The XX Factor

A Woman Alone Is Not Necessarily a Lonely Woman

Stop staring!

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Jesse Singal at Science of Us highlights a new study about the value of having fun in public all by yourself. Studies in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that people are often afraid to partake in leisure activities solo, mostly because they fear others’ assumptions “that they could not find friends to accompany them.” However, when authors Rebecca Ratner and Rebecca Hamilton encouraged college students—over protests—to visit an art museum alone, they found that the solo museum-goers had just as much fun as the people who brought friends.* 

It’s a small study but an intriguing one, and it hopefully will compel more of its kind. This particular research isn’t about gender, but anecdotal evidence suggests that women feel this fear of going out by themselves more keenly than men do. Part of this is practical; being a woman alone in public often means men will bother you. But part of it is psychological, a fear that women are more likely to be judged as lonely if they’re seen out by themselves. This fear that people will pity you if you are eating or otherwise doing fun things in public by yourself is so serious that Cressida Howard of Gloucestershire, England, created the Invite for a Bite website in 2012, so that strange women who otherwise might dine alone can find each other and instead sit together. 

Doing stuff by yourself really isn’t as scary or off-putting as you might think. I haven’t been single in nearly a decade, but I’ve maintained my tendency to take off and do all sorts of things by myself without drafting my partner to join me. It helps if you have interests that your friends don’t share—not having to worry if your companion is bored with your activity of choice more than makes up for the occasional pitying look you get from someone who assumes a woman alone must be a lonely woman. 

One of the most important lessons you learn as a woman who likes to go about solo is that far fewer people are looking at you than you think. Women are socialized to feel as if we’re on constant display, but I’ve learned over the years that most people are too busy with their own lives and concerns to pause quizzically over the woman who asks for a table for one. Plus, now that everyone has a smartphone, there’s no reason to be bored because you have no one to talk to. Just stay off Facebook—you’re cheating yourself out of your precious time alone. 

*Correction, April 27, 2015: This post originally misspelled Rebecca Hamilton’s last name.