Starting the Year with a Social Detox

We don’t do all that much for the holidays. We don’t travel great distances while lugging presents or have Hollywood-level, tension-filled dinner chat with relatives who love to start loud conversations about sensitive, personal subjects. But even without the drama, I still end up exhausted from socializing by the time it’s the New Year.   

My strategies for self-preservation at any celebration or family get-together are generally successful because I get some alone time by volunteering for things. I organize pickups, I run errands—anything that will give me some reprieve and silence. But all these quiet moments I take are acts of self-preservation. They are a defensive tactic to maintain the illusion of calm. This is very different from self-indulgence, where the whole purpose is to celebrate yourself.

During the first week of January last year, my toddler son, while playing on my phone, bought me on Groupon a $19 day pass to a Russian bathhouse. Fortunately, he didn’t get to Living Social, or I’d be on a solo all-inclusive $13,000 trip to Papua New Guinea. Instead of returning the Groupon, I decided to trust my son’s instincts—even though his instincts at the time also included eating chalk and drawing on his face with permanent marker.   

It was an odd feeling setting aside time to go to a bathhouse. When I arrived, someone pointed me in the direction of the locker room and of the steam, sauna, and the super hot Russian Rooms. That was the end of my interaction with anyone. I had a pretty perfect time, roaming through the different rooms, psyching myself up to taking an ice bath, and, most importantly, being phoneless during the entire thing.

As wonderful as the accidental purchase turned out to be, the rest of the year didn’t involve any more impromptu solo visits to bathhouses or other places I would find fun and relaxing. When I do find myself alone for an extended period of time, it’s normally not particularly well thought out. I’m typically stealing time from errands and chores to do something revolutionary—like read a book for pleasure.

In 2017, I’ve decided to plan solo getaways even if I can’t get five consecutive hours of relaxation, like at the baths. While there are things I already know I would want to do with my family, like a dumpling crawl (my wife and I once went to Queens for dumplings, and my daughter is still waiting for me to say the word), there is a long list of things I want to do in New York City by myself.

Self-maintenance is an important aspect, but self-indulgence is equally important. One of the things I’ve found most enjoyable about taking the time to spend by myself is just how much I have to learn about myself. For example, I was under the impression I would enjoy going to the arcade, so I spent $15 for a two-hour visit there but found it really boring and loud after about twenty minutes. As an introvert, it turns out that I treasure quiet time just as much as I treasure quality time with people.

This year, there are several places I plan to revisit solo as well as add a few more:

Russian and Turkish Baths

Ever since trying this place on my son’s whim last year, I’ve wanted to return. This place is not only historic, with over 126 years of operation behind it, but also perfect for being alone with your thoughts, all while taking a nice ice bath!

Jefferson Market Library

All my outings revolve around food, and this one is no different. It is directly across the street from Umami Burger, which has the most delectable truffle burger I never knew was missing from my life. Also, I am in love with high ceilings, and this library doesn’t disappoint. It used to be a courthouse and feels like a converted cathedral. You can sit and read a book where prisoners were once held. It’s up to you whether you find that macabre or fascinating!

Picnic on Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island is an absolute gem. I took my daughter there for a little outing last year and thought then it would be the perfect place to while away the hours in solitude. It costs a subway ride, and you get to take a ferry to the island while taking in gorgeous views. You could visit the wonderful landmarks, or you could be like me and plan to bring some wine, a book, and a blanket to sprawl out on amidst the trees and grass, steps from the tram.  

Visiting a community garden

When I’m in the City, I am usually rushing to get to work, to meet people, or to go from place to place with my kids, so when we do pop into a community garden, it’s usually for a quick stop before getting to our actual destination or heading back home. This year, my plan is to make some of these gardens actual destinations for visits—with as well as without my kids. It’s always interesting to see how a community is reflected through its gardens, some including artwork or exotic plants while others going with trusty herbs and recognizable flowers. One I’ve always wanted to go to and never made the time for is on 9th and Avenue C, which has weeping willow trees, a reader’s best friend!

Ice cream

An often overlooked aspect of New York City is the fact that many of our ice-cream shops open as early as 7:30 AM. I am no glutton for pain, so I will be going for ice cream at a more humane hour. But the extended hours allow repeat visits, and there are so many flavors that people truly dedicated to ice cream come up with that I want to try them all!

As lovely as spending time with friends and family during the holidays is, especially ushering in the New Year, I find it’s also nice to spend time by myself. The things I plan to do involve leaving the house, but they can also be as easy as watching a movie at home by myself or eating some junky cereal. The point is to make the time to celebrate yourself.