I need to come out. Seems like everyone’s doing it so I might as well confess before I’m outed. So here it is, I am and probably always have been, a lone wolf. There, I said it. I feel so much better.
My first foray into lone wolfdom was when I still worked in post-production. I was exhausted (probably from the partying and late nights rather than any form of hard work) and decided to take myself off on holiday. I’d never travelled anywhere by myself and was utterly terrified but not of knowable threats like getting mugged, catching some flesh-dissolving disease or the hotel transfer bus plummeting off the side of a safety-free Spanish mountain road. No, my fears were much more mundane. Would people look at me funny when I came down for breakfast, I pondered as I sat in Thomas Cook with Keeley as she suggested a variety of “loveleeeey” hotels for me to choose from.
Her search was complicated by me inconveniently being a solo traveller. It seemed that not only could there be a high social embarrassment price to pay but a financial one too in the form of the oxymoronic single supplement which is not a multi-vitamin for staving off loneliness but a whopping charge hotels levy on single occupants for having the audacity to holiday alone.
Eventually, Keeley found me a sea view apartment with a large balcony that wouldn’t bankrupt me. “Loveleeey”.
Even though I told her I was delighted and smiled enthusiastically, inside I was screaming, people are going to stare the shit out of me at breakfast!! Children will point and run away. The hotel staff will probably put me on unofficial suicide watch.
“All booked for you”, Keeley beamed and in that moment I wondered if there wasn’t a simpler, less fraught way of dealing with my exhaustion or that maybe my randomly bursting into tears wasn’t fatigue but an avant garde expression of joy.
But it was booked now. There was no going back and in a way (a very small way – small like Robin Thicke’s latest album sales small) I was actually excited to go.
In fact, I’d already subconsciously initiated a kind of auto-didactic training program to get myself used to doing more on my own.
One evening, for example, I decided, I’m going to go out to dinner – by myself. There’s something very different about eating breakfast or lunch alone compared to eating in the evening. At breakfast, you can take a book or a bit of work (or art homework if you want to simply create the impression of working as I did when I used to join my older brothers at the table while they slaved over insanely difficult maths homework).
At lunch, you need a breather, to escape the barminess of your work environment. At this time, you don’t even need to pretend you’re doing anything other than regrouping for the afternoon slog. In this instance, the last thing you would want is to bring work with you (and anyway, doing work whilst sat in a Burger King will only work for certain occupations. I doubt many scaffolders try to squeeze in a quick erection over lunch – yes, all puns intended). At lunch time, sitting staring into infinity is perfectly acceptable. I saw a guy the other day who, after his meal, simply plonked his head on his folded arms on the table and stayed there for the rest of his lunch break. In fact he was still like that when I left. I hope he wasn’t dead. That’d be awkward and a terrible advert for that particular branch of Pret A Manger. “Try our ludicrously expensive mayo-slathered sandwiches. They’re killer”.
But dining alone is an entirely different proposition. I planned it with the meticulous attention of a military invasion. Subconsciously I’d recceed the restaurant beforehand, the Café Rouge that used to be on Frith Street in Soho. I knew that Friday and Saturday nights were out of the question as they were too busy. The gawp factor would be too high for my fragile ego. And I needed to go in the early evening so that it would feel more like the meal was a tag to the end of my day rather than some random decision I’d come to after watching Eastenders. As though, the moment Phil threatened to buy 'alf of the Queen Vic and the credits rolled, I’d smacked my lips and said “Is it too late for a bowl of moules? I think not!”
My first solo dining outing was more of a social experiment than a pleasurable experience, my over-thinking saw to that. Once I’d got over the initially awkwardness of the maîtr’d’s judgmental “just you?”, I then had the issue of how to occupy myself while at my table para uno. Simply eating wouldn’t suffice. To propagate an air of nonchalant solitude I felt I had to engage in an activity that said, “I am super comfortable on my own!”. Chowing down like a marine with PTSD would somewhat undermine that.
I thought long and hard about what effortlessly carefree activity I would undertake at the table. Knitting? Could have a post modern irony to it. Reading the paper? Well, it’d have to be a broadsheet to maintain my air of being a lady what’s classy, like. I could hardly sit there thumbing through the Daily Mirror’s tits and footie over delicately prepared seabass. But if I were to go broadsheet, I was 100% certain I would end up dragging the bottom of the paper through my appetizer. And newspaper ink is not and never will be a tasty addition to grilled Camembert. I plumped for a book. I can’t remember which one but it would definitely have been something sophisticated and on trend that suggested my bibliophilia, such as Affluenza or Sophie’s Garden (which I quickly discovered, is the most boring book ever written).
Scroll forward a few years and I now love dining alone. Sometimes, I don’t even feel the need to knit, or read or stare (sorry, 'people watch' – which is what people who want to sound interesting call staring. However, if you saw a bloke in a dirty mac by a kids’ playground and he told you he was just people watching, you’d tell him to do one before you called the law, ha. People watching. It’s staring!)
Another place I now prefer to go on my own is the cinema. Previously, that would have been as strange as going dancing by myself (which, by the way, is where I draw the line. There is something inherently strange about a person in a night club on their todd. It doesn’t matter how lovely and sane they seem, them telling you they "just fancied a dance” sounds like murderer’s code for “you’re next”.).
The movies was always a social, group activity. Formerly as a family unit then latterly with friends but now, as a treat to myself, I love disappearing inside those windowless abysses and indulging in the latest blockbuster, or when I’m trying to be all sophisticated, taking on some artsy indie offering. I love it. Last time I even brought my own popcorn! And why not? Their edible polystyrene has a bigger mark up than cocaine. Drug lords should move into the popcorn business. The profit margins are insane and it’s exactly the opposite of illegal. The only downside is you can’t ask the drug mules to transport it in their stomachs, or up their arses for that matter.
So anyway, I’d done lots of stealth training, preparing myself for this holiday.
On the day of departure, I hadn’t accounted for the charter flight which was like an aviated episode of The Only Way Is Essex. I put my jacket over my head and slept all the way there.
On my first night at the hotel I cowered in my room for probably two hours under the guise of unpacking, before deciding to put my big girls panties on and go out. So, I made the epic journey down to the hotel bar where I proceeded to experience European measures Vodka tonics. After two drinks, I was very tipsy so I went to bed and safety.
The next morning, I tried to get in and out of the breakfast room before the gawpers could get a good look at me. For the most part, I’m a confident girl but put me in an unfamiliar situation and my confidence collapses like a cheap soufflé.
After breakfast, I hung around the pool and it was there I met Chloe who had planned to take a group holiday with some friends but when they’d bailed on her, she’d decided to make the trip regardless. Good for her. Chloe was very cool. We were likeminded gals who had lots to share on being lone travellers (traveller sounds so much more adventurous but is probably overly-grand language for Fuertentura).
Chloe and I hung out together for a while and were soon joined by a pack of lads who, starved or female company, where keen to join us. For the rest of the week, we became a little gang of wolves, prowling around town, going clubbing, lazing at the beach and thrashing each other at pool. I was glad I met them because as great as it was to have this new experience, the thought of spending the whole week alone, was an intimidating one, especially after a peculiar encounter with a waiter who offered me coke and used placing my napkin on my lap as a good opportunity to grab my thigh!
I thought back to couples holidays I’d taken in the past and remembered that it was harder to strike up conversations with strangers. Perhaps people assume you are a self-contained unit, wanting for nothing, swooning at each other in a Jerry McGuire-esque, you-complete-me kind of way. People on their own, in a holiday resort maybe seem more approachable, more up for adventures or at least shits and giggles.
Now, there’s little I feel uncomfortable doing on my own (other than clubbing – that’s never going to happen) and actually, in a world where you’re constantly plugged in via Facebook or Twitter, the TV or text, where the fear of missing out can leave you a socially burned out husk, I love giving myself a bit of breathing space, some ‘me’ time, where I can just be. A day at the beach, a trip to the movies, a stroll in the park are rejuvenating for the soul.
However, it’s a delicate line between becoming reclusive and enjoying one’s own company and something us lone wolves must be mindful of. Sometimes, I’ll spend a few days in my flat, writing (which involves one quarter working and three quarters eating, sleeping and watching Suits) and after a couple of days, I’ll suddenly realise, I miss people! And I’ll get myself back into the social flow.
Because as much as solitary people like to think we don’t need anyone, we do. Relatedness and community is an important human need. Ultimately, people love being around people whether they’re interacting with them or not, which is why the atmosphere in an empty bar is never as appealing as one brimming with punters. We’ve no intention of interacting with everyone in the bar, working the room like Bill Clinton at an intern induction day, but we still prefer to be amongst people. It’s a good sign for human beings because it means, despite the unsavoury things we do to each other, ultimately, people love people.