When we think about moving abroad, we tend to imagine all the people we will meet, the friends we will make, and the places we will go with them to have fun and create new memories. Although this is an exciting part of living in a new country, and it might really happen that we find true connection right at the beginning of our stay somewhere else, sometimes these expectations are not met. We might see ourselves struggling to find true friends, and wondering where do people of our age, in similar life situation hangs out. “It’s not possible that I am the only one struggling to make new friends in this city!”.
And whereas the exploration for new likeminded people is fun, the fear of loneliness or even the discomfort and sadness of being alone that comes from being an expat, might lead us to connect and hang out with people that do not exactly hold the same values and interests as we do. That drag us down, put us in weird situations, or blocks our authenticity. Just to avoid being A L O N E.
MY PERSPECTIVE AND EXPERIENCE
We are so afraid of being by ourselves, influenced by a society that rewards extroversion and imposes it as the “normal way” of living and interacting in our world. Mixed with the real feeling (and maybe pain) of being in a new country without a supporting system or being able to count on anyone, we feel the need to make new friends at any cost, to find people we can hang out with. And one of the reasons for that is that when we move abroad we feel the need to go outside, visit all the bars and restaurants in the city, enjoy the life abroad, have fun. But "god forbidden, I cannot go to a restaurant I've been really wanting to go and enjoy a nice meal there by myself. No way, that would be sad!". Have you ever felt like that? It seems like we need company to really feel like we are having fun. But who said that to us? What made us to believe in that?
Well, life itself I guess, our life experiences or the environment we grew up in. I’ve always enjoyed being on my own. I could spend hours in silence when I was a kid, just reading my books or playing on the computer. I’ve never thought that doing things alone was a problem, in fact, I saw it as something very natural. I think that comes from my mom, who would always tell me since I was little: "If you want to do something, do it even if no one wants to join you. You were not born glued to anyone.”. She used to say that in a very lovingly way, motivating me to be different and do the things that I believed in, to go after my dreams, independently of how people would see it. Thanks mom!
Because of that, even when I was living back in the country I was born in, I used to sometimes go to cafés all by myself and even to the cinema on Wednesdays after work (because it was cheaper). That continued when I moved abroad and whenever I wouldn’t find anyone that would also be interested in doing certain thing or going somewhere, I would just do it on my own. Including traveling, actually. In fact, I really enjoyed all the trips I’ve made by myself, the reflections that those moments brought me, and the beautiful new people I’ve met along the way. When I met my boyfriend, who is German, he thought I was crazy when I told him I needed time to be alone sometimes. He thought I was even crazier when I told him I liked going to brunches, lunches, dinners, or even to the movies on my own. It was something he was not used to. No one he knew used to do things outside by themselves like that, including himself.
WHY DON’T WE LIKE DOING THINGS ALONE?
With time, the concept of doing things alone became normal for him too. In one of our conversations, we in fact talked about the difference between being alone and being lonely. I think that our society is used to consider people who are alone somewhere, as being lonely (especially if you are a woman). This is a very untrue judgment, because those two things are VERY different. Whereas being alone literally means not having someone that you know by your side in a specific situation, being lonely is a feeling. This feeling is connected to not having someone who understands you, feeling unloved, feeling sad and disconnected from the world. In fact, a person can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely. Just because we want to enjoy our own company and feel free by doing things on our own, it doesn’t mean that we are lonely. We need to break this social stigma, outside and inside of us.
There is such an amazing feeling attached to the freedom of taking yourself out on a date. The times I enjoyed being on my own somewhere, not only did I allow myself to be free, but also I’ve experienced great moments and encounters. Not long ago, last year I went to a restaurant for a little "alone lunch” and made a great friend that I would otherwise never meet - a woman that was also enjoying the freedom of enjoying her own company for lunch, sitting on the table next to me!
Sometimes we stop ourselves from doing things thinking about what other people will think of us. If we are alone in a restaurant, we must be a bitter, lonely person. They will judge and pity us. Well, I once heard a phrase that stick to my mind: “You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do”. And that’s so true! Everyone is so much worried about their own things that even their judgments about something or someone else happen quite fast without deeper thought and reflects, most of the time, their own insecurities and fears. It’s all about the self (beware, we are not free from this behavior, too!). And that’s why I strongly believe that seeing somebody alone in a café or restaurant brings much more a sense of admiration as in “I wish I had the courage” than with a judgmental pity. After all, who wouldn’t want to be that free? Free of social rules, of fear of what others think, and happy about enjoying their own company?
DOING THINGS ALONE = SELF-LOVE
If I haven’t convinced you yet, let’s think about the worst case scenario: you end up discovering something about yourself. You might try it out and see how you feel, and have the opportunity to understand why you felt in a certain way. You might decide that you love it or that you don’t like it. But at least, you’ve experienced that, you gave it a try and learned something new about yourself.
We need to rediscover the fulfillment that doing things alone can bring and reward ourselves by having the courage to do so. Don’t get me wrong, doing things with friends, with a partner, with the family, is great and I consider those moments also deeply important. But what I’d like to reinforce is that doing things alone is equally fulfilling. And one thing that I can’t emphasize enough, and it serves for all of us, not only people who decide to live abroad: doing things on our own takes us out from the victim position.
How many times have you complained about not having people to do things with you? That nobody wants to do things with you? That you don’t have friends here because you are a “foreigner”, or you don’t speak the language, or don’t have a specific job, or you are too shy. Enjoying the present moment and what you have today is a daily decision. And in this case, you are deciding to enjoy your own company. You are telling yourself that you are enough and worthy of spending time with. What better exercise to practice self-love?
ONE CONCEPT THAT CAN HELP
Recently on my studies about psychology, I’ve run into a treatment called Exposure Therapy, which was developed to help people confront their fears. The idea is that, when people are afraid of something, they avoid these objects, activities or situations. In long term, however, the lack of exposure to these things cause the fear to be bigger. In this form of therapy, psychologists create a safe environment to expose the people to the things they fear, and this exposure in a safe environment helps to reduce the fear and the resistance to face these situations, activities, objects. Although some fears need be treated by a specialist, like severe phobias, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, I started to imagine how much the concept of the Exposure Therapy offer us many tools to be used in moments of our lives. Let me explain:
In the Exposure Therapy, there are different exposures to the fear, and one of them is the “in vivo exposure”. That means that the person would be facing the object, situation or activity that they are afraid of in real life. For example, if someone is afraid of speaking in public, they would be instructed to give a speech in front of an audience. Together with the type of exposure, there are also the pace that this exposure can happen. One of them, is called the “graded exposure” which states for exposing the person to the fear slowly, progressing from mildly to difficult exposure.
PUTTING INTO PRACTICE
If we apply these concepts into the fear of doing things alone, that means that you don’t need to go to the movies by ourselves on a Saturday night at 20h (when the movie theater is full). You can start with the places you think it’s more easy to be alone at. Maybe places that people go alone anyways or that you don’t necessarily need company, like a museum, going for a run, the gym, a yoga class, church, the library. And once you’ve been to places like that on your own, you can start expanding to situations that you’d feel more uncomfortable, like going for lunch on your own, or maybe, like me, going to the movies on a Wednesday evening.
The reason of this exercises and for this post itself is not to show that you don’t need anyone in your life, but rather to empower you. To give back your freedom to enjoy some time by yourself, to enjoy your own company, and with that, seeing the experience of living abroad with more happiness and peace. Because, let’s be honest, moving to a new country means that you’ll have to start your networks from scratch and that might take time. Meanwhile, you also have the right to enjoy yourself, explore and do things without having to wait to meet someone else.
We underestimate how much we can enjoy certain activities without any company. Enjoying your own company not only empowers you, but also heightened your senses. It opens us for thoughts and feelings that we wouldn’t otherwise notice, as well as for the observation of the environment around us. And because of that, it is one of the greatest and easiest exercises of contemplation and awareness that you might find. Not to mention that feeling comfortable with being alone can even improve your relationships. When you are happy about spending time with yourself, you don’t demand this from someone else and also give them the space to do things on their own too. You also learn to enjoy your own company, to see your own worth, and that is transferred to your relationships as well.
Are you ready to feel empowered? Share with me here in the comments where you’d like to start or where is the most difficult place for you to go on your own.
And if you need help in appreciating your own company and finding your way abroad, book here a FREE first session with me!