Hanging out in groups is what humans do best. We’re social animals by nature, and almost everything we do nowadays is coordinated around other people. As a teacher, though, I often find myself with a lot of time when there’s no one else around – especially during the summer, when my friends are still at work but I’m free for two months. I spend a lot of those days off reading, writing, and catching up on great TV, yet I’m also the type of person who likes to get out of the house and have some fun, even if no one else can join me. As a result, I’ve learned the benefits to doing a lot of “group” activities by myself. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying you should ditch your friends to go out and do these things alone. That would be a little weird. But if you’ve got the time, and no one’s around, don’t rule out these options just because you’re by yourself.
Going to Amusement Parks
Amusement parks are a perfect example of what I’m talking about, here. Most people visit these places in groups, and that makes perfect sense. It’s good to have friends to talk to on those long lines, and then to have someone to share the experience of the thrills together. It’s a day where both adults and kids can have a little entertainment because there’s something for everyone to do.
But honestly, the thrill of the ride is just as extreme whether or not you know the person in the seat next to you, and the thing about those long lines is that there are plenty of people to introduce yourself to and make small talk with if you feel like it. The good thing here is that it’s only if you feel like it. When you’re in a group, it’s expected that you’re going to have to make conversation, even if you don’t have anything to say. It’s nice to have the option of just being in your own head without the obligation of sharing what’s in there with someone else.
The more people you have, the more waiting around you’re going to do, but this problem doesn’t exist when you’re by yourself. You can eat when you’re hungry, sit down when you’re tired, and pee when you have to go, but you don’t have to check with anyone else first. You can also go on any ride that you feel like, in any order that you want. Yes, I’ll admit it’s a little sad to be the single grown man on the carousel, but you also don’t have to worry about anyone grumbling while waiting for you, either. And the best part of being alone is that most parks will let single riders cut to the front of the lines to fill in the open seats on the roller coasters. It’s a lot more efficient to be by yourself. There’s less standing around, and you will get to do a lot more.
Traveling in a pack can be frustrating, to boot. You have to figure out what rides you can all agree on, because there’s always someone who’s scared of roller coasters, and someone else who gets sick when he spins, and still someone else who wants to ride the carousel when everyone just wants to rocket down a giant incline. On top of that, it’s rare that most people get hungry, need a rest, or have to use the bathroom all at the same, convenient time. Finally, there’s inevitably going to be a leadership conundrum. You either have a resentment-breeding dictator with a park map who wants to control where everyone goes, or a lump of people all saying, “Whatever you guys want to do next is fine,” despite everyone knowing exactly what they would like to do next.
Going to Concerts
I’ve liked the same music since I was in high school in the early 2000’s, and I’ve been to a lot of shows since then, from sold-out stadium concerts to local VFW halls. Problem is, as our generation’s musical tastes have changed, and the friends who shared the same passion for punk and ska have mostly moved on, it’s getting harder to find anyone I know who thinks the idea of seeing Gogol Bordello, Against Me, or the Toasters sounds fun. The bands are getting older, but the average age of the crowd has stayed the same, and that’s a turn-off for a lot of people who don’t feel like getting jostled and sweaty for music they’re not into in the first place. As a result, I’ve been to a lot of shows by myself.
The first thing you need to know is that even if you didn’t come with someone, you’re going to run into someone. When you’re talking about these small shows, there are always familiar faces, even if you don’t know them outside of the scene. There’s a small but dedicated community of people my age who still come out to see all the bands at the local venues in New York and New Jersey, and you get to know folks after seeing them off and on for fifteen years. I imagine it’s the same anywhere. You give a nod, extend a hand, buy them a beer and let them buy one for you. You’re recognized and you recognize, and there’s no such thing as lonely in this particular community.
There’s also something to be said to losing yourself in a fast-moving, riotous crowd with loud music being amplified into the room, and not having to worry about your friends getting lost or hurt or having a good time. Most people don’t think this is fun anymore. I’m officially too old to crowd surf (I have the recent injuries if you need proof), but with that said, standing on the edge of a pit and watching people dance and push and mosh is invigorating, and for me, jumping in when the mood strikes me is life-affirming. But being there with someone else is inhibiting. I get self-conscious because I don’t want my thirty year old friends watching me dance like no one is watching. And I’d rather not keep someone company who doesn’t like the crowd, or simply nod my head to music that’s meant to keep us moving.
Going to the Beach
I’m not really a sun, sand and water all-put-together kind of person. I dislike the physical discomfort of being hot, gritty, and wet. But, believe it or not, I enjoy going to the beach, because in New Jersey the best shorelines have a boardwalk, and that’s the part I enjoy.
When you go down the shore with other people, they’re inevitably going to want to bake in the sun, get sand in their bathing suits, and then rinse off in the ocean, even though that whole messy scenario can be completely avoided by just sticking to the awesome bars, restaurants and arcade-games a hundred feet away, all in full view of the sand and the water. Why bother with the gross part? And when you go to the beach with a really big group, you’re also more likely to be dunked in the waves, hit with a volleyball just to make everyone else laugh, or pressured into getting buried under the sand. Does that actually sound fun to anyone? Not me.
When you’re by yourself (or at most, with a sympathetic wife who happens to love the beach), you can put your toes between the sand or get your feet just a little wet, but then rinse off and go inside without anyone complaining that they didn’t get enough sun, or pressuring you to go further into the water. You don’t have to sweat and blister in the noontime inferno waiting forever for others to want to go back onto solid ground. And if you’re like me, you can get there really early and use your metal-detector in a fulfilling and methodical way, without having to stop all the time and talk to people about why you think it’s fun looking for coins and rings on the beach, but just finding garbage instead.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the huge Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center in New York City. There were throngs of people there to visit the attraction: to ice skate, gawk at the lights, and take part in a little bit of the annual city magic of the Big Apple. I was with a large group of my family, who all grew up in the region. But have you ever heard that locals never visit the attractions their city is famous for? It must be true, because the herd split up so fast and got lost so quickly that it was like amateur hour in the park. There was panic, dread, and confusion amongst an enormous crowd in the relatively tiny plaza, and it only got worse as we eventually met back up and tried to wind our way through city streets to the Port Authority, where we were trying to catch a bus home. I won’t say the trip was ruined, because our family has developed the fine-tuned evolutionary skill of only remembering the good parts of any given disaster (and there were many good parts), but it was a bit harrowing. And the truth is that it was only a problem because we didn’t anticipate the needs of the group: everyone was thinking for themselves.
As an aspiring New York City tour guide, I have a lot to learn about keeping a group together. Predicting points of confusion, identifying a clear meet-up spot, explicitly teaching how to walk through people, and designating a couple of leaders in a crowded tourist area are skills that will require honing, because I’m used to sightseeing by myself. I cobbled together and test ran a walking tour from Central Park down to Times Square a couple of months ago, but now that I’ve visited just one landmark with a group, I appreciate how easy it was to jump from one spot to the next by myself when I practiced. When you know where you’re going, what you want to do and see, and the only person you have to worry about is yourself, sightseeing is fun and easy. The more people you add to the mix, the more difficult the dynamic becomes.
There’s nothing like the excitement of picking up a pair of dice at the end of a craps table, putting down your bets and throwing the winning number before the cheers of an adoring crowd. I’ve been so lucky at craps in the past that I’ve actually had people tip ME instead of the dealers! That night was like something out of a movie, but it’s a story that no one can verify, because I was alone in Atlantic City. That fact, however, does not take away from the money I won, or the exuberance I felt in doing so.
Going to a casino in a group always ends the same way. Some people in the group lose all their money quickly, some lose all their money slowly, and one or two people are up in funds when they realize that everyone else wants to leave because they gambled away all their money. Winning is super exciting for the player who is earning, but totally boring for everyone else in the group to watch, and more than a little anxiety provoking, too. While it’s a benefit in the long run to have a group of people who pull you away from a table after you’ve won some chips, there is such a thing a good streak, and having to walk away from it because everyone else wants to go is a bummer. And if you’re the one stuck behind a friend who’s raking it in while you have flies coming out of your wallet, that’s just the pits. At least he’ll buy the next round.
When you’re by yourself in a casino, your anonymity is your greatest strength. You’re the mysterious stranger who walks up and puts chips on 17 right before the ball bounces into that slot on the roulette wheel. You’re the sharp at the blackjack table who splits his aces and hits 21 on both hands. You’re the shooter who hits point after point while playing craps without ever saying a word. You can do all this without even knowing how to play very well – and no one has to know. Going to a casino by yourself is a great way to learn the games, so that when you do come back with friends you can be the resident expert. You’ll win some, you’ll lose more, but then again, no one has to know!
Going to the Movies
It’s hard to think of a “group” activity that’s more solitary than going to the movies. You’re in a dark room where no one can see you, where no one is even paying attention to you, and where no one is allowed to talk – not even a whisper. Everyone knows that it’s better to get an individual popcorn than to share one big one so your hands don’t bump, which can cause a spill, and if you’re lucky enough to find a movie that everyone can agree upon, it’s still an open question whether everyone liked it or not in the end.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but when different people want to see different movies, why is there an insistence on finding common ground? The experience of a movie is the dark room, the big screen, the surround sound. It’s nice to have someone there with you, because that means you’re spending time with someone who shares your interests. But the quality time comes afterward when you can actually talk about the film you saw together. And to be honest, I think the conversation would actually be a little better if each person saw a different movie, and then told everyone else the plot. Otherwise, you’re just hashing over what everyone already knows.
I don’t mind going to the theater alone. In fact, I kind of like it. When the third installment of the Batman trilogy was released, our local theater held an event: they would show the first two films before playing the new one at midnight. I thought it was a great idea, but no one else I knew seemed very interested in watching six hours of Batman until two-thirty in the morning. So, I went alone. As usual, there were plenty of other people there to chat with, and since everyone was excited for the movie, there was a lot of good natured applause and cheers. They gave out special posters and souvenirs. Nothing was lost by going alone, and in fact, I got a great seat because I was able to fill in a single space in the middle of the theater.
Nothing beats a night out at the bar with your friends, and I’m not going to try to dispute that fact. My purpose today, though, is right in the title of the article: going to the bar is a group activity that’s actually pretty fun by yourself, too. No one is saying it’s more fun than with a group, but going stag is its own kind of fun.
Drinking is a social experience. From buying rounds to clinking mugs, going to a bar is best done with your friends, so at the very least so they can carry your drunk ass home. But going to a bar doesn’t mean that you have to get drunk. If you’re like me, and you appreciate a really good craft beer, having just a couple is a rewarding experience on its own. I’m also the type of guy who carries around a book and a writing pad, and I’m not afraid to use them when the mood strikes me. I like to sit down at a table in the back, or at the bar in a corner, read my book for a couple of hours, take notes, and people watch whenever I lift my nose from the pages, all the while sipping a good IPA or stout. It’s great, but it’s something you just can’t do unless you’re by yourself.
In the end…
It seems nowadays that there’s less and less time to be alone. Whether we’re engaging with our partners, our friends, or our communities, there’s always someone else around. On top of that, with an abundance of social media and smart phones, there’s an ever-present way to check in, and be checked upon. It almost feels like you have to go out of your way in order to have a solitary experience, to be a lone stranger in a crowd.
Most of the places and activities in this list are group activities because of the social stigma that goes along with doing them alone. I think a lot of people are actually afraid to do something without the support of other people there beside them. People worry about what others will think of them if they eat at a table for one, or else think they’ll be perceived as a creep who can’t scrounge up any friends. They’d rather stay home than do something alone.
I’m just not that kind of person. I’ll always invite others to the next thing that I’m doing, but if no one is game, that doesn’t mean I’m not going anymore. I can’t allow others to dictate what I will and won’t do, because there’s just too much to see in this world, and if I wait around for everyone else to catch up, I’ll just leave myself behind.
What do you think?
What public activity do you like to do by yourself?
Would you be caught dead doing these group activities by yourself?