When lockdown ended, the first thing we wanted to do was rush into the arms of others. After so long spent in isolation, we said yes to every pub drink, coffee date, weekend away and movie night we could with our friends.
And even now that our social lives have returned, doing things alone is something many of us actively try to avoid. The idea of going to the cinema alone or attending an event without a friend’s company fills us with dread. What if other people think we’re unpopular? Who is there to fill the silence?
But the thing is, there’s actually so much enjoyment to be found in solitary activity.
In the first chapter of her book Alonement, Francesca Specter writes: “Time alone was just a drab waiting room to tolerate until real life resumed; it held so little value to me. Solitude was a chore, something I was lumbered with doing enough of already. That’s why, when deliberating between spending a night by myself or pursuing pretty much any other option, I’d so often pick the latter.”
However, as she explains later: “Learning to value alone time is, without a doubt, the most radical and important lesson I’ve learnt in my life to date.”
For one, there’s no wrestling with five different calendars or waiting for someone else’s schedule to align with yours to go and see that exhibition you’ve been waiting for.
The more comfortable you get with time just to yourself, the more you realise that there’s really no need to declare a Saturday night a washout just because you can’t find anyone to go to dinner with you. You’re the only company you truly need.
As Specter explains in Alonement: “Neglecting to factor alone time into your lifestyle is like forever forgetting to add the all-essential ‘baking powder’ to a cake recipe. We all need alonement – as a value in and of itself – to be our best, most authentic selves, and yet we live in an extrovert-centric, tech-obsessed world designed to encourage anything but.”
So to celebrate those pockets of solitary joy, Stylist asked 15 women who love their own company to tell us their favourite thing about spending time alone. This is what they said.
“Dining alone is such a gift. Once you get past the perceived stigma of going to a restaurant by yourself, it really is so enjoyable to pick the meal you want, people watch and take your time.”
“When suffering from chronic pain, as I do, enjoying your own company is a must. Sometimes the presence of other people around seem to translate into pain – the noise they make when talking, having to manage their expectations adds to the pain. What I really enjoy most is the sound of silence.”
“Going to the library and bookshops. Bliss!”
“Going for afternoon tea alone. Needs must sometimes as I don’t have people to come with me during the week.”
“I used to hate being on my own, especially when I first moved to London. I then realised that being alone isn’t the same as being lonely. Having used that mantra for a number of years, now I can happily prioritise my alone time whether it’s doing laundry or reading with a cuppa.”
“Pottering! The art and beauty of pottering around the home in your own space and time. ‘Active being’ where, minute changes (i.e. rearranging a drawer) really make you feel so comfortable.”
“I go to my favourite coffee shop so even if I am sitting alone, the energy of people around me keeps me motivated and energised. I also keep a daily journal, which helps calm and focus my mind.”
“Creating my own comforting Spotify playlists for the different moods I may feel.”
“I’ve found planning my alone time makes it much more enjoyable. I write it into my diary, so it feels as important as plans with friends. I write a list of the things I’m going to do, even if it’s as simple as the film I’m going to watch. It takes some of the overwhelm away, feeling like you have all this ‘empty’ space ahead of you.”
“Pottering around doing satisfying jobs like organising and rearranging. No deadline involved or element of it being a chore.”
“Book shopping/sitting in a cafe with my book alone. Also buying things to practise mindfulness feels like proper self-care because I know I can do scrapbooking or colouring when I’m back home.”
“It varies depending on the time of year, or where I’m at in my life, but right now my favourite way of spending time alone is going to the Everyman cinema on a Monday or Tuesday evening, enjoying a cosy armchair all to myself and watching my film of choice with a glass of malbec and some padron peppers to snack on. SSolo cinema is a wonderfully immersive, escapist experience. While you’re not technically alone – everyone’s sitting there together in their own world, in respectful silence – there’s still something very special about that.”
“Walking… alone, allows me time to be with my thoughts and self. I like it to be in nature. The feeling of trees around me grounds and roots me into my own sense of spirit. It’s a very holistic time for me.”
“I love taking myself off for a cuppa somewhere with a good book, preferably somewhere relatively quiet. That and taking myself out for lunch. I make a point of doing this as often as possible.”