ON… SOLO POWER
SQUAD GOALS are ALL VERY WELL, but FOR SELF-CONFESSED LONER OTEGHA UWAGBA, THERE’S NOTHING AS JOYOUS as SOLITUDE
Otegha Uwagba explores the joy of time spent alone
One of the most enjoyable meals I’ve ever had was eaten entirely on my own. At the height of last summer’s World Cup-induced football fever, I fled to Barcelona for a four-day solo trip, seeking refuge from London’s beer-soaked streets. Sitting down to dinner on my first night – at a restaurant I’d chosen without having to consult anyone – I could barely suppress the shimmy of excitement that threatened to up-end my mother’s childhood rule of ‘no dancing at the dinner table’. You see, while eating out with friends is undoubtedly one of life’s great pleasures, it’s almost always a negotiation of sorts. Luxuriating in the freedom of being able to order exactly what I wanted, I went all out, ordering plate after plate. Would the lady like to see the dessert menu? Why, yes, she would, and she’ll have the crème brûlée, thank you very much.
The older I get (I’m 28), the more I’ve come to appreciate solitude, and even to actively seek it out – which is something I’d never have envisaged in my early twenties, when travelling as part of a gaggle of raucous women was my usual modus operandi. In recent years I’ve been known to decline movie invitations for no other reason than I prefer going to the cinema alone (no need to share your popcorn), and I enjoyed more than my fair share of solo picnics during last summer’s heatwave. As for holidaying by myself, I find the headspace and ensuing clarity I gain from a few days spent away from friends and family to be entirely transformative. And it appears that – pardon the pun – I’m not alone in that, with the number of women in the UK looking for solo holidays having risen over the past three years. In 2O17 alone, 42,OOO women booked holidays on their own, compared to 23,OOO men, which flips the stereotype of the intrepid solo explorer being a rugged male figure rather neatly on its head.
Embracing solitude has made me both happier and saner. I’ve become far more aware of my own value and less willing to tolerate toxic behaviour from friends or lovers, safe in the knowledge that I am perfectly comfortable being on my own and don’t need to sustain relationships out of necessity. As a long-term singleton, I take pride in the fact that learning to be happy on my own will likely stand me in good stead in future relationships, given that I’ve watched one too many friends disappear into the clutches of co-dependence once they’ve shacked up with a guy. Be it mooching around an art exhibition or staring out of an airplane window, those solitary moments have also given me a chance for introspection. I feel like I know myself now better than I ever have – and I actually like myself more, too. Not that the benefits of solitude are exclusive to singletons: one of my editors describes a recent solo trip to Italy without her boyfriend as feeling like ‘the ultimate luxury’, recounting how surprised she was by the number of friends who told her they wished they were doing the same.
But don’t just take my word for it: various studies have shown there to be enormous psychological and emotional benefits to occasional solitude. When I ask Jack Fong, a California-based professor of sociology, why that is, he explains that ‘solitude forces people to confront themselves and develop an understanding of the self’. Dr Matthew H Bowker, a specialist in psychoanalysis, says much the same, suggesting that ‘without solitude, we can’t really know ourselves, and so we can’t act in ways that express who we really are’.
Both professors cite the pressures of modern life as an added reason that solitude is increasingly essential. ‘We now live in a society of greater distractions and “clutter”,’ Fong tells me. ‘We’re a captive audience for the media and advertisers to bombard us with expectations to do this, be that, work on this, expect that…’
Of course, embracing my more loner-ish tendencies hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Being a lone woman can, it seems, still be a source of suspicion, or at the very least confusion. On another recent solo holiday, this time to Mexico, fellow travellers I encountered seemed so perplexed upon hearing I was travelling alone that I eventually resorted to saying I was ‘meeting up with friends later in the trip’. Speaking to a friend who I’ve always admired on account of her DGAF attitude when it comes to flying solo, she suggests that perhaps this stigma stems from ‘women being taught that our virtue lies in our ability to not just find companionship, but to maintain it’. Still, if you’re feeling like you’re just not cut out for this, fear not. Bowker argues that everyone can learn to enjoy solitude – with practice. The more I travel alone, the more comfortable I feel doing it, and the more of it I resolve to do.
Of course, there’s a huge difference between choosing solitude and having it thrust upon you against your will – that way loneliness lies. But as Black-ish actress Tracee Ellis Ross has said, ‘It’s all a choice. My work as an adult has been making friends with the loneliness, and actually coming to terms with the fact that I love it. And I now call it choice-ful solitude.’ Provided you can strike the right balance, you might just find embracing your independence to be the most enriching thing you’ve ever done. And, who knows – maybe you’ll realise that, sometimes, the very best company is no company at all.
has MADE ME HAPPIER AND SANER. I’VE BECOME more AWARE of MY OWN VALUE”