To sit alone at a café | Inquirer Opinion
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To sit alone at a café

/ 05:04 AM December 09, 2022

Since getting married two years ago, I haven’t had the opportunity to sit alone at a café. It’s a small, inconsequential detail that I barely think about—that is, until I’ve stepped inside a café again, just by myself.

There’s no real reason behind my inability to do this simple activity. In fact, my husband and I often frequent a coffee shop near our house. But that’s the thing: It’s always “my husband and I.” Whenever I go out, it’s either I’m with him or have to do errands. I don’t really have time for myself.

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But one midweek morning, while waiting for my husband’s physical therapy session, I decided to go to a nearby coffee chain. I entered at a perfect time. There was only one other occupied table, the whole place was quiet except for the corny jazz background music and the chatter from the baristas.

When a barista greeted me—and just me—I experienced an outpouring of emotions. It’s so absurd, but my mind was suddenly nostalgic about my simple and uncomplicated life before taking the leap of faith that is matrimony.

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I remembered how, after work, I would stop by the coffeehouse beside our office and spend an hour or two there. Sometimes I would read a book, sometimes I would write in a journal. But more often, I would just sip my coffee slowly and enjoy a slice of cake while people-watching.

I ordered a piece of chocolate cake and a cup of latte, and I added cream and sugar to my cup. It’s just me, I can do what I want.

I sat and sipped the exaggeratedly sweet coffee I made. And I just continued to do something I’ve been actively trying to avoid these past few months: to reminisce.

Before sharing my life with my husband, everything seemed so simple. I had friends and chatted with them daily, went out with them every week. During random Friday nights, I’d ride a bus and spend the weekend out of town, just by myself. Everything was as easy as I made things out to be.

Back then, I could do anything without having to come up with explanations and justifications. I could also not do things without triggering hours-long discussions. If I wanted to, I could spend half the day sleeping without having to worry about chores or work or my husband.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons why I could no longer live the life I lived before, other than my being married.

For one, I’ve moved to a different city and started freelancing. I’ve also adopted a dog, who requires my constant presence. But somehow, at the back of my mind, I know I can live as before despite my domestic situation. And that, even if my domestic situation was easier, I’d still feel this emptiness because, well, I’m married.

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I love my husband, and he’s the happiest thing that has happened in my life. He’s the kindest and sweetest man I’ve ever known. He can be difficult at times, but not as difficult as me, I’m sure.

If anything, what I don’t like is this new person that I’ve become. It seems my every day is spent working and doing chores and working even more. I haven’t talked with any of my friends for over a year now, and I miss them so much. I no longer have anything to look forward to but paying bills.

I love my husband, but I hate our marriage. I spend every day with the love of my life, yet I feel so lonely. I no longer write in my journal as I know I’ll only end up looking back to the life I had before and, sadly, could no longer have now.

Why I didn’t go to this café sooner is indicative of my paralysis. We’ve been visiting the therapist for five weeks already, and I’ve thought of going there before. But each time, I chose to stay at the clinic. The only reason why, in this instance, I could justify going to the café by myself was I had to finish work that was due that morning.

And thinking of that, somehow, I was back to reality. Me being in a café just meant paying for overpriced coffee and pastries so I could work. In less than an hour, I would be with my husband again. I would ask about his back and joke that he’s a 30-year-old boomer. We would talk about where to eat for lunch. We’d be back to the same old routine.

My chief fault, I think, is I’m unapologetically proud. And it’s that same pride that stops me from opening up with my husband because doing so means entertaining the possibility that we may have made the wrong choice. It will start a discussion—oh, those discussions!—that, honestly, I’m not mentally or emotionally prepared to have.

I just console myself with the fact that my situation could’ve been worse. We’re married, but at least we’re childless. I’m unhappy, but my husband is happy, I think. I don’t rely on him and still have relative agency over my life.

In the end, I wasn’t able to work at the café. I stood up and spent five minutes crying in the bathroom. I gathered myself and went to the counter to order a to-go coffee for my husband. I returned to the clinic and waited.

When my husband met me at the lounge, I hugged him. And at that moment, I knew.

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Michiko, 29, is a freelance marketing practitioner.

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