By Anita Senior
An article published in the August Journal of Consumer Research shows that it is not the fear of doing things alone but more the fear of how others will perceive them.
According to the article, people feel uncomfortable doing less hedonistic activities alone ( like going to the cinema), and what eased the burden for them when going solo was looking busy i.e. reading a book in a coffee shop or creating a reason for their independent outing. The illusion of busyness. It all comes down to not the activity itself but the opportunity for other people to judge.
Think about your own judgements. There seems to be some unwritten rulebook about where and when it is acceptable to be alone in public. Nobody would bat an eyelid at a commuter on the train or fitness aficionado at the gym.
Yet look at somebody by themselves in a restaurant or in the cinema and there’s an undeniable curiosity as to why they are by themselves.
While this is obviously a judgmental bad habit woven into fabric of a previous social experience, it would appear many of us tend to think this way and question the reason of someone’s solitude when in public- but only where certain activities are concerned.
Rebecca Ratner and Rebecca Hamilton of University of Maryland and Georgetown business school did a series of surveys and experiments on the topic. The main conclusion was that people are prone to avoid certain experiences they would usually associate as a group activity for fear of creating the view that they couldn’t actually find someone who would be willing to take part. Is it all a popularity contest then?
Ratner suggests it may be due to the amount of dual careered couples as well as parents around? There isn’t always a willing or available partner to keep people company. Today, people are always busy. So it seems strange that while dinner and movies are deemed unacceptable, sitting alone in a coffee shop is not.
An experiment was caried out by Ratner and Hamilton which saw people enter an art gallery and rate their experience. The ones who went it alone didn’t rate the experience any less to the ones who went in a larger group despite expecting to have a worse time. It’s all in the mind. So anticipation and reality did not match up here. Going it alone is a social stigma.
Ratner says “ Don’t put your life on hold until you have people to do things with”.
People are missing out on valuable opportunities to meet people. Even in simple scenarios such as a coffee shop where the mobile phone, book or laptop is shielding them from the potential to meet new people and form great bonds.
The message here is don’t be afraid to go it alone. Some things are best enjoyed solo, just remember that your new best friend or lover could be waiting in that coffee shop being held back by the exact same socially stifling barriers as yourself.
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