A few weeks ago, the weekend after my birthday stared blankly up at me from the pages of my diary. Nothing arranged! No meet-up with a girlfriend for coffee or lunch. (I don’t do everything on my own! I do have friends.) No cinema or theatre trip, either of which could have been alone OR with a friend. No birthday parties, no daytrip to London. Two days completely unplanned stretched ahead of me. What bliss!!
It is very unlike me to find myself in this position. I love having an advance plan of things to look forward to, a diary littered with commitment jewels, tickets bought and stored on my phone or in the special folder where I put tickets. (Sad but true.) I kept seeing the dates in the diary with no entries and I tried to get something organised. But I didn’t fancy the films on at my local cinema, I had a Friday night ticket for my local theatre, and I couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for a shopping trip, not even to spend gift vouchers! Something will come up I thought to myself. But it didn’t. And it didn’t matter at all because, if nothing else, I had a list of chores and projects queuing up for my attention. And, needless to say, I’m quite happy spending time with myself for a few a days – in fact I’m very good company.
Now I know that the prospect of spending the weekend alone with no plans, terrifies many people because they fear not being able to cope. And also that, for many people, a weekend alone is the reality of every weekend. Not just a weekend alone, but a lonely weekend. By now, we all must be keenly aware of what is being described as a ‘loneliness epidemic’ in this country, as a result of surveys revealing that people of every age admit that they regularly feel lonely. Of course, loneliness is a state of mind that can affect anyone at any age or stage of life, regardless of whether they have a partner, and as easily in the midst of a crowd as when on their own. But, people who live alone, especially older people, are more likely to say that they are lonely, than those who live with other people.
Advice on how to prevent or combat loneliness is usually about taking steps to ensure that we are regularly and meaningfully engaged with other people, not dependent on one person, such as a partner. To take up and/or nurture a hobby, interest, or sport, join a club, become a member, engage with neighbours and the local community, keep hold of and form new friendships throughout life. This is good advice, which people need as they enter adulthood, not when they find themselves suddenly and reluctantly alone, often for the first time in their life, and possibly also depressed and closed off from society. The new ‘social prescribing’ for the lonely may be far too late for many people.
We can also find ourselves alone and without a partner at any age or stage in our lives, and sometimes single, married, divorced or widowed, more than once in a lifetime, as our partnership relationships change. Plus, we are all living longer and more and more of us in the UK live alone. It is for these reasons that I advise everyone, regardless of whether they live alone or their relationship status, to consciously develop ‘solo skills’ throughout their lives. By ‘solo skills’ I mean the ability to confidently undertake/engage in activities alone and out of choice. In my book Solo Success! You CAN do things on your own, I identify five out-of-the-home activities that are generally undertaken by two or more people, but could equally be undertaken alone, but for the fear of being seen to be alone and perceived social stigma. These are: going for a cup of tea/coffee; dining out for lunch or dinner; going for a walk for pleasure; going to the cinema; going to a live performance/ show/ entertainment/ sporting match or event.
I don’t mean going alone all the time, obviously we all need to have relationships with family and friends. But this is about creating a relationship with yourself, getting rid of the fear and developing self-confidence, self- reliance and resilience for the times when you are alone, BUT crucially can keep loneliness at bay. Writing in The Sunday Times Magazine last weekend, India Knight said, “The joys of solitude are so undersung. It is a necessary human right. …….But still solitude gets a bad press. Why is it considered faintly tragic? It ought to be celebrated for what it is, which is the ultimate luxury.” Develop solo skills so that, when you have free time and no plans, you can allow yourself to revel in the ultimate luxury of being alone in solitude – and be OK.
My step-by-step self-help guide, Solo Success! You CAN do things on your own, helps people to get rid of the fear of being, and being seen to be, alone in society, and to successfully undertake social activities on their own. It is available in Amazon, at good bookshops and via my website www.cjiwrites.com