Overcome the Fear of Going Out Alone
Though I am sociable and have no lack of amazing friends, I battled with a sense of intense embarrassment when venturing alone to places where society has conditioned me that I should be with someone else. I felt that strangers would label me a loner, socially awkward, etc. and the feeling was sometimes too much for me to handle. Table service at a fine dining restaurant. Watching a movie at the movie theaters. Seeing a fine arts performance in the theater district. Traveling for leisure. Let’s face it, there is a huge stigma with doing things on your own.
When I was preparing to move to Washington D.C., I created a tiny bucket list "Things to Do Solo before Moving to DC" to help me overcome this anxiety. The list quickly transformed into "Things to Do Solo before Finishing My Masters" and just as quickly warped into "Things to Do Solo before Marriage". Although it took me 4 years to get started on the list, I learned so much over one weekend of just doing something on my own!
With my increased independence also came my increased fear of going places or doing something I wanted to do by myself. In high school, my fear was so irrational that I even forced my cousin to try out for color guard with me. By my senior year of college, I was so good at sparking up conversations with strangers and had a strong network of friends and associates that I rarely lacked good company. Though not my first preference, I even enjoyed living off campus by myself. But on the occasions where I did not have a friend to venture out with me to the mall, movies, or a party, I would opt out of going altogether and instead I’d barricaded myself in my apartment to watch TV, read books, and listen to music. Though I kept my mind preoccupied, my spirits did feel dampened because I was missing out on something I wanted to do and was alone.
...Fast-forward 4 years later…
The weekend of my husband’s bachelor party the weather was slated to be gorgeous and I was ready to do everything I loved with my friends: brunch, wine night, you name it. But then I remembered, that weekend also happened to be the weekend all my girlies were unavailable. I immediately faced the decision to either mope around the house or to confront my anxiety and live life solo. I spoke with a close friend who floats about freely from events to movies to bars all on her own regarding my fear of doing the same. I told her about my idea to cross some items off my "Things to Do Solo Before I'm 30" bucket list this weekend. She was very supportive and helped to nudge some courage into me.
So, here it is…
My updated "Things to Do Solo before I'm 30" bucket list:
- Go see a fine arts performance (Check: April 24, 2016)
For a few years, I have been wanting to see the Alvin Ailey Dance American Theater again. The first time I saw Alvin Ailey troupe perform, I attended with my mom, God-mom, and sisters. I was blown away. Though I was initially intimidated with the thought of going to the performance alone, I would absolutely do it again! Not having to worry about anyone else's budget but mine, I was able to splurge on orchestra seating tickets— 5th row ya'll! I was 100% engrossed, present in the performance unlike I've ever experienced going to a fine art performance with a classmates, my best friend, or even with my husband.
- Treat myself to brunch at my favorite restaurants (Check: April 23, 2016)
I absolutely love brunch and mimosas. If I have no one to join me in my brunch ventures, I never hesitate to whip it up on my own at home. However, the weather was so beautiful on this Saturday. I decided to walk to Canopy to soak in the weather, sit and eat on the patio to soak in the sun, and slowly eat my migas and sip my mimosa. I read a book—mainly to shield myself from others judgement. Eventually, I tossed—no not literally lol— the book and just people watched and decided to practice being fully present in the moment: the fizz of the champagne slipping across my tongue; the feeling of the sun warming my skin while the breeze gently caressed me; the flavors bursting as my tongue danced in excitement; the clarity of my thoughts tantalizing my mind. It was a pleasant, calming experience. Bonus: I didn't have to worry about cleaning the kitchen once I finished eating!
- Go watch a movie at the theater
- Attend a music concert
- Go on vacation
- Treat myself to a fancy dinner
- Go out to my favorite bar for drinks
- Go view a museum exhibit
- Go on a meditation or wellness retreat
- Attend a conference that interests me
In just those two experiences over only one weekend, I learned so much about the importance of being comfortable with going everywhere and doing anything that I like to do by myself. Doing things on your own important life skill that everyone should have, but many never obtain. Here are some of my observations from the weekend of just putting my inhibitions aside and going about my life as I pleased!
Every step, large or small, I take towards enhancing my self-reliance is meaningful. Before actually dining with table service at the brunch spot, I worked up the courage to try dining at the bar in a few restaurants. Though initially uncomfortable, I have become satisfied with the solo bar dining experience. I even tried to convince myself that eating out alone while sitting at the bar was sufficient in conquering my insecurity to eat out alone. I ultimately decided that I would be cheating myself because sitting at the bar is the "socially acceptable" place for singles to sit. Though I am not the flying solo champ yet, I gained more confidence to eat with table service by starting off eating at the bar.
I have this theory that the more I can become fully present when I'm by myself, the easier it will become for me to be fully present in my relationships and interactions with others.
How can I expect to live my life to the fullest if I am not comfortable relying on myself to be my steadfast companion? I can't! I have willfully missed out on experiences and opportunities that I would have enjoyed because I thought I would be bored if I went alone. Although I may have found something else to keep me preoccupied, it still sucks when I think about missing the Sculpted in Steel art exhibit— and I had full 3-months to just go. When you rely on others to offer companionship, you are relying on something that is not guaranteed. Your sister may not be interested. Your significant other may have to work late. Your coworker may be sick. Your friend simply may not have the money. Plus, guess what? Social scientists have proven that when going places alone, you will have just as much fun as going with others. Through my own anecdotal experiences, I can vouch for the truth in this study! I definitely do not plan to continue sitting out when I want to do something.
I would avoid going places that society primed me to believe I should only go with others because I was very afraid of feeling embarrassed. I unreasonably believed that others will pity me because they would think that I am a loner who has no friends. How silly is that? I bet it probably sounds familiar to you, right? This is called the Spotlight Effect:
The spotlight effect is a cognitive phenomena where we severely overestimate how much others are paying attention to us because we are naturally and literally self-centered. In reality that aren't checking (read: paying attention) for you.
The more comfortable I become going places on my own, the more I realize that people seriously aren’t checking for me. On most of the occasions that I ventured out by myself, no really noticed me except to strike friendly conversation or to flirt with me— of course now I politely flash the ring. In the moments when I observed the curious stare of concern, which was not often, I admit I felt sooooo embarrassed. After coming to realize how important being comfortable going about my business on my own is to my happiness and independence, I try not to pay attention to others who are not directly interacting with me focusing on my moment instead. Next time I notice that lone, random pity stare, I'm going to smile and stare back lol. On a serious note, if I notice someone pitying me that means: 1) I'm probably still overreacting because, yup you guessed it, people likely aren't thinking about me, and 2) I am not being fully present in my moment. Speaking of being fully present...
Doing things on my own allows me to practice and enjoy being fully present in my moment of independence. I have this theory that the more I can become fully present when I'm by myself, the easier it will become for me to be fully present in my relationships and interactions with others. Between text messages, social media, and email we are constantly connected and often pulled by those not around us. Because life is often busy, we ignore and rush through the moments thinking about what we need to do next. Then once again due to the spotlight effect, we remain preoccupied with how we believe others are perceiving us instead of going after what we want or enjoying what we are doing. Just like we should eat slowly to savor delicious food, we should live slowly to savor amazing life.
Though I still have a ways to go in being comfortable doing certain activities on my own, here are the several lessons I want you to take away from this post…
If you don't have a bucket list of activities to do on your own, make one now! This is a fun yet challenging way to hold yourself accountable for enhancing your self-reliance.
You cannot live life to the fullest if you do not become 100% comfortable with experiencing life on your own.
We should all practice being present in our moments, and yes that includes you. If you want to learn more about the benefits of practicing mindfulness, read this.
If you want to do something or go somewhere, but you are hesitant because there is no one willing to tag along, just remember people aren't checking for you! lol