If you haven’t embraced the solo date, sitting down alone at a coffee shop or restaurant or movie theater can feel, at best, awkward, and, at worst, intimidating. There’s no designated person with whom to share chitchat or even eye contact, and you’re left to float around in your own thoughts. For some, that act of public aloneness can even breed self-consciousness: What will everyone else think of me hanging out by myself? But, in fact, learning how to let go of that pressure to be accompanied, and to enjoy your own company instead, has unique upsides, regardless of your current relationship status.
Like any other step along the journey to personal growth, however, finding that level of comfort in one’s own skin is a skill. And practicing it well is the subject of the latest episode of The Well+Good Podcast, in which self-love expert Tara Schuster, author of Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies, and clinical psychologist Sarah Adler, PsyD, professor at Stanford University’s Department of Psychiatry, share advice for reframing our view of alone time.
Listen to the full episode here:
According to both experts, step one for learning how to enjoy your own company is understanding the important distinction between being alone and being lonely. “The first is simply a state where there aren’t other people around, while the second is a psychological construct where you’re having strong negative emotions about being by yourself, and not having the ability to connect with other people,” says Dr. Adler in the episode. While you can certainly feel lonely no matter how many people might be in your sphere, working to become more at ease with physical aloneness can actually help you feel, ironically, more connected.
“When you tether yourself to external forces, you’re handing over your happiness [and] your stability to someone or something else.” —Tara Schuster, self-love expert
Essentially, that’s because solo time allows you to reconnect with your own intentions and what actually fills your cup, so to speak, says Dr. Adler: “Carving out time for yourself gives you the space and agency to move toward the things that you want in life.” If, by contrast, you’re always on someone else’s schedule, it’s easy to lose grasp of the things you love. “When you tether yourself to external forces, you’re handing over your happiness [and] your stability to someone or something else, whether it’s a job that gives you a sense of achievement or a partner that you think gives you status,” says Schuster, adding that she feels like a happier, healthier version of herself and a better partner when she maintains the “sacred routines that ground me.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean exclusively flying solo; human beings are hardwired to need authentic connection, too, says Dr. Adler. The key is in striking an optimal balance between time with others and time alone (which will look a little different for everyone), and using both in service of the life you’d ultimately like to lead. But again, to figure out just what that is for you and to set boundaries accordingly requires the kind of awareness best achieved by spending time with (you guessed it) yourself. Below, the experts share tips for getting more comfortable doing just that.
4 tips for learning how to enjoy your own company and feel more at ease on a solo date
1. Start small
Figure out what you’d be most comfortable doing—whether it’s sitting at a café and sipping an espresso, or hitting up the bar at a local restaurant for dinner—and do that, suggests Schuster. Focus on that one outing as your single goal, and then work up from there.
2. Bring a book or a journal
Having a place to direct your attention and something to do with your hands are helpful tools for solo-date newbies, and a book or journal gives you both. “This way, when you start to have that feeling of, ‘Oh, I’m so alone here,’ you have an activity to engage in,” says Schuster. The act of journaling, in particular, can also turn your attention toward whatever it is that’s making the moment stressful, and help you confront and calm those feelings as a result.
3. Put your phone away (seriously)
Scrolling through social media or texting instantly takes your mind out of the present moment and strips the solo date of its potent self-awareness—which is, of course, the whole point of it. “Even if you’re not directly interacting with people while on your phone, you’re probably interacting with their thoughts or input, and it’s important to detach from that every once in a while to let your body down-regulate and reset,” says Dr. Adler.
4. Do an activity you love
If you don’t enjoy eating out at a restaurant with a friend or loved one, you don’t need to make your solo date a meal out, either. Spending time alone can also mean signing up for an art class or workout program or volunteer group without anyone else you know. In other words, independence need not always equal solitude, and part of the full-circle joy of doing things exclusively for yourself is that it also brings you opportunities to meet new people, and form new, beautiful connections, says Schuster.