The summer sun beats down on me, glinting off the grass and pavement in a soft, feverish haze that keeps many lounging on blankets and chairs under the trees.
Later, I will be thanked for braving the sun, but it is neither torment nor reluctant tolerance as it glosses my skin. It simply feels like the perfect accompaniment to the percussive rhythms exploding from the bandstand while I dance, ribboned in pleasure, on a bright patch of grass.
I arrived at the park just minutes before, in time to catch the band I’d come to see making its way to the stage and trailing them like a reveler in the wake of the Pied Piper. The group is one of my favorite local bands, rooted in the Brazilian samba tradition but known for playing everything from funk to New Orleans swing, with their jubilant, propulsive beats.
And from the moment I heard the first strike of the drums, I haven’t stopped moving. Or smiling.
I am by myself — having walked over to the park from my house — and aware that I in some ways am careening in my own spotlight, given the rows of festivalgoers who sit behind me content to watch the performance from the comfort of their shaded perch. A woman who has taken drumming classes with the band joins me at one point, and she and I dance side by side when she isn’t taking a break to cool off. A group of teenagers drifts close, too, letting the band’s beautiful dancer lead them through several choreographed moves before they disperse back to their volunteer duties, while across the walkway, a handful of people gathered under a tree begin to sway and shake.
But no matter who is or isn’t beside me, I keep dancing, a flash of spiraling exuberance, as every beat of the drums reverberate through my body.
Somewhere in the midst of this solo celebration — of music, of summer, of my neighborhood — I realize this is no ordinary happiness. The joy I feel is a wild current, a galvanic song sweeping through me. And the awareness only makes me grin wider, dance with more relish and abandon.
In January, after I’d deleted all of my online dating profiles, finally conceding that my enthusiasm was tepid at best, I told myself I’d try again come summer. Yes, I was still holding out for happenstance, for magic — an old-fashioned live encounter where an easy “hello” or lingering glance rippled with the promise of something more. But, I thought to myself, if summer arrives and I am still single, I will give a different dating site a try.
Here I am sliding into July and despite a significant discount offered through one of the more popular sites in May, I haven’t ventured online. Just thinking about the process — the wading and sifting, the judging and dismissing — exhausts me.
If I want a happy relationship, I must seek it from a place of happiness. And right now the Internet, with the hours that disappear in mindless searches, the hopeful connections that abruptly dissolve, the dates that have me longing for a good book and my couch, is not that space — no matter how many couples I keep meeting and marrying who have found each other with the help of a cyberspace matchmaker.
But what I realize in those deliciously unfettered moments where I am dancing by myself is that I am happy. In a way that’s deeply true and immensely satisfying. My life feels good and somehow whole, even if not having a partner with whom to share it may strike some as a stark absence.
I know I have been here before, buoyant and expansive, steeped in an opulent gladness that wafts its headiness from my very core. That sweet, humming satisfaction has attended periods of intense personal transformation and preceded often enormous and unexpected gifts: new love, new opportunities, flourishing dreams.
But this feels different, like dropping through to another layer or perhaps emerging to catch myself in fresh and fuller bloom.
It is not that I have no interest in dating or ultimately desire a life on my own. I am having so much fun doing the things that bring me joy that I am content with what is.
Years ago, I might never have ventured to concerts, plays, or movies by myself. Planned entire days, like my birthday, dedicated to discovery and delight. Walked into social networking events where I didn’t know a soul. But I am learning that being alone in a crowd can be enlivening in its own way, that keeping my own company offers a nourishment apart from the joys of connection I savor in my relationships with family and friends.
Moments of sadness and challenge will come. There may be days when this happiness slips into the shadows of yearning, snags itself on grief.
But right now it feels fierce. Like a declaration and a celebration — of truth, of freedom, of me.