"Sorry, can’t make it tonight, something's come up.”
Behold: The signature statement of that one flaky friend we all have. Likely dropped an hour before you were meant to meet up. It's also the sentence that means I’m going to be spending the night at home. Usually after multiple, steadily more depressing attempts to get someone to come along to the gig/party/anime convention I'd wanted to go to. Just me, the contents of my fridge, and my fantasies of how amazing the night would have been if only sodding Susan hadn’t decided she was finally going to get her "weird foot growth" sorted. (It's a verruca, Susan. Just get some Dr Scholl's like the rest of us.)
Or at least it used to be, until I realised one simple truth: I could just go alone.
Please don't misinterpret this: I am a misanthrope of the highest order.
And by misanthrope, I mean socially anxious. I don't get FOMO. I get JOMO. Joy of Missing Out. I like staying in, watching Dragonball Z and feeding my phone cats. I love my friends but find socialising exhausting, and people cancelling on me frequently sends a frisson of joy up my spine that is unparalleled. Hurrah! A night to myself without having to navigate the minefield of social interactions! A brief reprieve from the smorgasbord of ways to trigger my anxiety!
But there are also outside-world things I want to do. I don't mean things like walks in the park, or going for a bike ride – we all know you can do that alone. I'm talking about things people usually go to with people. A party thrown by someone you know well enough, but also know will get a bit bored of you clinging to their coat-tails all night. Concerts. Various group activities. For years, I've been held back from doing everything I want to do by the idea that I need a buddy to go with me, lest I look like – what do the kids call it? – a total lemon.
Except that's bullshit.
Which many of you probably already know. I'm sure there are hundreds of independent young men and women out there who have been venturing out toute seule since they were first able to clutch a beer bottle and lean nonchalantly against a bar. But I am speaking here to the people who, like me, have lived years constrained by the idea that they need someone with them to go to things. And I'm here to tell you, going places alone is amazing.
No one actually cares if you're there alone.
Turns out, unless you are a high school kid who can't pull off a leather jacket and a brooding look, literally no one gives two hoots if you turn up somewhere alone. Trust me, I would know. I am constantly on edge in places where there are people, checking to see if anyone's looking at me funny. And I can confirm: No one gives a shit. They're all too busy getting on with their own lives to care about that one person sat by themselves.
I would tell you that you shouldn't care what other people think anyway, but that would be hypocritical – I care deeply about what people think. So, so deeply.
You don't have to miss out on anything you don't want to.
My friend group has an unusually high proportion of people in creative, freelance work, which, I've discovered, is a potent combination of working lots of irregular hours and having to drop plans at a moment's notice if work comes up (going to a gig will never take priority over paid acting work). This means that when there's something that I want to go to, getting a friend-date can be hard work. And even if I do find someone, there's no guarantee they'll actually show up when it's crunch time.
Over time, I got used to missing things I wanted to do, because there was nothing more terrifying than having to go alone. Until one day, hopped up on a few afternoon drinks (day-drinking isn't as frowned upon in my office as perhaps it should be), I did.
I went to an event at a bar by myself, stared at my phone screen a lot, got a little tipsy on free cocktails, and eventually started to talk to people. It was shaky, and nerve-wracking, but when I left I felt great about myself. Since then, I've been all over the shop, completely alone. Concerts, cinemas, cocktail tastings. No venue is safe.
Actual footage of a gig I would have missed if I’d not gone alone:
It's pretty freeing.
This is twofold. You have freedom to go to whatever you damn well please, without having to rely on your friends' schedules. You also have the freedom to choose if you actually socialise or not. You can watch the show, listen to the music, enjoy whatever you turned up for, and, in any breaks, look intently at your phone screen because dammit you DO have friends they're just all ONLINE. Or, if you feel like it, you can try to talk to people. It's totally and completely up to you.
As an introvert who gets drained by social situations, I can now go to a much higher proportion of things I want to do, as being out no longer means I have to be socialising.
And if you're an extrovert, you can go make as many new friends as you want. I'll just watch you jealously over here in the corner while scrolling through my Facebook feed for the 100th time.
It can help with social anxiety.
Let me just bust a popular myth about social awkwardness and introversion: Just because socialising is exhausting and scary for me, doesn't mean I don't want to do it. Sometimes I want to stay home and eat marshmallow fluff with a spoon. Sometimes I want to go out and talk to people. A lot of the time, I desperately want to make friends but feel powerless to. And then there are those rare, glorious, champagne-like days where I feel like Holly Golightly's more charming sister and will chat to anyone foolish enough to wander into my path.
The one constant, however, is that when I go out with friends, I will only speak to them, as there's no motivation for me to step outside my comfort zone. If we do end up talking to other people, I will use my friends as a crutch and let them carry the conversation.
But when I go out alone, it's easier for me to meet people. I can't hide behind anyone, and there's much more reason for me to try to talk to people. And the more I strike up conversations with strangers, the less terrifying interacting with new people becomes, and the closer I get to unleashing the Holly Golightly within.
It's empowering AF.
I have wonderful, if sometimes flaky, friends. And doing stuff with them is great. But so is doing stuff by myself.
And that's what it comes down to. I don't actively go to things alone because I have to, or to make some point about not needing anyone. I do it because I enjoy it, and I know that my own company is enough for me.
So next time you decide not to do something because you've got no one to go with you, please reconsider. I bet you're way better company than you realise.