We Need to Talk About the Stigma of Doing Things Alone

  • Copy by: Caroline Cotto
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It was Thursday afternoon. I’d been invited to the soft launch of a new restaurant that evening, and I’d invited a guy I’d recently met through online dating to join me, only to have him cancel last minute.

As someone who tries to live her life with a “no regrets” mentality, the choice was clear: I’d go alone. NBD. Did I mention there were going to be tacos? But, about 20 minutes into the event, as I sat sipping my drink, listening to a Mariachi band, minding my own business, an older gentleman approached me, and asked with a tone of utter surprise:

“Are you here alone?”

Shots fired. As if this wasn’t already clear enough from the context clues, thank you sir for pointing out the obvious. Taken aback by his question, I quietly nodded, tried not to roll my eyes as he proceeded to ask a series of probing follow up questions about my personal life, including whether or not I lived alone, and counted the minutes till I could walk away. But, the more I thought about it, the more upset I became. I should have said, “Are YOU here alone?” I should have said, “Did you ask the man my age standing in the corner if he is here alone as well?

Instead, I stood silent in a moment when I should have owned it: “Yes, I’m here alone.”

If I had to wait around for someone to do everything with me, I would have missed out on so many life changing experiences.

Society has created this double standard. When a man goes to an event alone, it’s fine. He’s “prospecting” or “spontaneous.” Yet, when a woman goes alone, there is something off about it. Either, she must be socially awkward and deserves pity because she had to succumb to going it solo, or she is brave. We need to stop applauding women for going alone, and spend more time encouraging young women to do things on their own until it becomes the norm.

If I had to wait around for someone to do everything with me, I would have missed out on so many life changing experiences, from a conversation on a Meetup.com hiking trip that turned into a great friendship to moving to Taiwan to teach English. Believe me, the naysayers will make you believe otherwise: You can’t go alone; it’s not smart, it’s too dangerous, it’s…insert deterring adjective of your choice. But, I can honestly say I have found nothing more liberating and empowering than traveling alone. Learning to be completely self-dependent, physically, and emotionally, in novel situations is an invaluable skill that will pay dividends far into the future in both your career and your personal life.

But how do you start? If you’ve made the mental commitment to stop letting the fear of doing something alone hold you back, how can you actually make it a reality? Well, I believe it comes back to that solitary moment of decision-making. Go. Take the risk. By just showing up, you never know what opportunities will open up for you or who you’ll meet. Or, maybe the only thing you’ll earn is the satisfaction that you are a “Bey-awesome” independent woman who can do anything she sets her mind to. And even all the free tacos in the world can’t compete with that.

5 Ways to Get Started Going It Alone 

 

1. Start by attending events with a lower barrier of entry.

If going solo sounds intimidating, start by attending events or classes that are intentionally designed for people to come by themselves, rather than with others. Exercise classes, like those offered through ClassPass, can be a low pressure experience where you can show up alone and confidently know that there will be other attendees who are in the same boat. Similarly, networking events and organizations can provide a safe space to test the waters. Many cities in America have women-only “junior leagues” that gather together women from all backgrounds to support each other and give back to their communities. Single sign-ups are highly encouraged!

You’ve made the commitment to go to something by yourself. Fantastic! Now, put down your phone.

2. Use social media as a catalyst, not a crutch.

You’ve made the commitment to go to something by yourself. Fantastic! Now, put down your phone. Don’t undo the power of the experience by spending the whole time on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, wishing you were with friends, ignoring those around you, and trying to remain under the radar. Instead, use social media proactively, not reactively. Check out weekly event newsletters in your city, scour Eventbrite for everything from lectures and career building sessions to concerts and comedy shows. Even Facebook has a robust “Events Discovery” section where you can browse events by date and location. Pick a few that sound intriguing and use the powers of social media to see who else has RSVP’d so you are ready to chat once there!

3. Challenge yourself to make one new friend.

Rule number one of going stag: There will be awkward moments. However, giving your evening purpose and a defined goal can help ease anxiety and the impetus to retreat to wallflower status when awkward encounters happen. For example, whenever I enter a bar or go to an event, I won’t let myself leave unless I’ve talked to at least one new person. Questions like “Is this your first time here as well?” can be a great way to connect with people in the room who might be in a similar situation, or asking for someone’s opinion on the event speakers, food, etc. can easily break the ice. And, if all else fails, just approach a stranger and introduce yourself with, “Hi, I’m X.” Trust me, it works. The stakes are low but the reward can be limitless.

Doing things by yourself can be incredibly empowering. The value of self-love and discovery cannot be understated.

4. Allow yourself to be bit by the travel bug.

If you’re looking to do some traveling outside your city but aren’t quite ready to make the leap going alone, consider signing up as a solo traveller on a group trip. Companies, like G Adventures, run thousands of excursions all over the world that bring together diverse groups of about 12-15 men and women to travel together. It’s a great way to go by yourself but have the security blanket of having people to stay, eat meals, and talk with after a long day of exploring.

5. Just do it. For you.

Like practice makes perfect, there is no better way to get started going it alone than jumping right in. Doing things by yourself can be incredibly empowering because you get to do exactly what you want, when you want. Sometimes the goal of attending a class or event alone is not getting to know other people, but rather getting to know yourself better and having a fantastic time in the process. The value of self-love and discovery cannot be understated.

How often do you go it alone? What have your experiences been like? Share with us in the comments below!

  • YES! I love this, Ive travelled alone and always done things on my own. I didn’t think it was weird until I was questioned on it. Time doing things by yourself, for yourself is super important in developing who you are in my opinion

    – Natalie
    http://www.workovereasy.com

  • Olivia M

    I am completely pro doing things alone. One of the things I live by is alone does not equal LONELY. I love to go to restaurants by myself, movies by myself, hikes by myself. It’s a great time to self-reflect and people watch, and just spend some time with “ME.” I have a great group of friends, co-workers, and roommates, so I am surrounded by wonderful people, but I often crave alone time. (That is probably the INFJ in me…) I’ve had many conversations with people who are either horrified that I enjoy it so much, or with people who have never, for example, eaten out by themselves. It’s crazy to me!

    My sister went on a solo abroad vacation to London last year and I can’t wait to go on one myself. In the end, you can rely only on yourself for happiness, joy, and adventure… so you have to honor yourself by spending time with just “you.”

  • Only recently did I attend an event where I was questioned as to why I was alone. I too, like the writer should have asked did you question that young gentlemen in the corner. I love going to the movies alone, taking myself to a new restaurant/bar that opened, attend networking events. This is a great article!

  • Vertrice

    Great article

  • Teresa Miranda

    It’s funny – maybe it’s because I’m an only child but I’ve always loved doing things by myself, and it never really seemed strange! Until someone pointed it out, of course. From attending festivals and concerts, to travelling by myself…even eating alone in restaurants can be fun! Never miss out on something you want to do because you don’t know anyone else who’s going too, just do it, you’ll see it’s way less scary than it seems, and can lead to great, great things 🙂

    Teresa
    alfacinhastories.com

  • Stephanie V

    Great article! I’ve had this discussion several times with my girlfriends- why is it that when a guy sits at a bar by himself to watch the game, no one thinks anything of it, but if a girl were to do it, people might think it’s odd.

    But as women, it’s completely true. You shouldn’t have to justify why you are doing something alone or made to feel embarrassed or ashamed of it. Sometimes, it just works out that way!

    I highly recommend travelling solo! I’ve always wanted to go to the UK and finally last fall I did, sans boyfriend, and it was perfect. As great as shared experiences are, I was able to plan the trip I wanted and personalize it to me, without having to worry about compromising with travel buddy.

  • This is such a great topic. I love doing things alone, even if I have a boyfriend, and there IS such a stigma. It’s like you’re either going to be pitied or avoided. It’s sad that such old-school, limited thinking still prevails.

  • MAB22

    I’ve always been a fan of independent outings and travel! Love my friends/family/boyfriend – but i love myself too! 🙂 haha. I realized I hadn’t traveled solo in quite some time (since meeting my boyfriend) so last March I booked a solo trip to Belize. So much fun meeting people on the road! The funnest night was my last night there when I went driving around looking for a place to have dinner. Saw this bar that had lots of activity going on, so I pulled over had some food and drinks, met locals and then had a night on the town with them. No way would I have experienced that if I had takeout alone in my B&B.

  • Casey

    It’s not about society; it’s about personality types. People don’t ask you about going solo because they disapprove of you and your choices. They ask because they’re curious. One of my best friends is a fairly extreme extrovert, and it drives him bonkers to learn that I went to dinner alone or saw a movie alone. It’s not because he thinks I’m weird or feels sorry for me. It’s because he’d never want to do such a thing, and he doesn’t understand why other people do. The next time someone asks you why you’re at an event alone, perhaps answer his question and try to help him gain a new perspective, rather than rolling your eyes and assuming sexism because he’s “an older gentleman.” You’re being prejudicial in this scenario, too.

  • Rebecca Ann

    I love this article so much! I went to my first music festival by myself in June, and it was my first time in Chicago, as well.
    I also joined my local Junior League alone, as well, so thanks for the plug! That was honestly one of the best adult decisions I’ve made, for the opportunities to give back to the community, gain invaluable training experience, and meet so many other amazing and fearless women!

  • Nikki Laraja

    Such a great post, as a newly single girl, this is super encouraging!

    http://www.shopthecoconutroom.com

  • Alyssa Klatt

    I’ve always wanted to take a trip on my own, but have been to nervous to. Recently I found this travel group called Living Big specifically designed for women who want to travel solo, but this way you’re in a small group who are also travelling solo! I haven’t taken a trip through them, but plan to next year!

    https://livingbig.org/

  • Love this post! It’s so true how there is a double standard for women about attending events alone compared with men. Although, it didn’t always feel that way at the time, I am glad that I went to many events solo rather than waiting around for my first husband or someone else to join me. I would have missed out on a lot! Now that I live across the country from where I lived most all my life, I often attend events on my own, but am always happy to meet new people and make connections. Great post!

  • Creez

    me too. i love to travelled alone. it’s give me peace. creez.in

  • I love this. I love doing things and going places on my own. Not because I’m sad, lonely and have no friends but because I enjoy it.
    Everytime I go on holiday and say I’m travelling solo I get told I’m brave.
    I’m not brave. I’m just not willing to compromise and miss out on the chance to do the things I want to do.
    Bravery is risking your life to help someone else. Going for a weekend away or to a music gig definitely does not fall into this bracket.

  • Great article you make it sound so easy. lol my husband and I recently moved to San Diego and shortly after my husband was deployed. Which left me in a new city with no family and no friends. It’s been very hard for me to get out and do things alone. I go to the movies ,coffee shops , and the beach alone. Eating alone at a restaurant I haven’t mastered . A few weeks ago I dined at a restaurant and the hostess sat me in a large booth . So here I am in a crowded restaurant sitting in a large booth alone, I felt so embarrassed needless to say I finished my salad and took my dinner to-go. For those of you who do things alone without embarrassment or feeling like a total loser please give me some tips.

  • melissakow

    I loved this article as well. In my 20’s I had no problem going to things alone and travelling alone. But now, after having gone through a divorce and a bad breakup right after it has been much worse. Thank you for this article.

  • Klynnega22

    It’s funny seeing this article, my husband a day I were just talking about this and we were reminiscing about when we met and he said he had been amazed that I was in a fencing class, art class and had just returned from a quick trip to Mexico by myself. (I was 22 and moved out at 18). In 1987 this wasn’t very common among people he knew. I was a travel agent and it was the norm in my job! (I was also a flight attendant and Intl director of sales for a dental product after that, so again, my work was independent based.) I’ve never been one to have a lot of close friends and was more of a loner and extremely independent I guess because of the way I was raised, I was (and am still) not great with the concept of a unanimous “what should we do and where should we go?” mentality. Lol, I’m not antisocial at all and love my friends, but when I’m alone whether it be a day shopping in outlet malls, going to a movie, taking Bollywood dance or whatever, I don’t have to worry about someone else’s happiness. Ie: ‘Are they having fun? Are they bored? Do they even want to do this?’ I felt guilty once for enjoying my solace and decided to join a mom group. After 3 months I couldn’t take it!! It was more of a place to get together and complain and gossip which wasn’t my thing. My husband, of 30 years, is my best friend and we have so much fun together and I love that I can talk to him about anything and everything. (Politics to Prada!!) My daughter is the opposite, she has friends surrounding her all the time which makes me happy, but I wish she would at least go to the mall once by herself. It takes four to buy a bra?? My son is more career oriented, so does little socially and I wish he would! But when I watch some female friendship movies for 90 minutes I wonder, “what if…?”. But then again, I can strike up a conversation with someone I just met at a coffee shop and talk as long as I want! Agreed alone is not lonely, it’s interesting!

  • Loved the post! Could relate to it so much! Specially being told, “OMG you are so bold! How can you just go and have a beer by yourself?” I just shrug it off now. I earned my freedom to be alone and I value it too much to care about what the world says.

  • Christine Blair

    Great post Danielle enjoyed reading it, I can relate to this maybe I might try it a bit more as I’m single and stay on my own and there is not always some one to do things with thanks for the tips .

  • I’ve been single for a decade and do most things on my own. Yes, sometimes I feel a little awkward when people give me strange, inquiring looks but I soon got over that. I was having too much fun to care about what others thought of me. And travelling on my own as opposed to travelling in a group? I’d choose solo travel ANY DAY. You have complete freedom to do what you want and no one there to tell you no.

  • Zara

    This is a great article! I travel alone quite a lot, not because I don’t have friends to go with, in fact I have a husband to go with! I just love travelling alone. It gives me space, I have time to do what I want to do and it makes me appreciate the company of others more when I get home. But you would not believe the comments and weird looks I get when I say I am going away alone.
    I get the pity looks from the people who wonder if I have a bad marriage or no friends. I get the judgmental looks from the people who think it’s weird. And the probing questions. But from time to time I meet people who respect me for it and who say that they would love to do more alone but they are scared, apprehensive, worried about looking lonely etc.
    Well, I don’t really care what people think. I enjoy it and it makes me happy and that’s what really matters.
    http://www.passport-for-living.com

  • Latisha Carr

    I often go places alone. Networking events, across the country, movies, dinner, pretty much anything. I am not afraid to be in spaces alone. I am introvert though so sometimes I have to set a goal of people to talk to while I am at events.

  • Andi

    This is the best article I have read in a long time. Please write more like this! As awkward as it is at times – get out there girls and live your lives.