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The perils of being alone

My not-so-social experiment

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Full disclosure: As I type this, I am a little tipsy. I didn't have that much to drink. It was just two beers. The thing is, I drank them by myself, which I think made a difference. Maybe I drank them too fast because I didn't have anyone to talk to between sips. Or maybe it was because I was anxious to get the hell out of that brewery. I felt creepy being there all alone — the only solitary female among groups of social gatherers and single dudes watching a pre-season Panthers game.

This is not how I expected my experiment to turn out. I chose to go out by myself. I looked forward to it. It was a new challenge, an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, to meet new people and have an adventure, to catch a break from the constant attention my two young children demand from me. I imagined myself having interesting conversations with captivating strangers, debating music and politics, sharing battle wounds of what life is like with two young kids. Instead, I sat around lunch counters and bars at happy hour, drinking beer and staring at sports games on TV screens. Nobody would talk to me.

I tried to be friendly, I really did. I smiled and rejected the temptation to spend the entire time on my phone (although, I will confess that I did turn to it for human interaction from time to time). But, to be honest, I was also a little bit guarded. Most of the people around me were men — and while I am totally fine with making male friends, I felt like starting a conversation would give the wrong impression. I am a happily married lady, and I didn't want anybody to misinterpret my friendliness for flirtation. In my several alone outings, I only encountered one other solitary female — and she was on her phone the entire time.

I feel like I need to say that I acknowledge I am writing this column from a place of privilege. For me, being alone was a choice; a luxury, actually. I share my life with some really lovely people whose company I genuinely enjoy. I know that isn't the case for everyone. I know that oftentimes, people are alone because there's simply no one for them to be with. And I understand that my experiment at solitude is not comparable to the lives of people for whom being alone is not an option. Still, after my handful of solo adventures, I feel like I can say, unequivocally, that being alone sucks ass.

My mother warned me about this. When I told her I wanted to go out by myself and write a column about it, she thought I was crazy. My dad died, suddenly, unexpectedly, four years ago and she knows a bit about what it's like to be on her own. "Being alone is horrible," she told me.

"I'm sure it's not so bad," I said. "It's an opportunity to spend time with yourself, to meet people you would never meet if you were surrounded by loved ones, to feel free."

Except it wasn't like that at all. At least not for me. And I can't imagine how I would've gotten through my solo outings without knowing that they weren't in my life. That I would get to go home to kiss my husband and hug my kids.

I thought being alone would be empowering. And while being by myself made me feel as if I had done something incredibly brave and survived it, it didn't really make me feel better about me or people in general.

There's something truly wrong with us when we prefer to stare blankly at a TV or play with our phones at a bar instead of talking to the person with whom we are bumping elbows. There is something truly wrong with us when we think that saying hello means, or will be interpreted as, "I want to get in your pants." There is something truly wrong with us when we prefer to skip lunch or eat chips from the vending machine rather than venture out to a restaurant on our own because we are afraid of how awkward it will feel to sit there without interacting with anyone.

So, will I go out by myself again? Probably not by choice, and definitely not with the giddy anticipation I had before this solo outing. But I will pay more attention to single people the next time I'm out. I'll smile a little bit harder, I'll try to make small talk about the food, or the game on TV, or the weather. Because now I know that being alone is for the birds.

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