When was the last time you were alone? I mean really alone, not just by yourself in the bathroom or something. Chances are, if you are anything like I was a few years ago, you don’t hang out alone very often.
For the longest time, being alone was one of my biggest fears. If I’m being honest, sometimes it still freaks me out. But over the last few years, and a series of awkward dates with myself, I’ve learned how important being alone can be.
Now let’s go over some statistics to make me sound smarter than I am. According to campaigntoendloneliness.org (it ended in .org so I figured it was legit), loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 26%, (though if you think about it, we are all kind of at risk of death, aren’t we?). Loneliness is also apparently worse for you than obesity, and increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. And if that doesn’t depress you enough, almost half the population reports feeling lonely often. Rough.
Alright so how do these statistics prove my point? Aren’t they sort of arguing against me? Well, yes, but hear me out. While I do understand that we as human beings are social creatures, and I’m certainly not advocating for you to isolate yourself from the rest of the world, there are some benefits to being alone sometimes. In case you missed it, the key word there is sometimes.
In my own personal experience, I have found that learning to be alone actually made me feel less lonely. Maybe I’m crazy, but I actually now enjoy solo adventures and activities more than I am afraid of them. But it wasn’t always that way.
When I first moved out, I lived with my older brother in a small basement suite near downtown. Being close in age, he and I spent a lot of time together growing up, and had lived together for the entirety of my life thus far. After about a year, my brother, being more adventurous than me, decided to move to New Zealand for a semester, with no plans to move back in when he returned. With all of the protectiveness of a good big brother, he double and triple checked to make sure I would be okay without him, and I insisted that I would.
On the last day in our suite together, I cried, not only because he was leaving, but also because I was terrified of living alone. After my brother left, I spent the following year being out of the house as much as possible. I worked multiple jobs and hung out with people daily just to avoid isolation. I quickly burned myself out, and needed a new solution.
And so, after much deliberation, I worked up the courage to take myself out on a date.
One autumn morning, when I had no work and no excuses, I dressed up in a comfy sweatshirt and jeans, put on some make up, and headed out to Canmore for the day. Nervousness crept in as I pulled into the public parking lot, stepping out into the brisk fall air. Walking down the street, I became convinced that everyone was staring at me with pity, judging me for not having anyone else to share the mountain views with. I wove in and out of the tiny shops and felt a longing to have someone to point out the witty t-shirts, funky socks, and other various trinkets with.
I wandered onto the walking path, surrounded by towering evergreens and imposing mountains. My heart ached as I saw couples and friend groups and families taking photos by the river, their smiles confident and assured. I wanted photos like that.
The longer I walked, the worse I felt, until I considered going home and repressing the whole experience. But crossing the bridge overlooking the river, something changed my mind.
“Would you like a photo, dear?” A kindly, aged voice rippled over the sounds of the rushing water. I turned to find an elderly woman and her husband standing beside me, smiling as though a lonely girl staring at a mountain were worth photographing. I opened my mouth to say no, shaking my head with embarrassment, when the woman interjected.
“A beautiful girl deserves a beautiful view, and a photo to capture it all.”
I blushed deeply, unsure of the beautiful part while running into a realization as unmoving as a brick wall. I deserved the view. Why did I feel like I didn’t? Why did I believe that I needed someone else to witness the view in order for it to be worthwhile? Why wasn’t I enough to spend a day on, to enjoy a view with, to buy dinner for?
I found myself nodding and pulling out my phone, handing it to the elderly woman. I smiled, a genuine smile, and she snapped the photo. As the couple continued on, I stared up at the mountain again, feeling as wise as those old martial arts instructors in all the ninja movies. I was enough.
After that day, I decided to give myself another chance, and boy am I glad I did. As it turned out, I had a lot in common with myself, and discovered things I never knew before. I found out I liked long walks and burned marshmallows. I learned that I hated shovelling and loved baby evergreen trees. You know, the saplings that look like doll-sized Christmas trees? Adorable.
Every date I went on with myself, I would dress up, for my own benefit rather than the benefit of others. From road trips to fancy dinners, me-time became a regular part of my schedule. Thursday nights I ordered take-out and watched crappy romantic comedies in my fanciest underwear. Weekends in the summer were spent reading by the river, and in the winter I skated and wrote stories in coffee shops. I no longer waited around for people to experience things with me, I went and experienced them myself.
Now, this is not to say that I stopped socializing altogether. In fact, I still socialized a lot. But I was no longer dependent on others for company and self-worth. I depended on myself in a way I never had before.
Trusting others and building interdependent relationships is important, and should also be a part of your everyday life. But here’s the thing. Friendships and relationships come and go, and people have their own lives and self-care to attend to. At the end of the day, there is only one person you spend your whole life with, start to finish, and that is you. Your relationship with yourself is possibly the most important one you will ever cultivate.
People always talk about how important it is to put effort into relationships in order to make them work. Why don’t we do that for ourselves? Realistically, you have no choice but to make it work with yourself. You can’t unfriend or break up with yourself, so you might as well spend the necessary time and effort to make your relationship the best and happiest it can be.
There’s no denying that self-love is hard, so why rush into it? You wouldn’t force yourself to love someone in a new relationship, you’d get to know them first. Date yourself. Find out what interests you, what you like, what you don’t like. Be friends with yourself first, be kind, be open. Self-love will come, you just need to work at it. I can promise you it will be awkward, but what first date isn’t? Eventually it will get better, and you will be happy you did it.