A few days ago, I strolled into a nearby café, got my favorite beverage and nestled into a cozy brown leather seat with my steaming caffeinated companion. While casually glancing around, I noticed a little girl sitting not too far away, pointing my way and saying something to the effect of, "Mummy look, that lady has no friends." Don't you love how candid kids can be sometimes? Surprisingly, my first reaction was one of slight embarrassment, even though sitting solo or engaging in lone activities was anything but unfamiliar to me. Having lived away from my immediate family since the age of 18 in different parts of the world, and becoming quite independent as a result, having coffee alone was a common ritual. So what was the problem? Was it because I was being unfairly and inaccurately judged? As I began fidgeting with my phone to reconnect with my 2367 friends on Facebook in order to eliminate unconscious insecurities about my solitary status, I began thinking about our perception, preoccupation and preference for moving in groups. Is going solo so sad?
We're all, to some extent, guilty of flaring the taboo surrounding unaccompanied activities. Giving the friendless woman at the cinema sideway stares while wondering and sympathizing with her minus one position. Or labeling the man at a dining establishment an oddball only because he's enjoying a chatter-less meal. Even hosts at restaurants usually do a double take or repeat the request of "table for one?" just to make sure their ears haven't deceived them about this social deviation. Of course cultural influences such as songs, books, movies and poetry all have played a massive role in pushing and perpetuating these negative stereotypes.
How many plans have you cancelled if others backed out? Would you still take that trip to Paris alone without your best friend? Would you still go see the new chic flick even if your hubby wants to watch football instead? Many people hesitate to publicly embrace solitude due to a number of factors, mostly because of the negative judgment of others, as well as a fear of being perceived as:
- Lonely and miserable
- Pathetic or problematic
- An introvert
- Unable to make or keep friends
However, more recently there may be a slight shift in our perception and the ever-enlightening Internet is a great place to start reflecting on changes in attitude so I set out to see what the rest of our species think about this. I came across a new website, Invite for a Bite, that caters to single people and attempts to avoid the "discomfort" associated with eating out alone by inviting someone in the area who may be looking to avoid requesting a table for one. What a great idea! Another example of society meeting this demand is the opening of a new pop-up restaurant by the name of Eenmaal in Amsterdam. The unique element of this eatery is that it's the first one-person restaurant and you'll only find tables for one. The woman behind this idea, Van Goor, is on a mission to eliminate the negativity associated with dining alone. While Eenmaal will only stay open for a couple of days a week, the idea of solo activities as an acceptable norm is beginning to gain a foothold in many parts of the world.
Here are some reasons why we should enjoy lone events:
1. We talk to people all day long so eating alone, for example, offers a chance to take a break from interaction and focus and expand your thoughts on other things. Without distractions, the appreciation for food increases.
2. It's easier and faster to get seats when alone than in larger groups.
3. There's no need to compromise or to bend to the desires of others. The decision is all yours.
4. People report getting much more attention and better service.
5. It can boost confidence. Whether you ride a bus alone or join an evening class, your self-esteem will get a surge in the knowledge that you can do things by yourself without relying on anyone else.
6. Self-discovery. There is no better way of insightful soul-searching than travelling alone. Backpacking through Europe or sipping a delicious cocktail on a beautiful beach, you will learn to take risks and be completely free to choose wherever you wish to go.
7. Learn Independence. It will become easier not to conform and do what feels right to you.
8. Doing things alone will also allow time for reflection. Confront those negative thoughts or make future plans. This time devoted to thinking can strengthen and sharpen your mental capabilities.
As Maxwell Maltz (one of the fathers of the self-help movement) said, "If you make friends with yourself you will never be alone." Paradoxically, it's likely that we'll enjoy time with others even more once we have learnt to relax in our own company. Next time you want to try out a new spot, you don't have to rely on your friends' schedule -- book a table for one. And if you really want to make significant progress in this area, leave the tools of preoccupation at home.
Remember, learning more results in living more... over to you...