Party of One: Me, Myself and I and How to Relish Alone Time at Times
It is axiomatic. When Noah took two of everything on his ark, it reinforced the notion that people should go in pairs. We agree. We live in a couples' society. It's great to have a significant other, plus a bestie or two. Scientists say it helps us live longer to have companionship and connections.
However, we have discovered from time to time, an outing alone can be rewarding, and a refreshing change of pace when all we pay attention to our own set of eyes and ears. We have found it incredibly healthy to do so and learn who our real "me" is. In fact, we can be lots of fun.
Here's why. It can be peaceful to have a clean slate with yourself. No pressure to chit chat, no bother, no obligations to behave a certain way or worry about the opinions of others, if they like where we choose to walk or what we choose to eat. We don't have to tangle over who pays the check or buys the tickets. And we can be late or early or both! Going solo can be freeing.
That doesn't mean we always like to be alone. Margaret gets asked quite often if she's dating. The companionship is great, but she's come to realize after living on her own that she also enjoys her own company. This can be empowering.
One of Margaret's friends echoes the same sentiment. When Margaret was talking to her recently, she was touting how much she does enjoy being single now. There's no dating pressure although she's still on Match.com and had a hilarious experience meeting someone recently for a drink. When she entered the bar, she didn't recognize the guy with long gray locks. On Match, he had short dark hair and fewer pounds. Such experiences give solos a hunger for their singularity.
When Barbara first divorced and was terrified of being alone after marrying at age 22, her therapist advised her to spend Saturday nights on her own. "It's important to see that you can do so and enjoy your own company," he said. She wasn't convinced but followed his instructions and learned that she did "survive" eating in a restaurant by herself-usually at the bar, and even going to the movies, which would have seemed an impossible solo outing years before.
What if she ran into people she knew? What would they think? No longer does she think this way. And she was reminded of how many women's feelings have changed. In reading the book, The Barbizon, about a women's only hotel where many single women lived decades ago in NYC, the author speaks about the horrors of being single and not having a date on a Saturday night.
Recently, Barbara enjoyed her singularity when her beau went out of town for an evening and day. She indulged her independence by taking herself to dinner. She debated which place to go out of her normal hood and asked several friends' opinions. She planned on one but couldn't find it alone--reason enough to pair up if you're geographically challenged or buy a compass!
In this case, she chose another restaurant closer to home, ate outside, had "orange" wine and homemade spaghetti with fresh crab, more interesting than her usual burger and fries. Her review: "I was great company, laughed, talked with the waitress rather than reading a newspaper or magazine and thought about deep topics." However, she says in retrospect, "I told the server my beau was away. I should be more independent and not need to say anything, next time!"
More recently, she drove to a favorite store alone, but she had great company--a book on tape that she was relishing. She didn't have to check with anyone that it appealed or start it over from the beginning.
There are many other times when we prefer to be alone, which we list below as pros and cons. See what you think and feel free to weigh in, both singles and those who are part of a couple.
Pros: Enter places on your own terms. Eat where you want and order what you crave. Sit where you want in a restaurant or even at the bar to schmooze with the bartender. Bring a book or not. Look at your phone or just relax and people watch. It's fun to observe other couples and discern whether they seem to have a good connection. And don't cheap out because you're alone; in fact, try ordering that expensive cocktail, entrée and even dessert.
Cons: No one to complain to if the meal isn't up to par, to analyze the wine or to discuss the news of the day. Silence can be golden or deafening, depending on the situation.
Museum, zoo, botanical garden.
Pros: Stare at paintings, animals, plants as long as you want to with no one waiting for you to finish. "Come on. Let's go. You're taking too long." You're not on the clock. Take all the photos you want, just stand and stare or take notes to your heart's content. Or, strike up a conversation with strangers.
Cons: It's nice to go with someone who knows something about art, plants or animals. They can add a special dimension to the experience, and it becomes a great bonding and learning experience.
Pros: Browse. Sit at a table by a window with good light with a stack of your favorite selections or books and get lost in time. No one is waiting for you to finish. And whether a bookstore or library, you have to be quiet. So, who needs a companion?.
Cons: If you need another book, there isn't a person with you to get it for you, so you don't break your concentration. And sometimes it's fun to discuss what you're reading or to get suggestions from another (although you can ask a bookstore clerk or librarian).
Pros: Who needs to be with someone in a theater when all you do is sit and focus on a screen or play? Who talks? And if you do, you'll get "shushed" by those nearby. If you're sitting close to others, it's a great opportunity to chat with new folks for a few minutes. Margaret did so when she saw a performance of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Metropolitan Opera recently. She sat next to a mother and daughter who were delightful and when the production ended, they quickly gave their opinions and said their goodbyes.
Cons: There is no one with whom to enjoy the performance together, discuss it in depth, to walk home with or share a cab/Uber. If you need to talk about what you saw, call a friend who has seen the same production and discuss, or call someone who hasn't, and you can share your experience.
A walk, hike or bicycle ride.
Pros: For us, this is golden solitary time. It's when we meditate and produce our best ideas. We don't talk or listen to music or podcasts but only to the voice in our heads. Sometimes Margaret will come up with an idea and save her thoughts in the Notes section of her phone. Barbara loves her alone walks to study the houses en route and see now what's coming up in gardens.
Cons: When you're walking and talking with a friend, we tend to walk more steps as we focus on the conversation. This is good for our health. Also, time goes quickly when you're chatting with buddy on a walk and it's more fun, less cerebral.
Pros: Going it alone is a wonderful opportunity to make some new friendships and connections without having the baggage of another person who needs to fit in or not. As a solo, you can get up when you want to, skip as many museums or churches as you like, eat or don't eat, dance or don't dance, swim as far out as you like, drink champagne at breakfast or eat cake before dinner. Say nothing. Keep the lights on all night and read. Nap when you want.
Barbara had planned to take a hiking trip years ago when first divorced with a group but never did because she and her mother went on a trip together. But she plans to take more painting retreats on her own, though in that case she'll be part of a group, sort of a hybrid solution that offers both alone and together time.
Cons: No one to share your experience with or less fun overall unless you meet someone fantastic on the trip. Also, if you tend to get lost like we do, being on one's own can be a liability. But you can also join a group for a cooking class or tour for a day and again have that hybrid model.
Pros: We both like to get in and get out; we are not shopping mavens. Margaret is uncomfortable trying on items and then asking a friend's opinion. "Oh, you have to buy that," a friend or spouse might say. You cringe. "It's not in the budget." Margaret can make her own decisions and quickly. That is the operative word, quickly. And as for browsing or window shopping, it's not for us. Time is precious and many of the folks we know like to take their time looking and buying lots. We can also always buy an item online and that is a solitary pursuit in itself.
Cons: We don't have anyone we trust to offer an opinion before we make the purchase. We rationalize it can always be returned. Also, if the person with us is a parent or spouse, they might offer an insult or, on the plus side, offer to pay for the purchase.
Pros: The whole idea of volunteering is to give of oneself to a cause and not have to deal with anyone else's wants and needs in real time. It's also on some level a selfish endeavor for there are few things in life, except eating chocolate, which will make you feel as good, and this is something we like to savor alone. Margaret loves her volunteer time helping kids read and pursue other subjects. Barbara loved when she worked at a girls' club baking shop.
Cons: Not having someone who has been through this with you to share the experience if you need that kind of feedback. When you volunteer with someone else, it tends to make you closer as you both are engaged in the same activity of giving to others.
Learning something new.
Pros: Who needs a buddy for this? Perhaps it comes easier or harder to your friend and that can be frustrating. That friend or honey might keep turning to you for help and it can get annoying. It also interferes with concentration. This is about you and no one else.
Cons: If you're slow to catch on to a new endeavor, a friend might be just the ticket. And as you both learn a new skill together. It can have lasting effects in terms of doing it again in the future or helping each other when one is stuck.
Bottom line. We know going solo is not for everybody. However, being alone doesn't connote loneliness because we each know we can be with someone when we choose to do so. Spending time alone, we have discovered, can give us a brief opportunity to get to know and enjoy ourselves and then return home revitalized and aware of how nice it can be to share experiences with someone special. The truth is, even if we have a spouse or significant other, we'll all be alone at some time in life. It's good to see the upside of being with ourselves.