A few days before my 19th birthday I moved from a village of a few thousand to a city of several million. Once goodbyes were said I was alone in a dingy attic room on the eighth floor of never-ending corridors. I could try not to be dramatic and describe the situation in any other way than like the opening of a young adult novel of a heroine plunged into scary and unknown circumstances–but that’s what it was. (Spoiler alert, the girl overcomes obstacles, learns about herself, gets the guy and is currently living in the happily ever after.) I have never been one to crave company, not in such an acute sense of the word. Introverted by nature, aloneness equated to ‘me time’, doing what I want and not worrying about other people. But then there wasn’t an option, being alone was no longer a respite in a house full of family or a school of old friends, it was the default. I could hear a thousand voices a day but not a single one familiar.
This is softened by a little by routine, the same faces in your class once a week, the girl who cooks dinner at a similar time to you, the guy working the evening shift at the Spar but these aren’t relationships. I can not name a single person I lived with for nine months three years ago. I could make a lucky guess as they were white, female and born in the 90s. Sarah? That sounds right.
One place it is hard to feel lonely is at the cinema. Some people wouldn’t dream of doing this alone, I know that there is a certain anxiety around this but once you get over the suspicions that people will judge you for being alone it is pretty great. You can go see whatever you fancy without needing to convince someone or worrying about them being late or needing to get there at a specific time yourself. Plus once you are there, it is dark and there’s no talking so you don’t need anyone. Doing things like this are important, not just if you are lonely but also so that you become comfortable with yourself. It’s an aspect of confidence to be happy making your own plans and taking yourself out for dinner. You can find out what you really like without outside opinion.
Not one to go too far out of my comfort zone I chose the Odeon at the Printworks to do this. Making it a safe place in a strange city. Somewhere that being alone didn’t matter so much, where I could lose myself for a little while in the emotions and stories on screen. I’m lucky, I don’t need that now like I used to. With the recent hand over to the Vue, it’s change reminded me of my own.
Sitting alone in the dark is a good growing point but also not a long term solution. I’ve found, one way to make friends is to find people who like the same things as you. After trying a few friendship interest groups/societies I found that big crowds of strangers isn’t my thing–way too overwhelming and not good for the social anxiety. So films were a good talking point, particularly for a student of the arts. ‘That’s a really cool thing, it reminded me of this film.’ ‘Oh, I have seen that, it was good.’ ‘They are making a new film, it is out now.’ ‘I want to see that, let’s go.’ And there you have it: pockets of interaction. Now I can’t recommend this entirely, I saw a few films with acquaintances before making a proper friend. Including an instance where a guy brought another friend along almost to diminish the possible date-like situation that hadn’t originally occurred to me. But going to see films with people tells you things about them. What they find funny? Do they have good taste? What are their manners like (did they talk through the film)? Do they breathe heavily in an annoying way? These are all good things to know about people. Particularly if you are looking for a person to spend a lot of time with, perhaps in a romantic arrangement of sorts.
First dates, from my limited experience are strange, you can accidentally be committed to spending too much time with someone you don’t like or the opposite: not have any plans and end up sitting in the same bar for 5 hours. I met my tall friend outside of what was the Odeon. Cinema dates are generally considered a no-no, but preceded by coffee and followed by drinks you have a good layer of getting to know someone.
- Coffee – Do I want to stay on this date, am I attracted to this person?
- Film – See something you had planned, share an interest- sexual tension?
- Drinks – Established post-film, agreed upon if both parties are interested, and you have films to talk about during any potential lulls.
The drinks aspect of this is a little flawed as trusting things go well you may end up being kicked out of bars because they are closing. Oh to be young.
I trust that some of this sounds a little calculated, but here is the outcome: The other week I visited the Odeon with my best-friend, housemate and long-term boyfriend (all one person). We saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and it was great. It would be the last time I would go to that cinema as the Odeon. As we were leaving I couldn’t help but think about the me who first went to that cinema, the me that was coping as best she could, and the me that I am now. It would have been the greatest of comforts to have known how far I have come from then. To know that I wouldn’t fail, that I could find happiness and people that like me. I have changed and so has the world around me.