For as long as I can remember, my childhood dream was to go away to college. I grew up in a small town that was obsessed with high school football, where everybody knew everybody and if you weren’t everybody, you were nobody. I spent my time working my way through high school so I could put as much distance between myself and that chunk of Midwestern suburbia as possible— hoping that, once I was long gone, I could finally leap forward and seize the world.
Turns out, I needed to do a bit of exploring in a different area of my life before I could tackle anything else. Though I am thankful for so many people in my hometown— many of whom I grew up with and became very close to— being stuck in the same place with the same culture forso long made it difficult to figure out what exactly I wanted to do with the new world before me. Including who exactly I wanted to be in it. When I finally ventured from small-town intimacy to big-city anonymity, I learned that I had to explore myself. And though everyone’s method to the madness is a little different, I have some not-so-secret advice that hasn’t failed me thus far:
Take yourself on a date.
I can think of countless times— too many times— where I passed up an opportunity for growth and joy— no matter how big, no matter how small— because I was alone. While pushing through high school, I had felt so trapped in that never-ending loop of tomorrow and yesterday that I spent little to no time truly being my own person. I felt lost and alone, and was completely unaware of it, thinking that waiting would be enough to make it work. I was, like so many other young people, stuck stagnant in the loneliness epidemic gripping our day and age.
Then, overnight, I became a Chicago transplant— from cornfields to skyscrapers at the start of my first school year away from home. There was so much I wanted to do, and— in the beginning — nobody to do it with. Time was needed to make friends, to make connections, to fall in love. But before I reached those things, I realized I couldn’t wait for other people to get started. So I began taking myself out on “dates”.
Somedays, they were evening strolls along the riverwalk. Other days, a morning trek to the lakefront, stopping to admire colorful street art along the way. Maybe I’d pop into a hole-in-the- wall restaurant or store I had seen a few days back, just to take a peek or to try something new. I also found myself doing things my friends and my SO didn’t necessarily want to do, or wouldn’t enjoy if I brought them along.
My personal favorite so far has been coffee shops. A relaxing mid-morning with a book and my trusty laptop, where I have time to work and think at my own pace and on my own schedule. I don’t have to worry about whether or not the person I’m with even likes coffee or if they want to leave long before I do. I can enjoy the atmosphere for as long as I need to (and I’m always reluctant to leave).
Since then, going on my third and final year of college, I try to take myself out at least once a week. Taking time alone to be myself has slowed down the rapid fire of daily life, as well as given me time to look inside and discover what I’m truly interested in and passionate about. I found that I discovered so much more about my own tastes and desires, and have also learned to treat myself with more kindness.
Kindness, really, has a lot to do with the word “date”. We plan dates as a way to get to know one another and, no matter if we’re currently in a relationship or not, we can use them as a way to get to know ourselves. Give yourself the same treatment you give your friends and your SO— take yourself out, prioritize what you want, and help yourself feel comfortable in your own skin. Treating yourself with kindness is something so many of us— including myself— struggle with on a daily basis. Thinking of yourself as in a constant relationship with yourself allows you to see that intrapersonal bond in a new light, and this can be truly empowering.
This method toward self-love can also extend into other relationships. Though I don’t necessarily believe that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else, practicing self-love can help you feel more at ease, focused, safe, and joyful in your current or future relationships. Even if you’re currently in a relationship, you can date yourself at the same time; while you explore and grow as a couple, you are always, always free to explore and grow on your own.
Again, this isn’t to say I don’t love exploring and trying new things with my partner, or that my night life is somehow unfulfilling. There is merely something about braving the day and trying something on your own that fills you with a rush of self-esteem and self-reassurance like nothing else can. Doing the things you love is healing, and doing them alone can give you the time and space to reflect on it.
It can be scary to think of at first. I remember catching a few questioning glances asking for a “table-for-one”. But the more times you do it, the easier it becomes; the more you look inward, the stronger your love for yourself will grow. Dating yourself, you learn to make it happen— even if it feels a little strange at first. Sometimes we are so afraid by the prospect of doing things on our own that we sit idly by, and regret not taking the plunge later on.
Thinking of giving it a go? Remember, these “dates” can be anything— anything that brings you joy. It can be as formal as you like— roses, heels, the perfect shade of lipstick and a glass of wine. It can also be as informal as you like— sweatpants, no underwear, a lazy bun and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. They can be free, cost-effective, or a healthy balance of the two. Whether it’s a personal day spent lounging at the beach, a dinner reservation for one, a solo trip to the movie
theatre, or sitting at home with a sitcom blazing in front of you— consider it a date, and one you deserve to treat yourself to.
Some “self-dates” to get you started:
COFFEE SHOP ambience.
Solo date to the movie theatre.
Picnic-for-one in a park or your favorite local spot.
Make art— paint, sketch, write— anything you love creating on your own/
Attend a concert or music festival.
Visit a local museum for some brain food.
Enjoy a table-for-one at a favorite restaurant— or one you haven’t tried before
Lounge on the beach with a book and a pair of sunglasses.
A photo adventure. Spend your day exploring a place and capturing its beauty.
Wine, dine, and 69. Make yourself your favorite meal, turn on a comfort movie, and don’t be afraid to spice things up for yourself if you're feeling frisky.
A walk in the park or on a comforting trail
Go fruit-picking— make jam/a pie with them later.
Pull an all-nighter with your favorite show and snacks
Take time to learn something new, such as a language, a new approach to writing, or how to cook a certain meal.
Meditate, even without meditating. Take a moment to breathe. Set your phone down and instill yourself in the present moment.