I recently returned from a trip to Cabo San Lucas with my best guy friend, who’s gay. We’d both gotten over major professional hurdles and decided to reward ourselves with some sun and tequila therapy. I hadn’t taken a vacation in a long time, because of work, money, and an ingrained sheepishness about traveling as a single woman.
I didn’t have to worry, as everyone assumed we were a couple.
We laughed the first few times hotel staff mistakenly called us “Mr. and Mrs. Serritella.”
We felt like spies going undercover as husband and wife, like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but with less sexual tension.
But a few days in, we realized our cover story was less hottest-married-people-alive and more slightly-out-of-shape couple on the verge of divorce.
We were constantly making the staff uncomfortable with our unhappily-ever-after requests. I get up earlier than he does, so I’d eat breakfast alone, correcting their table-for-two settings to uno.
We often requested pool chairs in separate areas, shade for him, sun for me.
We both asked whether dishes were spicy, but only because he prefers it mild, and I like it hot.
When a staff member caught us taking photos of each other and offered to take one of us together, we politely declined.
No thanks — these pics are for our dating apps.
Sometimes the hetero-normative bias worked in my favor, like with the issue of paying.
After my friend had to ask for another dinner bill (handed only to him) to be split on our separate rooms, he lamented, “They think I’m a jerk.”
I signed up for a cooking lesson. When I arrived and introduced myself to the chef, he looked around me in confusion. “It’s just you?”
I shrugged. “Just me.”
The lesson was designed for couples, with a table for two to enjoy each dish we cooked. I ate the appetizer alone, but one course of that awkwardness was enough. For the next, I insisted the chef set a place for himself, soon adding spots for two of the servers I’d gotten to know, Moses and Francisco. By dessert, we were family.
Meanwhile, by the pool, my friend told me another waiter had asked him why he wasn’t in there with me. My friend said he hated to cook.
“Ah, I got you. She cooks and you eat!”
I took advantage of the rooftop yoga, and, again, most of the people looked like couples. But I saw a handsome man in the corner with only a free mat beside him.
I managed to imagine myself under his chaturanga only a few times.
Later, I was in the elevator with my friend when Namastud got on, and he recognized me.
“Yoga was great, right?” he said in a British accent.
Had I known that, I definitely would’ve tried harder with my Downward Dog.
Then he turned to my friend. “Where were you?”
“Sleeping,” my friend answered.
“You’ll have to get him up next time.”
The doors opened before I could clarify: No, no, we’re just friends, I’m single, SO single!
Because guys love that.
Another day, we went whale-watching. On the shuttle ride to the marina, we chatted with a single woman from our hotel. She was about our age, from New York, and was treating herself to a weekend at the resort after a business trip. I liked her immediately.
The whale-watching trip had a photographer aboard to capture, and sell you, the best shots. He started by snapping photos of the guests, often asking couples to kiss for the camera.
He aimed the camera at us. “Another couple?”
“Just friends!” we said in unison as we leaned together.
“Don’t worry, buddy, everybody’s got to start somewhere!” the photographer joked, eliciting laughs from the crowd.
Our smiles twitched to a cringe.
He reached the woman we’d befriended on the shuttle. He mistakenly thought she was with the people behind her, and when she said no, he started in. “You’re all alone? Just you?”
Everyone turned, and a few aww’s and some uncomfortable shifting occurred in the boat.
But she laughed gamely and smiled for the camera. “Just me!”
It was like hearing my own voice say it, always with that same, jokey smile, deflecting misplaced pity with shtick.
And it made me angry. This woman was so cool! She took herself to Cabo after a job well done. She’s badass! She doesn’t need your pity!
Maybe I was talking to myself. Because there was a part of me that had been relieved to travel with my male friend. I occasionally enjoyed the shelter of our being mistaken for a couple. It made me feel safe — from danger and from judgment.
But I’m not sad. I loved every minute of Mexico — the people, the language, the music, the food. I’m in a really good place in my life. I feel happy and lucky just to be as I am.
I should own it.
Just friends, just me. What is that apologetic just doing there, anyway? I’m going to drop it going forward. Just is a crutch.