Does the idea of sitting alone at a restaurant cause you to break out in hives? Have you ever missed out on a cool event because no one would come with you? Are you always late because you never want to be the first one to arrive? If any of these apply to you, sit down guys. We need to talk.
Once upon a time, I was like you. Once upon a time, I couldn’t go out to eat by myself without feeling like everyone was staring me down and wondering what dysfunction I had that meant no one wanted to hang out with me. Did I smell funny? Perhaps I spat when I spoke? Or maybe my insistence on discussing the intricacies of the breakfast I ate that morning had become annoying to others? The possibilities were endless. The first time I ever ate a meal at a restaurant alone, I honestly felt like I was walking around with a flashing sign on my head advertising “LONER” complete with bullhorn siren.
I have a secret for you though: most people really don’t notice you enough to give a shit what you’re doing (unless of course you’re sitting there picking your nose or watching porn on your phone – then you might attract a few well-deserved disparaging glances). Furthermore, you’re doing yourself a serious disservice if you’re averse to going it alone.
I think it’s fair to say that most of us would agree that some things are better with company, but there are a lot of advantages to learning to do things by yourself (regardless of whether you happen to be single or not). Here are my Top 8 reasons why you need to start going solo:
1. You’re missing out on cool stuff
One of the things that forced me to learn to do stuff solo is the fact that I’m a random human being. Hey that documentary about earwax sounds fascinating, who’s keen? No? No one?
Yeah okay that’s an exaggeration – earwax is gross. Nonetheless, the fact is that I have a pretty varied array of interests and finding someone who shares all of them (or is willing to tolerate all of them) is kind of a big ask. Part of the reason I have a pretty large acquaintance/friend list is because I tend to have different friends that cross over a range of my different interests. I have history buddies, literature buddies, video game buddies, beauty buddies, basketball buddies, board game buddies, archery buddies, documentary buddies, horse riding buddies, travel buddies, teaching buddies, craft buddies, drinking buddies, fuc—um anyway, the list is pretty expansive (and just kidding on that last one – my sex life is equally solo). Even with this exhaustive list (which has many who overlap might I add – I don’t have THAT many friends), there are times where people are too busy, too broke or too non-responsive to messages to come along for the ride to whatever random event happens to have taken my fancy.
It became apparent to me not all that long ago that if I wanted to check out all the cool things that caught my eye, then I had to man up and do it solo. Doing so has seen me try new restaurants, attend cool events like silent yoga, go to media events and even travel to new places I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. The fact is that not going to something because you couldn’t find a friend could mean that you’re missing out on something you’d really love and enjoy.
2. It builds your confidence
It’s really easy to use others around you as a crutch. We all know we’re a bit more confident with a friend or partner present because it means there’s at least one person who won’t laugh at us (at least to our faces) if we make a fool of ourselves – or, at the very least, they won’t write us off as a failure of a human being and never invite us out again. The problem is that this can sometimes be something we rely on too heavily. Forcing yourself out of your comfort zones and into a situation where you don’t have that safety net is a great way to build your confidence as it forces you to learn how to calm yourself down in your own head when you do something stupid. There’s no one beside you to tell you that it’s okay, your jeans ripping wasn’t that loud, so you have to learn to give yourself that reassurance. That can only be a good thing.
3. You meet people you otherwise wouldn’t
An army historian who could tell me intricate details about World War Two battles, a guy we renamed because we thought his actual name didn’t suit him, a Canadian who introduced me to the wonders of pho, a different Canadian who introduced me to the equal wonders of Korean BBQ, a pair of twins who shared my Harry Potter obsession, an exchange student who talked philosophy while standing in the snow in a pair of thongs, a couple whose love and amazing family made me almost (but not quite) see how procreating could be a good thing, an unassuming guy who turned out to have an amazing history including being banned from Dubai and DJing in New York – these are just a small selection of the people I’ve met while doing things solo that I otherwise probably would’ve never spoken to. Many of these were people I met while travelling or when I moved alone to a new town, but many are also people who I just ran into while out and about doing the things I felt like doing.
When you do things by yourself, two things happen that allow you to meet new people. The first is that you’re easier to approach because approaching one person is less intimidating than approaching a group. The other is that people often recognise that not everyone likes being by themselves so they’re often a lot quicker to be more welcoming and accepting.
Does this mean you’re also equally likely to be approached by less awesome slightly creepy strangers? Well yes. But for those occasions I have my resting bitch face perfected and that seems to work as a decent deterrent.
4. You need to check in with yourself
I’m one of those people who forces myself to keep busy and have lots of company because I don’t like to think. If I have time to think, I have time to obsess and overanalyse and panic. The catch is that by doing this and distracting myself with constant company, I also don’t allow myself time to process things or check how I actually feel about stuff. Doing things solo gives you a chance to check in with yourself, pause, and assess “okay but how do I really feel about this?”
This check-in has been so valuable to me so many times in life. Changes in my life tend to happen at breakneck speed and my job is demanding and fast paced. Oftentimes, it’s not been until I’m spending time alone, particularly doing something mind clearing like hiking or bike riding, that I start to process and prioritise. Checking in with myself allows me to figure out what’s stressing me out and make a plan of attack of how to deal with it, rather than just filling my calendar so I don’t have to actually deal with the problems that are piling up.
5. Sometimes it’s better to have no witnesses
On the note of hiking, there are many occasions where you want to try something that you know full well will make you look like an ass. For me it’s hiking. Would I like company as I sweat and swear and curse and turn beet red and have my fingers swell to the size of small sausages (thank you rheumatoid arthritis)? Umm… well… maybe next time. You know, once I can walk up a gentle slope without reaching for an inhaler and cursing the incline and the leftover pizza I ate for breakfast.
6. It lets you make your own schedule
You know the drill – you spend three days in a group chat trying to coordinate a date that you and your buddies can actually be at the same place at the same time. One of you is a shift worker, one of you works retail so works weekends, one of you works long hours during the week so can only do weekends, one of you has a huge assignment for uni due, one of you has a hairdresser’s appointment, one of you has an engagement party and one of you appears to have been mysteriously abducted by aliens. We’ve all been there.
You know what’s sometimes more awesome than dealing with all that?
Oh hey. There’s a movie I want to see and it’s playing in an hour. Allow me to go get in my car, drive to the nearest cinema and see it. Sweet.
7. You make a kickass date
One thing I’ve learned in recent years: I’m a wicked significant other to myself. Why? Because I know what I like and I have no qualms about showering gifts upon my own person. You too, dear readers, can join in this excellent scheme. You know what cuisines you like, you know what movies you like, you know exactly what temperature you like the climate control on your car set to and you know which ice cream flavours are the best. Go forth and treat yo’self. You’ll soon find you’re the best date ever (with the added bonus of no awkward small talk! … what do you mean good dates don’t have awkward small talk? Is that a thing? Do people do that? I thought it was normal to stall and fall into uncomfortable silence or job interview-esque rapid fire questions once the initial “so what do you do?”s were over? No? Shit.)
8. It forces you to rely on yourself
Not dissimilar to #2, I’m a firm believer that being forced to rely on yourself is sometimes a good thing. I understand that we need our support networks – these are awesome things to have. But I also believe that if we rely on them too heavily, we become victims who expect others to save us. This may sound harsh but I truly believe we forget sometimes that for others to be able to help us, we have to first be able to help ourselves. Being forced to rely on yourself is a great way to hone that skill and build resilience. This is doubly important if, like me, you suffer mental illness. Asking for help is a wonderful and brave thing but if we aren’t putting in equal effort to help ourselves, we’re not going to get anywhere.
I’m not saying that doing things with others is bad. Frankly, that’s how I spend half of my life (or more). But it’s also important to find balance and take time for ourselves. And, as I’ve said in the past, doing shit alone does not mean immediately planning a solo six-month holiday to a foreign country where you can’t even communicate the fact that your bed is infested with cockroaches. Start small. Try somewhere that your presence is pretty unlikely to be noticed, and therefore you won’t feel like you stick out so much. The movies are a great one (particularly popular ones as there’ll be too many people in the theatre for anyone to notice you’re solo). Or even just your local café for a coffee that you sit down to drink instead of speeding off with your takeaway cup (bonus points if your barista is hot and you get an awesome view in the bargain). Baby steps. You got this.
What about you guys? Do you enjoy or fear doing stuff by yourself?