Table For One: How I Learned To Love Spending Time Alone

I write this sitting alone at a dinner restaurant on the second day of my weekend vacation. I just finished a long day of exploring the beautiful city of Edinburgh, after making the last-minute decision to hop on over to Scotland from my university in London—no complications, no second-guesses, no worries of being alone. As I wait for my meal, I reflect on my day, and all the amazing things I saw. I enjoy listening to my thoughts as the time passes.

How did this happen?

A mere two months ago, I never would’ve pictured myself visiting a new country on my own. Going out for a solo dinner or seeing a play alone felt like failure; I just needed someone to enjoy it with, and it hurt when I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. I didn’t have the confidence or independence to truly enjoy an excursion on my own, let alone plan and embark on a vacation with nobody by my side.

For everyone who’s already self-sufficient, this probably sounds rudimentary. But it’s not like I had a compulsive need to have someone by my side at all times, like a clingy puppy dog. This problem goes past the fact that I’m an extreme extrovert and busybody; it reflects larger, deeper conflicts.

For my whole life, I’ve always been able to rely on someone else for a sense of comfort—my parents, my sister, my closest friends who feel like family. And the times I didn’t have anyone (primarily at sleep-away camp or summer programs), it was always a short-lived experience where I had some remaining source of comfort—like one family member, the familiarity of my location, or the knowledge that I’d be going home soon. So, when I was recently thrown into the lion’s den of being on my own for a long period of time, without any sense of comfort, I went into a large unhappy state—which eventually led to a period of growth I never anticipated.

It started in September, when I moved from Toronto—where I was born and raised—to London for a semester abroad. Because I knew nobody when I entered university three years ago and it was a positive experience, I decided to take it up a notch this term by going on exchange by myself. I left everything I knew for a temporary new life, one I thought would be a breeze, but instead, I learned how difficult it is to truly be on your own.

Now, don’t assume this happened because I couldn’t make friends—that wasn’t the problem. The fact is, when you move to a completely new place on your own, you’ll need to spend large periods of time by yourself because of everyone’s conflicting schedules. That also means feeling lonely sometimes. That being said, this didn’t happen to me when I moved away for university because I still had my family relatively close by, and there was no culture shock. There’s nothing quite like moving across the world, and it made me feel more alone than ever before.

It was only when I was forced to actually spend time by myself that I was able to confront the negativity I’d associated with being alone. Through a lot of introspection, I realized I can’t truly love myself if I’m not happy in my own company. So, when I’d ask my new friends to participate in an activity and they were busy, I started thinking, you know what? I’m gonna try this on my own. From then on, I began planning lots of “solo dates” around London and grew more comfortable with the idea of spending time with myself. I realized that although it’s fun to share an experience with someone else, it can be just as enjoyable to try something alone. And I learned that it’s actually empowering and a strength to spend large sums of time on my own because it demonstrates that I don’t need anyone else to have a good time. For years, I’d been claiming that I didn’t need anyone else to enjoy myself, but frankly, I hadn’t walked the walk.

Then, when it came time to decide on my mid-semester travels, I was stumped. I had a difficult decision to make: either force myself into other people’s plans, which may not align with my preferred destinations and scheduling, or travel somewhere alone, which was far more daunting. And I chose the latter, setting off for The Netherlands. 

Those few days on my own were the most eye-opening and life-changing I’d experienced in a while—maybe even my whole life. My realizations about the strength and power in spending time alone were confirmed and emphasized. I spent each day with my eyes wide, exploring and gaining new experiences. The world was my oyster; there was nobody to hold me back or say “no.” It was just me. And I genuinely, totally, and completely loved it.

That week was a turning point for me. I went from barely having enough confidence to go for dinner by myself to absolutely adoring solo traveling in a new country. No longer am I afraid of spending time alone, claiming I’m “just too extroverted for that”—and I’m now able to be my own source of comfort in potentially isolating situations.

As time goes on, I’m moving on from the girl I was at the beginning of this semester: the more dependent, insecure one. Sure, it took a lot of anxiety, tears, and confusion, but I’ll be coming home as somebody who’s proud to say, “Table for one.”