I used to play a game in coffee shops. I would to try and guess if two people that were sitting together were couples or not. It was a fun game, a harmless game. It was entirely in my head, most of the time. I would occasionally tell someone about it, usually as a ploy to make myself more endearing than I actually am. I would develop overly extravagant stories over tiny mannerisms I detected. For example, I once noticed a man who every now and then affectionately tapped his wife’s (probably) arm whilst they sat together. Perhaps it was a small nuance that perchance she mentioned once in passing. Maybe it was part of an in-joke they had early in their relationship that isn’t as funny as it used to be, or maybe it was just a habit of affection shown between the two of them.
But then, you know, the game seemed a little creepy and I stopped.
What’s far more interesting is people who sit on their own. Coffee shops are a unique place in which society has deemed solitude acceptable. Restaurants, movie theatres and even the supermarket (to a certain extent) have a stigma attached to it – you shouldn’t be on your own, you must bring along with you one of your dearest.
It is, I believe, a relatively brave act to do anything on your own these days. We are constantly scrutinized on our inability to interact with others. Yes, it is an important trait that should be developed from a young age, but is it not an outrage that our entire social landscape is grounded in our ability to ‘have friends’? We are told from a young age, both from our parents and from peers, that being on your own is a bad thing. As such, we are meticulously defined by our friendships and relationships – whether it be their absence, existence or otherwise.
I am aware there have been countless articles about how there are people that love their alone time. There are many of us around that would love nothing better than to just sit at home and watch Netflix, without the distractions and distresses of social interaction. It has been discussed extensively why going to the movies by yourself is better than going with an annoying human. I am not here to talk about why alone time is a requirement of sanity, or that there are those of us that prefer it. I’m here to question the viewpoint we have on solitude.
Why is it acceptable – perhaps “sufficiently reasonable” is a more apt term – that we can negatively perceive those of us that live out our days on our own? Why must we question whether there is something inherently wrong with those of us that spend our days without another? Why did we make fun of the nerds by calling them “Nigel no-friends”? Inversely, why is being social so celebrated? Why do we insist on ‘checking in’ on Facebook with all of our friends every time we go out? Why did we look up to the ‘popular kids’ at school?
It is this culture that brings about a sense of loneliness to our every day. For even those of us that have an excellent foundation of close social relationships, we feel sad and alone when one of them can’t be there for us all the time. Why do we feel hurt when a friend doesn’t respond to our message right away, but we see them posting Instagram photos at the same time? It’s because we feel isolated, just for a second. We shouldn’t have to feel that!
I believe that we as a society put far too much value on social relationships. That is not to say that I think that we shouldn’t have them – despite how much I say I hate people. The best days of my life have been with my loved ones. That being said, I do not believe I should be ashamed of saying “Hey, I’m spending Saturday night at home watching Netflix on my own”, or saying so and needing to justify it with “I just find going out so blergh these days!”. There is too much social pressure to act social!
With the advent of social media, we are bombarded with constant judgment regarding the quality of our social lives. Never before did we actually have a quantitative number on how many friends we have. But with phrases like “I follow back” being paraded around twitter and Instagram there is no denying that that number has a profound effect on our levels of happiness. All I can say is that we make a sound effort to reduce its influence.
Or perhaps, just focus on the coffee in front us, and not on the people at the next table.