How I Learned To Love Being Alone

Francesca Specter explains the joy of those three magic words: ‘Table for one’.

Alonement

by Francesca Specter |

Most of us look forward to a regular, weekly ritual: a Monday yoga class, Wednesday date night, blowing off steam at Friday work drinks. For me, it’s the hour I spend eating breakfast alone on a Saturday morning. This takes place at my local café, a cosy, oak-furnished spot where the staff don’t bat an eyelid to see me by myself, eating scrambled eggs while reading the supplements. It’s the place I feel more like myself than anywhere else.

But it hasn’t always been this way. Growing up, being alone was my biggest fear. My childhood diaries are testament to this – full of existential crises centred around having no one to partner up with in PE. Come secondary school, it was missing out on house parties or being the only one without a boyfriend. As a consequence, I was in a string of back-to- back relationships from my teenage years onwards. At my lowest point, I stayed in an emotionally abusive relationship until I was dumped by text, purely because I was scared of being alone.

No one who knew me would have thought I had a problem. A natural extrovert, I thrived on being around other people – which went down well in a society that is inclined to value sociable behaviour. Parties became my playground; I learned to work a room and put all my energy into winning over strangers.

But the collateral damage was that I neglected myself. I couldn’t even watch television without reaching for my phone to catch up on WhatsApps. If my life was a film, I was the supporting character – waiting for someone, anyone – to waltz in and be the protagonist.

Then, last November, as I turned 27, circumstance conspired to make me feel more alone than ever. My long-term relationship with the man I thought I would marry ended abruptly, and he moved out of my flat.

I was not only newly single, at a time when most of my close friends were in serious relationships, but also living by myself for the first time ever. My mind fixated upon small but seemingly huge moments, like spending a Saturday evening alone – it felt impossible.

I had two choices. Either my usual response to a break-up, which was to do whatever I could to avoid being alone: ramping up my social life, signing up to dating apps, such as Hinge, and leaning more than ever on friends and family. Or, I could learn to be alone and thrive.

It took one catastrophic date – where the man left dinner early to meet friends in Soho (and suggested I ‘go to his flat and wait for him to come home’) – to make my mind up. I made a resolution to learn to love being alone.

Unsure where to start, I began writing a diary again. Confronting my thoughts on paper felt uncomfortable at first, but it helped me connect with and process my emotions, rather than always turning to others.

I stayed in on a Saturday night and promptly realised how fantastic it could be – particularly in the golden age of Netflix and Deliveroo. I’ll never forget the elation I felt watching the film About Time, which I’d put off seeing because I was set on watching it with my ex. For so much of my adult life, my default setting was compromise: deferring to friends or a partner. Now, I was learning to please myself.

The more steps I took, the braver I became. It started with trips to the cinema, followed by booking single tickets to comedy gigs and author talks. I discovered you can look forward to ‘solo dates’ as much as those with other people. Recently, I took myself for a glass of champagne to celebrate a work success – because, while it’s a joy to celebrate those moments with others, it’s important to know you can celebrate with yourself, too.

I also discovered the joy of travelling alone – where you’re guided solely by your own curiosity and not your companion’s aching feet. One of my most joyful solo moments so far was taking a spontaneous half-hour diversion during a trip to Paris, after discovering a top-rated bakery via Google Maps.

Learning to be alone has changed my life. I have better self-esteem and I’m happier and calmer.

Last October – on what would have been my and the ex’s anniversary – I launched my blog, alonement.com. It’s for people who struggle to make time for being alone, whether they’re in a relationship or otherwise, and I write about everything from the practicalities of dining alone to how solo time can improve your romantic relationships.

Alonement is a word I invented – it means being alone in a positive, intentional way that’s regenerative, restorative and fulfilling, rather than lonely.
 My journey to alonement hasn’t always been easy. Earlier this year, a restaurant owner refused to take my order and asked me to leave because I was sitting there reading a tablet on my own. ‘Customers don’t like it,’ she told me. ‘We want people to sit and chat.’ At another café, I ordered a latte and a croissant, but the waiter returned with two of each, so alien was the idea I’d come without company – cue a very awkward conversation.

I’ve also experienced cutting comments, usually from acquaintances who assume it’s about selfishness. I know it’s the opposite: that learning to fulfil my own needs has made me a calmer, kinder and more generous person.

I don’t regret all those years spent scared of being alone. While it was problematic romantically, always placing value on interpersonal relationships means I’ve formed close, lifelong friendships and deep ties with my family.

But a year on, learning to be alone has changed my life. I have better self-esteem and I’m happier and calmer. And, now that I look after my own needs, I feel like I have more positive energy to give to others. While I’m still single, my attitude towards dating has improved, too – firstly because I only date people who treat me with the same kindness I give to myself, but also because I know that, if it doesn’t work out, I already have someone who I love spending time with: myself.

Read Francesca’s blog at alonement.com

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