It’s about half past twelve on a Wednesday at the start of term. The sky is a miserable January-grey with an ominous threat of rain to come, the streets are lined with brisk, stern-faced shoppers trying to get all their chores done before the weather gets worse, and I’m tucked away in a warm café with a steaming cup of ginger and lemon tea. Alone.
I get kind of anxious about walking into cafés. I never know the etiquette – am I supposed to just take a seat, any seat at all, or is there someone to direct me to a specific one? Do I order at the counter, or wait for someone to notice me and come over? My overactive brain gets embarrassed quite easily, but I’ve been to this café once before, which helps, so I awkwardly greet the waiter on my way in, pick a small table by the window, put my shopping down, and begin reading the menu.
The first time I ate lunch in a café alone, I felt even more awkward. Most of the time, I eat out with friends or family, so taking myself out felt unnatural and unnecessary. I was worried I looked lonely, or sad, or just a bit odd. I’m having the same thoughts today; are the waiters feeling sorry for me, sat here looking like a slightly lost cloud who accidentally blew in from the street? Is the bartender smiling at me out of politeness or pity?
But no, of course they’re not thinking anything of the sort. People go to cafés alone all the time without these silly worries: some time later, an older woman walks in alone and orders a coffee for one without a care in the world. When I was sightseeing alone in Spain, I went to cafés all the time on my own and somehow felt less embarrassed. Still, I make it clear I’m a Busy Independent Student who just happens to like doing her reading in coffee shops, and I spread my books and post-it notes over the table while I wait for my grilled halloumi to arrive.
As uncomfortable as I find it at first, it also feels good to be doing something for myself. It is certainly a form of self-care. I can eat wherever I want and whenever I want, and I don’t have to feel bad not making conversation, or texting at the table, or eyeing up the evening cocktail menu and wondering if I can persuade anyone to come back here someday. It feels a bit like taking myself on a date. Becoming comfortable with my own company, and learning that I don’t need to fill the empty space with conversation, or other distractions.
Learning to be able to spend time with ourselves is important. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, there are times where you won’t have a choice but to be alone for a while – and instead of fearing it, we can embrace it. Be a little daring, break the norms, take yourself out for a meal. Hold your head up high. Feel your mind settle and your heartbeat slow and your creative energy recharge. You’re a very interesting person to be on a date with. Order that extra-delicious-looking dish, or that fancy coffee, or the ever-so-healthy green smoothie you wish you could make yourself. Breathe.
More ideas for a self-care date:
- Take yourself to the cinema and see that film you’ve been dying to watch. Super easy, and you’re very likely not to be the only solo spectator there. And if you are, who cares? The lights are off and people are watching the film, not you.
- Go to a local park and have a relaxed walk for however long you feel like. Feed the ducks, get an ice cream, sit on a bench and stare at the sky. Sit on some grass and do some journaling. Whatever floats your boat.
- Go for a fancy restaurant dinner. Dress up for it, if you like.
- Sign up for a class on something you’ve been wanting to do for ages, or haven’t made time for recently. Maybe it’s a cooking class, or a writing workshop, or an art group. Maybe something sporty – go make some shapes in a dance class, or let off some steam in a more team-oriented sport.
- Go people-watching. Can be done from a park bench, or from the warmth of a coffee shop window seat. Take snacks. Hold your own hand (metaphorically)
These are only a few ideas. Be creative – where would your ideal date with yourself be?
I left the café, full of delicious halloumi, and feeling like I’d given myself a treat which wasn’t just healthy in terms of nutrition (instead of, say, ‘treating’ myself to a chocolate bar in the library because I was stressed), but mentally healthy. Not only had I given myself some relaxation space outside of the usual environment and proved to myself I could be on my own, but I had experimented with something which scared me initially, and I’d survived – no, I had thrived.
I have a gap in between classes every other Thursday lunchtime, and I think I know what I might be doing with it from now on.