How do you feel about publicly dining alone? What about traveling alone? Do you spend your alone time in your own company or connecting from a distance?
Being alone has a terrible reputation. Despite knowing the difference between alone and lonely, both seem to be accepted as heavy and hollow. It’s fairly common to fear being alone and dying alone. All sorts of fears keep us from it. When you attempt to be alone confidently, there’s also the weight of fear of missing out (FOMO). Even if you deliberately don’t want to go out and be among people, part of FOMO is feeling like what you’re doing isn’t enough.
Then there’s the social pressures around the holidays. The panic and deep sorrow of not getting home in time for Christmas or the heart-break of another year without romance tend to be major themes of most Christmas songs and movies. It’s great to have reminders that the holidays aren’t cheerful for everyone, but can we lighten up on the stigma of being alone? Certainly it’s not always fun to be alone, but it doesn’t have to be tragic either.
I love to be alone. I love the space and liberation. I love the exploratory opportunity and personal empowerment it brings. I’ve dined, traveled, lived, and done absolutely nothing all on my own. Alone time has numerous benefits that have been completely overshadowed by the fears, dread, and discomfort in it. No more!
The Secrets of Solitude
Learn to enjoy your own company by confronting what’s in your head. You don’t want to spend time with people if the conversation isn’t good, right? Your self-talk is the conversation when you’re alone. This is a major reason why people don’t like to be alone. Solitude means you’re “stuck” in rumination and have to deal with what wouldn’t otherwise surface if other people were around. For those who struggle with depression, alone time is increasingly detrimental.
Toxic thoughts are a form of self-sorcery that deeply impact your overall health. Avoiding solitude does not resolve this issue, it suppresses it. Becoming aware of your thought patterns is how you can better understand what you really need. My own anxiety and toxic thoughts have been all-consuming. It diminished my self-worth. The realization that it was an impermanent experience was my tiny yet mighty step to emerge from hopelessness and helplessness. Emerging takes gradual work and steady self-compassion.
There is a huge difference between giving these thoughts a voice and letting them run wild. The former puts you in control, while the latter gives over control to your thoughts. When you give your thoughts a voice, you are better able to make necessary changes. Taking a step towards a healthy change, even if it is tiny, shows that you value yourself. It also builds autonomy and self-trust.
Self-trust has helped increase my comfort with being alone. If you know you can rely on yourself, it’s not as daunting to be on your own. This doesn’t mean you don’t need anybody ever. I build self-trust traveling abroad by asking for directions. I know that if I get lost, need assistance, or would simply like to have a brief social interaction, that I can rely on myself to fulfill this need by approaching someone. There are plenty of other examples, but this one has been pretty significant in my development process.
Try it! Start by doing something by yourself that you enjoy so you know it’s possible for solitude to be pleasant. It’s best to pick an activity that really only requires one person like reading or baking. Make the activity better by playing your favorite music, lighting incense, or sipping something delicious. Creating a space for yourself gives the time a special quality.
Then do things that could involve others or that have been fun with others. These activities can of course still be communal, but experiment by making your own fun. The more memories you make on your own, the easier it becomes. I like having wine during a movie or picking out clothing in a store that feels good enough to not need a second opinion.
There have been plenty of times when I’ve been somewhere and wished I was sharing the experience with someone else. There have also been plenty of times when I’ve realized that solitude has its own quaint perks. A big perk for me is making decisions. I used to be way more indecisive than I am now. After spending time alone, I have a better idea of what I want, and when I’m alone I can do whatever I want without having to consider another person’s feelings (or endure their protests).
Two years ago I lived alone in Leeds, England where I earned my Master’s degree. It’s not easy to make new friends at my age, but I kept up with local events that helped me to feel more a part of the community. There was a free yoga class offered above a pizza shop, weekly tea time in an otherwise empty hall, poetry readings, and pub crawls. I joined a book club and went on dates.
In my echo-y flat I developed rituals and invested in a dart board just to develop a new skill. My cooking improved immensely which helped when I spent Thanksgiving alone! I walked the neighborhoods and brought stacks of books home from the library. When I hosted visitors I knew all the spots and was able to explore places I’d saved for the occasion. Many of my relationships strengthened during this time.
Over time I built confidence as independence seemed to suit me. Alone time has made me a better person when I’m with others. Once I started appreciating and enjoying time alone, I appreciated and enjoyed time with others more. More time appreciated and enjoyed is a pretty solid life goal!
It’s important for me to re-assess and check-in with myself. Solitude allows me to set healthy boundaries by clearing any energy that isn’t mine and recharging, and it allows me to feel more authentic. You can learn so much about yourself while you’re alone just as certain people bring out other facets of you. For this reason, I know people who resist being alone because they’re afraid they won’t like what they’ll learn. But what if what you learn gives you a new direction?
Don’t get me wrong, I love socializing. I love solitude and socializing equally. Have balance! Technically, when you’re alone with your phone that’s not really being alone. Social media and connecting on a smartphone keeps you from your own company just like it keeps you from enjoying the presence of others. So pick something else to do alone!
When I’m publicly dining alone I’ll refrain from using my phone the whole time. Where to stare?! Publicly dining alone is “mysterious” because there is so much curiosity involved. Does the person not have any family or friends? Are they new in town? Why would they choose this?
I’ve become somewhat fond of the slight awkwardness of what to do with my hands while I’m waiting for my meal. I vaguely wonder if people glance over and pity me. Admittedly, going slightly against the status quo by dining alone is slightly invigorating. It doesn’t have to be weird. Now when I see someone else with one place-setting, I think “good for you normalizing this experience and having a night for yourself!”
Learning to be alone comfortably is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It grants you more ways to grow!
Go be alone and treasure every moment of it! If you like this page, please share it.