Sitting in restaurants or movie theaters all alone isn't nearly as depressing as you might think—in fact, researchers say, you'll actually like it. They decided this after surveying people about whether they preferred to engage in certain activities alone or with others, and then studying subjects' reactions to either a solo or a group outing at an art gallery, the Washington Post reports. Set to be published this summer, the study found that people didn't expect to get much enjoyment out of a solo gallery outing, but actually ended up enjoying it just as much as those who went with friends. So why do most of us dread going out alone? "The reason is we think we won't have fun because we're worried about what other people will think," says study co-author Rebecca Ratner. "We end up staying at home instead of going out to do stuff because we're afraid others will think they're a loser."
And that, she says, is hard on people in an era when we marry later in life, work more often, and have less time to kick around. It also translates into lonely nights at home when people could be out enjoying themselves and giving a boost to local businesses, she tells New York. That self-conscious feeling we get when going out alone has a name in psychology—the spotlight effect—and a 2000 study found that people tend to adjust their actions so they won't be perceived poorly, even though others rarely notice. So how can the solitary outing become acceptable? "We need the norms to shift a little," says Ratner. "We need for people to think it’s a gutsy cool thing to have fun on our own." But she admits that's easier said that done: "Oh my God, it’s so hard for me," she adds, laughing. "It’s so hard. Wow." (If you are feeling lonely, here's why you might be craving comfort food.)