Many people noted when I first shared my 30 before 30 list that it was mainly aimed at becoming more independent. And this is probably true. I wouldn’t say that I am not an independent person, but there is still a long way for me to go before I feel I am truly comfortable with myself and doing things alone.
The big things I struggle with doing alone are eating (in public) and going to the cinema. So, these two things were swiftly added to my to-do list. I wasn’t sure what doing either of those things were going to make me feel – proud, happy, independent, lonely – but I have now completed the latter of those two tasks and I can tell you, it made me feel all of those things.
I’ve known many people who find the task of going into a cinema alone completely undaunting, and I admire them. For me, the cinema is a social event. When you are giggling during the characters’ antics, you can turn to your companion and share that laughter; when the tears come streaming out, someone is there to offer you a shoulder or a tissue to cry into; as soon as the credits roll, you can turn to them and immediately see in their eyes how much or little they enjoyed the film.
The first time I went to the cinema by myself, last September, it was completely unplanned, and I think that helped as I had no time to work myself into a panic about it. Yes, genuinely, the thought of doing this previously brought me out in a panic. Would I look like a loser? Would people point at me? Who would I talk to when the film finished? Will people judge me?
So, let me tell you a story about two cinema visits, both alone.
My first experience was a decision made in seconds when I was stuck in Westfield Stratford having been told by Apple they would need my phone for 3 hours to fix its smashed screen.
Needing it fixed, but not wanting to travel back home to Greenwich without the safety net of my phone to tell me when buses and tubes would be arriving or what time it was (the over-reliance on my phone is something else I want to tackle over the next couple of years), I suddenly found myself going up the escalator to Vue. It was 11am and there was just one (non-kids) film showing – Bad Moms. And before I knew it I had got my ticket (from a machine – phew, no one had to know I was going in alone) and I was walking into the darkened cinema.
And guess what? No one looked at me and no one pointed. There were only about 6 other people in there (all women), and I could see straight away that there was at least one other woman in there by herself. I suddenly felt less alone.
The film wasn’t the best, but I like Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn and Mila Kunis, and it made me laugh in all the right places. Perhaps because there were only women in the cinema and the film was about women finding their own strength (maybe I was reading too much into it, in hindsight), but I felt stronger when I left the cinema. I even went and got a burger by myself (but this doesn’t count for my “eating in a restaurant alone” task, as it was only a slightly upmarket McDonald’s) and practically skipped to pick up my phone (shiny and almost new looking) at exactly the moment it was due to be ready and headed back home, treating (!) myself to a trip on the Jubilee line rather than 45 minutes on the grotty and crowded 108 bus.
Fast forward a couple of months and I’ve flown back to the UK for a Harry Potter weekend extraordinaire. Saturday is a visit to the Studio Tour, Sunday watching both parts of the new play, and, by some miracle, Friday was the first day of the release of Fantastic Beasts. I had a few hours to kill in the middle of the day in Milton Keynes before my friend Tor finished work and headed back down to MK, so I gathered my little wheely suitcase (more on that later – I had nowhere else to put it) and traipsed through a very quiet “city” centre to Xscape to embrace my inner Luna Lovegood (that girl ain’t afraid of anyone else’s opinion).
And then it all started going wrong.
Two gawky teenage boys were manning the entrance, and after showing them my ticket they demanded to see the innards of my suitcase “because I might be going in there to film” (lolz) and after my explanation (and revelation) that the only thing in there was my dirty undies, I walked into a slightly busier cinema than last time, and some middle-aged bloke with his family (all three generations), sat in the top row, thought it was appropriate to loudly announce to everyone in there that “OMG THAT GIRL (girl?! Excuse me!) HAS COME IN ‘ERE WITH A SUITCASE!”. I’m not sure why he thought this was his business and why it mattered, but cue his family laughing. Actual laughing at me.
Flustered, I sat down and tried to calm my anger and quiet the voice that told me I should go up there and tell him he was a dick and then just as the film was about to start, a couple strolled in and told me I was sat in their seat (in my flustered state, I had forgotten we had assigned seats).
I tried to calmly tell them that the three rows in front and behind this one were totally empty (and were probably much better seats), for them to park their bums in, and after huffing, they sat right next to me. Right next to me! Totally get if there were no other seats, but there about 20 people in the whole cinema, and these weren’t even prime seats (I was aiming for the back of the cinema until the douchebag made me lose any confidence I thought I had).
I spent the first 20 minutes of the film in silent anger, cursing myself for thinking I could enjoy going to the cinema alone.
The film ended, and with no bounce in my step, I waited for EVERY SINGLE PERSON to leave the cinema before I got up, went to go get a coffee, where my card was declined (my bank was confused as to why I was suddenly using it in the UK) and Tor’s parents kindly came to pick me up (I was staying at theirs that night). I was on the verge of tears.
The two experiences could not have been more different. I’m optimistic that the second event was a rarity, and I will go again. I’ve been meaning to in France, but I can’t find a non-dubbed showing of any films I want to see, so perhaps I will do it when I am on my travels.
If there is anyone who does want to go to the cinema on their own, my only tips would be to try to go during the day – very few people, and most of them older – and to walk in with confidence, don’t take a suitcase, and then just enjoy it. Don’t let my telling of one horrible trip (the film was ace though) spoil it; I’m not going to let it stop me doing something that I think I could really enjoy.