Going solo: The joys of experiencing culture by yourself

With the Tier 3 restrictions kicking in the more social among us might be missing out on our usual dose of theatre, food and art because we don’t want to go it alone. Our friends might be ‘bubbling’ with family and Boris has all but ruled out dating, but take it from me, someone who’s been ruling out of dating for a while, going solo can be the best thing you ever tried.

I’ve been going to cultural events on my own for a long time – sometimes because my friends have very busy lives, sometimes because my family lives outside Manchester but mostly because I enjoy it. Like sex or roller skating, it can feel awkward the first few times but there are ways to ease yourself into it, safety blankets that can boost your confidence and one day you’ll realise you’ve been doing it for ages and actually really like it.

Probably the best place to start if your new to solo life is cinema. Once you’ve bought your ticket and sat down, the lights dim, and you could be anywhere. There’s a story to concentrate on, beautiful visuals and and if you go somewhere like HOME you can relax in a comfy seat with a fancy coffee – just like at your home but with a better screen and high def sound. And going solo to the pictures has some definite advantages – there’s no questioning what you want to see with someone else, no sharing your popcorn, and no comparing your date to Chris Evans. You can see that German art house revival film you always wanted to or bask in the glory of a childhood classic because who cares? Get caught up in the story and let your mind wander but just remember to brush the crumbs off your lap when the lights come up.

Theatre feels like a step up. Pick wisely my friend – nothing that’s likely to have audience participation for your first show unless you’re a true exhibitionist or masochist. However, the live experience can give more of that community experience we’re all craving right now. In any play, from Shakespeare to Hamilton, the audience is in constant communication with the stage. That’s what make theatre so unique and why we miss it so much. Even if you’re on your own you can still be part of that energy, add to it, feel it. Who knows, you might even find a new friend at the interval.

I find that visual art is a real soul healer and gallery going alone can be a truly zen experience. You can spend two seconds in front of one painting and twenty minutes in front of the next. Nobody’s there to drag you on or expect you to ‘get it’. You can draw you own conclusions, connect in your own way, let the paintings grow on you – hell, even go back to that one for another twenty minutes (as long as you stick to the one way system). And with social distancing there’s no one standing uncomfortably close or blocking your view. Creating visual art is predominantly a solo activity so you’re seeing it closer to how the artist did when they made it, just you and the art – Picasso didn’t have a friend telling him where to put that brushstroke, and while you might not be Picasso you can stand in that same spot and imagine just like he did.

Probably the most awkward thing to do on your own is eat out but even this can be a quiet joy. Like choosing a film, there’s none of the negotiation integral to dinner out with friends or first date jitters. You can choose exactly what you want and have as much garlic as humanly possible. I’m an advocate for taking a book or your trusty smart phone for those moments between courses but don’t neglect the pleasures of people watching – seeing a couple of strangers fall in or out of love can be all the entertainment you need for one night. It can give you hope for life or remind you why your quite happy on your own.

Tier 3 is the perfect excuse to try going solo for culture – places are less busy, they need your support, you’re more likely to get a single ticket, guaranteed of an empty seat either side, and, let’s face it, what else are you going to do? Unlike sex or roller skating, it’s currently a no judgement zone so book that spot, grab your facemask, and get back out there (at a mandated safe distance).

Kate Campbell-Payne is an adopted Mancunian, passionate about movies, musicals and museums. She is the queen of the #OnThisDay tweets from the Science and Industry Museum, who you can follow on Twitter at @sim_manchester.