle to claim a space as woman is not yet won.
Herman Hesse, poet, novelist, painter and Nobel Peace Prize winner, wrote,
You were made to be yourselves. You were made to enrich the world with a sound, a tone, a shadow.
In each one of you there is a hidden being, still in the deep sleep of childhood. Bring it to life! In each one of you there is a call, a will, an impulse of nature, an impulse toward the future, the new, the higher. Let it mature, let it resound, nurture it! Your future is not this or that; it is not money or power, it is not wisdom or success at your trade — your future, your hard dangerous path is this: to mature and to find God in yourselves…
So hello god, and hello goddesses. Thank you for dining with me at El Destilado. I look forward to more conversations to come, with pen and pencil and notebook in hand. They will not be nearly as luxurious as one of the best meals of my life, but they will be kind, and simple, an opening into myself, to better be me so I can better share this love and energy and light I have to give to others.
Buen provecho, as they say in Spanish. It’s more than bon appétit, or enjoy your meal. It can translate into Good Wellness, though that’s not entirely right. It is said between diners, when the waiter comes, when eye contact is made in a restaurant, when you walk past strangers enjoying a meal. To the self, buen provecho…enjoy this moment, delicious and small. Let it stir up something good. Let it remind you that you, too, are La Que Sabe, the woman who knows, all that she needs to already.