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In Defense of Shopping Alone

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A near-empty shopping mall. Photo: Igor Stepovik / Shutterstock

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Shopping is hard. Going shopping means willfully stepping into a den of choice — a very hard thing to do.

If you’re not a fan of throwing your money away, then there’s the added pressure to come out of it with things that will "last" or that you can even "wear forever." Sealing the tyranny of choice with an expectation for commitment could be sadistic (hey, dating), but for me there’s one thing that keeps shopping from being excruciating: alone time.

Yesterday I spent two hours rifling through Canadian export Aritzia looking for "forever" work pants by myself. It was a joy.

Mean Girls and Clueless and pretty much every teen movie from the ’80s and ’90s suggest that the mall is where friends hang out. It’s a place for teens to spend their parent’s money and revel in the joys of youth.

Mean Girls and Clueless and pretty much every teen movie from the ’80s and ’90s suggest that the mall is where friends hang out.

My friends and I tried out that suggestion plenty of times in the late ’90s and early aughts. We’d have our parents drop us off at Forever21 or Anthropologie and we’d roam the mall for hours.

Spending my parent’s money was a massive no-no when I was a teen, so most of the time I would just help my friends pick stuff out. But I still liked stuff too, and eventually I started sneaking away to the mall by myself to avoid the pressure of actually buying things.

When I got my driver’s license, the first place I drove to was the new outdoor mall. I parked right next to the Saks Fifth Avenue, where I tried on everything and bought nothing (my 16-year-old self didn't realize this was kind of a dick move) in a weird sort of meditation. Through the act of trying on, moving through a store, and lingering, I built an image of who I could be from the outside-in.

It’s the expectation that shopping is an activity for pals that I rage against the most.

Still to this day, though, it’s the expectation that shopping is an activity for pals that I rage against the most.

To me, shopping in groups is a sort of sanctioned violence between friends that we’re told we enjoy. I don’t need someone I love to trip all over herself seven different ways just to tell me that I look a little lumpy. It seems cruel to ask a friend to do that and even crueler for her to volunteer the thought on her own. Everyone pretty much loses.

Even if I had really nice friends — which I do! — who say only positive things, I always end up wondering if I like an item of clothing just because they like the thing for me.

The questions start running through my head. Is it a you thing? Is it an us thing? Who am I? What is this life? Why are we here? Why are you here shopping with me?

I don’t need someone I love to trip all over herself seven different ways just to tell me that I look a little lumpy.

This might be going one curmudgeonly step too far, but I don’t even like when the sales ladies make a comment like, "that looks so cute," or "do you need a different size in that?" I know it’s their job to be helpful and friendly, but I’m doing fine, thanks.

I’m always doing fine, thanks.

Some people don’t trust themselves. They rely on others to help them make choices. This is fine and good and maybe those people are all-around better at being a human among humans, taking a little bit of this, adding a little bit of that.

This is, after all, a world where you have to make choices even with a thousand voices in your ear at once.

But shhhh! Not now. I’m building my perfect summer wardrobe all by myself and I need to focus.