I solo travel but feel anxious at local queer bars…
Last week, I wrestled with myself about going to a queer bar alone for the first time in years.
“Just walk to the street the bar is on,” I tell myself. “You can decide if you want to go inside once you get there. Just walk to the street.”
So I walk.
As I arrive at the corner establishment, I slow down just enough to get a good look at my fellow queers inside. But my legs keep moving.
No, I don’t think I can do this. Not tonight.
“Hey. Pause.” I tell myself.
When I’m a block away from the bar, I finally listen, stop walking, and collect myself.
I’m a pretty frequent solo traveler, and when I’m alone on the road, I don’t have to challenge myself to go inside somewhere like this. I’m usually game to show up by myself. But in my home of NYC, I get more timid.
I often need to remind myself, “If you were solo traveling would you go to this bar/event/etc.?” When the answer is, “Yes”, as it often is, I actively try to let Traveler Me be inspiration for New York City Me.
“If you don’t go in, nothing can happen. If you go in, something might happen,” I remind myself. “You do not need to make conversation with anyone. You do not need to flirt or talk or even introduce yourself. Just get a drink.”
I grant myself the grace of taking baby steps and I walk inside.
I whisper, “Excuse me”, as I maneuver through groups of people and try to get closer to the bar. I patiently wait until the bartender comes over to me, secretly grateful that they’re taking a while. That I don’t have to face the other people inside yet. That I still have an action. A purpose.
I get my drink.
Shoot. Now what.
I trade places with the person next to me so that they can get closer to the bartender.
Is that an “in” to talk to their friend group? Whoops, I stepped too far away. Missed my chance.
I walk the length of the bar. And my anxiety wants to play:
Yikes. People must realize I’m here alone. What if folks recognize me as the Queer Dating Coach and I’m not talking to anyone? Maybe I should pretend I’m looking for someone? Or waiting for someone? Oof, I really want to pull out my phone so I have something to do.
“Don’t do that, baby,” I told myself. “No one notices you’re here alone. Everyone is paying attention to themselves. Just find a seat.”
I see two folks talking in the corner who don’t seem to know each other well. (Not in the first-date-vibes kind of way, in a bit of a strained-stranger-conversation kind of way.) I see an empty stool behind them.
I gingerly interrupt, “Can I squeeze through you two to sit on that stool?”
I sit and take a breath. I examine the familiar and absolutely uninteresting Corona bottle in my hands. I marvel at how tiny the lime inside my drink is. I challenge myself to not take out my phone.
The strangers get back to their conversation and one of them heads outside. The other turns to me and in a surprisingly kind and exuberant voice says, “What’s your name!” I tell them.
Their openness really takes me aback, so I ask them what made them this way. They tell me they think queer dating sucks and is toxic. (I giggle to myself and don’t share what I do or try to change their mind since I’m not working.) They say that their priority is on friendship instead. They want to create queer community, which I totally adore.
New Friend invites me to come outside to smoke with them. I don’t smoke but I go. They introduce me to the other folks they’ve met that night, but their head turns when they see two tentative queers deciding whether they should go inside the bar or not.
They quickly pivot out of our conversation to embrace the new folks.
“I love your vest!” Friend says to person #1. Friend shifts to person 2, “Have you been here before? Such cute earrings you have on! Wow!”
I am amazed. The rest of our newly established group follows suit and joins the even newer establishing group. We all exchange bite size information about what brought us here tonight, what brought us to New York in general, and what brought us to Friend who brings us all together.
Friend’s openness is remarkable. Their enthusiasm for connection and for including people who don’t have a “group” is shocking and inspiring and most importantly, contagious. We all take a page from their book. We head back inside and talk to folks we don’t know. We buy drinks for each other. We establish new connections.
Toward the end of the night, as I dance with people who are no longer strangers, I look over to that stool tucked away in the corner that I sat in a few hours earlier.
Someone else is sitting there alone. They are writing in a journal.
My group winds up leaving, and as I wait outside for bathroom trips to be taken, I see Journal Person close by.
“Can I ask you a question?” I gently stop them as they are heading back inside alone.
“Sure, what’s up?”
“What were you writing?”
“I have really bad anxiety so sometimes I just need to journal to calm myself down.”
They go on, “But everyone is really nice here. I’m glad I came.”
It turns out that this person was a solo traveler completely new to NYC. They had just taken a plane for the first time in their life two days prior.
I smile thinking about both how I wrestled with my anxiety on that same stool a few hours earlier and how I’m only at the bar because I thought about Traveler Me. I tell them I admire their travels and that they came out tonight without knowing anyone. They smile and thank me and head back inside.
It’s these brief moments of synchronicity and connection that make a life of dating worth it. The moments where we get to look at ourselves and think, “Wow I can’t believed that happened tonight. Huh.” The moments where we get to have inside jokes with ourselves like we would with a close friend. The moments where we see ourselves reflected in the people around us.
Nights like this are remarkable to me. When I had made a plan with myself to do the bare minimum (walk to the street the bar was on) and wind up leaving with stories and instagram handles and numbers and friends. But ultimately the love of nights like this comes from staring the night with a feeling of, “I can’t do this” and leaving the night with a, “But I did.”
These are the moments where we witness our own growth over the course of an evening and, eventually, over the course of our lives. These are the moments where we get to recognize that we aren’t the people we were even a few hours prior. That we have been changed by the people we have come into contact with, and by default, have also changed others.
Sometimes people have a false impression of me that I’m always cool, calm, and collected. That I never feel anxious about putting myself out there. That I’m never afraid to introduce myself to a stranger. That I don’t suffer from automatic negative thoughts like other people. That I always know what to say 100% of the time.
This isn’t really the case.
What’s truer is that I have a growth mindset. That I know fear well and am dedicated to practicing courage when I see that frequent visitor. But more than anything, I try to have an in tact sense of self. I try to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them. I try to practice kindness and get more and more comfortable with imperfection. I try to appreciate what happens regardless of whether or not it’s the outcome I wanted.
This is what makes me able to try new things and able to date. It is a constant toeing the line between accepting myself for exactly who I am and where I am while challenging myself to be who I want to be and where I want to be. All the while opening myself up to possibility after possibility along the way.