About a month ago, I walked into a restaurant and did something I had always dreaded — I asked to be seated at a table for one. On the way over to my table, all I could think about was how people were probably going to judge me for being here alone. I winced at the thought and was ready to scarf down my food to escape the situation speedily.
To provide some context, I’m studying abroad in Madrid this semester and I went to this restaurant on my third day in the country. Since I’d chosen to arrive a few days before the program began, I spent these days exploring the city alone. I had been forcing myself to only buy snacks from storefronts in hopes of avoiding the awkwardness of eating alone. But I recognized I’d have to give in at one point or another.
It’s possible that many of you wouldn’t even bat an eye at eating out alone. But for me, this was an ordeal. Growing up, I’d always been hyper-aware of my surroundings. I constantly fear that people are watching me or judging me for the littlest things. Because of this persistent social anxiety, I’ve always been scared of the idea of going out in the world and doing things by myself. I don’t want people to think I’m a loner or jump to negative conclusions about me.
One of my New Year’s resolutions for this year was to conquer this fear so that I could feel more comfortable doing things alone.I knew that by studying abroad in a novel country where I knew no one, I was bound to feel lonely — more so than I wanted to admit.
On a deeper level, I recognized that I’ve allowed a lack of self-confidence to hinder my ability to do simple things my entire life. Whether it’s ordering for myself or browsing for clothes in a mall, the apprehension of other people may think of me persists. Even now, in many public activities, I either feel needlessly anxious if I’m alone or I only do the task if I have a friend alongside me. This year, I wanted to change. I didn’t want to let my contentment and joy be so closely intertwined with other people’s perceptions of me.
And so, I’ve spent the last month working towards this fairly broad goal of being comfortable alone. Of course, due to the nature of studying abroad, I’ve been compelled to tackle things alone. But, I’ve also tried to take a more proactive approach to the resolution, the journey beginning with getting dumplings on my third day here.
As I waited for my meal to arrive, I obsessively scrolled through my phone to look busy. However, once my food came, I realized it was impossible to really do anything besides concentrate on successfully grasping my dumpling with chopsticks — I’m still rusty with the utensil.
In these next few moments, I ate my food and let my mind wander. I thought about how good the dumplings tasted and how I liked the restaurant decor. As I chewed my last bite, I realized that in the past few minutes, I’d put my worries about being alone on the back burner. The simple acts of eating and observing my surroundings quietly made me feel content — I reached a simple breakthrough. Maybe the experience of being alone didn’t have to be as scary as I’d made it out to be.
This simple act of eating alone has made me more independent. It’s brought me contentment that’s not dependent on my phone or other people. Beyond this, I’ve also spent many hours exploring the city on my own by strolling the streets, trying new foods and shopping at all kinds of stores. These series of experiences have contributed to a sense of self-sufficiency.
Despite all this, I do have to admit that doing things alone still bears its challenges. I didn’t magically become an expert at embarking on little adventures solo. I recognize my deeply rooted fears and insecurities won’t just disappear in these few months. I still fear judgment every time I walk into a place alone where I see everyone else socializing. But the little steps I’ve taken have surely helped.
A few months ago, I would’ve let my social fears prevent me from doing things like reading alone at a café. But now, I feel comfortable enough to power through the nerves. Pushing myself to be alone has even led me to discover the things I now love, like spending hours and hours in art museums.
When doing things alone, you get to operate on your own time and really process what’s going on around you and within you. I’ve become more introspective over the past few weeks. While traveling in the metro or walking from place to place by myself, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and take in the world around me. It’s peaceful.
Don’t get me wrong. As an extrovert, I would choose to do things with people pretty much every chance. But, I think there’s beauty in being okay with being alone. It’s taught me about who I am as a person and about the things I enjoy doing. It’s taught me to appreciate the little things. Witnessing elderly couples holding hands as they stroll through the garden has brought me joy in my solitude. Listening to the musicians liven up the metro station never fails to brighten my mornings.
At the end of the day, I’ve come to understand better that you are the one person who will be there for yourself, as cheesy as it sounds. And so, I’d like to continue this journey of being there for me — and feeling content with it — whether or not I have familiar faces around me.
Niharika Singhvi is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.