I’ve always been an extrovert. An outgoing, party-loving, talk-to-anyone extrovert. During college, I wanted to hang out with people constantly. Even when I was doing something quiet, like studying, I preferred having a buddy.
That changed when I moved to New York for a summer internship. I lived in the dorms at Columbia University and had roommates, but they were mostly quiet and preferred to stay in.
I learned to love being alone.
It’s not that I had to be alone. I had friends who were in town that summer. At first, we mostly stuck together while exploring the city. Then I started to realize that if I wanted to experience New York on my terms, sometimes I’d have to do it alone.
I started to see weekends as my solo adventure time. I looked through my guidebooks to pick which museum, flea market, or gallery I wanted to visit. Then I’d pack a book and my Metro card and take off. I started saying no to friends asking to hang out. I relished my time alone.
How did this total extrovert learn to love being alone?
Here’s what I did:
Find things that no one else wants to do.
It’s easy to have company when you all want to do the same thing, but sometimes you’re the only one who wants to go see the latest Marvel movie five times in theaters. No matter how self-conscious you feel, force yourself to go.
In New York, I went to movies, restaurants, and concerts by myself. There were times I would have preferred company, but I didn’t want to miss out on experiences because no one else wanted to go. I was forced to learn to love being alone.
There are few things more empowering than taking charge of your own happiness. When you let being alone stop you from doing something, you’re really letting fear take over – the fear of looking awkward, feeling uncomfortable, and worrying what outsiders might think. Doing things by yourself can help you get over that fear.
Make a list of the benefits of being alone.
Sometimes it pays to have a friend or two with you, like if you’re splitting an Uber or walking home after a night out. But other times, having company is a hindrance.
At restaurants, it’s easier to find a table by yourself than as a group. If you’re shopping, you don’t need people to wait with you while you browse and compare two nearly identical pairs of pants.
While living in New York, I learned that I loved being in control of what I was doing. I could take as much or as little time as I wanted. If I hated being somewhere, I could leave and not feel pressured to stay because I was with other people. I could change my plans at the last minute and no one else would be affected.
Bring something else to do.
Every time I do something by myself, I bring a book with me. If I have to wait, it can keep me entertained in a more rewarding way than checking my phone.
For people just starting to do things by themselves, a book can make you feel like you have purpose. You’re reading, not awkwardly people-watching at a new coffee shop. You can also bring a coloring book, a journal to write in, or even your laptop so you can watch Netflix while you hang out.
Having something else to do, like reading, will keep you from feeling like you’re just a loner out in public. When I’m on vacation with my husband, we both bring books to restaurants so we don’t feel pressured to always talk to each other.
The final step to learning to love being alone is to go out and simply try doing something by yourself. I’m still an extrovert who’s always down for “Game of Thrones” watch parties and weekly trivia nights, but I also relish catching up on “Veep” by myself, playing video games alone, and painting watercolors while everyone else is asleep.
I still want to be with friends.
But sometimes I want to be with myself even more.