From as far back as my memory serves, I have always loved human interaction. I love considering people’s diverse opinions, giggling sincerely at their anecdotes, listening intently to their problems and offering up my best attempts at advice. I often correlate my self worth the value I provide to others. I like people to focus on what I’m doing, not who I am.
Then, a few months ago, I watched this video and it sparked an epiphany.
“Lonely is a freedom that breathes easy and weightless and lonely is healing if you make it.”
How lovely, glamorous even, she makes being alone seem. And Heaven knows we could all use some healing.
That video catalyzed my decision to break away my extroversion dependence. Instead of my usual preference to do things I’d rather not with people I love, I decided to try doing things I love with a person I’m learning to love: me. Between solo trips to restaurants, concerts, gyms, mountains and yes, even a bar or two, here’s what I’ve learned.
1. You have to know who you are to decide what you want.
When I began this experiment, I realized I had fallen into a routine that had led me incrementally astray from who I am. Like a frog in slowly boiling water, throughout college, I began changing for people without noticing. The girl who used to stay in to watch History Channel documentaries on Friday nights and loved going to local concerts or exotic, borderline weird places to meet interesting people, became a girl stuck in a perpetual cycle of binge drinking in gross bars trying to impress gross people whose opinions I didn’t even respect. Not because everyone was doing it, but because everyone I cared about was doing it. It took a jolt back to reality, an introspective look at who I’d become, to realize years of minor changes had severely altered me. I realized I was in the midst of a quarter life crisis, wanting to be anywhere but where I was, lacking inspiration and purpose.
How did I break the cycle? I re-introduced myself to the only one who could fix it: me. After taking myself on several hikes, dozens of bike rides and countless coffee shop parties-of-one, I remembered who I was, and that I would rather do things I love by myself than things that were of little interest to me with people I love. And after that, I even realized that I was doing them with someone I love.
She turned out to be an excellent companion. She has great taste in music, an insatiable curiosity to learn and grow, and enough gumption to compliment lovely people, inquire about restaurant playlists and spark conversations with pleasant strangers…even without a bourbon on the rocks as liquid courage.
And it’s at that point I began holding myself to a higher standard. I reassessed my career, my lifestyle, even my friends. I remembered my passions and resumed pursuing a purpose that had been deserted for far too long. It took me discovering whom I was, to even know where to start.
2. No one thinks you’re weird for doing things alone.
There is some pointless, unspoken social norm that tells us it’s deviant and unacceptable to be alone. Strangely enough, we only notice that norm when, well, we’re alone.
My friend recently moved to a new city. She considered getting a dog solely so she has an excuse to explore her new home without feeling alone. I don’t condone taking on the responsible of another life so you have an adorable and peaceable wingman, but I get it. Animals make it socially acceptable to be alone…or something. So I set out to prove her wrong.
The truth is, I have never been in a theatre or at a restaurant and whispered to a friend “Oh. My. Gawd. Look at Loner McLonerson and his imaginary friends.” Partly because no one talks like that, but also, I hardly ever notice a one-man wolf pack and if I do, it’s with a tinge of envy I think how fulfilling it must be to see a foreign film or try out an exotic delicacy for one’s own enjoyment and no one else’s. That is, until I started doing it myself and noticed I was afforded the same courtesy. No condescending whispers or glares were ever apparent on my solo adventures.
In fact, I recently took a bike ride to my favorite brunch joint, armed myself with a mimosa, some work and a book and hung out for about 2 hours. After some time smiling and exchanging small talk, the bartender inquired good-naturedly “Getting lots of work done?” I replied sincerely (with, to my surprise, more independent self-confidence than blatant self-loathing), “It’s a great excuse to drink alone.” He laughed congenially, gave me a wink and replied, “You never need an excuse to drink alone.”
And for the Super Bowl, I decided to truly test this theory and went stag to a bar. I ended the game with several new friends and equally numerous free drinks for being one of the few Giants fans there. The tinge of discomfort I initially had quickly wore off once Madonna’s mind-blowing cartwheels and my favorite commercials made for easy discussion.
It turns out people don’t think being alone is weird. Many times, they think it’s commendable, desirable even. If they do think it’s weird, it’s probably because they have some deep-rooted traumatic memory of eating lunch in a bathroom stall alone a la every late 90’s – early 2000’s teen movie.
3. It’s good to be comfortable with being uncomfortable:
This is probably the greatest lesson I’ve learned. Being uncomfortable means you’re growing. Eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s or try on your favorite pair of skinny jeans and you’ll know I’m right.
It’s on the edge of discomfort where the magic happens. Where panic turns to a pleasant, natural high and you know you can tackle the world. Where tripping in front of a handsome stranger and laughing it off leads to a sushi date, where joining an elderly stranger for a game of chess becomes a life-changing lesson and where attempting to climb a mountain (literal or figurative) with the will, but not necessarily the way, ends in sweet, sweet victory.
So what are you waiting for? Get yourself a pint of life’s figurative ice cream and start living a little.
4. Once you start doing things you love, you’ll inherently meet people you love.
Once I began to reconnect with who I was and had the newfound confidence to do things that were meaningful to me, I naturally found myself surrounded by amazing people. Once I began seeing bands I loved, I met people who shared the same passion for music. When I began hiking, I met hikers from 8-years-old to 80-years-old who shared my fervor for nature and fitness. When I got back to reading nerdy books, strangers on planes commended me on my literary choice and struck up meaningful conversations.
If you stop trying to impress people and get a bit more selfish, worthwhile people will come into your life like bees to honey. And you’ll never have to pretend to be someone you’re not. From experience, that is a beautiful thing.
Now obviously, you have to be smart about your solo adventures. If you decide to explore dark alleyways or warehouse raves alone, you might gain some life lessons you didn’t sign-up for. While being open-minded and spontaneous, you must, of course, also be cautious and aware.
Now that my mom and my D.A.R.E Officers from 3rd grade are content with that disclaimer, back to the point: learning to be alone has been the single greatest paradigm shift in my life. My confidence, independence and overall sense of wonderment with humankind have increased exponentially and I feel more alive than ever.
Now it’s your turn. Once you’ve tried it, I’d love to hear about your experience. Ready…Set…Go your own way.
You can follow Kirsten Stubbs on Twitter.