The opening lines of Brandi Carlile’s song “Party of One” go “Waiter send this to the table, the party of one/The only other lonely soul in this place.” In the pre chorus she says “Sing your sad soul to sleep.” The song depicts a very detailed, if cliche, picture of a person – a sad and lonely person – eating in a restaurant alone. The song allows you to project feelings of pity on to an other while simultaneously being deeply relatable, fore everyone has felt that bone deep loneliness at one point or another. I love this song and its poignancy, but I am somewhat tired of this very specific situation being used to draw conclusions about someone’s aloneness/loneliness. Perhaps the person Carlile saw in the restaurant that evening was thrilled to be there alone. Perhaps this was the first instance of solitude they’d had in a while. I should know, I choose to eat, and do many other things, alone and am perfectly content, even quite happy, when I do. Just because I do something alone that a majority of people do with others does not make me lonely.
I’ve always been fiercely independent, even stubbornly so. The fantasy of the woman I wanted to grow up to be was self-contained and self-efficient. She had everything she needed with and within her. In high school, I would day dream about living in a big city and going to a coffee shop to sit and read alone. That’s it, that’s the whole day dream. But there was a bravery to that situation that I was desperate to find. Being able to sit quietly with oneself while being surrounded by others in a public space is not easy.
Once I did move to New York and had plenty of opportunity to fulfill my daydream, I chickened out. On more than one occasion,I was filled with the silliest, but completely valid, of fears. First off, what coffee shop? Starbucks? A cool independent place? How do people find out about cool independent places? Would the book I was reading be edgy enough for an independent place? Would my coffee order be cool? (I didn’t yet drink my coffee black, a pretentious thing I find immense coolness in now.) What if there were no seats available?
When I finally did muster up the courage to take my book to a coffee shop I found on Google Maps, I didn’t relax the entire time. I flipped my pages, but I wasn’t reading. I was pretending. Pretending that I did this all the time. Pretending I liked my soy latte. Pretending I fit in with the crowd of people that seemed much more interesting than I was. The experience was not enjoyable, but I was elated when I left. I did it. I did a thing that the woman I wanted to become was totally comfortable doing: taking herself on a coffee shop reading date.
So I kept doing it. And at some point I wasn’t pretending. I started experimenting with other things this fantasy woman would do alone. Movies? She definitely went to movies alone. Museums and live performances too. There are so many things to do in New York it can almost be debilitating. I had a list of places I wanted to see and experiences I wanted to have, but was crossing them off at a slow rate because my friends weren’t interested in those same things. The more things I did independently, the braver I got about the possibilities of what could be done alone. Could I eat alone at a restaurant I’d always wanted to try? Absolutely! Could I sit in the park and do homework alone? Of course! There was one final thing that this fabulous, self-contained city woman of my dreams did alone that I was hesitant to do: She attended concerts by herself.
The first concert I went to alone was The 1975 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. I told my parents I was going with a friend I worked with so they wouldn’t worry. (That friend was attending the concert and we rode the train over together, but parted ways when we got to the venue.) It was a chilly, overcast, early May day, and I was not dressed appropriately. Because the friend I rode the train with had General Admission tickets she wanted to get there early, so I was waiting outside for an hour before doors. If you know anything about The 1975 and their fandom, you’ll know that the crowd outside the venue was huge even with an hour to stand and wait. This was the loneliest part of the experience. Watching the groups of people in the crowd talk to each other and take photos while they were waiting made me wish I was doing the same. It also accentuated why I was so fearful of doing this one thing alone: a concert felt to me like something you shared with the people with whom you attended. A concert wasn’t just about listening to live music, but listening to live music with someone. I was remembering all the other concerts I’d been to with groups of friends and the starkness in the difference of those experiences made me feel like I had a giant neon sign over my head reading “She’s Here Alone.” But not once during that hour did I think about leaving. The music of this band was very important to me at that time in my life and I knew my regret for not seeing them would far outweigh my discomfort of being there alone.
Once I was in my seat and the concert started I was still tense; I had no one to dance or sing along with and it felt strange to show extreme enthusiasm alone. Then a very particular song was played and, all at once, my perspective on the whole experience changed. I would never see the people who were around me ever again, who cares if they thought I was a weirdo for singing at the top of my lungs? The Scorpio in me comes out most in my tendency to be obsessive, and I was obsessed with this band. I wanted to hear every word the lead singer sung. I didn’t want to look away from the screen where his face was projected. No one was there to distract me with “What’s the name of this song?” or “Will you come to the bathroom with me?” or worst of all “I think we should beat the rush and leave before the encore.” I could enjoy the concert on my terms and felt freed because of it.
As I mentioned, I can be a bit obsessive about the things I like and I’ve always been a little embarrassed by this. I feel exposed when I have to share the depth of my feelings for a book, movie, band, etc that most people casually enjoy or perhaps haven’t even heard of. Therefore, when I experience my obsessions with others I tend to downplay my enthusiasm. I’m also always worried about whether the person I’m with is enjoying themselves which, of course, decreases my enjoyment significantly. None of this anxiety exists when I do things, especially go to concerts, alone.
I’m not suggesting that everyone should go to every concert alone, or any concert for that matter. However, what I have learned by doing things alone is that loneliness and aloneness are not the same. The fear of loneliness can often stop us from experiencing aloneness, and aloneness is something I’ve found great joy and satisfaction in.
Songs about Loneliness/Being Alone
Lonely – Britney Spears
Soulmate – Lizzo
Perfectly Lonely – John Mayer
911/Mr. Lonely – Tyler, The Creator, Frank Ocean, & Steve Lacy
Solo – Frank Ocean
Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac
Daisy – Laura Marling