When I’m in public, an unwieldy chunk of my consciousness is dedicated to filtering: my words, my expression, my body language, my tone. My self-awareness hums and whirs and, little by little, drains my energy until even the privacy of a bathroom stall feels like the satisfying kind of deep breath. Sometimes I just stand in there for a minute and stare at the wall or mess around on my phone. It’s very romantic. When I get home after a particularly long day, my empty room embraces me like an old friend.
I’m pretty sure this is how a lot of people feel. There’s a reason “Secret Single Behavior,” the expression coined by Carrie Bradshaw, a.k.a. the writers on Sex and the City, struck such a chord and outlived the show. SSB is used to describe the weird things humans do when they’re alone and safe from prying eyes and wondering minds. They’re the squirrely little habits that kick in when our public-facing engines wind down. SSB is probably us at our most honest.
“I like to make a stack of Saltines,” Carrie said. “I put grape jelly on them. I eat them standing up in the kitchen reading fashion magazines.”
As a fellow cracker-stacker, I relate to this impulse, but I’d never eat standing up; it’s one of my rules. As for my SSB, I talk to myself. I say little snippets or thoughts that make more sense out loud. I speak parts of lyrics I can’t get out of my head. I state grievances I wish I could air for real. Loads, tons, so many comments are directed at my cat: “Did you know you’re my favorite cat in the whole world?” “What’s it like to be so cute? I really do want to know!” “How’d your nose get so pink? Do you like that it’s pink? I do.” It’s not all verbal. I make a lot of faces, too, when I’m grossed out or excited or upset. It’s very dramatic. If I’m reading, I test all described facial expressions on my own face, just to be sure.
SSB is the kind of behavior they don’t account for in crime dramas. They never review the security tapes and find someone talking to themselves or gasping at their own ideas, or find a notebook in the fridge and assume the person was just distracted. In shows, everything means something, but people are much weirder than fiction gives us credit for.
What’s your SSB? What’s the behavior you do alone, and only alone, that you might miss after too much time with company? Do you talk to yourself? Eat entire bags of popcorn? Watch ASMR videos? Try on outfits you’d never wear? Oops, those are mine. Now tell me yours.
Photo by Arthur Elgort/Conde Nast/Contour by Getty Images.