Friends busy? Research shows you’re not alone

By Issariya Morgan

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Does the thought of dining alone or enjoying a solo adventure make you feel uneasy? You’re not alone.

In fact, our recent research shows that nearly three out of four Americans (73%) lack the confidence to do things on their own. This leads to us missing out on 26 experiences a year, a figure which rises to 34 missed experiences in our 30s. 

It’s understandable, of course, that doing things with friends is considered the norm. As Dr Sheri Jacobson, founder of Harley Therapy, states, “traditionally, we have lived, worked and cooperated in groups and, in evolutionary terms, we’re programmed to require others to ensure our survival.” 

But times have changed. While being alone in our prehistoric past would have left us vulnerable to predators or isolation, we now live in hyper-connected societies with high-pressure jobs. Carving out solo time has never been more important, yet the vast majority of us still feel uneasy about doing things on our own.

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Add to that the fact that as we get older, our friends become harder to pin down. Over one in five Americans (21%) haven’t seen their best friend in the last year, while 53% saw their best friend five times or less. 

44% say that plans are canceled because their friends are too busy; and when that happens, 59% stay at home instead, 29% do work or chores, and 13% admit they just waste time. What this means is that huge swathes of the American population go without seeing their best friends for long periods of time, yet are holding back from doing the things they really want to do, through fear of going it alone. 

Of those asked, 57% said they’d feel judged doing things by themselves – but 39% of people say that there’s less stigma than before. As Jacobson says, “social stigma of doing things alone is far less common than in previous times. If there is any stigma, it often comes from people’s unfounded fears and misguided judgements.” 

The balance is shifting day by day, with 83% saying that they enjoyed the experience of doing something alone – although 39% admitted that they initially felt awkward. The more we see others engaging in solo activities, the more it will become normalized to do things alone.

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Attitudes are changing quickly. In November 2019, Emma Watson announced that she was self-partnered, sparking a public discussion about what it means to embrace the solo lifestyle in your 30s. As she says, there’s an “incredible amount of anxiety” around having the perfect life (by society’s standards) by the time you hit 30, but opting for the solo lifestyle can bring you a lot of happiness. “It took me a long time, but I’m very happy. I call it being self-partnered.”

Following suit, 30% of Americans have committed to do more things on their own in 2020, including 34% of people who are single and 28% who are in a relationship. 42% would do more on their own if there were deals aimed specifically at solos. On top of that, 39% believe people are becoming more accepting of those who choose the solo lifestyle. 

Are there benefits of doing things alone? Of course. The most obvious draw is not having anyone else to answer to, allowing you to focus purely on yourself and what you want to do. When time is short and what you need is a breath of fresh air, the benefits of doing things on your terms, and yours alone, make a huge difference to the quality of your time. 

There’s also the mindfulness aspect. As Jacobson states, one of the most rewarding benefits of doing things alone is that it allows you to be present, in a way that can only be achieved in solitude. This enriches our experiences because “we can discover more about ourselves, including finding out about what we actually enjoy, by trying out new things.”

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So how do you take the plunge and become someone who embraces the solo lifestyle? As Jacobson says, the well-known mantra “feel the fear and do it anyway” is the best way to approach it. Review your negative preconceptions about doing things alone, and slowly start challenging them. “For most people, confidence builds up from just launching ahead and doing it, and the more we repeat those behaviours, the more it becomes natural.” 

Ask yourself how you’re feeling, identify exactly what you want and how can you enhance your wellbeing. What are the things you already enjoy doing, and which new things do you want to experience? By experimenting with different activities, you learn more about what serves you well and what doesn’t. 

As Flash Pack co-founder Lee Thompson says, “when our friends are busy, there’s a tendency to just cancel plans altogether, even if it’s something we’ve been looking forward to. But this means we just miss out on things we actually want to do. We want people to feel confident about doing things on their own.” 

Our motto for January is this: Friends busy? Do it anyway.

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