What Works: Solo playdates

Nourishing your soul with regular creative outings

In my column about nonnegotiables, I talked about Julia Cameron’s concept from The Artist’s Way of the “artist date” — where you make a playdate with yourself to do something creatively enriching. While she was suggesting it specifically for people in creative professions, this is a powerful spiritual tool for everyone. I want you to consider making a weekly date with yourself to do something creatively stimulating — two hours a week for a museum, show, or hike in nature, a stroll in a new neighborhood, a subscription to a local concert series.

It can be so easy to go from home to work to gym to home, dividing time between job and chores and other people, looking after the maintenance of our bodies but not our souls, letting week after week go by without any creative activity.

Dates with yourself are spiritually beneficial in several ways. Obviously, you gain enrichment from the thing to which you’re exposing yourself, whether it be art or nature. We all can use more beauty in our lives and most art touches the transcendent. (Of course nature does.)

If you need a little practical encouragement, consider this: whether you apply creativity directly in a job or not, exposing yourself to creativity can stimulate new thinking which can help with any kind of problem solving. This was the principle behind the liberal arts education, and it remains as valid today. The best project leaders, and not a few CEOs, are not MBAs or highly trained technical specialists, but rather, products of liberal arts educations who’ve read the Greek tragedies and Shakespeare, learned foreign languages and studied philosophy.

Doing it for yourself

And this may sound a little corny, but spending intentional scheduled time with yourself — not accidental time when nothing else has come together, or do-nothing laying around time — is self-loving. If you have a tendency to ignore your needs in order to be there for others, or if you have trouble avoiding enmeshment with a partner, doing the occasional thing just for you can be powerful, empowering.

I spent a number of years in a relationship doing only activities we could do together. Not only did I resent her for the fact that I wasn’t “getting to do” things I enjoyed that she didn’t, but looking to her to be my sole source of entertainment and companionship was a setup for frustration and disappointment. I stumbled into an activity, political work, that she wasn’t interested in and that mattered to me enough that I did it anyway. This took me out on my own several times a week, and it was very good for the relationship.

Making dates with yourself even when you are in a committed relationship can head off serious resentments towards those for whom you are deferring your interests.

And whether you live alone or not, if you make no plans and spend every evening at home with the TV, going on dates with yourself is saying you deserve to be doing interesting things. If you’re reluctant because you think everyone else at a concert or play is on a date, look more closely next time; you’ll notice that’s not true at all.

While it is critical in Cameron’s version, I’m not going to say you can never involve another person in your solo date activity. Because some things can be more fun if shared — trying a new restaurant, going to a movie and talking about it afterwards. The critical factors are: a) it can’t be an actual date, i.e., if you go on an artist date with someone you’re interested in, it just becomes a date date; b) it’s critical that it be your thing, your interest — you’d be doing it if they weren’t there; and c), the other person needs to be completely on board with the concept and the focus must remain on the experience — you can’t be making small talk the whole time. So I won’t say you can’t include another person, but be very wary.

Beware your inner killjoy

Unless you make a deal with yourself that you will value these solo dates, they probably won’t happen. So I encourage you to make this commitment to yourself:

“Once a week for two hours minimum, I will go on a playdate with myself, away from the house and alone. I will be a good date. I will respect how valuable my time is and plan an activity that is fun and enriching for me.”

Along with the enriching experiences, the healthy non-enmeshment with partners, and the enhanced spiritual connectedness these creative solo playdates may offer, the experience of struggling with them may reveal deeper insights. When I’m working with someone who’s having trouble with meditation, often they have designed a life with no spare time that might open them to self-reflection. If this is true of you, an artist date, like meditation, may challenge you. Which could be the most valuable gift you get from this exercise.

As Cameron says:

“Watch your killjoy side try to wriggle out of it. Watch how this sacred time gets easily encroached on. Watch how this sacred time suddenly includes a third party. Learn to guard against these invasions… You are likely to find yourself avoiding your artist dates. Recognize this as a fear of intimacy — self-intimacy.”

See the sidebar for some suggestions of solo date activities. And share your past or new experience with solo dates (or, if you’ve done the Artist’s Way, with artist dates) below in comments.

Originally published on May 24, 2010.