This originally appeared on The Good Men Project. Republished here with permission.
Who calls and reserves a table for one in a restaurant? Dan Griffin has learned to enjoy his own company.
Just the other night I went out to dinner while out of town for work. I left my iPhone in the room knowing how often I use that as a way of having to avoid being with myself and simply being present. I sat in the mostly empty dining room and noticed my fellow travelers sprinkled throughout the room also eating by themselves—and every single one of them had a smart phone. Nobody was simply eating their dinner. I could feel the pull of distraction wanting me to ask for a newspaper. Hurry through my dinner so I could go upstairs and watch TV or do some of that all-important work I always have to do. I resisted, asked the host for some bread, and took a deep breath, and smiled. I would not give in. I savored each bite, taking my time, practicing (somewhat) mindfully chewing my food. I enjoyed my dinner and my time with myself.
How do you experience solitude? How is it for you spending time with … yourself? How often are men even asked that question? Whether we like it or not, it is a universal truth that if you can’t spend time quality time with yourself then you can’t spend it with anyone else. Many people know me as outgoing, funny, some would even say charismatic. My public persona. The one who shows up when the stage lights are on. Those who know me intimately also know how much I used to struggle with insecurity, self-doubt, and intense social phobia—and still can to this day. It was debilitating. Around others I was often the life of the party but by myself I was a totally different person.
Years ago, after ending a long term relationship, a good friend challenged me to learn how to spend time with myself; literally date myself. I took his suggestion to heart because I was tired of needing to be around people to be okay. I was tired of losing my mind when I got in relationships because I was trying to get them to fill a hole in my life that nobody is big enough to fill.
I called the restaurant and made a reservation, “Table for one, please.”
“One?” The woman’s voice sounded as sarcastic as it was surprised. They made the reservation but I swore I could hear their laughter. Who calls and reserves a table for one?
I showed up for my reservation shaking to death internally. I sat through my whole dinner petrified that everyone else in the restaurant was looking at me with pity. “Look at him, nobody to be with. What a loser. Etc.” All judgments that I had about myself, projecting them onto the various customers eating their own dinner much more concerned with their own dining experience. It may have been self-centered fear but it still felt real at the time. I then went to a movie by myself. Some men and women have no problem doing these things alone but for me they were quite difficult. That is the main way that difficulty being alone with myself showed up in my life, it may look different for you.
Today after years of practice, I enjoy time with myself. I travel a lot for work and love to go for walks or dinner by myself. I have discovered the difference between restorative time and isolating or hiding from the world. Far from a master, I have come to the point that I truly appreciate being able to have time to myself. The difference between a calm and peaceful aloneness and a frenetic and desperate loneliness being contingent on how well I am taking care of myself.
I know a lot of men who struggle with loneliness. Many, like me, seem to be social experts but they constantly feel as though they do not fit in or people don’t really want them around. But it has nothing to do with other people. They can’t stand their own company! Many men have a sense of a dull aching inside of them but don’t have any idea they are lonely—they think it is everything but that. Other men know how lonely they feel but keep it to themselves fearing how others might judge them for expressing such an “unmanly” sentiment.
In solitude we gain true intimacy with ourselves and we also deepen our connection to Life. Or The Universe. Or God. Whatever you want to call it. A man’s relationship with others is his gift to them. A man’s relationship with himself is his gift to himself.
Dan Griffin, M.A., has worked in the mental health and addictions field for over sixteen years. He lives in Minnesota with his beautiful wife and two-year old daughter and has been in recovery for 17 years. He wrote A Man’s Way Through the Twelve Steps (Hazelden) and co-authored Helping Men Recover. Do you want to read more of Dan’s writing and learn more about his work? You can go to: www.dangriffin.com.