Craig and I recently took my mum out for dinner. At the table beside us was a woman dining by herself.

I noticed her, partly because I don’t often see someone having dinner alone. Breakfast or lunch at a cafe with eyes glued to a phone, yes. But dinner at a somewhat fancy restaurant? Not often. And partly because, if it’s in the human visual or auditory spectrum, I’ll notice it, overanalyze it, and form elaborate and probably upsetting theories about it.

I tried to watch her discretely out of the corner of my eye, which more than once caused the waiter to come over and check everything was okay. Presumably I looked like I was on the verge of a medical episode. But she was having a perfectly fine evening – enjoying her food, her wine, her own company.

The So-Called Stigma Of Doing Things Alone

It got me thinking about the supposed stigma of doing things alone. Not just at-home things like reading and watching TV and hiding when unexpected visitors knock. But out-there things.

As introverts we’re easily overstimulated and distracted by other people and generally happy with our own company, so it makes sense we enjoy doing things alone.

But are we concerned about what other people think? Do we feel embarrassed to be seen dining alone, or going to a concert or lecture by ourselves, or taking a trip solo? Are we discouraged from doing things we’re interested in because we don’t want people to judge us, or feel sorry for us?

This Is What Being Happily Alone Looks Like

Perhaps the single happiest day of my life was a long one spent entirely alone at CERN. I went to lectures, took a tour of the Large Hadron Collider (this was before it was completed, not a super-fast, teeny-tiny roller coaster ride or anything), had fascinating conversations with the scientists (I even got offered a job), and wandered for hours through the exhibitions. Multiple, screaming (but you know, quietly) nerdgasms.

More mundanely, I always go shopping alone – it’s more efficient and less distracting and there’s nobody to say Don’t you already have a lot of wine at home? or Are you sure having a ‘back-up’ espresso machine is a thing? And I used to go to the movies alone every week (though these days I prefer the writing on TV).

I usually attend art exhibitions with Craig but we separate as soon as we get there. He goes through quickly and then finds a cafe where he reads and waits for me. I view everything three times: first to gain an overview, second to peruse in detail, third to scan and get the big picture. I’ve attended dozens of lectures, courses, and classes by myself – on art, cosmology, serial killers, screenwriting (did one three-day seminar three times without ever once talking to another attendee, and it was amazing), and literature.

I enjoy activities more when I can do them at my own strange pace and in my own nerdy way and can process them without being attentive to another person’s experience. It’s simply less tiring and more pleasurable.

Cultivate Introvert Self-Acceptance Before Worrying What Others Think

I never feel embarrassed to be out on my own – except for those times I forget I’m in public and belt out a horrendously off-key line from the song in my earbuds. But usually, thanks to several years cultivating a strong sense of self-acceptance about being an introvert, I simply don’t care what strangers think of me. I have a strong line between people whose opinions matter and people whose opinions I cannot worry myself about.

And it’s been my experience that the more I accept myself and my introvert ways, the more others respect me. I felt much more judged by others when I judged myself.

So I’d like to encourage you, if you’re avoiding doing activities or pursuing interests on your own because you’re concerned what others might think of you, to challenge that concern. To deliberately cultivate self-acceptance and nurture disregard for other people’s judgments. You cannot expect everyone to understand your introvert ways – and as soon as you give up trying you’ll find it easier to live a happy, fulfilling introvert life.

I’m grateful to that woman for happily dining by herself the other night. She inspired me to write this article.

And I hope she also inspires you, if you need inspiration, to enjoy the pleasure of doing things alone.

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