The idea of spending time alone publicly is unfathomable for a lot of people. Going out alone, especially when you’re a woman, can be terrifying. But it goes beyond the idea of safety. Women have been conditioned to believe that enjoying their own company is somehow wrong. Wanting to spend time alone has always been made to be a flaw. And if you enjoy spending time alone as a woman, you might be looked down on or pitied.
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that people’s archaic views of women enjoying spending time alone is bullshit.
For so long, I was afraid that if I went out alone, people would judge me. And maybe they do. But I don’t care anymore. Trying to coordinate plans with other people can be impossible. So if I’m waiting for a friend to go see a movie or try a restaurant or whatever, I could be waiting a while.
Spending time alone means I can go on my own schedule. My free time is limited, so I don’t want to miss something just because I can’t find anyone to go with me.
At first, going to the movies alone felt weird because I like having someone to talk to afterward. But every time I go to the movies alone, I wonder why I don’t do it more often. When I go alone, I can go in the middle of the day. I can sit where I want. And I don’t feel bad if I get all cozy in my seat. Would it be nice to turn to someone during a surprising moment? Sure. But not having someone next to me doesn’t really detract from my experience. AT ALL.
“There have been studies that show when we are by ourselves, what is uncomfortable is the lack of stimuli, that you can’t rely on other people to shape your experience in a certain way,” Thuy-vy Nguyen, an assistant professor studying solitude in the Department of Psychology at Durham University, told The New York Times.
Similarly, I used to hate going to concerts alone. It feels weird to be by myself in such a large crowd. Since I started going to concerts at the age of 12, I had never been to one alone. I may have traveled there alone, but I always ended up meeting a friend. I worried that not having a companion would be boring.
Then I went to my first concert alone. And I still had an amazing time. I made friends with the people sitting next to me, but even if I hadn’t, it still would have been enjoyable. I was there to see the person performing, and that didn’t change if I had someone I knew next to me. As of right now, I’m planning on going to three concerts alone. Two years ago, that would have been unfathomable to me.
In fact, until recently, there weren’t too many things I was willing to do alone. Until this year, I wouldn’t even work out alone. When I was younger, I took a yoga class with a friend and when our schedules stopped matching up, I gradually stopped going. Now, I diligently go to class as often as I can. And most of the time I don’t even think about the fact that I’m alone. It’s just my thing I do to commune with myself.
It’s funny how there are certain activities I do alone without ever questioning them. One of my favorite things to do is work in a coffee shop. I have no problem taking my laptop and sitting there by myself for hours. But at the same time, the idea of going out to dinner by myself is still something I have to psych myself up about. Spending time alone in a restaurant feels far more deliberate. It’s not just “my friends are all busy so I’m doing this alone.” Walking into a restaurant, even if it’s someplace casual, and saying “table for one” makes me feel vulnerable. But it’s my next big step.
Spending time alone is rarely a bad idea. But we’re so programmed into believing it is that we may ignore our need for that alone time. Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, going out alone doesn’t mean you’re a “loner;” it just means you choose yourself.
“Cultivating this sense of being alone and making the choice to be alone can help you to develop who you are, your sense of self, and what your true interests are,” Angela Grice, a speech language pathologist who has conducted research on executive functions and neuroscience at Howard University and the Neurocognition of Language Lab at Columbia University also tells The New York Times.
Once you become okay spending time alone, you can actually become a better friend too. When you get together with your friends, you’re genuinely happy to be with them. You’re not just hanging out with them because you don’t want to be alone. And when you’re surrounding yourself with people you really want to be around, they can feel it too. It’s a way to make your friendships even stronger.
Feeling okay with spending time alone takes time. As much as I enjoy it, I’m still reminding myself that it’s not weird to do things alone. It’s not something that happens overnight; it takes a lot of concentrated effort and practice. So start with something simple — take yourself out for a coffee. Bring a book or whatever else you like to do and set your phone timer for 30 minutes. Then try it again and stay longer. And if you can, go see a movie alone. It’s really the best. Chances are, you really find that you like your own company more than you ever expected.
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