It was a split-second decision. My friends were heading out for the kind of Thirsty Thursday night you only celebrate in college, but I had other plans. The Pretty Reckless, one of my favorite bands, were performing at Philadelphia’s Theatre of Living Arts, a short ride from campus.
I’d bought my ticket weeks in advance for $29, face value, after a housemate agreed to join me. Then, for reasons I can’t remember, she bailed.
As I followed my friends around town, I briefly entertained the idea of seeing the show by myself. The ticket was in my purse, patiently waiting to be scanned, but my anxious, insecure thoughts played on loop:
What if people think I’m weird for showing up alone?
How can I dance if I don’t have anyone to dance with?
Who will I talk to during that awkward time between sets?
Who will save my spot when I inevitably need to pee?
There wasn’t time to overthink it. If I wanted to hear actress-turned-frontwoman Taylor Momsen’s raspy, raw vocals — she ditched Gossip Girl for music, after all — I needed to catch a cab, like, 10 minutes ago. So I chose to skip it and bid my $29 adieu since it was too late for resales. I was too chicken to attend my dream concert solo.
The next day, I woke up regretting everything and promised myself: never again.
College now feels like an increasingly distant memory, but I’ll always remember that morning’s disappointment crystal clear. I missed out on something I loved because I was afraid of what people would think of me, which should surprise absolutely nobody because I grew up making a lot of decisions based on fear.
I took the classes I was supposed to take in order to get into the type of college I thought I had to attend. My freshman and sophomore years, I prioritized courses that put me on the conveyor belt to A Stable Career. Pursuing what really set my heart on fire (writing) wasn’t an option at first, because uncertainty terrified me more than a buttoned-up desk job did. That panic gradually quieted down as I got older, so I could finally start chipping away at the walls of my comfort zone.
The next time The Pretty Reckless toured through Philly in November 2013, I kept my promise to myself and walked into the Theatre of Living Arts alone. Standing in the back to attract the least amount of attention, I screamed along to songs I’d been obsessed with since I was 17. The band’s angry rock sound isn’t for everyone; back in 2010, when I drove to school blasting their debut “Make Me Wanna Die,” I’d lower the volume in the parking lot so no one would judge me.
At this show, while watching a father-daughter duo adorably headbang together to the same song, I realized: For me, going to a concert solo is more fun than dragging along a reluctant friend who’s half-hearted about the music.
But even once I’d survived (and thrived) at a handful of shows by myself, I still did everything in my power to secure a +1. I’d wait around for friends to commit to a concert, or I’d buy an extra ticket as a security blanket and hope to find someone closer to the date. Financially, it was a lose-lose situation, because I was either losing cash reselling tickets or spending too much at the last minute.
Over the years, I learned to ask myself: “Do I personally want to see this performance? Am I excited to commit my time and money to this artist?” If so, I immediately select “1 ticket” on Ticketmaster or StubHub’s dropdown menu and block it off on my calendar. I’m going, no matter what.
This switched the conversation from, “Will literally anyone go to this show with me?” to, “I’m going! Let me know if you want to come too!”
I was once that kid who begged her parents to drive her to music festivals, and now that I live in New York, I’m lucky enough to be minutes away from iconic venues. I saw Panic! At The Disco (tickets: $87), Taylor Swift ($138), Lorde ($120), Kesha ($62), and Carly Rae Jepsen ($99). Halsey, six times. Tove Lo, four times. Live music makes my heart happy, so I save up and allow myself to splurge on it — within reason, of course. I would never let tickets go to waste now, because I know it’s a privilege to have them in the first place.
The solo concerts built my confidence, so I started feeling less self-conscious about doing things alone: candlelit dinners for me and my book, movies scooping up froyo I snuck in and wasn’t obligated to share with anyone. When I saw La La Land in February 2017, I cried silently watching the “what could have been” montage of Emma Stone’s and Ryan Gosling’s characters. I glanced around the theater and noticed the strangers I was sharing armrests with were also teary-eyed.
When I mentioned this offhand to a boy I was seeing at the time, he said, “I would’ve gone with you if you had asked me.” Truthfully, I hadn’t thought to invite him, and looking back, I don’t think the movie would’ve resonated as strongly if he had been there.
I hate that certain activities are stereotypically for groups or couples. Many articles tout the importance of doing things alone, but in reality, society often questions your choice to go solo, especially for women. From nosy relatives asking about your relationship status to Emma Watson calling herself “self-partnered” as if being single is something exotic, enjoying your own company is unfortunately not our world’s norm. The pressure goes beyond romance and applies to friends, too. What if you don’t have anyone to do the thing with? Or what if the person you want to do the thing with doesn’t want to or can’t go with you? Does that mean you shouldn’t do it at all?
Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable means more to me than just a few concerts. I’m coming much closer to the life I want to live, seven years after discarding that $29 ticket in college. If I’m by myself and the waiter comes around asking who wants dessert, I love that I don’t need to glance at anyone asking for permission. Me, myself, and I want dessert — your biggest slice of chocolate cake, no extra spoons, please and thank you. I challenge myself to approach crossroads big and small by picking the path that scares me just a little bit, leading me to make decisions that are fueled by possibility rather than complacency.
My mindset change has led to many different concert experiences, each magical in their own right. Sometimes I have a crew with me; sometimes I invite a boy I just met on a dating app; sometimes no one’s interested, and I go solo. But even when I’m dancing between strangers in general admission, they’re singing to the same songs I am. I’ve gotten post-concert pizza with friends I met on the floor. I’ve stood outside in the pouring rain with fellow die-hard fans waiting for the artist to come outside and greet us. I’ve run into acquaintances from high school and asked random people to save my spot while I grabbed a drink.
I’ve also attended shows by myself, not had the social energy to talk to a single human, and still left the venue with a stupid grin on my face. I walk home with my headphones in, bopping along to the exact record I just heard live.
Deepa Lakshmin is a reporter, copywriter, and social media editor based in New York.