One night during my first semester of college, on the floor in a dorm room down the hall from my own, I sat with a dozen or so girls and gossiped while passing around a red Solo cup filled with a mysterious communal cocktail. When the cup came to me, I decided to pass it along without sipping, a decision that caused more than a few startled, displeased faces. It didn't feel great.
Having the freedom to move at your own pace and explore at your own will is crucial.
I wondered then: What if I embraced being a loner? How would that work out? I began with small outings—eating by myself in the dining hall, spending long evenings in coffee shops, roaming parts of campus I hadn't yet explored. This was, of course, scary at first. Who wants to be seen doing stuff alone? But, like with so many things, it only took trying it once to make me a convert. Eventually, "alone time" became something I needed to be happy.
Spending quality time with yourself can be profoundly liberating—just follow these five tips, and you'll be on your way.
No. 1: Shop With Only Your Own Opinions
Shopping alone is a great first small step to becoming a self-assured soloist. You're not totally by yourself—most stores you go into on a Saturday afternoon are packed, and there are always sales reps to bounce ideas off of. But hitting the shops sans friends gives you a chance to play around with your style without anyone else's input. You can actually discover what does or doesn't work for you, which will ultimately make you more decisive and maybe a little more willing to step out of your sartorial comfort zone.
No. 2: Take Yourself to Dinner
What is it about dining solo at a restaurant that makes people feel so awkward? Admit it, you've probably seen someone eating by themselves and thought, "But…why?" One of the biggest, but most important, hurdles to jump when it comes to spending more time in the world alone is learning that there's no shame in pulling up to a fancy restaurant without a dining partner for an evening of pure self-indulgence. You don't have to go all-out and reserve a table for one—that's what bar seating was made for. Mingle with new people, or pull out a book and catch up on your reading. It will feel uncomfortable at first. It might even feel weird the first couple of times you eat out alone. But, like all awkwardness, this will eventually pass, and you'll feel free to go out whenever and wherever.
No. 3: Get Lost in a Museum, Alone
Everyone has a different game plan when it comes to museums: Some take all day to learn every little detail of every single piece of art. Others pop in briefly for a temporary exhibit they've had their eye on. Personally, I tend to just let my feet decide where to take me that day. But when you go to a museum with friends—even with just one friend—you have to modify your own wants to accommodate what they may or may not like.
Having the freedom to move at your own pace and explore at your own will is crucial. When you're alone, you don't just learn more about art, history, and science. You can cater an entire cultural experience to your personal whims. If you want to sketch for a while in the Hellenic gallery at the Met, you can do that without worrying that anyone else is getting bored. If you want to take a coffee break and then go back into the gallery you just visited, you can do that, too. Eventually, you'll discover a host of new things about yourself—what interests you, sure, but also what it takes for you to feel totally relaxed, even when surrounded by people.
No. 4: Go Wild at Concerts
Before I embraced my lone-wolf status, I was constantly missing out on shows I desperately wanted to go to. Because, of course, who actually goes to a show totally alone? Sometimes, I'd strong-arm friends who weren't fans of the band or artist into coming along with me, but then I'd spend the night feeling guilty for asking them to come.
Then I went to my first show without anyone else, and it changed everything. Before the show started I looked around and thought, Wow, next time I can show up extremely early to guarantee myself a front-row spot; I can stay afterward to wait in line for merch or meet the band; I can scream every word with the comfort that no one who can see me knows me. It's hard to go to a bad show when everything about it you get to do your way.
No. 5: Venture to Brand-New Destinations
Two summers ago, when I was trying to figure out where to move after college, I decided to visit Boston. I booked the cheapest hotel I could find (a hostel, actually), packed a single duffel, and drove 18 hours from Missouri to Massachusetts. Yes, I had the same fears that any woman has when traveling alone, but I overcame them by befriending my hostel bunkmates, who always knew where I was going and when I was supposed to return. And I never felt lonely because, years after I began embracing solitude, I'd become a different person—someone so independent, I rarely, if ever, felt lonely.
Visiting someplace fresh from a perspective that's entirely your own will instantly make any new environment less scary.
Shattering the limits of how far I could travel as a one-woman show was one of the most liberating things I've ever done. I had en experience that was entirely mine and no one else's. Side perk: I got to stop at the "Welcome to Scranton" sign, of The Office fame, and nerd out on my way back.
You don't have to venture off into other states like I did. You can push personal limits by going somewhere as close as a local park you've yet to visit, or, if you're brave enough and ready, you can make a leap by embarking on a grand-scale adventure in a faraway country. Either way, visiting someplace fresh from a perspective that's entirely your own will instantly make any new environment less scary.