How moving abroad can be a fast-track to something we all need to learn: how to be alone
A couple of months ago I took myself to see La La Land. I strolled, on a picturesque winter’s day over the hill to Hampstead’s small independent cinema. ‘Just one ticket?’ the clerk wondered. Indeed. I asked myself if I’d like popcorn, I replied, ‘yes please!’ and then me, myself and I stretched out on one of the theatre’s velvet sofas, put our feet up and proceeded to laugh and cry and snack with abandon.
It was the first time I’d ever been to the movies on my own in my 24 years, and it was liberating. When I first came to live in London, I used to have a major problem with being alone even for a moment, which I’ve touched on earlier in this blog. Of course, this is just part of growing up and would have happened anywhere. However, moving to another country definitely makes the process unavoidable. Now, in a world where we are ‘connected’ to our friends and family more constantly than ever, being faced with true loneliness is rarer, yes, but harder to deal with too. Doing well on one’s own is a fundamental part of caring for oneself, but something I admit that I am not always best at. You’d think being alone would mean having only yourself to focus on, but it can be tough for some of us pack-animal-types. This is especially true for someone who has moved from a close-knit family group or is now taking their relationship long-distance. It can be incredibly difficult to know only a handful of people in an entire country of strangers.
So the answer, I think, is to seek out and embrace this initially uncomfortable feeling. I ventured out again on my onesome recently. I headed to a restaurant I had not eaten at in almost three years, the classic La Gaffe in Hampstead, and accepted a seat near the geranium-lined window, a diary, a novel and an old copy of The Idler magazine (which encourages this type of behaviour specifically) for company. I was surprised to be approached by a familiar face – the waiter who used to serve (or should I say tolerate the shenanigans of) the group I previously frequented the spot with. I ordered my usual – Salmon Fettucine and a bottle of Pellegrino. The waiter brought me the large portion with a wink ‘at no extra charge’). I had already filled up on bread. I’ll never be able to finish this, I thought. But my trousers were pretty baggy, and there was no one there to judge my generous mouthfuls of pasta. I very nearly managed it. Did I want dessert? Coffee gelato, please. Three scoops arrived. I did the dainty thing of course, and left half the accompanying biscuit. This is not to say being alone is all about gorging oneself, mind, but it’s nice to feel comfortable alone in a crowded restaurant, and remind yourself that you’re worth a nice meal, even if no one is there to share it with you. While my boyfriend is in Portugal, I can get in a bad habit of staying in, eating noodles…
At a restaurant I used to host at, we were forbidden from saying ‘Just one?’ to customers coming in solo, as the word ‘just’ insinuated that this was lacking, odd or pitiable behaviour; instead we were meant to ask ‘table for one?’, welcoming their lone lunches and solitary suppers. But, preferring the more lively connotations, I always asked, ‘Party of one?’