Many of my friends and family members are single. Some by choice, some because they haven’t yet met the right person, and others are divorced or widowed. With very few exceptions, they turn to shopping to fill a void in their lives. They aren’t comfortable being alone, so hitting the mall allows them to get out and about with other people. Either they meet their friends there, or they go when they can’t find any friends to hang out with. It’s not uncommon. Many people can’t stand to be alone and they don’t know what to do with their time. Shopping can make the lonely person feel better. You’re around people, the lights are bright, and there’s lots of activity.
This wouldn’t be a problem if lonely people only window shopped. However, quite a few of my single friends have fallen deeply into debt trying to avoid being alone. They go to the mall and see things that they think will make their lives better or less lonely and they buy them. New clothes, new cell phones, new computers, games, and TVs all offer the promise of a better, more connected, or more entertaining life. Pretty soon it amounts to debt and yet they are still alone and uncomfortable. To avoid this, my friends need to learn how to be comfortable just being with themselves, or being with people in situations that are productive and engaging. Here are some tips I’ve gleaned from my own life and from watching others who don’t mind being alone.
Take up a hobby: A hobby that you love is a great way to increase your comfort when alone. It keeps your mind and hands busy and the time flies so fast you don’t even realize you’re alone. If you already have something you love, expand on it. If you don’t yet have a great hobby, try different things until you find something that sticks. Many hobbies are inexpensive so they won’t break your budget.
Take a class or go back to school: Furthering your education has many benefits. You learn new skills that may turn into hobbies or jobs. You get to be around people who share your interests. You keep busy so you don’t just wander the malls. Between classes and homework there may not be much time to shop. True, school may not be cheap, but at least you’re spending money in the pursuit of something meaningful instead of blowing it on a new TV.
Get together with friends, but do free or cheap activities: Being comfortable being alone does not mean always being alone. You want to get out with friends and be among other people. You just don’t want to go broke doing it. Offer to host a potluck dinner. Go to museums or free concerts. Have movie night at home. There are lots of things you can do that are fun and cheap.
Diversify your interests: The more things you are interested in, the more you can find to occupy your time. If all you normally do is go to work and come home to crash on the sofa, that’s not much of a life. Find some things you are interested in and pursue them. Try new things. Take a dancing class. Learn the rules of a new sport and then find a community league to play in. Learn about nature and take up bird watching. Having many interests means you always have something to participate in or learn about.
Chase a goal: Set a goal and try to meet it. Maybe you want to get in shape enough to run two miles. Maybe you want to write a novel in a year. Maybe you want to organize all of your cabinets in three months. Maybe you want to read all of Charles Dickens’ works in six months. Set your goal and a reasonable timeline and then go after it. The time you spend working on your goal is time you aren’t in the mall and you aren’t noticing your “aloneness.”
Revel in the freedom: Being alone affords you a lot of freedom that those with partners and dependents don’t have. You can go to sleep whenever you want. You can eat at odd hours. You can go on vacation on a moment’s notice. If you get involved in a project, you don’t have to quit to take someone to soccer practice. You can do pretty much whatever you want and there’s no one to say you can’t. Once you learn to appreciate your freedom, being alone won’t seem so bad.
Get a pet: A pet, even a small one like a hamster, can be a great companion. They provide a comforting presence and the time you spend caring for them and playing with them is time you’re not idly wandering the mall. No, many pets are not cheap but they at least provide you with love and companionship in return for the money you spend.
Join new social groups: Being comfortable being alone doesn’t mean you have to always be alone. There are many social avenues you can explore. Go to church. Join a social club like the Red Hats. Start a weekly card game with people from your building. Join a community sports team or work in a community garden. There are lots of ways to meet new people that don’t cost a fortune.
Volunteer: Pick a cause you like and volunteer your time. It will keep you busy, you might meet new people, and you’ll feel better about yourself because you’re doing something good for others.
When you’re alone there are many things you can do besides wander the stores. You need to fill your time so that you aren’t always feeling the loneliness. Hobbies, classes, volunteer work, and other time consuming activities keep you busy. Finding other social outlets and doing free things with your friends are good ways to be with people without going broke. You should also use your alone time to just get comfortable with yourself. I think you learn the most about yourself when you are alone and forced to entertain yourself and deal with your feelings and habits. That’s when you learn what you like and dislike and what you excel at. Being alone isn’t horrible once you learn how to make the most of it and start to appreciate your freedom.