The latest lockdown restrictions mean socialising this winter is going to be pretty limited… and it might get worse before it gets better.
But, just because we can’t meet our friends for dinner (unless you’re willing to brave the elements and dine al fresco) that doesn’t mean we have to shut ourselves away completely.
If you live alone, or with housemates that you’re not necessarily best mates with, it might feel as though your going out options are incredibly limited.
Learning to enjoy eating out alone or going for a drink completely by yourself could be the answer.
No household mixing? No problem. If you can normalise taking yourself out for dinner, it can break up the monotony of nights at home, and experts say it can do wonders for your mental health.
Of course, it isn’t easy for everyone. Sitting at a table in a restaurant alone or walking into a bar by yourself can feel really daunting for many. But there are ways to build up your confidence.
How to build the confidence to go out alone
Nadia O’Boye, business and life success coach, says learning to do things alone can build your confidence in other areas of life.
‘First of all, ask yourself – what is the fear?,’ suggests Nadia. ‘Why are you actually scared of doing things alone? Identify these fears so you can start to address them.
‘Society tells you that maybe it is weird to eat alone, but aside from that, is there any legitimate fear? Once you have all those fears out there, start to go through them and look for evidence as to why these are untrue or not realistic.’
Nadia says you should also think about the potential consequence. Even if people did judge you or think it was strange that you were eating alone – would that really be so bad?
‘Think of what you will gain from doing the activity versus what you might risk happening,’ she adds. ‘People might look at me strange, but I get to go out of the house and have a nice evening, try that new restaurant, and practice some much needed self-care.’
Francesca Specter, author of Alonement: How To Be Alone and Absolutely Own it, has some sure-fire ways to build confidence in the face of solitary activities:
Take a prop
If you’re used to eating with a companion, it will feel unfamiliar not having somewhere to naturally ‘look’, but taking a prop – like a Kindle, or a newspaper, or even a notebook to scribble in or doodle – will help you feel at ease.
You don’t even have to use it, it’s just there for you to glance at every so often if you feel uncomfortable staring into space, and it can be an excellent cover for the solo diner’s guilty pleasure: people-watching.
This is not the time to deny yourself. Order the nicest wine by the glass you can afford, or make sure you opt for that dessert you’ve had your eye on.
Treating dining alone as a ‘solo date’ will help you enjoy it and make sure it’s an experience you want to repeat.
Plus – you’ll be more mindfully aware of these pleasures, because you’re not distracted by a companion.
You’ll often get offered the worst seat…
But you don’t have to accept it.
Being offered a less favourable seat is often the plight of the solo customer (don’t take it personally) but nothing stops you from asking for a better seat if you’re unhappy with being sat in a draught, or near the toilet.
Remember: you’re worth it, alone.
You know the ‘fake it til you make it’ mantra? This applies to solo dining too.
If you act like you have a right to be dining alone (as you absolutely do), smile at the waiting staff, ease in and allow yourself to have fun, this confidence will be infectious.
Never forget what a role model you can be when dining alone – you’ll probably inspire the person bickering with their other half at the table next to you to come solo next time, too.
What are the benefits of going out for dinner or drinks alone?
Going out alone can help you build confidence, develop a sense of independence and self-assurance.
Also, during the uncertainty and instability of the pandemic, solo dinners or drinks can provide an outlet that breaks the tedium of spending so much time at home.
If you are working and living at home, getting out for some me-time in a new environment can help to counteract some of the frustration and isolation you may be experiencing.
It can also provide an opportunity to connect with new people – you might find yourself talking to people you would never have spoken to if you were out with your friends or partner.
Jamie* says he loves going on his own. He doesn’t only do solo dinner dates, he even goes clubbing on his own. And he always has an amazing time.
‘Confidence is key and I did walk past the club a couple of times before plucking up the courage to go in,’ he tells us.
‘I was very much out of my comfort zone, but once I got inside and ordered a drink it was a lot easier. Stepping inside the building is the biggest mental hurdle, I think.
‘I’m still in touch with people I’ve met while clubbing on my own.
‘It’s a bit awkward when you say “I came here by myself”, but when they realise I’m not a nutter and I tell them the reason I’m on your own – they let you join their group.
‘Just because nobody else is in the mood to go out shouldn’t stop me from going out.’
Natalie Montgomery, founder of Almara Consulting Group, says she loves solo dining, and even does lots of other social activities on her own – like going on holiday.
‘I dine alone often (simply because I enjoy my own company very much) and I have even got into a consistent habit of sharing my solo experiences on my Instagram stories,’ Natalie tells Metro.co.uk.
‘I even tag my solo dining experiences with “solo lunch date” to further normalise enjoying your own company, which I currently feel is still taboo.’
Natalie says that as a self-proclaimed introvert, her personality type means she is able to enjoy solo activities easily.
‘I have a heightened liking for enjoying my own company regardless of whether in public or in the privacy of my home.
‘As I’ve got older, I’ve realised one of my personality “advantages” is I don’t really give a sod about other people’s opinions of me when it’s about unimportant matters such as who I choose to or to not dine with. Aside from important opinions that shape how I can be of more value to the people in my life and within my community, I don’t let any others define who I am or my choices in life.
‘I fortunately have high self-esteem and have done the inner work to know myself well; two important things that I realised a long time ago that many (but not all) who have an issue with solo dining can struggle with.’
Communications professional Dev Mistry started eating out and going for drinks alone a few years ago. He was travelling for work quite a bit and was sick of eating takeaways in hotel rooms.
‘I love that I can go anywhere I want to go without having to wait for people,’ he explains. ‘I love going out with my friends, but often it gets difficult when we are trying to find times that suit a few of us and we end up pushing out by a month or a few weeks.
‘It’s nice to do something in the moment and I will always try to do it with other people, but if no one is available I’m not scared to go on my own.
‘I think people might feel a bit lonely or feel a bit judged but in all honesty – no one around you cares or notices.’
Dev says he finds it incredibly empowering.
‘Sometimes it’s about not compromising and just doing what you want to do,’ he says.
How to feel confident eating out alone for the first time
My advice to others would be just to choose somewhere small to start with and then just go for it.
It doesn’t have to be a big thing, you can go to the pub or to the cinema or to a restaurant and just enjoy yourself. Take a book, listen to music or just people watch.
I started out just by going to the cinema. I think once you realise that you are in a big dark room where no one else can see you, you don’t feel judged and you don’t necessarily feel like anyone is watching you.
From there, you can build out into whatever else you want to do.
Focus on your own enjoyment and then it becomes easier or more enjoyable the more you do it.
Nadia explains that learning to love eating out alone can build your resilience for dealing with other scary situations in your life.
‘If you can cope with the mildly uncomfortable feeling you get when you eat out alone, then you can do more things that might make you feel uncomfortable but that you get something out of. Pushing yourself to grow further,’ she says.
‘Being OK in your own company is a huge advantage,’ explains Nadia.
‘We all need space and time to be alone with our thoughts and having this time means we can assess what’s going on and address anything we need to in the best way.
‘So, doing things alone will help you get into the practice of giving yourself this time, which will help your emotional well-being in the future.
‘Loving being with yourself means you will value who you are and means you are less likely to worry about what other people think, which can reduce your risk of significant confidence issues later down the line.’
All you need to do is make that booking – table for one, please.
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