It’s Friday night. You were so excited to see one of your favorite bands play and go to a new restaurant in town. All your other friends are busy. You could stay in and miss out on the experience you were looking forward to for months.
Or you could go alone.
You might be thinking, Welp, looks like I’ll spend the night inside watching Netflix instead of going to the concert. But hear me out – doing things alone can be great sometimes.
If I hadn’t challenged myself to embrace solitude, I’d probably still spend a lot of time not doing the things I want to do because other people don’t want to do them. My ability and willingness to do things alone happened in stages.
First stage – going alone if I really had to
My first memory of going somewhere completely alone was during my freshman year of college. I worked as a reporter for the campus newspaper and was covering a concert on campus. I walked into the venue with my notebook and pen, ready to enjoy the night. During the concert, I heard the girls near me talking with each other, saying things like “is that girl seriously here alone?” “That’s so sad.” No, it’s not sad. I’m doing my job! I’m getting paid to be at a concert that you paid to go to. I felt embarrassed in that moment, but I think it helped me become comfortable with being alone because, sure, people might say or think things like that, but so what?
Second stage – gaining confidence in my ability to be alone
Living in Beijing one summer was a big stepping stone for me. Living in a big city presented me with so much to do and see, and since I was only there for three months, I felt that I couldn’t miss out on anything – even if that meant going alone. Though I got lost on a regular basis, I was proud of my ability to handle difficult or confusing situations on my own.
Third stage – comfort and joy
A few months after my summer in Beijing, I studied abroad for a semester. I was packing my suitcase, preparing to go home after six months abroad and listening to throwbacks (naturally). “Take You There” by Sean Kingston came on and as I was singing along, I thought back to all of the things I accomplished on my own in those six months and thought to myself, “I don’t need you to take me anywhere, Sean. I can get there all on my own.” That moment seems completely insignificant, but I look back on it now and realize that’s when I discovered that I wasn’t just capable of doing things alone – I was comfortable and happy.
Fourth stage – going alone is natural
It’s not like I go everywhere by myself, but if I want to do something, I don’t worry so much about finding someone to go with me in many situations (sometimes, as a woman, I still don’t feel safe going solo, which sucks). Highlights of my solitude include traveling to Slovakia alone and treating myself to crepes and wine, and going to a concert by myself (not for a story this time). I feel more independent, and I can take the time to focus on my own hobbies and interests.
Dr. Bella DePaulo, the author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, said research shows that spending time alone has many benefits. Spending time alone is calming and rejuvenating, she said, and it also benefits creativity.
“When you are by yourself, with no one else around and no distractions, you have the opportunity to think deeply,” DePaulo said. “Lean into it, and it can be a profound experience. Every once in a while, when you really let yourself think about your life, you can reset your priorities and get on the path to becoming the person you really want to be.”
For people who are uncomfortable spending time alone, DePaulo said it’s important to realize that other people probably aren’t judging you like you might think they are.
One of the first studies she did about single life was about how other people perceive people who are eating alone. She was surprised by the results because she thought people eating alone would be judged — instead, she found that though sometimes others judged people who were dining alone, they were equally judgmental about people dining in groups. Basically, judgers are going to judge no matter what — don’t let it stop you from enjoying solitude.
New to spending time alone? DePaulo suggests thinking about the things you enjoy that your friends might not be as interested in — then think about how great it would be to do what you want without worrying about what others think. You can go see that movie your friends think looks stupid. You can go to that event that none of your friends want to go to. You can go to that painting workshop even though none of your friends are interested in art.
“I know there are some people who just don’t like being alone,” DePaulo said. “Maybe they are going to have a hard time with it no matter what strategies they try. To them, I say: Do it anyway. Spend some time alone. Then feel proud of yourself for making the effort. Some people don’t even try.”