the girlfriend, aarp, mandy hale, alone
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Lifestyle

Party Of One: Learning To Be Alone And To Like It

Have you ever gone out to eat by yourself?

I remember the first time I went out to lunch by myself.

It was at a trendy bistro in downtown Nashville, packed to the seams with the daily lunch crowd. It wasn’t actually my intention to eat alone, but the friend who was supposed to meet me there canceled on me after I was already seated and perusing the menu. I was starving and it was a bright, sunny day on the patio, so I decided to just make it a party of one.

You would have thought by the waiters’ reactions, I had decided to shave my head bald while sitting there at the table.

They seemed confused … downright perplexed … that I was choosing to dine alone. “Will it just be you today?” at least three different members of the wait staff asked me, while gazing down sympathetically. When I said yes, they then proceeded to buzz around me for the duration of my meal. “Can we get you anything else? Can we show you the dessert menu? How about a complimentary drink on us?” The attention was, at first, flattering … but after about a half hour, it was stifling. What was the deal? Why was it so strange and sympathy-inducing to see an independent woman enjoying her lunch alone on the patio of a popular restaurant on a beautiful spring day?

I admit, it was a little intimidating at first, sitting alone on what felt like an island in the middle of a crowded restaurant. At the tables surrounding me were couples flirting and girlfriends giggling and business associates power lunching and there I was, all by my lonesome. But once I got past the initial awkwardness, I rather enjoyed myself. It was peaceful, and pleasant, and even empowering … this dining alone thing. And it made me want to fly solo on other adventures that I had previously never considered.

My next new frontier: going to the movies alone. I am a major film buff with a super flexible schedule, so instead of waiting to find someone to accompany me to every movie I wanted to go see, sometimes during normal business hours when others were working, I decided it was time to learn to take myself to the movies, unaccompanied. And I quickly discovered that I had found my new favorite thing. There’s something so relaxing about kicking back with my jumbo box of Junior Mints in a darkened theater and enjoying a flick all by myself. I mean … I get COZY, y’all. I like to reserve a seat in the top corner of the theater, away from the crowd, and I have been known to bring a blanket and take off my bra as soon as the lights go down (ain’t nobody got time to be restricted, HA!). Throw in the new reclining seats that most theaters now have and I am in HEAVEN.

But again, like at the restaurant, I’ve encountered people at the movies who just can’t fathom that I’m there by myself, by choice.

One time I was besieged by a woman who was also there alone. “Oh, I’m so happy to find someone else here to sit with!” she exclaimed in relief as she plopped down next to me. “I feel like such a loser being at the movies all alone!” And then she proceeded to yap my ear off all through the film while I sat there fighting the urge to stuff a handful of popcorn into her mouth just to get a moment’s peace. I don’t even remember the movie I was seeing or anything about it, because she talked throughout the entire thing. Solo movies had become my happy place, my respite, my sanctuary … and she took that away from me that day, all because somewhere along the line, she had been taught to believe that going places alone made you a loser.

Society and pop culture ingrain in us that one is the loneliest number, and we are expected to constantly be coupled up or paired off or grouped together in order to glean happiness from whatever venture it is we’re undertaking. Well, I say NO MORE. If you’re single and in your 30's and 40’s and beyond, it is VITAL to learn how to enjoy life alone. Not to isolate yourself or swear off friendship and group activities … but to learn how to confidently and boldly walk into any scenario with your head held high, whether you’re a party of two of a party of YOU. If you wait to enjoy life until you have a significant other or a gaggle of girlfriends with you as a “safety net,” you will miss out on so many wonderful opportunities for adventure, and happiness, and fun. There is only one person you’re going to be stuck with for your entire life, and that person is you. If you don’t learn to love her and spend time with her and enjoy her … life will be a very miserable experience, indeed.

There are still lots of solo ventures I want to embark upon. Traveling alone is one. Not because I don’t want to be around others, as enjoying new things with friends and family is such a blessing. But because I don’t want being alone to stop me from experiencing LIFE. I don’t want the lack of company to stop me from doing one thing on this earth that I want to do. If there’s something I want to do and I have others who want to accompany me — GREAT! But if I don’t … I never want to let that stop me from doing the thing anyway. And I urge you not to let it stop you, either. I encourage you to try doing ONE thing alone this week that you’ve been previously intimidated to do. Take yourself out to dinner, or to a movie. Go on a hike. Go to a play or a museum. Take yourself on some kind of solo date and get to know yourself a little better. I think you’ll find it very freeing, to realize that you don’t need anyone to bring you happiness. You can go get it yourself.

Learn to be alone and to like it. There is nothing more empowering, and confidence-building, than learning to enjoy your own company.

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the girlfriend, aarp, mandy hale, alone
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