How solo dates transformed my sense of self

'That girl': a young woman who loves herself, exudes confidence and basically has their life together. Someone who truly values themselves regardless of what others think. I never thought I could be her.

That girl does what she wants, when she wants, and with whomever she pleases. For me, this is embodied most by a woman who takes herself out and enjoys her own company without a second thought to those around her. Even though, until recently, this level of self-assurance seemed totally beyond me, I really wanted to get there.

Ever since I hit puberty in my early teens, I had this perception that everyone was constantly looking at me, interrogating every word, every action, every piece of clothing, and even every step, to find a fault. I don’t know where this preoccupation – even paranoia – about the opinions of strangers came from, but it stopped me from doing anything remotely out of the ordinary.

This fear held me back from doing things I wanted, especially if I had to do them alone. I didn’t think I was cool enough, pretty enough or confident enough to let my apprehensions go and truly become that girl.

As I grew older, my self-consciousness began to slip little by little, and I finally had the guts to go to an exhibition about feminist icon Frida Kahlo by myself a few years back. No one I knew fancied it but I was desperate to go anyway, and I’m so glad I did. As I strolled through the halls of the V&A with the sun streaming across the tiles, I could’ve been in a movie.

I was instantly enamoured by the reality, as well as the idea, of going on solo dates. However, the thought of a lonesome outing after dark was a different beast. Night-time was reserved for groups of friends and loved-up couples, not girls on their own. Restaurants, especially, were the realm of dinner parties and date nights. I feared if I had a meal by myself, I would look like a loner, a loser – my biggest fear.

But if lockdown taught me anything it’s that nothing matters as much as my paranoid little brain thinks it does, so after a certain amount of hyping myself up, I booked a proper big-girl solo date to have dinner and see a West End play.

I was nervous before heading out that evening. I was scared I would be too conspicuous on my own and people would sneer, but when I sat down in the restaurant, took a sip of pinot grigio and dived into my book, I felt the night belonged to me just as much as the groups around me. It was just a Pizza Express, but it didn’t matter. I may have been imagining it, but the waitress seemed especially nice to me, almost like a nod of approval that my venture was okay, even admirable.

On my way to the theatre, there was a spring in my step. I had dressed up – it was a date after all – and I didn’t mind people turning to look as my heels clicked on the pavement. In fact, all of a sudden, I didn’t care at all if people saw I was on my own. I’d overcome a huge personal barrier, and I wanted people to know.

I felt a buzz as I sat down to watch the play, and during the interval, I caught myself smiling for no particular reason. The edginess that I expected to come with being by myself was gone. Sure, a couple of other theatregoers looked perplexed that I was there solo, but I really didn’t mind, and neither did they.

There was a contented haze around my head on the way home, and it had nothing to do with the wine. Not only had I enjoyed my evening, the whole thing felt like a personal milestone. Right there and then, as my train flashed past the London Eye, I swore solo dates would become a regular part of my schedule.

Since then, I’ve come to realise that it’s not about becoming that girl at all. It’s just about being who you’re comfortable being, and doing what you’re drawn to doing. Overthinking is the enemy of that, and I’m determined to renounce it.

After all, life’s way too short to not do whatever the hell you want.

Do you take yourself out on solo dates? Let us know in the comments!