Going Out Alone To Meet New Friends And Practice Your Social Skills
There's a band you really want to see, but you don't have anyone to go with. It's a Saturday night. You feel like going out, but like many weekends before, you don't have any plans. You heard a local bookstore is holding a reading series, but none of your friends would be into it. Then the thought hits you, "Well, I could always go out by myself..."
Many people flirt with the idea of going out alone, but it doesn't always work out. They may keep mulling over the idea, but never be able to go through with it, or might have gone out solo once or twice but felt uncomfortable the whole time. This article will talk about how to get more out of going out alone. I'll mostly cover doing it to socialize and make friends, with shorter mentions of going out just for an activity, or to practice your social skills.
Benefits of going out alone
Many people feel going out alone is awkward, and I'll get to that next, but doing things by yourself isn't all bad:
- It lets you attend any event you want, ones you might miss if you could only go with friends.
- Sometimes it's easier to meet people on your own, since you don't have to spend most of your time with the friends you came with. Being solo can also gently push you to be more sociable, because if you want to talk to someone you'll need to make it happen yourself.
- You can go to events on your own terms. No having to stay longer than you'd like because your friends aren't tired yet. No more having to show up late because your roommates take forever to get ready.
- It can be a good way to practice social skills like starting and holding conversations with strangers. You can go out, practice as much as you'd like, on your own time, and then leave whenever you want.
The hard parts of going out alone
Benefits aside, people often feel self-conscious and ill at ease when they're out alone. I think it's relatively easy to get used to going out by yourself to do activities, but it's tougher when your goal is to socialize and make friends. It just requires a certain level of confidence, outgoingness, and conversation skill. There are lots of other ways to meet people, so don't ever feel it's something you have to do.
Problem #1: The feeling that you're doing something pathetic or inappropriate for being somewhere alone, and that people are going to judge you negatively for it
This is the biggest mental barrier to going out by yourself, and is a factor in some of the other issues below. It's funny how your comfort level at a venue can be largely determined by whether you feel like you have a "legitimate" reason for being there by yourself. If you're at a bar on your own because you're meeting your friends and they're running late, you feel fine. If you're at the same place because you purposely came alone, then you feel like you're doing something wrong for being there, and worry that everyone is going to notice what a lonely weirdo you are.
Getting past this issue is mostly a matter of realizing it's okay to go to certain places without company. Sure, some people never do things on their own, but that doesn't make the practice wrong. It's not at all unusual for well-adjusted, socially active people to do things by themselves. They see a movie during the day. They check out some live music at a nearby blues bar on a slow Wednesday evening. They grab a meal while they're downtown shopping all afternoon. They go to the local pub to watch the game, chat to the staff, and play a bit of pool. They go dancing at the one club in their city that plays the kind of electronic music they're into.
If other people think that's lame or weird they either have a misinformed belief about what being alone means, or it's a reflection of their own insecurities about doing things by themselves. To look at it another way:
How most people's think when they see someone out on their own:
- Unless the person stands out somehow, they probably don't notice them at all. After all, most people have a million more important things to think about than theorize about why random strangers are at the same venue as they are.
- They may not notice the person is alone to begin with. They could assume they came with friends and just aren't with them right this moment. They may figure the people in their vicinity are their mates, but they aren't talking to each other just this second.
- If they do give them any thought it's probably just to briefly think something like, "She must like going to stand-up comedy shows too."
- If they do think about why they're alone, again it's probably a more benign thought like, "They wanted to go out tonight" and not anything like, "Wow, what a loser." They may even respect and envy them for having the self-possession and social skills to be out by themselves.
- If someone really gives them a lot of thought, I'd be willing to bet they struggle with their own hang ups about going out alone. Because they think about it so much they're more likely to notice when other people are solo and ponder what it means - "He's alone. What's going through his mind? Is he nervous like I would be? Yeah... he must be nervous. Oh no, would I look nervous like that if I went out by myself?..."
Sometimes just knowing you're not doing anything sad or desperate by going out alone is enough to make you feel better, but the beliefs may not fully click into place until you've gone out by yourself enough and experienced firsthand that it's not so bad. The first few times may feel a little awkward, but after that your mentality starts to change. You think, "Yeah, so I'm seeing a concert on my own. What's the big deal?" I find as people get older they naturally add more and more activities to their "Okay to do alone" list.
Generally it's easier to get used to being alone at places where you're there for an activity or performance. People usually have a harder time being on their own at spots where they're there solely to be try to socialize. That's when they can't shake the feeling that there's something wrong with them for having to resort to coming alone, and that everyone's going to look down on them for it. It does take longer to get comfortable going out solo purely to be social, but it can be done.
Problem #2: Having to fill downtime
This one mainly applies to when you're going out alone to do something as opposed to meet people. If you go to see a band, stand-up comedian, or poetry reading there will be dull stretches where no one is performing. If you arrive early enough to snag a spot you have to kill time while you wait for the show to start (which is often behind schedule). Then you have to contend with breaks in between acts. If you go to a restaurant you have to occupy yourself while your food is being prepared.
Most people at the venue will have friends to talk to and the time will pass easily enough. If you're alone, a half-hour break between bands can drag on forever, and you probably don't want to only drink to keep busy. If you're feeling nervous and exposed because you're not with anyone, all that time with nothing to do can amplify your insecurities. Depending on the venue some otherwise reliable time-killers aren't appropriate either. I guess there's technically nothing wrong with it, but most people will think it's a bit odd if you put on your earbuds or pulled out a book while you're waiting for the next band to take the stage at a music hall.
Luckily, because of smartphones this issue isn't as bad as it used to be. If you don't have a phone you can play with, some other options are to flip through your city's free alt-weekly paper, or watch TV if there's one around. Sometimes there's nothing to do but find a spot to stand, try to look relaxed, and maybe do some people watching. Of course, you could always strike up a conversation to pass the time, but that can be its own challenge.
Problem #3: A subtle sad, wistful feeling that you wish you weren't out alone
This one also primarily applies to when you go out on your own to do an activity. Even if you're enjoying yourself, in the back of your mind you may feel a little down because you think, "This would be more fun if I had someone to share it with" or, "The only reason I'm here by myself is because I don't have enough friends." In my experience if you're having these thoughts it's a reflection of your not being happy with your overall social life. If you can get that straightened out then you'll feel content during the times you choose to do something without your friends.
Problem #4: Feeling nervous about approaching people to talk
Starting a conversation with someone unfamiliar can be scary enough at a party where you're friends with half the people there. It can feel even more daunting when you're out alone, and are filled with worries about people seeing you as a creepy loner. If you've been at a venue for a while and haven't talked to anyone, you can worry that it will seem strange if you suddenly approach someone. These articles cover how to handle your nerves toward talking to people:
How To Face Your Bigger Social Fears Gradually
Coping With Nervousness Before Optional Social Behaviors
At the end of this article I'll give a list of the places where I find it's the easiest and hardest to approach people on your own.
Problem #5: Worries about having to explain why you're alone
At many places it's accepted and seen as normal that some people will show up alone. No one will look twice if someone goes by themselves to a bar's salsa or live music night, since they're obviously there to dance or see a band. On typical, nothing-special nights at bars and nightclubs there's there's more of an expectation that people will come with their friends.
Even if you personally feel it's okay to hit up a club alone, you may worry that the people you meet won't be as understanding if they find out you're not with your buddies. A related concern is what you'll do if you're alone and run into people you know, who may think it's odd you're out by yourself. This fear isn't totally unreasonable. Some people will look down on someone who goes to certain venues by themselves. There are a few approaches you can take:
- The way easier-said-than-done option is to be straightforward and comfortable with the fact you're out alone. Really believe you're not doing anything wrong, and that anyone who feels otherwise just doesn't get it. Often if you send out a signal that you're not doing anything unusual, people will follow your lead. Some may still reject you, but if they're so put off by the fact you go out alone, are they really someone you want to spend time with?
- Be comfortable with being alone, but still explain yourself a little, e.g., "I really felt like going out after a long week at work, but my friends are out of town", "I went out with my friends last night, but I also like to meet new people" or, "My friends are mostly settled down in relationships and don't like going out at night anymore, but I still do."
- Lie. It may not be the best way to go, but it may be all you're comfortable with for the moment. Examples, "My friends are meeting me here later", "I came with a buddy, but they had to leave early and I decided to stick around", or "My friends are out on the dance floor." This approach can cause more problems than it solves. It can work if you're only interacting with someone briefly, but can be harder to keep up the facade if you end up hanging out with them for longer ("Oh, what do you know? My friends just texted me to say they can't make it... but I think I'll stay anyway...")
- Blend in so it doesn't seem like you're alone. Go to large, crowded clubs where no one will notice you're by yourself. Don't draw unwanted scrutiny by being poorly dressed or blatantly outside the venue's demographic. Avoid lingering in one spot too long. Constantly circulate instead and act as if you're on a mission of some sort; going to get a drink, looking for your friends, etc. If you're worried about how people see you these tactics can ease your nerves a little. However, they can just as easily pile on the stress as now you have to worry about keeping up your "cover". Also, once you're in a conversation with someone they may still ask where your friends are.
Problem #6: For women, getting hit on too much in certain venues
If you're a woman and want to attend a book reading or see a play, your experience probably won't be much different from anyone else's. However, if you go to a bustling bar or club on your own you may get hit on too much and not be able to socialize like you had hoped to. Some guys believe that any woman who goes to a bar by herself is only looking to get picked up.
Broad tips for going out alone
Don't feel you have to get the hang of going out by yourself
I don't want to be discouraging, but I also want to be straightforward: Going out alone can work, but it's usually more stressful, more difficult, more hit or miss, and less fun than going out with friends. Yeah, it's easy enough to adjust to seeing the odd movie or concert by yourself, but it's a whole other animal to get to a point where you're consistently able to go out to bars on your own and have a good time. If you just want to meet people or practice socializing, there are better places to put your energy. That said, if you can cultivate it, it is a handy skill to be able to rely on yourself and show up anywhere and stand a decent chance of having a good time.
Don't go to places you wouldn't normally enjoy
Since going out alone offers fewer ways to have fun, it's extra important you go somewhere you like. If you're at a boring club that's not your style, but you're with friends, you can still enjoy each others company and save the night. If you're by yourself it's probably all going to be a waste of time. You won't feel as comfortable talking to strangers, and the ones you do chat to are less likely to have anything in common with you. The exception to this point is if you're purposely putting yourself into an unfamiliar, difficult situation to practice socializing in it.
Accept it won't always work out when you go out alone to socialize
As I'm beating into the ground, going out alone is harder and less predictable. Accept going in that on some nights you'll feel too nervous to talk to anyone. Sometimes you'll start a few conversations, but they won't go anywhere. That's why I said it's better to go places you'd have fun at anyway. If you want to get better at going out alone you really have to focus on your long-term progress, and not on how any single outing goes.
Apply the usual skills for dealing with nerves, chatting to people, and making friends
Other articles on the site cover the "hows" of socializing when you're alone. I mentioned them already, but these articles should help with your nerves:
How To Face Your Bigger Social Fears Gradually
Coping With Nervousness Before Optional Social Behaviors
There's no special trick to starting conversations with people you don't know. The hardest part is usually gathering up the nerve to walk over to them and say something. How they respond will be more based on what type of person they perceive you to be and whether they're in the mood to talk, rather than whether you used the right opening line or not.
How To Start Conversations
How To Join A Conversation
These links are on keeping conversations going:Getting Past The First Few Minutes Of One-On-One Conversation
Some Popular Overall Approaches For Making Conversation
How To Be Less Quiet And Contribute to Group Conversations
If you're getting along with someone and can see yourself hanging out with them later, the usual principles of making friends apply, like taking the initiative to get their contact info and then following up to try to hang out with them again.
How To Make Friends And Get A Social Life
One longer-term approach is to try to become a regular somewhere
If you go to one establishment enough, and get to know the staff and existing regulars a little every time you're there, then eventually it won't feel like you're going alone. It will be more like you're dropping in at a club where you're a member. Odds are good you'll run into someone you can talk to, and even if you just hang out by yourself, you won't have any thoughts about sticking out or not belonging.
Easiest types of places to go out alone to socialize
If you're self-assured and chatty enough you can go out alone wherever you want, but I'll assume you're not at that point yet. Here's a list of places that are easier and more difficult if you're shy about going out on your own to try to meet people:
Anywhere where you're traveling or new in town
This one's a modifier. Like I said, it feels simpler to go out alone when you can tell yourself you have a respectable excuse for doing it. Being new to the area, or not being from there at all, gives you that. You'll also get slightly better reactions when you try to start conversations, since many people see travelers and new arrivals as more shiny and interesting.
Activity-oriented meet ups
If you show up to one of these solo you're technically going out alone, but they have so many built-in supports that it doesn't really feel in the same ballpark as fending for yourself at a nightclub. They have an activity to do, so you have a reason to be there aside from socializing. You have plenty of natural opportunities to talk to the other people there, and you've got a least one interest in common. Some examples:
- Introductory drop-in swing dancing lessons at a restaurant
- A drop-in games night at your town's gaming store
- An actual meet up, like a hiking group.
Mingling-focused meet ups and networking events
You've still got a reason to be there and a green light to chat to anyone you'd like to, but they're a little harder since you don't have an activity to lean on. You'll have to start conversations and work the room yourself.
Guide To Socializing And Meeting Friends At Meetup.com Events
For example, a skate park or a pool hall. Here you've got a hobby in common with everyone there, but you still have to begin your own conversations. While you can assume many of the people will be pleasant, they're not all there purposely to meet new friends, and so you may get the odd colder reception.
This is an option at some universities, where people may throw big, well-advertised parties that anyone can show up to. If you don't know anyone at them they're almost like a glorified nightclub. You all go to the same college though, so on the whole people should be approachable, and you've got a bunch of school-related topics you can hopefully find some commonalities on. Odds are you'll see at least a few familiar faces, who you can say 'hi' to, so you won't feel totally by yourself either. At smaller, more gossipy schools you may have to be mindful of your reputation and not go to too many parties on your own. If that's the case, focus on making friends in other ways.
Clubs and crowded bars
Clubs can be intimidating at first, which is why I put them farther down the list, but once you're used to them it can be easier to talk to people there than in other spots. There's an understanding that strangers regularly approach each other at them. There are lots of people to potentially chat to, and you can seek out the ones who seem the friendliest. If one person or group isn't receptive you can move on to another. If you're nervous about starting a conversation you can blend into the crowd and take all the time you need to summon up your courage.
The easiest and most fun clubs to go to are ones that cater to a smaller, close-knit scene or demographic you belong to. They have a more accepting, community vibe to them, as opposed to more mainstream spots where everyone sees everyone else as a stranger. You'll feel more at ease being there and starting conversations because it feels like you're dropping in to visit your "people". It's fairly easy to become a regular at places like this.
Scene-specific venues aren't always available. For the most part people default to going to run-of-the-mill Top 40-type venues. Since they're so common, a wide range of people end up at mainstream clubs, which means starting conversations can be a crap shoot. Some groups will have little in common with you and not be in the mood to meet anyone new. The next bunch of people could be friendly and right up your alley.
Try to avoid places that aren't your scene at all, even if they are busier or seem more happening. You won't share much common ground with the other patrons, and you won't like the music or atmosphere for their own sake. That's a recipe for standing around, feeling out of place, and not having a good time.
Shows in larger venues
For example, a concert in a bigger music hall. These events are more like going to a bar alone. I'd say it's about as easy to talk to people at large concerts as it is at clubs. If you're a fan of the performer you may be able to start some conversations that way. Some people will be approachable because they're in a good mood since they're about to see a band they like. Others are in an, "I'm just here to watch the show, not mingle" frame of mind. Overall it evens out.
Shows in smaller sit-down venues
- A poetry reading at a coffee shop
- A stand-up comedy open mic night
- A local blues band at a small music hall
- A game or fight at a pub
In my experience these are really hit or miss. You've got a reason to be there, but it can be hard to strike up any conversations during breaks in the entertainment. Sometimes you'll arrive and everyone will already be seated with a group of friends and there will be no one to talk to. Sometimes you'll arrive, do a quick survey of the other ten people there, and realize none of them are your type. At other times you'll grab a spot near someone who is easy to chat to, or be able to start an interaction while everyone is milling around before or after the show. Occasionally a few friendly people may even ask to share your table.
I find you have to approach small, more low-key bars differently than busier ones. You can't show up, blend into the crowd, try to talk to people when you feel like it, and merge back into the background if it doesn't work out. What works better is to settle in and then slowly try to chat to the other patrons. You could hang out by the pool table and see if anyone wants to play, or take a seat at the bar, watch what's on TV, and talk to the people around you. Your attempts to make conversation may not go anywhere, in which case you better enjoy just being there. Depending on what you're comfortable with, you may find this easier or harder than working the room at a bigger, noisier place.
Festivals or yearly events
I find these are also a mixed bag. How good they are for meeting people varies based on what type of festival it is. Daytime food festivals or busker festivals aren't great. They attract a wide swathe of the public, many of whom will be outside the type you're looking to talk to. Many are with their friends and family and aren't in a mindset where they're looking to chat to strangers. Things like beer, music, or rib festivals have a more social, bar-like feel.