On Saturday, I went on a date with myself.
I will not pretend that I have always done this, nor will I act like I haven’t been judgmental of people who have. When I was a waitress in college, I would grumble endlessly whenever someone dined alone under my service. Their tips by default were tiny, and they would take a really long time to decide what to order. I imagined their houses filled with piles of old newspapers, bird cages and kitty litter boxes.
If I could, I would buy every one of these customers a five course meal, as an apology.
Going out alone is not embarrassing.
Going out alone doesn’t mean you have no friends.
Going out alone doesn’t mean something is wrong with you.
Going out alone doesn’t mean you are lonely.
About two hours before my solo date began, I sat cross-legged on my bed with my hair wrapped in a towel. I was scouring Yelp, trying to figure out where I wanted to eat. With no one to please but myself, I could go anywhere. After a cordial, mildly schizophrenic conversation in my head, I chose a local tapas restaurant. There’s something sort of funny and ironic about going somewhere alone where the custom is to share plates with other people.
I proceeded to get ready; I picked out an outfit, curled my hair, put on makeup. I actually took longer to get ready for this date than I normally would for a night with my friends or even my boyfriend. It was liberating not to be rushed, no one waiting, no one expecting anything of me. This was unadulterated, uninterrupted time with myself. It was calm in the same way life is when you’re a child and you are entirely content with just your imagination. I poured myself a glass of wine and listened to bad pop music while I did my hair. I thought about what I would order at dinner.
Being a young, independent woman has its challenges. It has its benefits. It is and is not many things. For so long, I was uncomfortable being alone. Being part of a group was almost a compulsion. Nothing compared to sharing an interest or experience with someone else. The problem with this dependence, this need for company, however, is how unsustainable it is. As wonderful as a community may be, it cannot be everything. This is something I realized after moving to New York City, one of the largest “communities” there is. I’d just graduated college, had very little money and no job lined up, but my friends lived there! That would make things fall into place, right?
Those were the loneliest six months I have ever experienced.
Since the people I knew in the city all had paying jobs, I quickly fell into debt. I pretended to keep up even though I couldn’t. I took cabs when I should have taken the subway, went to brunch when I could barely afford a street cart bagel. If my friends were doing it, I was right there with them. Eventually, questions about priorities and values repressed by my college brain became impossible to ignore. Everything gave me anxiety. Looking back, I wasn’t ready. I moved to Manhattan to be with my friends. I moved to Manhattan to join the club. I moved to Manhattan so I wouldn’t be alone. I don’t regret it, because living there was an incredible lesson; I’ve learned just as much from things going wrong as I have from things going right. I am so grateful that, after trying to live my life in a constant state of compromise in the city that never sleeps, I finally admitted defeat. I no longer cared about avoiding being alone. I was too lonely. When I moved home, I lived with my mom to save money. It was difficult to be 23 and back in my high school bedroom, but it was an excellent motivator. I set goals for myself. No more unpaid internships. I joined a cheap gym. I started eating better. Some time went by and I got a job. On my drive to work I would listen to the news. The more I did for myself, the happier I became. The closer I listened to myself, the better my choices.
When I got to the restaurant on Saturday, it was buzzing. Slow enjoyment filled the space, as people alternated between eating, sipping and talking. I sat at the bar while I waited for my table, and took my time ordering a drink. I listened to people's conversations behind me, guessing what they looked like based on the sound of their voices. Overhearing these people talking to each other made me think about my own dialogues. I cherish speaking with people, sharing myself with them and being receptive to whatever they give back. I think it is an incredibly important exercise. Equally as important is the ability to have a discourse with yourself. If you take the time to really get to know yourself, to ask yourself questions and attempt to answer them, only insight can follow. What you learn about in the process is powerful; it allows you to connect and communicate with others on a deeper level.
My dinner was wonderful; I tried two different small plates and ate enough bread for probably four people. I reflected on my life. Under the guise of reading a book, I eavesdropped on three college students one booth over. I smiled at my waiter, wondering if he assumed I was a spinster who wouldn't tip well. I felt like telling him, "I can stay out as late as I want, I left my cats with a sitter!"
Going on solo dates is incredibly empowering. There will be people who don’t understand. There will be people who judge you, people who envy you, but also people who admire you. It will help you navigate your independence. It will teach you balance. You will realize and value things about yourself you didn't even know existed. When I lived in New York, I didn't do any of these things. I was like a sheep, surviving by following. Scared of what would happen if I broke away. Eventually though, it’s hard not to listen to the voices in your head. It’s hard to be in a flock and stare at the ground. Don’t ignore. Nurture.
Take yourself out to dinner. Go to the movies. Shut off your phone and take a bath. Drive around in your car and look at the houses in your neighborhood. Do something, even if it’s just some errands, and value that time with yourself. Ask questions. Figure stuff out. At the end of the day you will radiate acceptance, and what is better than that?
P.S. For the record, I don’t have any cats and I gave my waiter a 30% tip.
Hi! I'm Laurel. I binge-watch shows on Netflix, have a mild case of night-blindness (self-diagnosed), adore old houses, pretend to detect flavors in my wine when it all really just tastes the same, and I enjoy cooking and dining out equally. I love both the outdoors and playing sports; I started playing soccer before I could tie my own shoes. I actually still can't tie my own shoes.