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Why every woman should drink alone

Are you waiting for someone? After plopping myself down on a bar stool and shaking my head, the bartender made a moue of distaste with an offhand “k” and went to fill my order.

You look lonely here all by yourself, commented the man a few seats down from me a bit later. I almost didn’t hear him, so engrossed in the book I’d been reading. I’m not sure what part of the reading and cider drinking made me look so lonely – I suspect it had a bit more to do with my lone woman status and his intoxication levels rather than any pitiful vibes I had given off.

For some women the comments might have been enough to turn them off from having a drink at the bar by themselves. Not I. Maybe it’s my natural inclination to be contrary, but I enjoy a solo bar visit and I feel a little bad for those who don’t take part. Whether I’m reading, scrolling through my texts, or just staring mindlessly at myself in the bar’s mirror, I love having a few moments entirely to myself – alone but not alone among the other patrons.

Popular culture has long conditioned us all, particularly women, to believe being alone is bad. No Friday night date? Loser. Sitting alone at the bar? God, just adopt 15 cats and admit defeat. By accepting the idea that companionship is a need (rather than a want), women are setting themselves up to lose a lot.

Why should a woman alone automatically signal some sort of unfortunate deficit?

It absolutely shouldn’t. So I urge all women, particularly women traveling, to reject that notion that being alone equals lonely. Let’s collectively fight against the nights spent bored at home or the nights you holed up in your hostel bunk, simply because you didn’t have a partner in crime.

OK, I hear you saying, but why should I drink alone?

Glad you asked.

What - you don't trust this face?

What – you don’t trust this face?

At a bar, no one cares

While the overwhelming sensation of being watched is almost inevitable, I must hasten to assure you that approximately 97% of everyone in the joint is paying absolutely no attention to you. The other 3% is a grab bag of interested men and people wishing they had ditched their annoying table mate and gone solo like you. Most people in a bar are simply happy to not be working (or heavily intoxicated), meaning your solo adventure mostly flies under everyone else’s radar.

Alcohol is great!

Obvious aside, having a drink will lower your inhibitions about being alone more quickly. Even for someone like me who loves being alone, eating alone can feel a bit stilted. After fifteen minutes picking at a salad in a restaurant you’ll still feel awkward; after a few sips of [your drink of choice], you’ll already being to feel more relaxed. Whether you’re reading or zoning out, the fear of scrutiny fades away much quicker in a bar than a cafe or restaurant.

mojitos

Your cup will runneth over – literally!

Assuming your bar of choice isn’t too overcrowded, sitting by yourself and looking friendly often gets you into conversation with a bartender or server. Aside from serving as a break in your solo contemplation, I’ve found that often leads to a free drink or two after you’ve forged a friendly connection. Just be sure to leave a big tip!

You’ll get a free anthro lesson

One final point for weary travelers: bars or pubs are the perfect microcosm of local culture. You’ll see how friends treat each other, how men and women interact, what the local drink of choice is, etc. As an additional plus for women going it alone, a bar gives you a quick anthropology lesson with the safety net of being surrounded by other people. So whether you’re backpacking around the world or taking a business trip, a drink at the bar is guaranteed to be far more interesting than slinking back to your room defeated.

After years of experience I’ve found there’s certainly a sort of delightful zen that emerges as you’re surrounded by people but not engaging with them directly. So be brave, dear ladies: today it’s a pint or two. Maybe next you’ll be prepared to move across the world all by yourself.

  • You know I am all about drinking alone at a bar 😉 That’s actually been my key past time in Moscow on weekends. I love the experience, so totally chill and actually really liberating. Just me, a glass and my notebook…

    • Oh Anna, you’re already making me miss Moscow!

  • I totally get this. What is it about a lone woman that signals to others that she must be “lonely” and rescued from solitude? Plus, “you look lonely,” is such an overused line–especially when you are obviously reading and don’t appear to be longing for human interaction anyway!

    I am quite introverted, but I enjoy being around other people and observing how they interact without the pressure of having to be “on” myself 🙂

    • Yeah the ‘you look lonely’ is definitely more a pickup line than anything else – and not a very smooth one at that!

  • Susannah

    Polly, I don’t know you personally but this is the second time I’m posting to say that I bloody love this post and I really really live your style – in all senses – girl after my own heart! Keep on! Susannah.

    • Ah, thank you Susannah, you’re too kind!

  • Susannah

    Love not live – those dratted is and os on the keyboard.

  • You know, I’m terrified to do this–I was terrified to eat alone until summer 2013 when I started traveling, and it still bothers me a bit. While I don’t solo travel a ton, I think I’ll try this when I’m solo in Seville in a couple of weeks. I admire the ladies who can go to a bar alone, and want to be like y’all! 😉

    Chloe | Wanderlust in the Midwest

    • Fun, good luck with it! Seville sounds like the perfect place to sip some wine and people watch!

  • Maureen Conley

    Totally agree on this, Polly! In the past I would occasionally get a drink at a hotel bar if I was traveling alone, but somehow never felt comfortable going out to a local bar on my own. A year or so ago I realized that if I were a man I wouldn’t think twice about it, so I went out to my favorite dive bar for karaoke night alone and had the best time. As women I think we often impose unecessary restrictions on ourselves; worried about how others might perceive us. However, I now believe that most people who notice that I am at the bar alone perceive me to be a person who likes to drink beer and sing karaoke – pretty much the same perception people have when I am out with friends!

    • That’s a great mindset to have – I wish more people would recognize (and rebel against) the frankly stupid double standard.

  • I will admit it is on my bucket list to eat alone, something scary yet liberating about that. I think having a drink at a bar alone needs to be added to that list as well, something we should all try at least.

    • Do it, Kaelene. Then never look back!

  • I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a bar alone, to be honest! I don’t fear being lonely or awkward but I am afraid I’d only enjoy the atmosphere because my friends were there, with out them being in a bar itself wouldn’t have that much appeal but you’re right, I should try it at least once! x

    • Interestingly, I’m not that big of a bar fan when I go out with friends. I much prefer heading out by myself so I don’t have to constantly yell over the TV/general noise.

      Old before my time, I guess 🙂

  • I love this advice! I have to admit, I’m still working on this because it takes me out of my comfort zone. It’s hard for me not to feel self-conscious when I’m eating lunch by myself or having a drink alone. It’s challenging for me not to make myself feel “busy” in these moments – like I need to have my phone out or read a book or something. But it’s a good practice and I feel as I do it more, I’m becoming more comfortable with myself…and not caring what total strangers may or may not assume about me!

    • It is always super tempting to do something to keep your hands busy. I struggle with this too but, like you said, it’s a nice form of introspection if you can make it work.

  • Before I left to travel on my own I made a list of local places that I felt comfortable with and then went on my own. It drove my roommate crazy but I thought I should acclimate myself to eating out or having a drink out on my own. As it turns out I love going out to eat on my own and sometimes miss it now.
    It is true though that other people will feel uncomfortable with you being on your own and enjoying yourself, shows their own insecurities I think.

    • That’s awesome! There’s absolutely no reason why anyone ought to sit at home just because they don’t have a partner to go out with.

      (And I 100% agree with your last thought – wish more people understood that!)

  • Perfect. Posts like this one are the reason I’m glad I did not just ‘pass by’ your blog. Thank you for writing so beautifully, and thank you Internet, for showing me there are so many like-minded women out there. My first solo bar experience was in Berlin, 2005. For the first 20 minutes I thought I should have stuck to the ‘group’ plan (aka going to some place with awful music), as I had done for months there, as I had indeed done for all my life before that. When my beer was halfway gone, I stopped caring. I had fun. I repeated the experience – often. I went to my first concerts on my own, then got a plane ticket to Norway and bought a Scandinavian train pass. I had moved to Berlin all alone to study, but this was something else, I was traveling on my own for the first time. Now that I am in completely different circumstances, on occasion I’ll still go earlier to the bar if I’m meeting someone, just to enjoy a half hour with a beer on my own. Some women go to the spa for alone time. That’s fine, but I’d recommend them to try this, too. Just for a change, see how they felt afterwards.

    • Thanks so much, Anabel! Isn’t it great to find out you’re not quite as strange as you thought you were?! 😉

      Also mad props to you for getting on with yourself so well! (And FYI, I’d MUCH rather go to a bar than a spa. Just saying.)

  • I travelled a lot for work a few years ago so was always eating and drinking alone. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me and I can definitely attest to your points. I had never thought about befriending the bartender though – good call!

    I did make one massive boo-boo once though when I went drinking with some colleagues whilst away on business and then sat VERY drunk alone in the bar when I got back to my hotel. I couldn’t remember my card pin, I was that drunk. Definitely not safe, and definitely not cool.

    • Ugh, I think we’ve all been that stupid person at some point. Hopefully most people learn their lesson and don’t repeat it. Maybe I should add the caveat that you shouldn’t get TOO comfortable!

  • I LOVE this!! I haven’t yet made the move to head to a bar by myself (it feels a bit different when you do this in your city) but I think I’m going to try it when traveling again… maybe. I never have any problems doing anything alone… but going to a bar or a club alone has never crossed my mind!

    • I know what you mean. There’s something about traveling that makes you more of an ‘anything goes’ kind of person. In your own town… Not so much. (Though in my town I’d probably run into 20 people I know at the one bar in town, so it’s doubly fraught!)

  • Very nice! I almost never go to the bar alone just because I would be bored. I prefer to have at least 1 friend with me. But I am with you on that!

    • Oh you strange social people who actually like to be surrounded by friends… 😉

  • Great post! I’ve never been to a bar alone, but I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of it (though I’m not that much of a drinker). I like a bit of alone-ness now and then too. Admittedly, I’ve only ever gone eating alone a few times, but as long as I have a book with me, then I don’t feel awkward. Though I remember the times I ate alone before I had a smartphone, it felt weird to be eating alone and just staring at other people, heh.

    • I definitely have no shame in being the one who’s watching other customers like a TV show. I’ve found most people are so wrapped up in their own dramas they hardly even notice the creeper in the corner!

  • I definitely enjoy have my partner in crime and I’m not one for going it alone, but just because I enjoy the company of Kris. I’m not a big fan of being alone either, so I wouldn’t go out my to go it alone. I have all the respect for those solo travellers, but I like my tiny piece of continued human company. Plus, I think when it’s someone your so close to, you can almost be alone when your together because it’s just that comfortable.

    • Interesting perspective. I find that the Russky and I are just such wildly different people (if he had his choice, he’d be surround by people ALL THE TIME – me not so much) that we have a really great time together but also have a bit of relief when we can go off and do our activities of choice.

  • Dee

    I don’t think I have ever drank by myself at a bar, but only because I’m afraid of what drunk men will do. You’re pretty brave.

    I eat by myself all the time, though, and some of your reasons here are applicable to that.

    • That’s definitely a concern, but keeping your wits about you is the best defense and – as I’ve learned in Russia – drunk men are certainly not confined to bars.

  • It’s so common in England to just sit somewhere and drink/eat alone. I loved it!

    • Really? That’s great!

  • Amen, sista! I’m all about going places alone, and sometimes even prefer to go to bars by myself. However, one of the reasons that I like it is that I have the option to meet new and interesting people, but I’m not pressured into have a continuous conversation if I don’t want to.

    Last week I was wandering around my new neighbourhood in NYC, scoping out the local bars. I found one that looked like it had a good vibe and was about to go inside, but two guys sitting at the bar saw me peering in the window and started waving for me to come in. I was like, ugh. No, thank you. You’ve just given me the heads up that I will be harassed and corralled into conversation the moment I step inside.

    I’ve never tried reading at a bar, though! You’ve inspired me to give it a shot. I just picked up “Gone Girl” from the library.

    • Yeah, I love going out alone for the precise reason I don’t have to communicate with anyone. While it’s great when people are friendly… meh, I agree… being corralled into conversation isn’t my cup of tea.

  • Good post! It’s so annoying when men assume you must be lonely because you’re sitting alone. One time I ate by myself at a pub in Scotland and had a guy come up to me saying he “felt bad” I was all alone. I was fine until he walked up.

    • Yeah, I’m sure he felt soooo bad. Oh man, that guy would have been shut down so hard!

  • Totally agree, though it’s been a while since I’ve sat in a bar on my own – though it’s something I really regularly do in coffee shops or juice bars. I think going to a bar alone would take a bit more courage than that but would be a good thing to do for sure 🙂

    • It’s so awesome to have a travel partner, but I’m sure you know how nice it is to have a break every once and a while 🙂

  • I wholeheartedly agree with you! I LOVE taking a book and going to the pub for an hour. I even have a favorite chair, right by the fireplace. It’s weird, but it makes me feel confident when I do this. Like it’s somehow a bold thing for me to go to a pub without a friend or partner. 🙂

  • Sorry I missed this post initially but glad I found it now! I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment… after many years of depending on other people to accompany me instead of going it alone (to whatever it was that I wanted to do), the feeling of being alone, doing what you want to do, and not feeling sorry for it is a magical thing and I am so happy to have discovered that independence. While I am *purely* a social drinker, I can imagine having a drink by myself at a hostel bar if I was traveling alone. It is SO true that nobody really cares and if they do, it’s their own issue, not yours.

  • Sally Munt

    Haha I love this! I am sharing it with all my friends!

  • this is perfect and perfectly unexpected!