I hate going to things alone. Seriously. This may be surprising for those of you who’ve witnessed my habit of getting on planes and travelling about by myself, but I really do. The prospect of going to a Social Thing alone leaves me nailbitingly nervous.
It’s the usual, clichéd fears. That everyone will know that I’m there alone. That everyone will think that I’m there alone because I have no friends and am therefore a miserable failure at all things human*. That nobody will talk to me, and I’ll spend the entire time awkwardly sitting around, furtively glancing around as if I’m looking for someone who’s not there. That I’ll try talking to people and make a complete blithering tit of myself. That the only people who do talk to me will be creeps, and I’ll have no easy way out.
But mainly, the scariest thing about going to a thing alone? Is, well, being alone. In public. Being alone in public in a setting that is made for people who are not on their own. No matter how many times I do it and manage somehow to survive, the anxiety is still there.
But I do it anyway. Sometimes. Most of the time. If I want to go to the thing more than I want to not be a blithering awkward mess. If I am feeling reasonably brave. And I’ve come up with a few little ways of making it easier.
First, I bring a thing to do. Something to keep myself from fidgeting, and to give me a purpose or a distraction. If I’m off to a restaurant or a (quietish) bar? I’ll bring a book. If it’s a demo or a gig? I’ll bring my camera. I may or may not use it, but it means that if I get nervous or awkward, I have a Thing To Do.
Secondly, I remind myself that going to this thing by myself is something that is difficult. So I should be as kind to myself as if I was doing anything else challenging, or facing any of my other fears. It’s okay to be anxious, it’s okay to be nervous. Those are perfectly fine feelings to have. And if I can just sit with them without beating myself up over them, they become.. not perfectly fine, but okay.
That said, I’m doing a thing that’s difficult. And when you’re doing things that are difficult, it’s good to know the difference between anxious-but-okay and not-enjoying-this. And one of the best things about going places and doing things alone? You’re there purely because you want to be. You get to leave whenever you want.
And you know the other thing? Going to a thing and not talking to anyone? Not the end of the world. I’ve done it tons of times. Just the other week on the Camino, I had a few days when I barely exchanged words with anyone. The world didn’t end, the sky didn’t fall down, and the entire population of the planet didn’t stop what they were doing to point and laugh at me. And as for me? I was okay.
And here’s the thing. Doing things and going to things alone? While it’s scary as all hell, it’s also led to some of the most ridiculously fantastic things in my life. I’ve met some incredible people that way. I’ve been to some amazing places that I’d never have otherwise seen. I’ve had time to work things out, to get to know myself. I’ve had time to get to like myself and my company. I’ve learned to be confident enough to feel nervous and anxious and know I can still do what I want to do. Not bad, for doing things I’d have wanted to do anyway.
How about yourselves? Do you find going to things alone easy? Or is it harder for you? Do you do it anyway, or not? Got any advice I haven’t thought of?
*I’m not saying that not having friends makes a person a miserable failure, by the way. Just recounting my own internal monologues and worries at the time.