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The joys of being alone

Who are those women going solo at social events? Well, for one thing, they're ladies who feel comfortable in their skins.

January 26, 2003|Ann Conway and Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writers

One takes her place among a throng of couples at a cocktail party. Another sails into the opening of a hot new play. Still another arrives at the A-list launch of a museum exhibit. All are women taking on the L.A. social scene alone, seizing opportunities to step out without the constraints of a companion. Whether single or married, they share the same social philosophy: They'd rather go solo, enjoying the varied partyscape, than miss out.

"I go anywhere, everywhere, any time of day or night, as easily on my own as I might with someone," says Loreen Arbus, a single TV production company president who divides her time between Los Angeles and Manhattan. "I don't think any two people on the face of the Earth could, 100% of the time, have the same interests, levels of energy, schedules, intentions. A woman out alone is not a comment about anybody lacking -- it's a comment on how diverse we all are."

Sure, one can occasionally get "iced" by people not used to seeing a woman on her own at a social gathering, says one fortysomething Angeleno who wishes to remain anonymous. "Most people are used to dealing with couples. But more often than not, the ice is broken," she says. "Being alone is simply a way of removing limitations. It brings immense freedom, flexibility."

It is an outmoded idea that women or men need to be accompanied, says 63-year-old actress and feminist Barbara Feldon, author of "Living Alone & Loving It -- A Guide to Relishing the Solo Life" (Fireside Books). "Today, one out of 10 Americans lives alone, so what are they to do?" she asks in a telephone interview from her Manhattan apartment. "You want to explore the world, and, when you're alone, it's a great opportunity to explore it in any direction you want, without the restrictions of somebody else's taste."

Los Angeles resident Lois Aldrin, wife of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, has attended an average of two events each week this past year by herself. "Buzz has been busy in Washington, and the only time I don't go out alone is when somebody specifies couples-only. For me, being out in the world is the most enjoyable thing there is," she says.

Aldrin prefers to hire a driver on nights out alone. "It puts me at ease knowing someone is waiting to take me safely home," she says.

Arbus drives a flashy red sports car to most events. But on that occasional night when she plans to leave a gala early and go tango dancing until the wee hours, she pilots "a very nondescript car," she says. "I am very careful to not attract attention in certain neighborhoods." Another single routinely drives her own luxury car but has carefully mapped out safe parking areas.

While it is becoming more common for women to be seen solo at social events, most are mature -- "say, over 40," observes Betsy Israel, author of "Bachelor Girl" (William Morrow), a pop-culture history of images of single women. "I'd like to think that young, single women going out alone is a common phenomenon," she says. "But there are those brave enough to try it and those who cringe at the thought. It may be easier for older women because they've gone through stages that have helped them reach the point where they don't care so much about the way others see them."

At the Maserati party at the Pacific Design Center on Jan. 16, most of the guests are couples huddled on sofas or packs of scantily clad young women sipping martinis. On closer inspection, however, there are a few lone women working the room. Public relations executive Paola Snaidero says going out alone is essential to building clientele. "Every time you go out there's something special to find out," she says. "You have a new experience every time."

Across the room, 22-year-old Lacey Matthews, an assistant at a Beverly Hills public relations firm, flips a lock of blond hair away from her face and says, "I've probably never been out by myself. I'd feel lonely. No one wants to feel lonely, especially women."

A few feet away from Matthews is L.A. property manager Margi McGinty. She lights up when asked about stepping out alone. "If you're alone, you meet people," she says. "It can be very exciting. If you're with someone, you don't meet people." A 41-year-old executive recruiter from Hollywood routinely goes out without her husband. "I love it. I'm on my own time," she says. "In our relationship, my husband is less outgoing than I am. We don't necessarily have the same tastes."

Whatever their ages, women can open up their social lives with a simple change in attitude, Feldon says. "There is an old expression: 'If you can change your mind, you can change your world.' Our first bit of work is to just put it out of our minds that there is any stigma about being anywhere alone."

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