I have a confession to make: I talk big but I struggle to do things on my own. I encourage people all the time to go ahead and do what they want, regardless of whether or not they have someone to go with them and yet, here I am, on a Friday night, struggling to live up to the promise I made for myself two days ago.
The promise was simple — go out to dinner alone. Alone, as in sans friend, acquaintance, date (haha, like I ever have a date anyway!) — alone, as in, solo, just me. I would be my own date. Fortunately, I get along with myself but the thought of actually going out alone creates a swirl of anxiety that I struggle with every time I contemplate it.
I recently moved 900 miles away from home and left behind my friends and family. I know one person in this town and don’t want to completely burn him out on my random, irrational, anxiety spirals. I’m not sure how I’m doing on that, but I’m learning how to truly be on my own along the way.
It’s weird for me to walk into an empty apartment at the end of a long day but it signals that I am home — that I am at the home I have created — and there’s a comfort in this experience even though there is a loneliness as well. It’s weirder for me to walk into a restaurant and ask for a table for one. There’s a weird sense of shame, completely misplaced, when the server removes the extra place settings. It increases when I’m asked more than once if I’m “waiting for anyone” before I order.
“Oh, no, it’s just me,” I respond as positively as possible.
I feel uncomfortable as I sit alone, looking around the restaurant — which always seems like a place slightly too cool for me but, since I’m already there and know about its existence, it must not be, right? As I sit there alone, anxiously taking in the ambiance and sights, my internal monologue kicks in.
“I’m sure I’m not the only person here alone. I can’t be. The world is huge and people go out alone all the time. That guy looks like he’s al—oh, no, that’s his date arriving. Maybe I should talk more with the server so I’m not just sitting here alone and silent. Is that weird though? What might the server be interested in? Where did he go? Shouldn’t my food be here already? How has it only been two minutes since I ordered? Is it too late for me to leave? It feels too late. I think that would make me feel worse. Why did I decide to do this? Stupid anxiety, getting in my way! Ugh. I just have to make it an hour. Okay, 54 more minutes. Just 54 more minutes and then I’ll let myself go home. Alright, here I go…”
The joy of having social anxiety is that I generally have a pep talk running through my head at any given moment. I’ve gotten good at maintaining conversation and attempting to boost my confidence through self-talk. Sometimes it even works!
And, when it works, it’s incredible. Unfortunately, I always forget this and imagine the worst. I imagine going out and instantly being singled out as being alone, as if that’s a thing that might actually happen, and — in the midst of these irrationally anxious thoughts racing through my mind — this is a signal that I will be alone forever (because I have been single forever so, clearly, that means it will remain that way forever).
This is the basis of my anxiety. I am afraid of being singled out as being alone. I’m afraid I won’t be able to blend in and hide. I am afraid that someone might decide to talk to me because I’m alone, in an effort to make me feel better. People always do that to me and it always makes me feel worse because they’re only talking to me because I’m alone and feel the need to comfort me (they say).
The thoughts are overwhelming and the fear is unrealistic because, while I have been singled out, I have also survived (oh, high school days, I do not miss you). I am single and working to create a life in a new city and I’m feeling a little, err, very much insecure about it all. I have had nothing but disappointing dating attempts and feelings of complete exhaustion (moving sucks!). I sometimes don’t feel like I’m going to meet someone and feel that going out alone is somehow just a confirmation of this.
But, none of that is true.
Going out alone is important self-care. I’m not good at staying in my apartment and not doing anything ever (trust me, I’ve tried). I like to make plans and go to concerts, and dinner, and karaoke. I like being around people (sometimes) and I don’t always like being stuck in my head.
I spend a lot of time in my head, and trust me when I say it isn’t worth it. Don’t let insecurities or anxiety keep you from doing what you want to be doing. I’m going to a concert alone next week and I couldn’t be more excited — I’m challenging myself and I’m getting to see an amazing artist live (Andrew McMahon!). Confront the challenges. Your worst-case scenario will likely not play out and you’ll feel proud of yourself in the end.
I did go out tonight. I got a little dressed up (read: took off my lounge-around-the-house clothes and put on going-out clothes), put on make-up (even worked on my eyeliner), and did my hair. I even wore heels. I went to a little diner/café/bar down the street and I had breakfast for dinner. I chatted with the server and enjoyed my meal. I eavesdropped on the people around me and entertained myself with witty little comments. I read the plethora of stickers covering the lamp shade and even googled some to see what they meant. I texted a few people at first, but I put my phone down after a few minutes too. I didn’t need the safety net because I was okay.
And, you will be okay too.
Go out alone — it’s really not that scary. Plus, you might just learn something about yourself while you do it!