TikTok (and Dua Lipa) convinced me to do it.
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What I Learned From Taking Myself On Solo Dates
Credit: Getty Images/InStyle

The first big thing I ever truly did on my own was move to New York City at the age of 23 — in the middle of a pandemic. I found a job that I loved (but worked remotely) and moved into an apartment with strangers, so I found myself spending a lot of time at home alone. Although I had friends in the city that I occasionally saw, this was the first time that I truly felt like I was figuring out who I was on my own — and I loved it. I loved the walkability of the city and how there was always something to explore.

Still, the one thing I could never bring myself to do was go out for dinner or drinks alone. As someone who struggles with anxiety in my day-to-day life, the idea of taking myself out on a "solo date" seemed like something that would only make me feel "weird" or out of place. But said anxiety quickly got in the way of my ability to explore new bars or restaurants and have experiences that weren't dependent on another person.

And it turns out there were plenty of other 20-somethings living in a big city who felt this way, too. Over the last year, I had been seeing TikTok videos with titles like "My Favorite Anxiety Bars" and "Best Places to Eat Alone in New York" on my For You Page. These videos often had hundreds of thousands of views and tens of thousands of likes with people leaving comments like, "I've been wanting to do this" and "I needed this" — proving that I wasn't the only one with fear and anxiety getting in the way of spending time alone (outside of the comfort of our homes).

An actual therapist also confirmed this feeling is pretty universal. "Many people have an underlying insecurity about being alone, and going out on a solo date may feel like a spotlight is being shone on that," Stephanie Macadaan, LMFT, a therapist in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, tells me. "In that case, a solo date can feel sad, lonely, and hurtful," she adds. The key to flipping that script? Catch yourself when you have those thoughts and make a "conscious effort to shift to a mindset of feeling empowered, strong and independent". (Easier said than done.)

So coming into 2022, I decided that it was time to push myself out of my comfort zone and start taking myself out on solo dates. Right around the time that I decided to take the plunge, the queen of pop and my constant inspiration, Dua Lipa, posted on Instagram that she too had decided to take herself out on her first-ever solo date in NYC. I took it as a sign that it was now or never. 

When planning out my night, I took Macadaan's advice to start small with drinks and a movie. "Going to the movies is often a comfortable first step, or even sitting at a coffee shop. See how it feels for you and then expand from there," she suggests. "Journaling during your first attempts at a solo date to notice what comes up for you can be really helpful."

Here's a recap of what my solo night out looked like:

6 pm: I logged off of work and watched TikTok for at least 20 minutes while second-guessing my decisions for the night. I seriously contemplated just staying in but I remembered that I'd already bought a movie ticket, so I had no choice but to go. 

6:45 pm: After procrastinating getting ready, I resolved to treat it like a real date and put on some simple makeup and "real" clothes. I opted for something cute yet comfy that I felt confident in.

7 pm: I finally left the house — and yes, I was somehow just as nervous as if I were going on a date with another human being.

7:15 pm: I opted to go to a local bar in my neighborhood where I would feel comfortable and I — like Dua Lipa — brought a book to read. As she wrote in her Service 95 newsletter, "I was quite nervous at the idea of going alone, so I brought a book from my nightstand… and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it all felt." As Macadaan advised, I also brought my journal to document the experience (and stay entertained).

7:30 pm: I sat at the bar at Barb's in Bed-Stuy and ordered a glass of white wine. After settling in, I surveyed the room and took in my surroundings. The place had a homey feel with a big bar in the back and a few small tables scattered around it. It was dimly lit with a few fake candles and I quickly noticed that there were a couple of other people seated alone at the bar, instantly easing my awkwardness. 

8 pm: After sipping on my first glass of wine and writing down my observations, I noticed that I was feeling a lot more relaxed — so I decided to rate my anxiety levels over the past two hours in order to keep track of how I felt throughout the night and reflect on it later:

Anxiety pre-arrival: 7/10
Anxiety once seated: 4/10
Anxiety after my first glass of wine: 2/10

8:30 pm: In the name of research, I started chatting with the bartender and she offered up some helpful advice for solo dating. If you want to meet people she recommends "sitting at the bar and bringing a book, since it can be a conversation starter" with the people seated next to you. On the other hand, if you're hoping to keep to yourself for the night, she recommends bringing your book to a table. She added that people coming into the bar alone was actually a nightly occurrence, which also made me feel way better.

9 pm: After two glasses of wine and some reading, I ended my night by going to a nearby movie theater to watch The Worst Person In The World. At this point, my anxiety had practically subdued and I was excited to sit in a movie theater alone without having to talk to anyone around me. 

Anxiety at the movie theater: 1/10

While my anxiety almost stopped me from going out on my own, once there, it felt really good to be outside of my apartment and exploring a new place in my neighborhood — even if I didn't have a friend or a date in tow. As Dua Lipa wrote about her solo date experience, "Not for a second did I feel alone. Instead, I delighted in how much I enjoyed spending time with myself. I felt… powerful." I, too, was quickly comforted by my ability to enjoy my time on my own and this allowed me to push past my anxiety and recognize that what I was doing was liberating — not "weird."

The exercise also showed me that solo dates can be an important self-care tool. As Macadaan explains, not only does the practice foster self-confidence, but "it feels empowering to realize your ability to soothe, comfort, and enjoy your time outside of being connected to another person." And this purposeful time alone is valuable regardless of your relationship status, by the way. "Alone time fosters independence and allows you to be more in touch with yourself, which then allows you to feel more grounded in all areas of life," Macadaan explains. "I refer to this as a 'psychic space', a time where you are not focused on someone else but rather attuned to your own feelings, needs, and wants." 

In other words, whether you're single, dating, looking for friends, or just wanting to spend time alone outside of your home, taking yourself out on a date is a great way to get to know yourself better — and to push yourself out of your comfort zone. 

As for taking myself out to dinner, that'll be the next solo adventure I anxiously tackle.