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  • Writer's pictureLinnea Swarting

Another Thing to Normalize: Going Out Alone

At this time a year ago, I was in Tallinn, Estonia for a workshop and performance. This wasn’t the first time I had traveled alone by any means, but I was still anxious about being by myself. I don’t know if that was residual from being single (I remember after a breakup saying I felt more anxiety about attending events because it “felt weird” to go alone) or if it was just because I didn’t know what to expect from Estonia as a whole, or even if I was nervous about dancing in a new environment, with new people, and the newness was scary.

I got off the plane, got to the hotel, broke out in hives (a somewhat common experience for me in new places/ after flying), took some Benadryl, and slept despite the time change and the need to stay awake to adjust.

I woke up around dinner time, but obviously my allergy medicine- induced sleep had prevented me from researching. In an effort to wake myself up to overcome the drowsiness and burn some energy so I could sleep again in a few hours, I walked out of the hotel and towards food.

Walking alone is a universal calming agent (in the right circumstances where you don’t feel like you could be abducted or harassed). This was one of those times where I felt happier for being outside in this place I didn’t yet know. I was mostly looking at the water, but eventually in the other direction I saw a restaurant up on a hill.

For the first time ever in my life outside of an airport, I sat down at a table for one. After overcoming the "alone in the school cafeteria" feeling and shifting into “literally nobody else in this establishment cares that I’m here alone” reality, I enjoyed the absolute best meal I’ve ever had in my life.

Not sure if it was the octopus, the rosé, the sunset, or the freedom that made it so good. (If you’re ever in Tallinn, I definitely recommend Tuljak.)

Also, this SET THE TONE for my entire year since.

I loved every minute in Estonia. I met amazing people, made great friends, got to perform, and still took a lot of time to enjoy and discover Tallinn on my own. I walked alone, went to museums alone, ate alone- and it was my own choice.

Afterwards, I went to Barcelona for more dance and audition things. Same experience there- eating alone was incredible. Not to say there weren’t times when I thought “I wish someone else was here to experience this also,” but that was mostly because the manchego paired with the wine so well it made me tear up, or the view of the ocean while eating squid- ink paella was sublime. I’m glad I didn’t allow self doubt or insecurity of being by myself to stop me from experiencing those treasured moments.

(Another aspect of eating alone that’s freeing is being saved from the judgement of others for what I’m eating, so I disclose these examples hoping you’ll spare me the “ballerinas don’t eat” chastisement.)

After coming home, I found myself going to see New York City Ballet alone, and after catching up with my friends and performing in Connecticut, going out to Los Angeles alone for Nutcracker season.

I had been to LA for maybe 4 days total in my whole life, so let me tell you it was stressful.

But the first thing I did when I landed was drop my bags in my first sublet, walk to the Farmers Market, and have a veggie and goat cheese sandwich. Alone. Immediately I felt at home.

Now, after being in quarantine for a few months and realizing how much we enjoy interacting with people on a daily basis, how our whole life is turned upside down when we have to isolate and remain distanced from others, we have all had the time to be alone. I think I had a head start by getting to reclaim my aloneness- I spent a really long time always trying to be with other people and to please other people by being with them. Maybe I’m making a big deal about this and as we grow up the eating alone thing becomes normal, but I have a lot of friends who still think it is weird or a challenge for them to even be alone, so maybe this is an experience that I can encourage and share. Once I got back in touch with solitude and started hearing my own thoughts on a regular basis, I felt a lot more sane. That clarity also helped me navigate moving, identify things to work on in my own mental health, continue to pursue dance despite the current challenges, and be in more meaningful friendships and relationships. It also led me to writing more! Still working on sharing those thoughts but for now, I’m just going to say…

Normalize going out alone. Obviously right now with COVID-19 I don’t advise going out to eat at all, but even after we can be together again in public, remember the importance of enjoying being alone occasionally.

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