It’s Okay to Do Things in Solitude

Picture this:

It’s a beautiful, warm, sunny day and it’s a perfect time to be outside. You’ve been indoors far too long and deserve some fresh air. But what to do? The only area that you’re comfortably familiar with is your own home. You haven’t explored areas outside your immediate surroundings, and although you want to, you can’t seem to push yourself to do it. Even if you did amp up some courage to leave your home, you don’t have any friends or family members to accompany you. But you have this urging feeling inside of you to do something, anything outside of your home! You’ve done some research and you’ve actually come up with a few ideas, but you’re afraid that your ideas might be “too risky” or too irrational or maybe too nerve wrecking for your own good. Maybe you would have  gone to that museum if someone was there to accompany you. You could have tried that new bistro downtown, but you aren’t very good at navigation and are afraid to get lost. You wanted to be safe. You wanted to be practical, so alas, you’re still at home, cooped up in your room, with no plans on this beautiful, warm, sunny day. And did I mention it’s a perfect time to be outside?

Oh well. Netflix it is. Again.

“What are you really afraid of”?

That above description has been me for the passed three years since being in undergrad. I would usually ALWAYS make an excuse as to why I would never get out of my room: “I don’t have any friends”, “I don’t have any money” (that’s actually a valid reason), “I don’t know how to get to the destination”, “I don’t like taking public transportation”, “I don’t know what I like to do” etc. etc.

The truth is, I do have friends, but I like to do certain things alone (it’s my way of seeing if I really like the activity). I may not know how to get to my destination from memory, but it’s 2016. It’s literally impossible to get lost when you have an iPhone. I really don’t like taking public transportation, but I’m a student, without a car, and I can ride the buses for free, so I might as well use that advantage. I’m in the process of learning what I like to do, but staying in my room all the time isn’t going to help.

So, by being honest with myself I had to ask: what are you really afraid of? The answer: adventure.

I had already declared in January that 2016 would be the year of change and I was going to embrace it! But for me, embracing change meant to welcome adventure. I’m not one to do anything hazardous, but adventure also means the exploration of unknown territory. That meant stepping outside my comfort zone (my room) and actually roaming the streets of downtown Grand Rapids. I’ve been downtown before, but not solely for my own pleasure. Luckily for me, I don’t mind doing solo activities. I’m just so unfamiliar with Grand Rapids, that I wouldn’t even know where to start and I’ve tricked myself into thinking that exploring an unknown area alone is dangerous and hazardous and I’m better off  playing it safe by staying home.

But you know what? Safe is boring. Accomplishments don’t get achieved by playing it safe. It’s not until someone decides to be brave and exit their comfort zone that they begin to realize who they really are. And by the way, comfort zones don’t always have to be physical. For example, my physical comfort zone is my one bed-room apartment and my symbolic comfort zone is music (i.e. wearing headphones whenever I’m walking alone). So by barricading the world around me I miss out on great learning experiences, networking opportunities, and life in the moment. But I didn’t want to do that anymore.

“If you do something you enjoy, the right people will flock to you”

So I decided that I was not going to play safe a second longer. Saturday, Sept 3rd, 2016 I decided to have dinner alone in downtown Grand Rapids. (If you’re not comfortable eating alone, I’ll leave some tips at the end that have helped me get through my meal).

I could have asked a friend to come along, but I was going off of an immediate desire. I was really craving a glass of wine, so I thought having a meal with it would be a smart idea. I got off the bus, and made my way over to Monroe Ave. Surprisingly, I didn’t have my headphones in my ears. I didn’t even have my phone out! Today, I was going to be aware of my surroundings. I walked up the block to see what sounded appetizing, silently laughing at the sight of restaurants I’ve previously eaten at and noticing that I spent more time fussing with myself deciding if I even wanted to go to the restaurant and trying to find it than actually enjoying the meal. Finally, I stopped in front of Brick and Porter. The menu sounded good, the location looked cozy due to outside seating, and the prices of a glass of wine looked reasonable, so I walked inside. I didn’t notice that I could seat myself so I stood for a while looking slightly awkward until I heard “excuse me”.

I walked over to the young woman who then asked me, “where do you get your hair cut?” I told her that I don’t go to barber’s regularly and that I got my hair cut for the first time back home (home being Illinois). She then told me that she was new to the Grand Rapids area, originally from California, but resided in Delaware and that she’d been here for only a month so she was out doing some exploring. The waitress came back with her bill and told her that her card was declined. Something in my spirit wanted to offer to pay for her meal, but she assured the waitress that her husband would come shortly and she’d just wait until he arrived. All the while, we’re still having conversation. I asked if I could sit and wait with her until her husband came. She said yes and from there, the conversation took its course.

Not only was I engaging in conversation with a stranger, but before I knew it, I was ordering my food, I was meeting her husband, and after three hours of conversation, they were no longer strangers. I came downtown for a glass of wine and a nice meal, but I left with a free glass of a tasty pineapple and coconut blend of smirnoff, a full belly of creamy mushroom soup and B&P Lobster Roll (which I only paid $15.90 for which is AMAZING considering it was lobster!) and a new friend. All of this happened because a) I decided to leave my apartment (physical comfort zone) and b) I made myself more approachable (exiting my symbolic comfort zone). The rest came naturally! I did something I enjoyed (eating at cozy looking restaurants and trying new foods) and the right people flocked to me.

I’m not saying that if you decide to dine alone you’ll be approached by a stranger and the two of you will automatically engage in great conversation, but maybe you’ll become more aware of your surroundings and you’ll notice that a table in front of you has flyers advertising some attractions that you may be interested in attending. Maybe a stranger will walk in and you like something about them, you’ll compliment them, and that can lead to brief genuine small talk. Maybe you don’t interact with anyone other than your server, but you get a chance to really enjoy your food, and that’s always a good thing. Like I said, everyone’s not thrilled at the idea of doing solo activities, but don’t let the fear of being alone stop you from trying new things or engaging in things you know you enjoy.

“How does one dine alone?”

It’s actually quite simple. You sit down, you order your food, and you eat it.

I think it’s funny when people ask “how do you eat alone?” The real question is how do you entertain yourself while eating alone? I’ve only dined alone one other time, but here’s what I’ve found has helped:

  1. Find a place that has your desired atmosphere. I like cozy, low key looking restaurants. So, something that gives off a cafe setting. They’re usually smaller, not a lot of noise and if the weather permits, you can eat outside and enjoy the scenery.
  2.  Spend as much time as you need with the menu. Sometimes, when we dine with others, we may feel inclined to hurry and make our decisions so others can eat. But when you’re alone, you can ask more questions, possibly have a more in depth conversation with your server about what to try and who knows, you may even try gouda cheese with tomato and basil because you actually took the time to figure out what it was and it sounds good!
  3.  Try a new food. If you’re like me, and you’re more willing to try new foods in a restaurant setting, go for it! No one is going to look at you funny for ordering lentil soup. The worst that can happen is you don’t like it and I’m pretty sure that the restaurant you’re at has burgers, fries and chicken tenders, so you’ll be fine. But at least now you know that folafuls look good, but they may not sit well with your stomach afterwards.
  4. If you’re really daring, try a new restaurant! Ever since I was little, I’ve always trusted the chefs cooking skills, so I’m literally down for any ethnic food: Mexican, Indian, African, Asian and most recently, Mediterranean (i.e. the lentil soup and folafuls). If you place yourself in a new environment and you end up liking it, now you can go back and tell your friends and family. Next time, maybe they’ll join you!
  5.  Keep yourself occupied. *Challenge* DON’T USE YOUR PHONE! The very first time I ate alone, I followed steps 1-4, but while I was waiting for my food to come, I was on my phone and used it so much that it eventually died. Now, let me just say that my phone is ALWAYS lacking battery life, but that was my only source of entertainment. So after I ate my food, which was rather quickly, I had nothing else to do and ended up going home earlier than expected. My suggestion is to bring something to read, bring a journal, a sketch pad, a crossword puzzle, anything to keep you occupied while you wait for your food. It’s good exercise for your brain and you’re not relying on your phone for entertainment, which thus saves your battery.
  6.  When in doubt, people watch. It may sound creepy or even boring, but people watching is actually entertaining. This is also a good opportunity to engage in brief genuine small talk. If you’re seated outside and someone walks passed you with their adorably fluffy dog, tell them it’s cute! Ask the owner what’s their pets name. They may let you pet it!
  7. Keep an open mind. Your first time trying to entertain yourself without a social companion may seem awkward, you may feel out of place, you may feel like you’re dining wrong, and you may feel like people are solely staring at you, the loner. In actuality, people really aren’t singling you out. In fact, if you people watch, you’ll see that you’re probably not the only one dining alone. You may only stay in the restaurant for 30 minutes, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you genuinely enjoyed your meal. This is why I included steps 1, 3 and 4, because ultimately, you’re going out to enjoy the food as well as the atmosphere. Otherwise, you could have just made dinner at home, and let’s be honest, Pinterest is your friend, but your version of that gourmet meal is not going to look like the picture. No shade, but if you have the money, and the means, why not go out and treat yourself!

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