I stepped in the museum alone. I managed to squeeze in a lift with a group of tourists, the lift doors hit me as I stumbled out. Doing things alone in public makes me awkward. All rationale deletes from my body; suddenly I don’t know how to walk casually and speak clearly. On some degree, I think many dread events, activities and restaurants solo.
Eating alone in public
Adding to my solitary museum trip, I sat by myself at a restaurant’s outdoor area. Graduation day meant swarms of robed crowds splattered the street, families in groups taking their children for celebratory lunch. The only alone woman left within minutes of me sitting. Calmly I reached for my phone – a distraction. I needed to know what to do with myself. I felt uncomfortable just staring and eye-gazing – people say I look sad when I daydream.
An article on Medium talks about the fear of eating alone and the worry of appearing lonely. Restaurants are social events – if you go by yourself, does that suggest you have no one else to go with? Do you not have friends or a partner to take? As I was sitting, I began taking photos of my book and Matcha tea. I took some terrible photos of myself in an attempt to show my new bob haircut. The tables at this restaurant are squeezed together. A man sat at a table next to me, cemented to his phone.
The Medium piece advises to “take time for yourself with no “I’m busy” tools”. I always see people reaching for their phones, grabbing headphones and opening up books when unaccompanied. I thought it was down to boredom, but maybe it’s fear. When my Moroccan food bowl arrived, I relaxed and leisurely enjoyed my meal. The man next to me had a date arrive; I became the only solo diner. And I didn’t care. When I got up and walked away, I knew I accomplished a great step.
The stigma of doing things alone in public
We have an obsession with technology and a crutch to busyness. We like being go-go-go – pausing makes our bodies confused. Does this explain the struggle to meditate? To sit in silence while crowds chatter means accepting you will stand out. The Huffington Post notes how people project their opinions on others – when you see situations negatively, your mind convinces you the world agrees.
A piece on The Every Girl says men alone are “spontaneous” – women alone are “brave” or “socially awkward”. The writer Caroline Cotto reasons she would have missed amazing opportunity and experiences, had she waited for someone to participate in everything. How many things are you waiting on because you need another person to agree? If I had full confidence in doing things alone in public, I would have plenty more memories and selfies. Maybe the key to removing stigma is to open our own perceptions.
When you see someone sitting alone in a room full of couples, don’t believe they look ‘sad’ and theorise embarrassment on their behalf. My friends and I share different passions and hobbies. I miss out on watching films they don’t highly rate, theatre shows they don’t appreciate – I sound like the strange one. People who actively spend time alone by choice are not brave, they’re embracing who they are and that shouldn’t be judged or mocked. The benefits outweigh social stain.
Growing as a person
I’m an introvert – in other words – I have no qualms embracing ‘me time’. I love taking time for myself: cooking, exercising, watching T.V and reading. Yet doing things alone in public has added new depth to definition. Recently I wandered through Waterstones by myself and spent time exploring.
As a child, I grasped isolation; how lonely time feels when you’re stood in a playground waiting for class to begin without friends to wait with. That dreaded seclusion makes me want to couple. Basic tasks such as shopping requires a person. I’m only okay by myself when commuting or travelling from A to B – anything with a direct plan. I agreed to my makeup course due to everyone enrolling by themselves.
For years I’ve managed to hide my secret fear. Meticulously planning to ensure I have a friend to accompany me to occasions. My one exception was attending a Thomas Sabo party. Everyone in the room had company and kept within their circles. I had a journalist ally I met who then left me to say hello to the DJ she recognised. I ended up staying for 40 minutes, (10 minutes spent waiting for my gifted jewellery).
Why and how it’s important
Life Hack lists various rewards to spending time alone. Their list suggests you’ll gain in independence and productivity, as well as learn to not seek validation or continually attempt to make others happy. By yourself, you have to decide where to go and what to do. You begin to listen to yourself more and put yourself first. Importantly, you have to learn to interact and put yourself out there.
I recommend writing a list of all the things you haven’t done by yourself due to nerves – perhaps a holiday or a trip to your local café. Then start to build confidence by taking small steps. Museums are a great place to begin, as are coffee shops, classes, libraries and book stores – it’s comforting to see others by themselves. Usually cities have more single wanderers than towns, with plenty of activities to keep you occupied.
How do you feel about doing things alone in public? What things do you typically do by yourself? Is there anything you won’t do solo?