I didn’t used to know how to be alone: the thought of going somewhere by myself made me feel like a loser, and so I spent time with people whom I only had a paper-thin connection to. I can’t even remember spending nights in by myself, and if I did I buried the discomfort of my own company in scrolls of social media.
Since then a lot of things have changed: and I have discovered the art form of spending time with myself, and loving it.
I want to share this with you.
If you want to change your dating life it can seem like you just have to ‘put yourself out there’ but there is a balance to be struck between taking positive action, and an emotionally exhausting need to get this area of your life ‘sorted’.
I say ‘sorted’ not sorted because adding an extra human being into the mix doesn’t mystically mean that you’re more ‘together’ as a person. In fact spend time with the wrong people and you will fall apart. That is why it is essential to know how to be alone so that you can make discerning choices about where you invest your time.
As a coach I see a lot of people treating dating like a Black Friday sale: ‘I’m going on 5 dates a week to meet The One!’ If this is you stop right now because that many dates tells me straight away that your standards for who you’re investing your time in are too low. Also if your social diary doesn’t even permit you to have time to meet someone new, or experience a date, for the next three weeks you need to clear some space.
This space isn’t just physical – it’s also mental. Empty space in our lives can feel threatening but without it there’s no room for anyone new to come in. Also without time to reflect you may inadvertently end up dating someone, or spending time doing something, which is counter productive. It’s like when you’re in such a rush to complete something that you make a simple mistake, ‘phew so happy I posted that tax return off… omg I didn’t put a stamp on the envelope!’ Or in dating speak, this could be ignoring a big obvious red flag that the person you’re seeing can’t give you what you want, ‘what do you mean you never want to live with someone?!’
Of course right now you maybe resisting discovering how to be alone, whether that’s a holiday, a party, or just a weekend in, because you think that it somehow makes you a loser. Or it might just feel deeply uncomfortable for you to be with you, because in stillness stuff comes up: the things that are worrying you, the memories that you’re squishing down, and the realities of your life that you don’t want to face. Your truth stands there squarely looking at you and blocking the door.
I have been through this loop. A few years ago I would throw near-weekly parties, see Tuesday as fair game to go out, and would choose someone being horrible to me, over learning how to be alone. If you watched my TED talk you’ll know that this unsustainable version of life ended in tragedy, and with me sitting in an empty house, with an empty womb, and not nearly as many people as I would have thought to turn to.
It was a harsh awakening – and the beginning of my journey to knowing how to be alone. If you are starting out in this process here are some beginner’s pointers for finding your aloneness comforting and not threatening:
- How To Be Alone – Don’t Ignore Your Feelings.
At the risk of sounding like a Care Bear acceptance is the key to managing your feelings. You feel sad? Annoyed? Mopey? Understand that this is totally okay and normal. You would not be human if you only operated on the bandwidth: HAPPY.
A good friend of mine once gave me the advice to visualize your feelings and give them a cuddle. Fun fact in the Medieval period many plays showed personifications of feelings (English Literature student speak for your feelings showing up as a person). Imagine what yours would look like, offer sadness a tissue, and ask them to bring it in for a cuddle.
Then allow yourself to cry.
- How To Be Alone – Don’t Try To Escape.
Now you’ve invited your emotions in don’t try to escape them. Alone time gives you perspective and an opportunity to unpack your mind and think through things properly. This is actually an awesome experience and you will have eureka moments but only if you don’t distract yourself. I advise everyone I coach to have at least one low-fi night a week: this means that you switch your phone onto airplane mode, close your laptop, and turn off the TV. It also means not getting drunk or responding to late night calls from party going paper-thin friends or that guy you know is no good for you.
- How To Be Alone – Do Take Up A Mindful Hobby.
I used to think hobbies were super lame and now I think they’re awesome. Not going on bad dates, endless nights out, or working myself into a sleep deprived coma meant I had spare mental resources for all sorts of other things that I never imagined I’d get into. One look at my Instagram and you’ll see I have a true passion for dance as I got over the ultimate fear of attempting to dance in front of other people and go to classes where I didn’t know anyone. I also found time to learn Portugues badly and develop a somewhat obsessive collection of houseplants. My cooking skills also went from ‘Itsu’ to actually making edible dishes from ingredients. Look for an activity that gives you headspace and keeps you calm.
- How To Be Alone – See Aloneness = Opportunity
If you’re currently stuck in the perspective that being alone means you are lame, unpopular and don’t have any friends: you need to change this. Turning up to things by yourself shows that you are secure enough in yourself that you don’t need to cling to other people – it is also the best time to meet new people. It will make you more approachable as funnily enough everyone is dealing with their own neurosis so much that they’re more worried about how they’ll be perceived, than how cool you are. Also if you want to make the first move being by yourself prompts action and helps to reduce that feeling of social pressure. It’s like the freedom you feel when being on holiday by yourself and suddenly find yourself losing your inhibitions.
Learning to be alone can be about creating space in your life and understanding yourself. Both of these things bring you closer to love (both of yourself and other people) whilst not tolerating your own company can drag you further away into shallow friendships, distraction and addiction. So aloneness isn’t the opposite of having company, it is a necessary precursor to it.
I hope you’ve liked this blog – if you’re a guy reading it I teach men and women equally so hop over to my men’s website and for women see what you can learn in my members community for women who want a new approach to dating.