The Art of Being Alone

One of the adjustments being widowed has required is getting used to doing things alone that I used to do with a partner. Traveling, attending events, and dining out are all activities that I was used to do doing with my late husband. Shortly after he died, I got a crash course in being alone at an event I would normally attend with him when a cousin got married. Luckily, I wasn’t alone at the wedding by a long stretch—my daughter, stepson, son-in-law, mother-in-law, and several other family members I’m close to were there. But it was the first big social event I went to sans date that I would normally have gone to with my husband. The irony of being unwillingly alone at an event celebrating partnership was tough to handle and I did excuse myself at one point to go cry in privacy.                    

Despite being very introverted and needing lots of alone time, there are many times when I don’t want to be alone. Going to social events and places where most people are with others makes me feel very conspicuous about being alone. There’s comfort in having a partner in crime with you, someone who can make you feel less awkward when you walk into a wall or can’t read a sign (as a vision impaired person, this happens to me all the time and having someone else with me makes it funny instead of embarrassing), who can make idle chit chat with you so you’re not left standing alone, or who can swoop in and relieve you of talking to the person everyone has warned you about.

Although I would prefer to have a partner with me at many events, I am not going to let being widowed keep me from enjoying things I want to do. A few months after my husband died, I went to a place I had gone to many times with him and never alone: some popular hot springs in Colorado. It was somewhat terrifying because my vision in hot springs is particularly bad—the steam makes it harder to see and fogs up my glasses, so when I used to go with my husband, we would hold hands and he would lead me around. On top of the vision challenges, pretty much everyone there is with a partner or their kids. Going there by myself felt scary, which is why I picked it for one of my first solo outings. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. As a bonus, the steam made me feel like the tears running down my face the whole time were less noticeable.

In reflecting on 2022, I noticed that one of my standout experiences was something I did alone: riding a horse in Iceland. I signed up for the ride not knowing how many other people were going, but I assumed everyone else would be part of a couple or group, and I was right. Of the ten riders in my group, I was the only person on my own. If I had gone with someone else, at least part of me would have been focused on that person, but because I was on my own, I focused more on my sweet horse, Pitla.  In fact, after our ride, everyone else went into the office for hot chocolate, while I stayed out in the paddock with Pitla, petting her, talking to her, and removing her saddle. I got so absorbed that one of the employees finally came out to tell me everyone else was in the minivan and ready to go back to Reykjavík—would I be ready soon?

In a year and a half of doing most everything alone, I’ve learned a few things:

  1. It’s quite unlikely that anyone else even notices you. You think everyone is noticing you because you’re the protagonist of your own story, but the flip side of that is that you’re not even a character in other people’s stories. Maybe they notice you do someone embarrassing, but it’s just a blip on their radar, and more likely, they don’t even notice it. In all the times I’ve cried at restaurants or events, no one has ever seemed to notice.
  2. If you look for other solo people, you’ll probably find them. You’re actually not the only person there alone. Case in point: last week I went to a concert by myself. As I was walking into the venue, a colleague of mine appeared. She was by herself, too. We ended up sitting together but the topic of us each being alone never came up. On my way out, I ran into someone else I knew who was there alone. These two run-ins happened without me actually looking for other folks on their own, so imagine how many folks I might have found had I been looking.
  3. I’ve seen in online forums travelers who are on their own called “solo travelers.” I like that so much better than “traveling alone.” I’m trying to reframe being alone as being solo. It sounds more powerful to me.                
  4. Before I go to an event on my own, I usually give myself permission to leave early if I want to and I review my options for doing so. Knowing I have a plan for leaving early makes me feel calmer. I usually don’t leave early, but I like knowing that if I want to, I can and it will be easy.

And there are actually some benefits to being at events alone. For example, you can leave when you want to without consulting anyone else. The most surprising advantage I’ve noticed is that I am often more present when I am alone because my attention isn’t split between the event and the person I am with.

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