In the last few years, I’ve learned to do a lot of things by myself that I might otherwise always do with a friend, boyfriend, or a large group of folks. Going to the movies is a pretty easy one — I mostly want to be left alone when I do that, anyway. When I used to travel alone for my job, I got used to dining out by myself — sitting at the bar is faster than waiting for a table and I would almost always end up having a fun conversation with someone. It took a bit of gumption to decide on it, but traveling by myself has uncovered some of the deepest joys I’ve yet to know in this life.
Live music was one of the big draws that attracted me to Nashville twelve years ago, and in that time I’ve dragged a number of friends along with me to shows all over town. It’s obviously way more fun when both parties in attendance are equally excited about the concert or share a love for the artist, and that’s been the case a lot of the time, but not always. When I was dating someone for a long time, I got used to having a go-to concert companion. I knew that I could buy two tickets and we would both go and it would be fun, but when I was single again, that changed. Sure, I still had lots of friends I could call up and invite, but for some of the bigger shows I wanted to see, the tickets would go on sale so far in advance that it was hard to make any firm plans.
I looked to my fictional mentor for all things hopelessly romantic, Ted Mosby, for direction. When Ted Mosby receives a wedding invitation, he RSVPs for two, even when he is single— it’s a bold act of hope that by the time the wedding rolls around, he’ll be in love, or at least excited about the possibility of love— maybe even with the mother of his kids. Following suit in pure Mosby fashion, I started buying two tickets to shows without a specific guest in mind —who knows where I’d be several months from now?! Pulling a Mosby felt like a way of breathing life into my hopes and putting those possibilities out into the universe — not that I was so hard up for a boyfriend, but it was nice to think about how much fun it might be to take a really great date to this concert ten months from now. And sure, I’ve ended up selling a lot of single tickets and standing next to a stranger, wondering then if this person might be my soulmate before quickly deciding “no, probably not.”
In the summer of 2013, I was spinning in a delayed whirlwind of Taylor Swift fever. I’ve never been a big fan of country music so I suppose it makes sense that she caught my attention at a point in her career when she was leaning almost fully pop. Like a lot of folks, I had decided Taylor Swift was a whiney girl whose subtlety in breakup anthems left us wanting. I hadn’t ever really listened to her until she dropped the single, “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which I listened to approximately 26 times in a row one afternoon. It wasn’t until that year that I became obsessed with one song at a time until I was fully enamored with her Red album, which I had ripped from a 9 year old’s CD copy while I was working as her nanny. Taylor Swift would be playing three nights at Bridgestone Arena that September and a lot of my friends were going, but the tickets had gone on sale over a year before and all three nights had almost sold out immediately. There was no chance of me jumping in with a group of friends who had been planning on it for so long, but I was wearing that album out and was already experiencing serious anticipatory FOMO. I had to go. In a fit of Taylor-fueled excitement, I grabbed my phone, searched for a single ticket on Ticketmaster, and bought it.
I hesitated to share my excitement with a lot of people because I knew I’d be met with the dreaded question, “Who are you going with?” At this point, I hadn’t been to any concerts alone. Many of my friends wouldn’t flinch at the news of my going out solo, but this was not my typical genre or taste and there was something inherently creepy about a 27 year old woman going alone to a Taylor Swift concert. With another adult who wears Taylor superfandom with pride? No big deal. With a group of kids squealing with excitement to see their favorite star? Not weird at all. Alone? At this show. A little weird.
But the night arrived and I had shared with a few trusted comrades just how out of my mind excited I was. I put on my red lipstick, chugged a Coors Light in my kitchen, and drove myself downtown. I gave myself a little bit of time so that I could have a drink at the bar at Merchant’s beforehand, so I parked in a garage and took my time walking down Broadway, smelling the cigarettes and spilled whiskey from ten thousand nights before, feeling the anticipation that hung heavy in the dusky downtown air. I ordered a cocktail at Merchants, all the while breathing deeply and reminding myself that there was nothing weird about being alone and doing something I wanted to do, believing that this would be a great night and that I had everything I needed — ticket, red lips, ID… well, almost everything. I sprinted back across Broadway, bargained with the garage attendant to let me out and back in without paying twice, sped home to grab my ID and tried again. I went straight to Bridgestone this time, directly to the beer line, which was delightfully short at this Taylor Swift concert, since her fanbase was still mostly underage.
Ed Sheeran was opening for her on this tour. I didn’t and still don’t care about him, but I have never experienced a surge of positive energy and excitement like the one I felt when I pulled back the curtain to walk into the stadium that night. Red blinking signs filled the seats, girls screamed at Beatles-Ed-Sullivan Show decibels — I’m not remotely ashamed to share that I teared up a little. I couldn’t remember a time when I had been in the presence of such genuine excitement — I’m not sure that I had ever felt the magnanimous joy and enthusiasm that filled Bridgestone that night.
…Until about an hour later.
I don’t know if any of you have ever been to a Taylor Swift concert, or if you have an idea of what to expect from a big stadium show like this, but I was not prepared for the level of sheer, nonstop entertainment and unadulterated fun that would keep me on my feet, dancing and singing for three hours straight that night. Say what you will about Tay, but I love her. She works hard, she shows incredible amounts of kindness to her fans, and during her concerts, she’ll give at least one breathy, impassioned speech about loving yourself and how that, with the love from your friends, is so much stronger than all the mean things that people will say about you when they try to tear you down. Oh, and she moves through the air on a floating pedestal while she does this— to get closer to the nosebleed seats! She’s amazing and seeing her perform live only magnified my admiration for her.
The great thing about being alone at a concert is that, instead of turning to your friend who might not like these songs as much as you, you just look ahead, throwing your fangirl arms in the air and singing as loud as your lungs will let you because this is for you. You don’t have to worry about anyone but yourself. Sharing this with someone equally excited is, perhaps, the ideal situation, but I learned that night that it’s a close second. And it’s followed even more closely by a third option that I doubt I’ll ever find in a more truly joyful form than I did that night. My seat was in the first section off the floor, about halfway back from the stage — to my right was a group of four people about my age, with whom I hoped desperately to blend, and to the left was an eleven year old girl.
She and I had shared some excited glances earlier in the night, but as Taylor moved through the stadium, dazzling us with her best songs, both old and new, our communication of squeals and claps and jumps-in-place cemented our connection. We mirrored one another’s dance moves, including series of dramatic, head shakes to accompany each “trouble, trouble, trouble”. She lost her mind when Ed Sheeran joined Taylor on stage for “Everything Has Changed’ and I lost mine when Taylor sat at her enormous piano and flung her hair back and forth in “All Too Well,” stirring my emotions and undoubtedly racking up a sizable bill with the chiropractor. During a set change, as Taylor spoke about love and loss over vague lead-in music for the next song, I turned to my new friend, leaned down to her level, and shouted, “DO YOU THINK SHE’S ABOUT TO DO LOVE STORY?!?” She did. And I cried at the key change.
A bunch of my close friends were somewhere in the room that night. I could have easily texted them to meet up in the lobby after the show, but I didn’t. There were 19,999 other people with whom I was now permanently bonded by this magical experience—their energy would be impossible to forget and their screams would ring in my ears late into the next morning. I had made a new little friend who I would never see again. Love filled the room and spilled out onto Lower Broadway. But being in that sold-out arena, in that square foot of dance floor in section 104, in my body, with a belly full of expensive beer and a heart full of joy, I was alone. I was alone and I was grateful. I was alone, just like every other person that night who stood up, strong and sure, screaming loud enough so the person with whom she was never ever ever ever getting back together would hear.