It is a typical autumn evening in Vienna – I am looking out of the windows of the restaurants, the sun has just set, people are holding on to their coats, because it is yet another windy day in Vienna. I am writing this Postcard from a small neighbourhood café which turns into a restaurant at night. Most tables around me are merry groups having after works drinks. A couple next to me is on a date night, a family just entered for dinner. I am sitting on my own. Is it weird? I do not think so. Did I think it was weird in the past? Yes. When I was younger, I avoided sitting on my own in a restaurant waiting for friends. I waited in front of the restaurant or planned to show up together. I do not know why, but none of us ever sat alone.
Over the years, I realized how silly this was. Especially in a city like Vienna. In the capital of coffee culture, it is perfectly normal to sit on your own and read the newspapers (which are offered for free on “sticks” to facilitate reading in traditional coffee houses). As a student, cafés became my second living room – for some reason, I memorized everything much better when I had the bustling noise of the café surround me.
Later on, I did not have any other chance but do things on my own. At the age of 25, I moved to Germany, to a town where I did not know anyone. The weekends, I mostly spent on my own – or let’s say I had to, because most of my colleagues had their partners and families and spent the weekend with them or together with other couples. A coworker who was single did not fit into their leisure activities most of the time. I then decided to do things on my own. I did not want to sit at home and be sad and lonely. I went to museums, for walks and runs, spent hours at cafés and restaurants. It was a bit strange at first, but I slowly started to enjoy it and kept doing it even when my circle of friends grew. Every time, when I moved to a new city, I did the same thing.
I am glad that I learned how to be on my own. If I can entertain myself and be happy with myself, I can be happy with a partner, friends and family. I learned a lot about myself when I was on my own, when nobody else was there to entertain me or to help solve problems. I recommend this to anyone: before you jump into a relationship, work on the relationship with yourself. It is good to also be single for some time, enjoy coffees on your own, maybe even travel on your own. Nobody else can make you happy but yourself.
Being on your own does not mean that you are lonely. Sometimes we feel lonely indeed, this is just natural. But the more time you spend on your own, the more you will that you can be happy with your own company, that you are comfortable being you. Once you make yourself happy, you will know what you really want in a relationship – and what you will not tolerate. A lot of people stay in a relationship because they are scared of being on their own, because they think it means they will be lonely. If you know that you can be on your own and that it does not automatically mean that you are lonely, it is much easier to get out of toxic relationships. Furthermore, you can only be in a happy relationship with someone else if you the one you have with yourself is solid as well.
Doing things on your own is a scary thing at first. But believe me, once you tried it, it is not that bad. The weird looks you think you get are mostly only in your head. Even if they are not, they come from people who probably never left their comfort zone. And who really cares? If you are OK with it, you do not have to worry about what other people think.
I noticed that women (more than men) feel uneasy being on their own in certain situations. An Andalusian friend once told me, she could never sit in a café all on her own, people would think she was an “easy girl” or prostitute. Maybe attitudes are different in different countries. But I actually never made bad experiences when I was at a café on my own. I had some of the most interesting conversations with strangers at cafés.
After some time, I even started to travel on my own. And I am telling you, if you have overcome difficult challenges when you travel abroad on your own, you will know that you can do anything. If you would like to read more about my 35 hours at Manila Airport on my own, you can read it here.
Just when I finish this Postcard, I look up. Straight ahead there is a woman in a stylish and colourful dress reading the book “Sisters in Law” while enjoying a coffee. She is all on her own as well. I think she does not even notice what was going on around her because she seems immersed in her book. She asks for the bill and she leaves, we smile at each other. I guess we are not so alone after all.