Sitting with my eyes closed and my hands placed gently on my lap in a room full of basic strangers on Saturday, whilst a woman I didn’t know shook what looked like a musical bird feeder in what I think was supposed to be a relaxing and enchanting way I could think only one thing: what the fuck am I doing here, and why on earth did I come here on my own?
I was meditating.
I’d started the morning eating muesli at a long table full of women I didn’t know, before removing my shoes and cuddling up under a blanket with them for a sound bath. Incredibly relaxing, I concede, but worth taking the advise of whoever is leading the ritual when they tell you to turn off your phone as I didn’t and ruined the tranquility it had taken god knows how much rubbing of various different bowls to achieve.
After an unusual but inspiring morning I left the event relaxed and inspired and laden with helpful advice that I knew that I probably wouldn’t act upon and darted across the road into Psycle, a spinning studio I’ve been frequenting lately where I pre-ordered a protein shake, bantered with the guy behind the desk before getting my boobs out in the changing room as if it was the most normal thing in the world, making my way down to the studio, sweating my arse off before enthusiastically high-fiving the instructor on the way out, claiming my shake and hopping on the tube home like the entirely basic bitch I was.
I was truly living my best fantasy adult life. And I was doing it totally on my own.
Perhaps in order to best understand the significance of all of this, we must first go back.
Because, you see, I am typically not the type of person to do things on my own. In fact, until very recently, I was very much the type of person who would do absolutely everything in their power not to have to do things on my own.
I’m needy. And I’m a bit self conscious. And whilst I’m pretty good at playing pretend when it comes to confidence, I’m not actually that confident at all (although I’m working on it). I’m an over-thinker, an over-sharer. I’m anxious and a bit awkward and have always very much adhered to a safety in numbers mentality.
I have historically done everything in my power to avoid situations which see me doing things on my own.
If I couldn’t get a friend to go to a gym class with me, I’d cancel it. If I wasn’t given a plus one to an event, I wouldn’t go. I hated walking into places on my own. I would’ve rather waited in the pouring rain for someone to show up than go and sit at a restaurant table by myself. Left awkward and alone at social events where I didn’t know anyone I would just want to cry, darting to the loo every five minutes so as not to have to stand there looking like a lemon. Texting people furiously, trying to make myself look as busy as I possibly could so as to trick those around me into believing that my solitude was not only a choice, but a necessary byproduct of being so constantly in demand.
It wasn’t my own company that was the problem, I’m a hoot, and perfectly alright left with my own thoughts when working from home or out on a run. The problem, I think, with being on my own was what others would think of me for it.
My mind was just a miserable mishmash of worst case scenarios, of gym instructors pairing people off and me being left on my own, of people darting behind their menus to whisper about the girl that came to the cafe alone, of being seen on my own at an event and pitied, or laughed at, or judged.
But I’m in my mid-twenties now and try as I might to escape the realisation: a large part of adult life is doing shit on your own. Hence the morning of meditation and the Psycle class and becoming the basic bitch of my teenage dreams.
I left school just before I turned 18 and within the year I was dating the same guy that I am with now. I have a brother and a sister, a dog and lots of friends. I’ve never really had to be on my own.
And that makes me incredibly lucky. Because loneliness is something that affects way more adults than is realised, I think. One of the women at the event on Saturday talked about this; she’d moved to the UK and didn’t really have any friends or family here. I was amazed by her tenacity when it came to socialising, whilst she didn’t really know anyone here, her diary was full. She was really trying.
Having never really been single this is not something that I know an awful lot about, but even in my very happy co-dependant existence I was beginning to realise the importance of forging a bit of independence for myself.
In part because I am a raging feminist and ought not to need a man for anything, in part because I am self employed and a large portion of my job includes going out and trying new things with new people and critically, I think, because learning not just to like my own company but find joy in doing things on my own was something that I needed to do if I was going to grow up to be a fully formed, functioning, happy grownup.
As much as I love alex, and my friends, I have never wanted to be codependent. My dream for myself was always to swish into a room and be able to talk to anybody. To rock up to an exercise class and feel like I actually belonged there. To sit in a cafe looking all cute and pensive with not a single fuck to give that I had nobody there to protect me.
Clearly a big dreamer, eh?!
This year has been about not just doing things on my own, but learning to love doing things on my own.
A large part of that has been getting to know myself. An even bigger part of it has been gaining some perspective.
A large source of insecurity for me surrounding doing things on my own was this idea that I was on my own because people didn’t like me, or because I was not a nice person to spend time with. I’d convince myself that I had nothing interesting to say and thus, nobody would want to talk to me. I told myself that if it was a choice between me and someone else, strangers would always choose the someone else to talk to. Hence, rather than putting anybody through the excruciating pain of talking to me, I’d nip into the bathroom every five minutes so as to avoid human interaction.
Self love and body confidence and all the shite I harp on about on my Instagram is more than just making peace with my fat-rolls, it’s about learning to like myself as a person, and the further down that road I get, the happier I am doing things on my own.
Basically I’m on the way to being able to appreciate my own self worth and that includes a lot less self sabotage in the socialising department.
As for the perspective thing… well this changed everything, to be honest.
Thinking about it I wonder that a lot of this didn’t actually start with the exercise classes. Marathon training took me on one hell of a journey and through exercise I have really been able to get to know myself.
I was doing exercise for me. Like, really doing it for me and my head and my wellbeing. It was almost easier to be on my own for that. When I was spinning it was just me and the bike. When I was boxing it was just me and the bag. When I was running it was just me and every single tourist currently in the country fighting for space on the Thames Path.
At some point it stopped being about other people and just became about me and my journey. I was the priority and the more apparent that became, the less time I had to wait around for people to enable me to fulfil my potential. I was going to need to go out and do it myself.
Realising how incredibly personal exercise was to me meant that I finally had a reason for going on my own.
And that, over time, expanded into other areas of my life.
As I started saying yes to more things, I began to appreciate all that I could get out of them: events filled with wonderful women, talks given by inspiring people, cafés filled with delicious food.
Rather than simply having to get through something, I took a step back to appreciate that that thing was there for me to fully experience and enjoy. My life wasn’t about suffering through shit I didn’t want to be doing. It was about doing what made me happy, or at least, trying to be happy in what I was doing.
Realising too that it wasn’t all about me, was pretty great.
I went to a book launch the other day and, not knowing a soul, having not seen the guest list, I did the typical thing of ASSUMING EVERYONE WOULD HATE ME. It was only after I opened up to a girl that I’d met when I’d first arrived and was spending much longer than was necessary making myself a cup of coffee so as to avoid the awkward there’s-no-one-here-to-interact-with dance, and instantaneously clung to, I discovered that she, like me, didn’t know anybody else. And that she was, in fact, just as grateful for my clinging onto her as I was to her for not having attempted to shake me off.
Shit. It wasn’t just me.
Of course I’m not the only one to dread doing things on my own. I was an idiot for thinking that I could have been.
Sleepless nights and sweaty palms and countless loo trips and awkward smiles and incessant phone scrolling; these things aren’t exclusive to me. These things are done by everyone, all the time. In a room of 100 people, it is incredibly unlikely that I’d be the only one feeling apprehensive.
There are people who are fabulous at doing things on their own. There are extroverts who thrive on it, wallowing in the opportunity to make new friends and talk to more strangers.
But mostly, there are people who are really good at pretending that they’re fabulous at doing things on their own.
Faking it until we make it. A classic.
And something, that I’m pleased to report: is working.
Without my mates there to twat about with; to roll my eyes with as a lady in a floral dress plays the pan-flute in a peaceful way, to say fuck that to when the instructor tells us to dig a little deeper, to be protected by when I’m in a room full of strangers I’m scared to network with… without all of that, I’ve been forced to broaden my own horizons.
To take a bit more from experiences and to enjoy things in a new way.
I know now how to be independent. And I understand how incredibly beneficial that has been to my own growth as a person. I know it sounds daft. But honestly I’d sooner have stood out in the rain as a teenager than walk into a coffee shop on my own, lest the people in there think that I was a tragic solo-coffee drinker (something that now pretty much defines my entire life and should probably be my Instagram bio).
To see how far I’ve come, is pretty special.
Learning to like doing things on my own is something that I wish I’d got the hang of earlier but am really grateful, at least, to have got into it now.
And after all of that, I have some parting wisdom for you:
It’s pretty simple really.
Act like you want to be there, until you believe that you do.