Not long ago, a friend of mine took up the title of solo traveler and went to Denver. She did not worry about staying solo at her AirBnB or spending several meals alone at restaurants. She wanted to do yoga at Red Rocks, and so she went. She had (has) gumption.
Around the same time, I’d moved to a new city, and was in a long distance relationship. I, too, was spending increasing amounts of time alone, but I didn’t have gumption. I was cooped up in my lonely apartment, wishing that I had someone to join me for drinks, canoeing, or just shopping. I let my own self-pity and fear keep me from exploring all that my new city had to offer. After a bout of continued wallowing, I finally started branching out and doing things on my own — things that would have normally been reserved for a date night or evening with friends — and let me tell you, I didn’t know what I was missing. Doing solo activities is awesome: I get to do to things that I want, how I want, and in the timeframe I want. No one is talking to me during a movie, or watching me eat, since I’m always the last one done at restaurants. I don’t have to wait until the game is over to leave the bar, or share my appetizer with a GD soul (full order of cheese curds for one, and proud of it). I started venturing outside of my comfort zone and my apartment, and in doing so, I’ve found gumption.
My road to lonesome nirvana was not easy, and it did not become enjoyable overnight. When I first started doing “date night” things alone, I was intimidated, felt out of place, and even convinced myself that it was cheaper to be a recluse. I told myself that I was being financially responsible by staying in on Friday night. Not only was this train of thought an easy way to mask my insecurity, but it was flat-out wrong (and I have the takeout bills to prove it). After spending $30 on Chinese food and polishing off half a bottle of Cab, neither my wallet nor my mental health would feel the benefits of my misanthropic habits. But after practicing the art of being alone in places traditionally reserved for couples or groups, I not only became more confident and independent (hello, gumption!), I also found more value in how I spent my money, investing in activities that I truly loved or interested me.
So, maybe you’re in a long distance relationship like me, or have a workaholic partner. Maybe you are single, or maybe you just need some well-earned me time. Regardless of your status, the ability to do things alone is a skill worth having. It gives you the feeling of autonomy, and creates a sense of empowerment. If you’re scared by the stigma of doing things alone, read through some of the advice below. Not only will you learn what gumption feels like, but you will learn that you’re the best company you keep.
You’re Your Own Best Friend
Who knows you better than you? Nobody. As your own best friend, you become the best version of yourself, love yourself unconditionally, and know how to have fun. The freeing feeling of independence hinges on this idea of keeping yourself company. If you’re not already your own BFF4L, it’s time to turn to some serious introspection. Think about your goals; think about what makes you feel good and bad, both physically and emotionally; think about what activities you actually like, versus the activities that everyone else likes. Becoming comfortable with yourself is the first step to becoming comfortable alone.
You’re Good Enough
As your own best friend, you know that you rock. You know that you don’t need a partner to participate in life, but putting words into action is easier said than done. I let the absence of a buddy hold me back from participating for too long before I made the choice to start trying things on my own. And doing things alone is almost always a choice. I chose to spend time with myself instead of with someone who didn’t value the same things that I did, or enjoy the same activities as me. I’m not being anti-social, but I know myself well enough to who I’ll have fun with and enjoy spending time with. If a compatible companion is not available, I’m good enough company all on my own.
You’re Not Sticking Out Like A Sore Thumb
Despite the imaginary eyes that you may feel on you as a solo participant, no one is looking at you. Diners are not staring at the lonely girl at the restaurant. Your fellow cyclists do not pity you for spinning solo. And other moviegoers are not judging you for eating a jumbo-sized popcorn. No one cares that you’re alone. Regardless of the activity, those around you came to partake and enjoy themselves, just like you did. They did not come to spy on the loners, and you do not have a flashing sign over your head that reads “Table for One.”
Ready to go it alone? You don’t have to dive in head first. You want your first solo endeavors to be positive, so start slow and go easy on yourself. If you’re not having a good time, you can always leave (another positive of being on your own). Try some of the activities below, and gumption will shortly follow.
Novice — On My Own (Pretending He/She’s Beside Me)
1. Go to a movie. Movie lovers should not have to wait for a date night to see what they want to. The theater is dark, so no one can actually see that you’re alone, sobbing at the end of La La Land while double fisting nachos and a slushie. Oh, wait that’s just me? Well, the stakes are relatively low regardless, and there’s no one whispering at you during the previews. Try going to a matinee to get your feet wet. Attendance is normally lower, prices are almost always cheaper, and it will be easier to spit out those dreaded words, “Ticket for One.”
2. Volunteer. Don’t let your fear of going solo keep you from saving the puppies or helping the children. Volunteering is a great opportunity to prove that you’re good enough. You don’t need to have a partner to help stock food pantry shelves, to mentor a child, or to play with shelter puppies. Your work as a volunteer will be valued on its own.
3. Try an exercise class. So this isn’t exactly a “date night” activity, but a lot of people won’t go to exercise classes by themselves, even though they should. But know that everyone is too busy staring at themselves in the mirror to even notice you. Be advised: as a newcomer to an exercise class, you’ll probably get a bit of extra instruction from the trainer to help you feel more comfortable. Even if this attention makes you uncomfortable, you’ll know how to best fit in next time. Also, everyone looks sweaty and gross, so who are they do judge you? Expert Tip: Most gyms offer free trials, so you can try something new without a financial commitment! Also check the Groupons in your area to see if there are any good deals.
Intermediate — Riding Solo Like a Pro
4. Go to a bar. I struggle with this activity most. As a woman sitting alone at the bar, I feel like I’m just asking to be hit on, but I can’t let this deter me, and if you also like bars, neither can you. Make it easier on yourself, and go to the bar during a big game — there’s a heightened sense of camaraderie, so you never feel completely alone. Not a sports fan? Try frequenting your local watering hole during non-peak hours. I find that sipping an afternoon Syrah while reading a nice book not only gives me an excuse to get out of the house, but also gives me an excuse to day drink like an adult (and take advantage of happy hour specials).
5. Go out to a restaurant. There is a silly stigma associated with dining alone that makes this activity harder to conquer. But if dining out is truly something you enjoy spending your money on, you don’t have to depend on other people to make it happen. Start with baby steps. For your first foray into solo dining, start with breakfast at a coffee shop and work your way up to dinner at that place you’ve been dying to try. I find that it helps if I bring something to occupy my downtime. I usually turn to a book, but feel free to bring a newspaper, journal, puzzle book, even your laptop if you have work to do. This can make your experience more enjoyable than if you were just counting the minutes between courses while staring at the table cloth. I truly advise to stay away from your cell phone. You wouldn’t be glued to it during a date with another human, so don’t make it the center of attention during a date with yourself. Also, dining alone means you’re totally in control of your check — no feeling obligated to split the cost for that garlic bread you didn’t really want to order!
6. Go to a social gathering. This is maybe the most vulnerable situation you can put yourself in. Whether it’s a happy hour, networking event, or party, going any place where you don’t know anyone is intimidating. As opposed to some of the aforementioned activities, being social involves talking to people and likely confessing that you came alone. Without a partner in crime, you have no one to help you when conversations lag, no one to split a tab with, and no one to help you bust out of your shell. This activity is different because it’s not necessarily a date with yourself — it’s human interaction without the comfort of someone you trust. But you trust yourself, so dig up that gumption, and go.
A Chicago native, Laura is a lover of travel, fun fitness, and eating all the foods.
Image via Unsplash