Dining alone is a common concept in the West, or at least, far more common than it is in Pakistan. Although there’s a lot of stigma around dining alone regardless of where you are in the world, there are also a lot of unknown benefits of learning to be comfortable in your own presence.
Dining alone is a concept completely unfamiliar in Pakistan. Given the fact that our society is so image obsessed and tries incredibly hard to maintain a strong sense of community, it is fair to assume that this concept would not bode well in our nation.
The stigma in doing things on our own
There is a lot of stigma, particularly in Pakistani society, when it comes to doing really anything alone. This stigma extends beyond Pakistan as well. Regardless of where you are in the world, it is tough for most people to engage in activities alone. Whether its dining, shopping or playing a sport, there is an almost instantaneous feeling of nervousness, anxiety and a little embarrassment when we imagine doing things on our own. This is primarily for two reasons.
We’re afraid of what people will think
This concept can be explained through the phenomenon of ‘Spotlight Effect’ by Thomas Gilovich, a study which found that people adapt their activities based on what other people will think. The desi version of this would be ‘loug kya kehenge’. Pakistani society has an extreme obsession with one’s image and reputation. For this reason, it’s fair to overthink and overanalyse the image focused implications that exist when it comes to dining alone. These include being seen as a social pariah: someone who doesn’t have a lot of friends or family or someone who is undesirable to be around. The thought process is such that if any of these weren’t true, there’s no reason that an individual would be dining alone.
Moreover, Pakistani society contains a strong sense of community. For many, it is assumed that being single, not having children or not having a full family equates to not having a full life. Unlike abroad, the sense of family that exists within our society is much stronger and manifests in different and diverse ways. These include joint family systems, over-reliance on marriage and infatuation with having children.
For these reasons, we’ve been trained practically since birth to be dependant on our families and social circles. An interesting analogy that reflects this is the tendency for children abroad to move out of their parent’s homes after graduating college, whereas in our society the idea of a child living away from their parents (unless their parents live in a different city or country) is alien. However, this dependence on our families, although comforting at times, can also turn sour. When done to an extreme, it becomes impossible for children to mature and become independent.
The idea that we can’t enjoy time alone
It’s interesting when you consider it this way; we don’t mind doing useful activities alone, such as doing our groceries. That’s probably because those activities can be described as necessities. They are practical and routine activities. However, the contention comes at the idea of doing a ‘fun’ activity alone. This is because we feel we won’t have fun on our own. This feeling is another manifestation of growing up in society that thrives with its strong sense of community and family. Because we’re never really encouraged to go out on our owns and seek our own sources of comfort and enjoyment, we find it hard to imagine how we can enjoy time alone. However, learning to be comfortable and happy in your own presence can lead to a host of long term benefits that people don’t typically consider.
Why you should spend time alone
There’s a particular feeling of freedom that comes from spending time alone. Perhaps you want to shop without feeling rushed, or go to a concert of a band that only you like. Even travelling alone can be an experience in and of itself. It can be liberating to have total control over your own agenda. To experience things in your own unique way can be incredibly eye-opening and can make you learn a lot about yourself, what you like and dislike, what you can and cannot tolerate and how you want to live your life. This new found insight into your own personality can translate in your career and relationships and can ultimately help you make decisions that are more beneficial to you in the long run, as well as make you confident in your choices.
New people and new experiences
Being alone can invite conversation from strangers that you otherwise wouldn’t have had and not in a negative way. It’s easier to strike up conversation with strangers and photograph details others may find strange when you don’t have to explain yourself or worry about what the person you’re with may think. It can be freeing to wander without any ulterior motive. This helps you better understand how other people function and can provide you with opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. Moreover, it can make you more outgoing and confident in your conduct with other people.
Beyond giving you a sense of freedom, having the ability to do things on your own can also provide you with a sense of empowerment. It can help you realise you’re okay and enough on your own. Being able to find and make your own path makes you realise that you can make it on your own, steer the direction of your life at will. This in turn, provides you with a stronger sense of worth and sense of self-esteem. This will help you grow as an individual and understand yourself better.
It’s worth giving ourselves permission to explore and go with the flow. The depth of experience and incredible people we can meet along the way has the potential to be life changing. We need to learn to live life without any inhibitions about what other people may day. A quote by Elenor Roosevelt sums this up perfectly: “You wouldn’t worry so much about what other people think when you realise how seldom they do.”
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