How to get some quality time with yourself.
Being a student, whatever year you’re in, usually involves learning fundamental skills of adulthood. Doing the laundry, looking after money, and managing your own studying. One of the most important, I think, and certainly one of the most overlooked, is learning how to be alone. By that I don’t mean the kind of alone that involves staying in your room to avoid other people, that’s something I think a lot of us inadvertently mastered over many lockdowns. No, what I mean is making a deliberate choice to do things alone, not because you don’t want to socialise, but because you want to enjoy your own company.
It’s something I started doing when I was 16, travelling to a cute cinema at weekends, going to the library to study, arranging hair appointments and so on. What it came down to was this: there were too many things I wanted to do, and not enough people in my life to do them with. If I wanted to see and do the things I wanted to, I would have to get comfortable with being by myself. The independence I built put me in a good place to start university, but it opened my eyes to how uncomfortable many people are with the idea of being alone. A lot of the discussion as a fresher is about making friends and building a social circle, but there is barely any discussion about what to do now that you are spending more time alone than you ever have before.
"What it came down to was this: there were too many things I wanted to do, and not enough people in my life to do them with..."
The first thing is to recognise what you want to change. This sounds broad, but the university student experience is far from being singularly universal. There are some people on campus going out every night with their friends, there are others who spend every spare minute at home under a duvet because being out and alone is scary, and there are others who bury themselves under work because it’s easier to be alone when you feel productive. Whatever your experience, recognise the part of you that stops you from spending quality time alone, such as feeling that your plans are dictated by other people, or that you can’t pursue something you want to do because you don’t have anyone to go with.
Then, you might want to think about setting some wee goals for yourself. Get an idea of the kind of places you’d like to go to alone. You can start by going to places you think being alone will feel more acceptable, like a café, then build it up to places that feel more outside your comfort zone: a concert, a restaurant, a hike. When you set it up in the right mindset, it feels like a date. If you can wrap your head around it, a great ultimate goal is going on a trip by yourself. Somewhere you can be a tourist, near or far, and put yourself first with where you go and what you do. Once you’ve done it once, it’s the easiest thing in the world.
Okay, so you’re somewhere alone now, and it feels scary. Having company can feel like permission to occupy a space. Without company it can sometimes feel like we are intruding on a space where we don’t belong. This can be especially true if you recognise differences in the people around you, like being the only woman in a space dominated by men or vice versa. The thing to remember is that there is, in all likelihood, someone else there who is also alone and nervous. Everyone who isn’t would probably express admiration at going somewhere by yourself (remember they are probably just as intimidated by being alone as you are). And for the rare few that somehow believe going alone is weird, it says a lot more about them than it does about you.
"Once you’ve done it once, it’s the easiest thing in the world..."
Lastly, if you find that you have more time to spend with other people than by yourself, make a point to go alone sometimes. It is ok to turn down an invitation to a movie if you would rather see it by yourself sometime. If you are in a relationship this is doubly true. Choosing to do some things alone is not because I don’t love my boyfriend, but because I also love myself. It is important to be as OK with being alone as with being around other people, whether they be friends, family or partners. Giving yourself the time to be alone, to get to know yourself and observe your feelings and reactions to the world, is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
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