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May 30, 2012

Love and the Single Girl

girl looking out window

Photo Credit: Jo Metson Scott

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Music can help heal a broken heart — but can karaoke? - By Sadie Stein

After eight years together, my fiancé cheated on me and then dumped me. I was a wreck — I couldn't eat anything but vanilla cake from the grocery store or the eggplant dish from the Chinese take-out spot down the block. I wanted to call friends, but I felt like a burden, so I cried myself to sleep each night. Soon I went stir-crazy, and I started taking long walks through my Brooklyn neighborhood.

The pain of breaking up was searing, but just as painful as losing my fiancé was the reality of being single. I'd been part of a couple for almost a decade. I had met my fiancé when I was 26 and had never really been alone as an adult. Who was I without a guy? What did I like to eat? Did I have hobbies? How would I choose to spend a Saturday afternoon? The unknowns were terrifying.

It was during one of these aimless walks that I started to discover who I was. I'd been wandering along a strip of bars, feeling utterly single and sorry for myself, when I heard it: Someone was singing an enthusiastic, off-key version of Nat King Cole's "Avalon." I looked at the blackboard propped outside the bar where the music was coming from. "Karaoke, 9-12," it read. On a whim, I walked into the dark and somewhat crowded bar. The guy running the karaoke machine turned toward me. "New talent!" he shouted. "You're up, sweetheart!"

"No!" I gasped, appalled. Of course I had tried karaoke before, but during drunken nights out with friends. Or with my fiancé. Doing it alone seemed pathetic to the point of grotesque. But this man was having none of it. "Come on!" he said. "We'll be nice, I promise."

I was about to turn and leave, but, What the hell? I thought. I grabbed the songbook and ran my finger down the listings, searching for inspiration. My go-to song had always been Tracey Ullman's "They Don't Know," but now I associated that with my ex. What about ABBA? I could do that; people knew the songs and would (hopefully) sing along. I chose "S.O.S." It was thematic and it was my initials — that was a sign, right?

I started softly, my voice shaking. But by the time I hit the chorus, I was feeling it — and as more people started filtering into the bar, a crowd gathered around me. I felt elated for the first time in months and stayed there for another two hours, finishing with a cathartic "You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morissette. And as I walked home, I had a skip in my step. I liked the idea of being ballsy enough to do karaoke alone. Maybe that was part of the new, single me.

I didn't plan to make it a regular thing. But I'd be taking my nightly walks along the same route and I'd inevitably hear singing, and I guess I wanted to be that slightly weird, independent single girl again. I mentioned these outings to no one, which made me feel more empowered — I was performing just for myself. And in doing that, I was starting to become comfortable with myself as a single woman: unafraid, goofy, someone who didn't need to apologize for how she spent an evening. It started with solo karaoke, but soon it was more — I started going out to dinner, stopping by a wine bar to enjoy a glass of Merlot, or seeing a movie, all by myself. Maybe I wasn't half of a couple anymore, but I was becoming someone even more exciting: a person in her own right, and a damn odd one. I liked her! For the first time in my life, I was happy in my own company.

As the summer progressed, my repertoire began changing, too. I didn't want to do ballads and Liz Phair covers anymore; I wanted to branch out. The night I did a sultry "Fever" by Peggy Lee was an artistic breakthrough — who knew I had it in me? One night, flushed from a spirited rendition of "I Want You to Want Me," a guy approached me. "You seemed so confident up there," he said, "and doing karaoke alone is kind of badass." I didn't go out with him — I wasn't ready — but the attention gave me a high. The new single me was kind of badass.

Six months into my new phase, I met Matthew. He was sweet and adventurous, and we began seeing each other regularly. I did less and less karaoke.

One night, some friends invited us to the bar where I'd been a karaoke regular. When the bartender and the DJ greeted me by name, Matthew was puzzled, even more so when they requested Fleetwood Mac's "Everywhere" just for me. I smiled — and realized it was fun to have someone to sing for, too. I didn't need an audience — singing alone had taught me I was just fine being single — but someone to enjoy the new person I'd become? That was different. And yes, in case you're wondering, there will be karaoke at our wedding.

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