I like doing things alone — eating dinner, playing games, seeing movies — but for some, the idea seems depressing, sad or only for people with no one to be with. That's nonsense. Doing things alone develops self-sufficiency, gives you time for honest reflection and forces you to learn to like yourself a little — or at least figure out why you don't. Illustration by Angelica Alzona.
You Don't Miss Out On Great Experiences for No Good Reason
The more self-conscious you are about going it alone, the more you're doing yourself a massive disservice. How many times have you wanted to do something fun only to stop because you couldn't find someone to join you? "I'm not going to the movies alone," you say to yourself, "It won't be as fun." But research suggests we're terrible at guessing how much we'll enjoy things on our own, and it holds us back.
Rebecca Ratner, professor of Marketing at the University of Maryland, has been studying people's reluctance to pursue solo activities for years, and she believes such reluctance leads people to experience less joy in their lives overall. In Ratner's study "Inhibited From Bowling Alone", published in the Journal of Consumer Research, she found that people consistently underestimated how much they'd enjoy seeing a show, going to a museum, seeing a movie and eating at a restaurant by themselves.
This becomes a serious problem when it becomes an automatic response to anything fun you'd like to do. Not only does it restrict your fun, but as Ratner notes, it gets worse the longer you wait. Your time is a finite resource, and everything you put off today because you didn't want to do it alone won't be an option later, whether you're alone or with someone.
If you're worried what people will think about you eating at a table for one or sitting in a dark theatre alone, take solace in this: nobody cares. People don't think about you as much as you think they do. Unless you're sobbing while you eat your solo dinner or shouting about how your loneliness in the back of the theatre, nobody is paying attention to you. Besides, when you make an effort to have more "me" time, it's your choice. You're in control. You don't have to feel like a sad sack because you're choosing to do it.
Flying Solo Gives You Freedom, Control and Time to Reflect
What's for dinner? Whatever you want. What's the plan for tonight? Anything. What music should we listen to? That guilty-pleasure pop song you love to sing as loud as possible. You rule, and you get to rule with an iron fist. Solo time eliminates social democracy, and you don't have to worry about anyone's schedule but your own. You get to order food when you're ready, see the movie you want to see when it's convenient for you and be as spontaneous as you please.
You also don't have to worry about entertaining anyone. There's no need to keep up appearances, try to be nice or worry about someone else having a good time. All that matters is if you are having a good time. Plus, focusing on yourself means you'll have more mental energy for when you do spend time with others.
Most importantly, doing things alone gives you time to ponder and reflect. You have more thoughts than you realise, and time alone helps you work through them. It's meditative, and letting your mind wander unloads stress that's weighing you down. It's also time you can truly be yourself or, if you don't know who you are yet, it's time you can use to find out. How can you be your authentic self around other people if you don't know what that feels like alone?
Self-Sufficiency Is the Ultimate Skill
There's nothing more empowering than independence. The less you need from others, the more you'll ultimately accomplish. When you go it alone, you're forced to learn how to handle everything by yourself. You go from being a screwdriver in a toolbox to being a capable multitool. This increases your self-reliance and boosts your confidence, not only socially, but in multiple aspects of your life. When you can't rely on your friends or coworkers, you'll know how to handle it, how to cope without stressing yourself out and when you really do need to reach out for help versus pushing your own boundaries.
Furthermore, when you're self-sufficient, no one stands in the way of your goals but you. When you're comfortable doing things on your own, you're the only one who keeps you from travelling abroad, taking classes, seeing that band you like or doing something you've always wanted to. Of course, freedom is a double-edge sword. Having control also means you don't have anyone to use as an excuse or as support, but it might just be the fire you need to get moving.
Being Comfortable Alone Doesn't Mean Being Antisocial
However, balance is everything. Being comfortable in your own skin and being alone doesn't mean you can't enjoy spending time with others. It also doesn't mean shutting yourself off from the world. I may love my alone time, but I still see my friends to play games, chat and watch Game of Thrones. I meet with a running club every Wednesday, and I when I go out alone where there are other people, I strike up friendly conversations. In fact, going it alone has helped me cultivate my social skills. It's good to meet people who aren't like you, so go get a taste of the world beyond your clique.
That said, I also enjoy times where I'm a little more reclusive. We all need a break from the world sometimes, but it's all a carefully choreographed balancing act. You shouldn't spend all your time with people, but you shouldn't spend all your time closed off either. We all need social interaction, but don't let it become a crutch.
Whenever someone asks me why I like doing things alone, I'll explain, but follow up with my own question: "Why do you need other people to do what you want to do?" I get answers along the lines of "doing stuff with people is more fun" or "is necessary" (sometimes true) or "I don't want people to think I'm weird" or some other vague answers.
Occasionally, though, my question hits home. People don't know how to answer because, well, they don't know! If you think doing things alone is depressing or weird, give it some serious thought. Why don't you want to spend quality time with the one and only you? You might think you need a co-pilot to support you, but you'll never know until you have your first solo flight.