Food & Drink

A Mental Health Expert Explains Why We’re Afraid to Go to Bars Alone

Getting a drink alone at the bar is often considered a taboo that raises plenty of internal questions. What will people think? How awkward will it be? What’s the proper etiquette for solo bar drinking? It’s enough to turn you off to the idea of hitting the bar by yourself before you even seriously consider it. We’d like to let you know that you’re not alone. We caught up with GinaMarie Guarino, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) at PsychPoint in New York, to learn why we fear going to the bar alone. And, more importantly, why we shouldn’t.

Why People Dislike Drinking Alone

Bars and drinking are seen as ways for people to socialize, and being alone directly challenges that.

“When you see someone and you’re alone at a bar, you might be thinking, ‘I hope no one thinks I’m a loser who doesn’t have friends,’” Guarino says. Several judgy scenarios can run through your head: Maybe they think you were stood up on a date. Maybe they think you’re just weird. “It can easily be misinterpreted,” Guarino says. “The prospects of that prevent people from going out alone.”

Feeling uncomfortable and judged only exacerbates the problem because the person who is alone changes their body language. Strangers see someone who is slouching and closed off, leading them to think that something is wrong rather than “this is a person comfortable with being alone.” These feelings vary with age. The younger you are, the more likely you are to be uncomfortable doing things outside of the social norm, Guarino says.

“As you get older and go through more life experiences, it becomes more acceptable,” Guarino says. “When you get more mature, you’re more comfortable with yourself … and you’re more understanding if someone is at a bar alone.”
Another reason people can be uncomfortable being alone is internal. A study from 2014 found that people had difficulty spending six to 15 minutes in a room by themselves. So much so that “many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts,” the study introduction reads.

These internal and external factors can go hand in hand. People who are more extroverted may not realize the comfort level of someone who is purposefully alone, leading to more questions and stigmatization.

Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Going to the Bar Alone

Don’t let your thoughts about what other people may be saying about you become irrational. People “tend to become anxious about what people are thinking—more so than they should for what people are actually thinking,” Guarino says.
“Remember that stigma and social norms aren’t always reflective of reality,” Guarino says. “People create social norms through their own experiences. Don’t take it to heart when somebody is holding that norm against you. Don’t let it discourage you because people are imperfect.”

Guarino believes there’s less stigma toward people alone at the bar than there was in the past. We’ve become more tolerant of people in general and more inclined to socializing in different ways. Part of that is because a portion of the population has become what Guarino calls a “nomadic society”—where people are less rooted and more open to working in new locations—even at the bar.

“In the past we didn’t move around as much and we had a strong community,” Guarino says. “Now things are more digitized and we move around a lot more, so [drinking alone at a bar] is going to become more regular and less stigmatized. Less unusual first in major cities, and eventually in smaller towns.”

And it will continue to be less and less stigmatized the way things are going—especially if people start going out alone more.  

“If we were able to be more comfortable with [spending time alone] and express that, that says I’m comfortable and secure with who I am,” Guarino says. “If we’re able to portray a relaxed state it will help reduce stigma.”

How to Drink Alone

Guarino suggests challenging yourself by going out alone, even if the thought makes you uncomfortable, and to follow these three guidelines:

1: “Get in touch with why you don’t want to (go alone). Once you get in touch with why, figure out if it’s a valid thing to be concerned about.”

2: “Practice. There are ways to practice opening up body language and being mindful about communicating without words.”

3: “Find some sort of focal point of confidence. Maybe you are at this bar on your own, but that’s not reflective of the stigma that being alone at the bar carries.”