What I learnt from taking myself out on a date

. 8 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
What I learnt from taking myself out on a date

The first thought that often comes to mind when ‘self-love’ is uttered in a sentence is ‘yeh toh pakka single hi hai.’ Self-love is misunderstood and misused more often than not. Wait, did I say ‘misused?’ Cut that out… 

After my last relationship disastrously imploded in my face, I was left picking up the pieces of whatever self-esteem and love I had left. In no uncertain terms, I was struggling to get through life. Naturally, I took the road most travelled and buried myself in work. Work replaced my friends, my family, and everything I held dear, so I started excelling at it. My work ethic was commended, responsibilities were showered on me, and I knew I had made my mark.

But then I looked at myself in the mirror. Where had that girl with lustrous hair, light brown eyes, and a bright smile gone? My dark circles, unkempt hair, and perpetual frown were magnified to a point where I could scare any toddler that passed by me. 

Around that time, I happened to watch a TED Talk by an upcoming musical artist, Ambika Nayak, aka Kayan. She spoke about an exercise she often practised when she struggled with loving herself. She would stand in front of a mirror, look herself straight in the eye, and say ‘Ambika, you are a loving and lovable person.’ It took a while, but this exercise helped pump herself up before an event, interview, or  low moment. 

Why does this matter?  Because throughout the events that occurred later, I would do this exercise using certain affirmations stemming from what I discovered/ learnt.

And so I decided, to hell with men and missed opportunities. If nobody wanted to date me, I’d date myself. Actually, no – this wasn’t even a self-confidence issue. My pattern of running away from nice men whom I could form healthy relationships with, and  instead  running towards red flags had resurfaced. So before I decided to get back into the dating game, I needed to love and appreciate myself first.

Affirmation: I love myself more than anyone else.

Cheesy but much needed, because before you deep dive into a relationship, you need to be secure about who you are and what you want.

(Continue Reading Below…)

So, for the first act in dating myself, I took myself out for a nice dinner at a neighbourhood restaurant; not the one I often went to work at by myself, but one that I had actually been to on previous dates. There was just one rule on this solo date: no laptop and no book. Basically, no distractions.

As I walked in, I felt the first pinch in having to respond to the manager’s ‘how many people?’ with ‘just me.’ Naturally, I overcompensated with an awkward smile. So I was ushered towards the ‘table of loneliness’, as I used to call it, because it’s at the far end of the restaurant in a dimly lit area. Actually perfect for a date with your partner, but not so much when you’re alone. 

On the way, I had to dodge a couple of mines in the form of old friends I hadn’t seen in a while (this is what happens when you’ve lived in the same neighbourhood for far too long). After empty promises of ‘let’s catch up soon, I’ll text you’, I was seated at my table. 

solo date

Thanks to the pandemic, getting a hold of the menu required some scanning action before it popped up on my phone. It’s honestly in times like this when one really misses hiding their face behind extra-large menus on a solo date.

The lessons I learnt about self-love

Lesson 1: Never settle for anything less than you deserve

After reading through the menu five times, I decided on a drink and a dish and placed my order. Now began the waiting game, while I blankly looked around, waiting for my order to arrive. I noticed a couple at the table nearby –  the guy was peering into his phone, SCROLLING ON INSTAGRAM, while the girl stared at his face. Gosh, is this what millennial dating was like? I thought maybe I should just text my ex because he had basic manners at the very least. Oh but wait, that relationship had its toxins too.

I had to get out of settling mode, where I let unacceptable things slide in order to keep the peace. Do I need a man who prefers his phone’s company over mine? Hell no, I am the queen of this castle!

Affirmation: The man of my dreams treats me well, meets my needs, and makes me feel thankful for never settling.

Lesson 2: Self-confidence comes from not caring what others think

Soon, my attention shifted to two women at another table. Woman 1 had her gaze fixed on me while she told her friend something. Woman 2 turned quickly to look at me, and the two sniggered. I swear, I died inside. Did I really seem so pathetic sitting alone?

I had two options: either I could dart to the bathroom and cry in embarrassment, or I could muster up whatever courage I had and do nothing. So I just sternly smiled at them. To my surprise, one of them actually got up and walked over to my table, asking if I went to St. Helena’s school. Turns out, she was an old classmate. After the initial pleasantries, she asked me if I was waiting for someone, and I said, ‘no, I’m here by myself.’ She asked if I’d like to join them, to which I said, ‘maybe next time. I just needed some time alone.’ 

We exchanged numbers and she walked away, but not before exclaiming how amazing it was that I was out by myself. ‘Man, I wish I was as confident.’ Comments like that can really make one’s day, especially since I was considering crying in the bathroom 15 minutes ago.

Lesson 3: You don’t need to be extroverted to make friends

I’ve always considered myself an ambivert who leans more towards the introverted side. It takes me a while to make friends, but once I’m comfortable, it’s all good. So, when a tall, good-looking guy sat down at the next table with his cute-as-a-button dog, my instant reaction of running over and cuddling the happy pupper (I mean the dog, not the man) surprised even me. 

I asked him the puppy’s name, age, and everything needed to make its Aadhar card, at that point. And eventually, the conversation shifted to just the humans in the picture. After speaking for 10 minutes about where we lived and what we did for a living to afford eating at this fancy cafe, we followed each other on Instagram and I resumed my solo date, gleaming at this sudden friendliness that erupted out of nowhere.

Affirmation: I am a friendly, lovable person who finds it easy to strike conversations with others.

Yes, I really need to tell myself that, lest I go back to my antisocial nature.

solo date

Lesson 4: Managing your finances isn’t as tough as you think

When you’re with friends, the urge to order just another drink (which quickly turns into five) is real. Bless the person stuck at the end for hisaab, which is always me, who wonders why we didn’t stop an hour ago. 

But when you’re alone, discipline comes easy. You learn to balance your spending and saving, and find better ways to have a good time without watching your bank account cry by the end of it. Actually, this solo date taught me that I can also do the same when I’m out with others, so my Instagram now has gigs galore, where you don’t need to spend a bomb and can instead listen to amazing music and have a great evening.

So now, when I want to spend time with myself, I take a walk around the neighbourhood and stop for a quick coffee or ice cream. Affordable dates are still dates, right?

Lesson 5: Independence doesn’t come from a lack of having people around, but the urge to value yourself

When I was younger, my brother and I would constantly ask our parents to take us out to places (who else would pay for our insatiable appetites?). As I grew older, I’d wait for someone to come with me to the new restaurant that opened or to watch my favourite band play a nearby pub. 

So, on this solo date, when the waiter arrived with my bill, it felt very adult-like to whip my card out and make the payment. That’s when it hit me: I had just eaten an entire meal at a cafe I only frequented when I had company, and not once did I feel lonely. 

Now, when I find something interesting to do, people are an addition to my plans. I still go irrespective of who decides to grace me with their presence. That only came from valuing myself and exploring interests that I never knew existed.

solo date

I no longer need someone to accompany me, drop me home (thank public transport), or pay my bills. The feeling of independence is unparalleled, and I can have experiences I want to have without the nagging feeling of not having someone around. 

Affirmation: I am my own best friend.

Lesson 6: The power of meditation and spending time alone is real

As I exited the restaurant and made my way towards my safe space where a giant tub of mint chocolate-chip ice cream awaited my arrival – home – a dozen thoughts entered my mind. I managed to shoo all of them away, and instead focused on my surroundings. The petrichor in the air, birds chirping, fellow walkers, street dogs that decided to give me company until they reached the end of their territory, and more. 

Walks have always been my favourite form of meditation, and with my current mindset, having successfully completed this solo date, there was an extra spring in my step and I found myself humming my favourite John Mayer song as I walked home. Spending time alone and not worrying about social anxiety or that project due the next day at work was an accomplishment, and all it took was one attempt at putting my mental health first. 

Since this solo date, I’ve gone on a few more; in my city and during my recent travels. And each time, being aware of the people around me has made me more secure in my own company, a better dater, a better listener, friendlier, and more confident. 

Oh wait, did I mention before that I’ve never once felt the need to whip out my phone and scroll away on Instagram during these times? Take that, rude man sitting at the next table…

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