The year is 2011, and in a distant land far away, a young girl is getting ready for a night out. She has been waxed, manicured, spray-tanned, outfitted, and blown out to within an inch of her life. She is wearing a Champagne-colored Herve Leger dress she spent months saving up for. She’s sporting 6-inch heels she can only sort of walk in. The girl has sprayed glitter all over her professionally crafted, Lauren Conrad-inspired corkscrew curls. She has strategized every detail of the night ahead: There are boys she wants to talk to, songs she wants to dance to, and an Instagram she concepted a week ago. Tonight, like every other night, the girl is playing to win. Surprise! The girl is me. For a solid part of my adult life, I approached getting ready to go out with a sort of Olympic vigor. From the age of 18, I thought that a night out only counted if I put in 100% effort; if I “went out” with the works. They would always consist of blowouts, bandage skirts, a gop (the word my friends and I would lovingly call our “going-out tops”) and — always — fake lashes. Fake tans, too; I have the Donald Trump-esque photos to prove it. It was a new dress, or no night out at all, and more skin meant more sexy. How will a guy know I’m interested if I don’t look like I’m competing for Miss Universe? As you have probably guessed, that night in 2011, like so many others, ended in utter mediocrity. And while it may seem glaringly obvious to you, my clever reader, it took me a long time, and many awful nights (and many more boring nights), to make the connection. My best friend, and accomplice in this cult ritual, and I were preparing for a sorority formal — the highest of ceremonies. We had already skipped one class to go to the neighboring town to pick up dresses. Yes, I already had an exploding closet full of bandage minis and halter tops, but I needed something new. Finding that perfect new dress was like the kick-off of any night for me. I had to go all the way to the next town because I didn’t want anyone else to have my dress. What I should have realized was that everyone else was studying for chemistry mid-terms while I ran through Bebe like a rabid dog, hemorrhaging cash.
It was mid-blowout that we realized we would also be missing another class to finish up our hair and then lurk in Neiman Marcus until someone offered to do our makeup. But, oops — haha! We feigned concern for only the briefest of moments. Fast-forward a few hours: My date was making out with another girl in front of me. My best friend’s date had spilled a Long Island iced tea (oh, college) down her dress three minutes into the party. We had somehow turned on each other and, both breaking into a Medium/Large sob, went home early. The next morning in the cold light of day, we finally realized the error of our ways. It was so obvious. Five hours of getting ready plus boatloads of cash does not equal fun. Eureka! It was our “The limit does not exist!” moment. It suddenly all made so much sense: While getting ready for a big night out is undoubtedly part of the fun, the more effort and money I put into a night, the more pressure there was to have a good time. By the time I got to the actual party or date, I would be so anxious about it, that if even one minor thing went wrong, I would get upset. And so our theory was born: The more time and money you put into a night, the worse a time you'll have. Or, if you consider it as an issue of ROI or, Return on Investment, it goes like this: If you pour all your hopes, dreams, and leftover spending money into one night, you expect a high return. Your date better happen to pick you up in a vintage Aston Martin and whisk you front row to an Adele concert or you had better have a run-in with a celebrity at a bar. Much to my chagrin, I also later discovered that dressing as if I had tried so hard in fact repelled all the potential partners I had so desperately wanted to talk to me. Firstly, trying too hard is not sexy at all. Secondly, if you’re busy flipping out about your hair not falling the right way, you become unapproachable and no fun. And finally — and this is the really ironic kicker — if you are preoccupied with how you thought things were going to turn out, you miss opportunities to make them turn out that way, or better. You miss that person staring at you across the room, you miss the chance to befriend the DJ, you miss the chance to make out with a stranger in a photo booth.
The remedy was simple: Stop freaking out so much. Stop getting fake tans and new clothes if it brings you no real joy. If something is going to be fun, it’ll probably be fun regardless of what you’re wearing, and if something is going to suck, it’ll suck even if Kim K’s makeup artist did your contouring himself. (As an aside, I have a hunch that this theory also works with weddings, but since I have not actually experienced one yet, I’ll just promise to report back if I ever find myself sobbing in a wedding dress sometime in the future.) It was actually a pretty easy transition. Blame it on normcore or (prepare for the Full House moment of this essay) the fact that I just grew up at some point and become more confident. I started to notice that the nights I accidentally wound up going out in jeans with not a speck of makeup on were the most fun. The study sessions that turned into dance parties, the sneaking into the football field with a bottle of wine, and later the after-work happy hours that ended in karaoke, the casual coffee dates that turned into more. Those are the moments I have been noticed. The moments I’ve been the most funny, and charming. The moments I’ve remembered the exact lyric at the right time. I still own my fair share of sequins and yes, given the chance I could probably apply a set of perfect fake lashes mid-tap-back at Soul Cycle, but there’s a time and a place for that level of polish (probably not Soul Cycle). Now I would rather spend my energy ruling a silent disco than getting my hair blown out, and I’d rather spend my money on a spontaneous weekend trip to Palm Springs than yet another bodycon dress I don’t need. Having the fun rather than planning for it — isn't that a novel idea?