I challenged myself to go solo: for movies, a meal, a drink and more
What do you get when you place an anxiety-riddled adult in a pub all by herself?
I’m a walking contradiction. I hate social interaction and prefer to be left alone. My ideal weekend plans are my bed, laptop, cat and a good WiFi connection. On the other hand, I can’t go out on my own. The idea of going solo anywhere without the company and support of my sister, partner, friend or even my mom is enough to make me shrivel up into a ball of anxiety.
I hate being in public by myself. I take advantage of my partner’s sunny disposition as a diversion when I need to dip out of a seemingly never-ending conversation, pulling a HIMYM-style “Haaaave you met Julian?” I’ve dragged him to watch Hindi films with me in the theatre, even though he doesn’t fully understand the language, just so I don’t have to go alone. The eternal optimist in him (we pessimists could learn a thing or two) still manages to make it a positive experience, making up his own dialogues for the ones he doesn’t understand.
I can just about catch a flight by myself (with the help of a mild sedative) but that’s about it. It’s not only that I need moral support in public. I never really saw the point in going out alone. Where’s the fun in that?
But a study by two marketing professors found that, when it comes to doing activities alone versus doing it with a group of friends/acquaintances, there’s little difference in the amount of enjoyment you feel. “People decide to not do things all the time just because they’re alone,” said Rebecca Ratner, co-author along with Rebecca Hamilton of their study titled Inhibited from Bowling Alone. “But the thing is, they would probably be happier going out and doing something.”
I remember going to the Louvre in Abu Dhabi a few years ago with my father and sister, them huffing and puffing through my inspection of every single artefact and painting on display. Trying to hurry me up so we could get an early start on the drive back home to miss the traffic. The parting thought that popped into my head as I slid into the backseat of the car? “I should have just come alone.”
But whatever little courage I had built up since then was battered down by my anxiety, exacerbated by the pandemic and lockdown. As the world started to re-open, even bi-weekly trips to the office felt physically and mentally challenging.
But as I got more comfortable with being a part of society again, going solo to places, some that I would have previously had to be dragged to by friends and family, didn’t seem like such a frightening proposition. I was ready for the challenge, broken up across two cities (yes, I did take the flight alone too) to experience the activities you’d otherwise have to wait for friends to agree to come along.
Going solo for a concert
It wasn’t what I had first up on my to-do list (Here’s why those don’t work). I thought I’d start with a film. A dark and quiet theatre where everyone sits in silence would have been the safest way to ease into the solo experience. But life has other plans and a promise was made to a friend.
Come to think of it, this wasn’t the first time I’ve been at a concert alone. It was my 18th birthday, and my friends and I parted ways when they decided to head to the VIP section while I refused to give up my front row mosh-pit position. I was antsy the entire time, questioning my poor decision-making, but as soon as the band walked onto the stage, nothing else mattered. I was surrounded by other enthusiasts, despite being strangers, we sang every word to every song, jumped up and down and jostled each other around. I had the time of my life.
I kept reminding myself of that experience as I got ready to head out again. If you’re as apprehensive as I was about attending a music show alone, here’s the trick that I used. Pick a place where you know all the exits, stay towards the back of the crowd and always be fashionably late.
The show was well on its way by the time I reached. There was no possibility of needing to make small talk with people I didn’t know to kill time (Here’s how you can brush up on that essential life skill). The music wasn’t really to my taste, but I swayed along and ended up bumping into old colleagues I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years.
As the show wrapped up, I exchanged hugs and promises to catch up with my old colleagues and headed out. I had to plan my next solo adventure.
Going solo to a pub
I managed to check this off my list accidentally. To celebrate the success of going solo to a gig, I thought of treating myself to the pesto pasta from Eddies Bistro. I didn’t think of Eddies as a pub, though it has been described as a ‘gastro pub’, a word that, in my opinion, belongs in a medical textbook. But if the point of the exercise was to get a drink alone, I didn’t see why this wouldn’t serve my purpose.
I seated myself in their outdoor section, at the edge of a wooden bench, sharing the table with what seemed like a group of girlfriends out for drinks to recover from their Wednesday blues. As I waited for my food to be made and packed, I ordered myself a glass of sparkling wine. I thought the bubbles would somehow make it go down easier. The taste of most liquors triggers my gag reflex, and after two sips, this one was no different (I should have gone with a cocktail).
Seeing me shudder, one of the girls next to me squealed. “I have the same reaction to wine! I just can’t keep it down.” Before I knew it, I was talking to complete strangers about the pros and cons of alcohol, our preference for fruity cocktails and my low drinking capacity. Though I was informed my food would take longer than usual to prepare because of the rush, time flew by and before I knew it, my takeaway bag was plopped on the table in front of us.
Maybe it’s my prejudice or preconceived notions, I always thought that as a woman, sitting and having a drink alone would somehow set off an alarm bell somewhere in the minds of wandering men that I was open to conversation, and a lot more. I’d cringe at the thought of having to turn people down. Wondered what they might think of me, all by my lonesome – a loser.
The lesson learnt here is that other people, as it turns out, actually aren’t thinking about you when you’re out in public. Not quite as judgmentally or actively as we assume. Most likely, they aren’t thinking about you at all, but rather having a good time themselves.
A friend of mine once told me that when she was in medical school in the US, she’d often visit the college bars around town by herself. When I asked her why she said it was the only way for her to meet people outside the small group of medical students she was always surrounded with.
Even though our interaction was brief at Eddies Bistro, I enjoyed my time with this new group of women, who came from completely different backgrounds and professions and we learnt some new things from each other. Like, did you know that honey, if stored properly, doesn’t go bad?
Going solo to the movies
I wanted to start my solo experiences with a film, but after successfully making it through a gig and drinking by myself, so to speak, watching a movie felt like a breeze.
Watching a film in the theatre always felt like a semi-solitary experience to me. You just secretly want someoneto offer to wait in line for popcorn and drinks while you get to watch the pre-show trailers.
I wanted to end my week of work on a high note and booked the first ticket I could to watch Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Now home in Gurugram, I thought I’d be at ease going out and about by myself, but being in Mumbai for so long, I’d forgotten how sketchy public transport can be. I felt like a school kid asking my mom for drop-off and pick-up.
I had planned it all out. A movie and dinner date night with myself. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider booking two seats just so the one next to me would be empty. But when I got a bill of over ₹1,000 on the booking app for just one ticket, I was a bit shaken. I’d managed to book myself a spot in some swanky new private hall situation, with in-hall food service and reclining seats.
It worked out well — the seats were large enough that you weren’t knocking into the head of the person in the row in front of you just to get to the middle seat. We were all spread out and socially distanced. Once the lights went off, it was as if I was in my private screening room.
Going solo for a meal
I felt the most awkward sitting at a bustling Paul’s on a Saturday night all by myself. I had picked this theatre in particular because it was in a mall that had plenty of restaurant options. Even though I knew no one cared about what I was doing, I couldn’t help but feel like all eyes were on me.
I had been riding the high of my previous successes, so this one felt like I had run straight into a brick wall. I had no book to pretend to read, no headphones to plug into my phone to watch something to kill time until the food arrived. Besides me were tables filled with families out for dinner and couples on a date, there was no slightly tipsy woman to save me from myself and my thoughts like at Eddies.
After running out of lives on both Candy Crush and Candy Crush Soda, I was close to changing my order to a takeaway and calling my mother to come and pick me up just as a plate of spinach and ricotta crepes were popped onto my table. I scarfed down my meal, anticipating the onset of acidity (here’s what you can do about it) because of my speed eating.
I only really thought about and savoured my meal once I was back in the comfort of my mother’s car.
Going solo was a mixed bag of experiences. What I thought would be the worst – getting a drink alone – ended up actually being enjoyable. Though I didn’t spend a long enough time by myself at Eddies, I’m still going to take it as a win considering my past experience of refusing to go to pubs completely because of the crowd.
I was left a bit disheartened after my failed solo meal. But I reminded myself of the fun movie experience, one that I would definitely do again. Though, I’m definitely not paying ₹1,000+ for a ticket.
I’ve learnt that I’m not as important or interesting as I thought myself to be. That nobody really cares if you’re at a pub alone or with a group of friends. As long as you’re not disturbing anyone, you do you.
With a little bit of planning, whether that’s carrying a book while you’re at a restaurant by yourself, or getting in at the right time to watch a gig alone for the first time, going solo can be a real learning experience. I know now I don’t have to make my partner suffer through films he doesn’t understand. I think I may just enjoy it more when I’m by myself and not having someone talk through it or repeatedly ask me to explain what’s going on. Definitely a plus point for our relationship.