A person out on her own must be lonely and is, therefore, to be pitied.
“Table for one? This way, ma’am.” The poor thing has no one to eat lunch with.
“One ticket? Oh, ok.” So sad, doesn’t she have a boyfriend to take her out to a movie?
As someone who is often out and about by myself, I find this reaction more so in India than in individualistic societies like the US, where the changing demographics and geographic mobility have long since made it normal to be single, not know anyone and be doing things on one’s own.
In India, however, society is still more stable and so, you are expected to be ensconced within a dense social circle that weaves tightly around you. School and college friends mill around, ready to gang up to do things together. Joint families are still common, so the options (responsibilities?) to go out with family members are many. People still believe in marriage and get married in their 20s with the expectation that all things henceforth are to be done together as a couple.
In all of this, there is, it seems, very little space left to express one’s aloneness. By aloneness, I mean the healthy state of being by oneself to do the things that nurture one’s own self, soul, spirit. Like taking solitary walks by the beach to pause and gain perspective on where your life is heading. Or, slow sipping a cappuccino while you momentarily step out of your own life and engage in lazy people watching from out the cafe’s window. Or, meandering through ancient ruins, without someone else’s chatter to interfere with what history wants to whisper to only you.
Setting aside some time alone regularly is a good thing. it reconnects you to yourself in a way that nothing else can. It lets you catch a breath from the existential treadmill. In today’s over-packed world, a momentary pause is a gift. More than a gift, it is an urgent respite that allows you to check in with yourself. It’s a way to remind you of who you truly are and ask if you’re making the choices that stand up for that person.
There is a growing trend among young Indians to set out on their own and wander off the beaten path in solo mode. It’s leading to all kinds of changes. Like restaurant seating, where tables for one or two are becoming more common where earlier, they were filled with tables for four or more. Eyebrows don’t get raised as much nowadays when a solo traveller checks into a hotel; in fact, online sites allow you to filter searches for single-friendly facilities. Relatives don’t comment as much anymore if you say you’re going out by yourself for a while.
Maybe there’s a realization that letting people be has become a need of the times. We are so overwhelmed with our lives – thanks to the hyperconnectedness of social media, a growing economic prosperity that is feeding a frenzied consumerism, and an intense universal competitiveness that is stoking insecurity and dissatisfaction – that the need to take a break from everything and everyone has become but obvious.
In a changing India, there is a growing acceptance that, sometimes, alone does not mean lonely. The younger generation seems to get it. As someone who takes “alone time” regularly, I recommend it.