Alone doesn't always mean lonely

Table for one, please.

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a local coffee shop, looking at all the people around me. A man and woman who appear to be a couple smile and chat while they sip their lattes at the counter. Two ladies by the window laugh and excitedly catch up as they dig into their omelettes.

There are people like me camped out on the couches, typing on their laptops in various states of work. These people, like me, appear to be in a state many of us fear: alone. 

One of the most crucial things I’ve learned during my college years is that there are few things more valuable than being alone.

A 2015 study in the Journal of Consumer Research proposed that people often avoid going places alone for several reasons, including if the chosen activity is enhanced by the presence of others. In addition, people may anticipate negative judgment if they go to a public place alone.

According to the research, this phenomenon has real economic and personal implications. A restaurant, theater or museum may be missing out on the business of a consumer who wants to visit the establishment, but doesn’t have anyone to go with. In addition, individuals may miss out on fun and enriching excursions because they were too scared to go alone. 

The study found that consumers actually enjoyed going places in solitude when there were less people there, lessening the probability of judgment. 

Imagine what it would be like if we all just went places solo without giving the potential judgment of others a second thought. 

Kat Chapman is an officer of I Am That Girl, a national club with an ASU chapter that focuses on the wellbeing and growth of young women. She said she loves going places independently and that this can be a necessity in college when everyone is so busy.

“Even when you want to do something with your friends, the times don’t match up,” Chapman said. “So it’s just something that I got comfortable with because I didn’t want to compromise my happiness or sense of adventure just because other people couldn’t be there with me.”

Chapman said her favorite thing to do alone is go to the art museum because she likes to simply enjoy the art without having to talk about it. She said she would love to try going to a concert alone. 

“Start with small stuff,” Chapman said. “Going to the gym is a really easy one, or going grocery shopping or going to get a morning coffee. Those are really easy things you can do by yourself. But then as you become more comfortable with being alone, being with your own thoughts, branch out. Try things. You don’t always have to rely on other people’s calendars."

One weekend last spring, I decided to get dinner by myself at nearby cafe. I munched on my pretzel sandwich, read a book (for fun, not for school) and people-watched. Feeling like I was on a roll, I then went to a movie by myself — a comedy, nothing too heavy (I’m fine laughing alone, but I know I would need friends for a horror movie). I splurged on snacks, which keeps you busy and makes the experience even more of a treat.

I went to dinner and a movie alone, and the world kept spinning. I survived, and I felt pretty good.

Besides the fear of social judgment, there can be genuine safety concerns in going places alone. I’m not suggesting you throw caution to the wind. If you’re going hiking, it’s best to at the very least tell someone where you are so if you got stranded on the mountain someone would know where to send the helicopter.

Unfortunately, women in particular may have different types of concerns when going solo. For example, as a woman traveling to another country alone, cultural differences may play a role in how you are treated or perceived. 

For example, being in a country where women typically don’t go out without a male companion may leave locals puzzled or concerned about you. In addition, 65 percent of women have experienced harassment from others on the street compared with 25 percent of men. Obviously, being catcalled, followed or groped while strolling down the street could damage your self-assurance.

However, we shouldn’t let scary statistics keep us in our homes. Frankly, the feminist in me doesn't want to let these (often) gendered concerns hold me back knowing that men are less affected by these issues than women. 

Doing things alone will give you a sense of independence and street smarts that will be useful throughout your entire life. Trust me, I hope we can soon live in a world where everyone can walk down the street safely. Until then, I’m going to try and do it anyway. 

As for the social judgment, I can honestly say that after a few months of rolling solo, from shopping to visiting new cafes to going to the movies, I’ve never felt like others were judging me. 

Even if they were, I was too focused on enjoying myself to even care. 

I glance up again at the busy scene around me. The duo of omelette-eating pals are still chatting. The couple is getting ready to leave, their eyes lighting up with laughter because the woman's chair squeaked loudly when she got up. A man sits across from me, also alone. He wears headphones and types on his laptop, just like me. 

I am alone, but I don’t feel lonely. 


Reach the columnist at lallnatt@asu.edu or follow @LibbyAllnattASU on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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