At Hanging Out With Yourself

The ability to spend time unattended without freaking out about it is an essential skill regardless of your relationship status. I know it’s clichéd and all of you are going to groan when I say it, but if you can’t be happy with only yourself, you’re never going to be happy with anyone else—friends, partners, coworkers, rodeo clowns, whoever. The problem with that is that being alone for any reason has a negative connotation in our society. Have a look at the thesaurus.com entry for the word “alone”: suggestions for alternate words include “abandoned”, “forlorn”, “desolate” and even “widowed”. It’s as though being alone for any length of time is something tragic, as if the only people who would choose to be by themselves are people who have no other option.

When I was in preschool, my teachers called my parents because they were deeply concerned about my social capabilities: instead of eating snack at the table with the other kids, I elected to munch graham crackers on the floor by myself. This early propensity toward independence continued through high school. I had a few close friends, but I needed lots of alone time to focus on forming strong relationships with fictional characters. I wasn’t antisocial (see definition of that word here). I just got my energy from talking to myself rather than from talking to others.

My freshman year of college changed all that. I met hundreds of people, forged great friendships and tried all kinds of new things (all of which were legal, thankyouverymuch). Between my dorm, class, the dining hall and various weekend activities, I was almost never alone.

Read that sentence again. I. Was. Never. Alone.

Preach, sister. I sure wish I knew who made this, 'cause I didn't. Anybody know?

Preach, sister. I sure wish I knew who made this, ’cause I didn’t. Anybody know?

In the space of a year, I went from being a relatively socially able kid who spent most of her time reading books, listening to music and writing down everything that came to mind, to being an adult with a fantastic social life but few internal resources. Hanging out solo for too long began to make me seriously uncomfortable, and I was not okay with that. Everybody needs to be alone sometimes. Being able to entertain yourself is a skill born out of self-reliance, not social catastrophe. With that in mind, here’s a guide not to being sad and lonely by yourself, but to being happy and relaxing with yourself.

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the world of self-entertainment as being able to amuse oneself for at least two hours at a time without going completely bonkers.

  1. Strip. The best way to begin a hangout with yourself is to take off all unnecessary clothing.At the very least, this means switching to pajama pants, though no pants at all are best if you’re alone in your bedroom or have tolerant roommates. If you wear a bra, it should get gone too.  Don’t bother with that nonsense. Heck, if your apartment is a comfortable temperature, hanging out completely au naturel can be beneficial for your body image. Basically, wear (or don’t wear) whatever makes you feel most comfortable. This time is about you. In that same vein, here’s what you should do when you’re hanging out with yourself one-on-one:
  2. Whatever you want. Wanna binge on Psych on Netflix? Go ahead. Feel a deep need to move your body? Do some yoga (it’s great for your back). Are you a well-read masochist who likes dragons? Consider picking up Game of Thrones. This is your time. Do what makes you happy, do what makes you peaceful, do what makes you healthy. (This is also an ideal time for a nap.) When your apartment ceases to be the place of wonder and magic it used to be…
  3. Put your clothes back on and go out. Ever been to a restaurant by yourself? It’s an intimidating experience at first, but after the initial “‘How many?’ ‘Just one’” awkwardness, it gets to be fun eating all the free breadsticks at once. (People might look at you. Let them. They wish they could be as independent as you are.) Movies are even better; you get to pick what you see, and there’s no jockeying for armrest space. Going out by yourself—as long as you’re reasonably safe about it—can be a really fun way to find out what you like independent of what your friends, family and/or significant other enjoy. One of the best ways to discover yourself is to…

    Giraffes have feelings too, guys. Photo by Tim Cooper copyright 2009.

    Giraffes have feelings too, guys. Photo by Tim Cooper copyright 2009.

  4. Try new stuff. Ever been to that Indian restaurant downtown? Ever seen a foreign film? Ever walked around a zoo and made faces at the animals just to see how they’d respond? No? Try it! (But try the last one at a safe distance from the lions, okay? And keep it in the spirit of fun, not meanness. Giraffes may seem happy-go-lucky, but they’re really rather sensitive.) If you try something new and hate it, you don’t have to suffer through it just to please somebody else. Instead, go try something different until a new interest sticks.
  5. Get stuff done. Responsibility is never more attractive than when it’s your only option for amusement. If you run out of adventures to have by yourself, then clean your room, get ahead in your schoolwork or your job, or call the plumber to come fix your sink. Better yet, Google how to fix your sink yourself.*
  6. Read a book. If you read, you may find yourself alone from time to time, but you will never be lonely.

*I am not responsible for your water/electricity/small mammal-related mishaps. If you and yourself would like to be alone with some other people and their selves, go like The How Not to Suck Blog on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @hownottosuckblg (no, there’s no “o” in “blg”).

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At Cooking Pasta

Remember how I was trying to be a responsible, frugal adult and cook as many of my meals as possible? Yeah, that went away. Not only is cooking often really inconvenient, but in the hands of a novice, it can even be dangerous. Long story short, after a little incident with the broiler my apartment complex had to give us a new oven, and for the past month and a half I’ve avoided it after making a solemn vow to live on takeout for the rest of my days.

However, sometimes takeout is also really inconvenient. One of those times happened last week, when I was already in pajamas in my apartment and I got hungry. I didn’t feel like drive-through food, delivery is expensive, and I do have SOME pride, so my only option was to brave the stovetop using some of the groceries my mom bought me the last time I was home for a weekend: pasta and canned sauce.

(What? Are you suggesting that I could have put my bra and real pants back on to go out and get food? Are you insane?)

I was apprehensive at first. After all, I don’t have the best track record with hot cooking appliances—I once started a fire boiling water for macaroni and cheese while babysitting, for Pete’s sake. (No, nothing was destroyed. Yes, firemen came. Yes, it was embarrassing. Can we move on now?)

Nuff said. Image from someecards.com

Nuff said. Image from someecards.com

My pyrophobia notwithstanding, once I got back into cooking it was actually a little… fun. Canned sauce seemed boring, so I threw in some extra green vegetables and some cuttings from my roommate’s windowsill herb garden (again, boys, he’s single), and it turned out surprisingly well. Yes, cooking can be scary and inconvenient, but the good news is that food doesn’t have to be gourmet to be filling. Here’s a “recipe” that will keep you from feeling the kind of desperation that results in re-donning one’s restrictive undergarments to go on a quest for sustenance.

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the realm of cooking pasta as creating a semi-Italian dinner that is edible, balanced and satisfying.

  1. Get your ingredients. Pasta, of course, is essential. Pick whatever shape you want: linguine, spaghetti, angel hair, bow tie (technically farfalle—who knew?), literally any shape but lasagna. Also get some canned spaghetti sauce. No, not Ragu—Prego, Bertolli and Newman’s Own are all great options. For extra credit, get a green bell pepper too—and some fresh basil.
  2. Get two pots. Two small ones if you’re cooking for one, two big ones if you’re feeding lots of people.
  3. Put water in one pot. Fill one of the pots about three-quarters of the way up.
  4. Boil the water. Make sure the burners on your stove are clean. Put the pot on one of the burners. Make sure the burner is clean. Turn on the burner with the pot on it. Make sure that burner is clean. Turn the heat all the way up. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you make sure that the woman whose children you are watching did not forget to take the grease-covered aluminum foil off the burners after her crazy mother-in-law left last week.
  5. What was I saying? Oh yeah. Wait for the water to start bubbling. Don’t put the pasta in when there are little baby bubbles chilling on the bottom—wait until the bubbles are big and active and popping. Throw in some salt if you want.
  6. Dump in the pasta. You can use the whole box even if you’re only cooking for one—that’s why God made refrigerators—but make sure you keep the package. That’s where your pasta-cooking directions are. Turn the heat to medium and let the pasta cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Then…
  7. Put the sauce in the other pot. Put that pot on the stove (after, of course, making sure that all your burners are clean). Turn the heat up to medium. You can microwave the sauce, but it’ll turn out better if you heat it on the stove.
  8. Add your extras. If you had the presence of mind to get the bell pepper, go ahead and chop it into little pieces. You don’t have to do this with the speed and precision of a professional chef—nobody’s watching you, after all, and if they are they can laugh all they want as long as you don’t hurt yourself. Add the pepper to the pot. Do the same with the fresh basil. Stir.
  9. Dump the pasta into a colander. That’s the bowl with the little holes in it that your mom made you buy when you moved into your apartment. Then, put however much pasta you want on a plate and cover it in sauce. Serve with toaster-oven garlic bread if desired.

Don’t forget to turn off your burners—trust me on this one. If you’ve got stories to share that will dissuade me from ever cooking again, go post them on the Facebook page or tweet @hownottosuckblg (no, there’s no o in “blg”). If you’ve got encouragement, I guess that’s okay too!