Being Alone Does Not Mean Being Lonely

A reflective selfie taken on a trip to Toronto.

A reflective selfie taken on a trip to Toronto.

I’m very aware that my writings have become very food-centric these past several months. Chalk it up to having a goal to try as many top 100 Edmonton restaurants as possible and sticking to it, which I’ll have you know is actually a difficult thing for me. To my friends, it may look like I tend to have my ducks in a row, but, more often than not, I find myself procrastinating. The fact that I started on a journey, so to speak, and have managed to continue with it this long is a feat. I talk as if I’ve never accomplished anything in my life, but that is not true. I saw through finishing my undergrad and masters programs, things I can be proud of, but I’m sorry to say that I’ll probably never have a musical career because I gave up playing the guitar after two years of lessons.

That intro is a convoluted way of saying that I’m amazed I’ve run a marathon with this whole blogging thing thus far, and while I love eating and writing about my food adventures, that is not the only topic I want to discuss on my site. The name of my blog was a thoughtful combination of the things I really enjoy in life, and my articles or stories have evolved to incorporate happenings or interests that have come up along the way. I want to get back to making this a more well-rounded conversation, one that isn’t entirely focused on dining and/or an Edmonton-only audience.

Therefore, my chat with a co-worker/friend after work this past Tuesday gave me an idea for something that I feel is important to talk about.

The discussion came about because she was wondering why I was still at the office past 5pm. I told her it was because I was going to the Bahamas concert later that evening at the church across the street, and I was going to kill some time on the computer until the show. Of course, concerts being typically social things, she asked who I was going with. My reply was that I was going by myself. While friends, including her, were originally interested in joining me, none of them came through with purchasing their tickets, and it left me attending solo. I could easily have lied and said someone was meeting me there, so I wouldn’t sound like a “loser,” but I went with the truth because there’s no shame in doing anything by yourself. Her response was that “I was so cool” to do that, which I take as a great compliment because, I guess, it means I’m a secure enough person to not need anyone else. It also made me question why she thought it was such a unique thing. I used to regularly sit in fancy restaurants eating meals alone. The dishes were delicious. Not having anyone to go with wouldn’t stop me. I’ve gone to plays or to see films as a single. I’ve traveled without others and discovered what was unknown to me in cities by using my own direction-challenged mind. The thing is, I hadn’t done that in quite a while. This week’s concert was the first time in months, maybe even a year, that I’d find myself alone.

Sitting by myself inside McDougall United Church, waiting for Bahamas to start their show.

Sitting by myself inside McDougall United Church, waiting for Bahamas to start their show.

I’ve spent more time out and about this year than I can remember, and usually with other people. Don’t get me wrong, I like being a social butterfly, appreciating the time I get to spend with all of my friends (goodness knows that life is fleeting and things change so quickly, so take whatever you can with those that matter – I’ll miss you my latest food buddy!). There are plenty of benefits to spending time with them and my family. One situation is trying a new restaurant as there is only so much you can eat on your own, but with multiple people you can usually taste a little bit of everything. However, when I think on it, I do feel that I have missed ‘me.’ I’ve become so accustomed to having a companion for everything that I’ve forgotten how great it can be to do things on your own. Whether it’s getting dinner at an eatery, seeing a live show, watching a movie at the theatre or attending a conference, there is a kind of power to doing something by yourself without the need to present an image of who you believe you should be to those who think they know you. This not only applies to in-person situations, but the virtual world of social media as well. I don’t require that each acquaintance know my every move and can judge me for it. You shouldn’t crave that either.

Now, I’m not saying that I think you need to lock yourselves indoors and become hermits. Alone time can always be in the presence of other people. What I’m talking about is the intention of experiencing something without the company of close friends or family. It’s a deliberate attempt to step out of your boundaries, be independent, confident in being on your own, allowing yourself an opportunity to have a deeper understanding of who you really are, and possibly creating new connections. I know some people might be self-conscious in front of strangers, but that’s what they are, strangers. They don’t know you, so it shouldn’t matter if they think it’s weird that you’re on your own participating in things usually relegated to pairs or groups.

Heading to the Toronto City Hall during a visit in 2012. Doing one of the things I love the most - photography!

Heading to the Toronto City Hall during a visit in 2012. Doing one of the things I love the most – photography!

Expectation is that you can’t be alone forever, and showing up without a plus one is sort of sad. I fall victim to that mentality at times. I know it becomes comfortable having a friend with you by your side because society puts so much emphasis on getting out there, being social and having a relationship (if you don’t have a date or some sort of online existence nowadays, you suddenly become an outcast), but I believe that taking the time to discover who you are devoid of the influence of others is crucial in building our character and finding out what we truly like or don’t like. I wasn’t born thinking this way though. As someone who grew up being pretty introverted, it was always a challenge for me to allow myself to be free and willing to do what society dictated. I wasn’t a talkative child. I wasn’t outgoing. I was quiet and shy. Yet, I have moved past that. I’m no longer the wallflower that prefers to stand back, but I have also come to terms with the need and want to do things alone when I know I must. More people have to understand the importance of that to one’s psyche. Whether you’re single, dating or married, I think it’s pertinent to do this throughout your life.

Movies always show people going off on some retreat to “find themselves” as if a weekend away is going to lead to some epiphanies. It goes without saying, real life doesn’t always work that quickly. It requires a constant willingness to evolve and an understanding that answers don’t always come so easily. Yet, if you spend the time to get to know you for you, what you may need might not be or seem so out of reach.

A beautiful shot of the entrance to Somerset House in London. Taken on a solo excursion to see the Valentino exhibit in 2013. I needed a break from my family who had accompanied me on the vacation.

A beautiful shot of the entrance to Somerset House in London. Taken on a solo excursion to see the Valentino exhibit in 2013. I needed a break from my family who had accompanied me on the vacation.

This week’s realization was like a collision of Tuesday’s conversation and the book a couple of friends and I are working through. We started a book club to help each other through our ‘aloneness’ stemming from singledom in what feels like a sea of couples of late. Calling in ‘The One’ was the chosen tome. Still tackling the included exercises, we have just completed Week 5 out of 7, which ends on the idea of cultivating solitude, so should you be uncomfortable going out in public to do things often meant for two or more, work on carving out 5 to 15 minutes or an hour during your week to do nothing at home.

Shut everything down, sit in stillness and listen to what your mind and body say. Most of us have been programmed to think TV, video games and music help us to fill time and drown out boredom, but all of that is really white noise. It is good to veg out with a favourite show once in a while; however, it often becomes our go to. Instead, take your inner monologue to heart and build a clearer picture of what will create a more fulfilled life. Try to use your alone time to be productive and nurture the ideas that you think may become your passions. It can be a fun process that may include learning how to cook wonderful meals, writing an actual letter to a good friend, painting a watercolour, working on a DIY project, focusing on a healthier lifestyle, among many things. One of those growing passions may push you to venture outside on your own, so you can further explore those personal ambitions.

Communal events, when experienced as a singular individual, serve as reminders that there are so many more things and people out there in the world that we have yet to discover and that are simply a step away from the circles that we have already established. You might be surprised to see that you can go to an event without a companion and have just as much fun because there’s nothing wrong with being alone. In fact, it’s pretty darn cool.

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4 thoughts on “Being Alone Does Not Mean Being Lonely

    • @liveclarelesley Thanks for the comment! I think if you truly like something, nothing will stop you from doing it. That’s the way I feel about going to see live music, among lots of other things. I hope this encourages you to do the same. Cheers!

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