I stopped relying on other people to make plans – as a woman in Pakistan, that’s no small thing – The Guardian

My new independence has been met with everything from curiosity to awkward laughter. But this is about me, not them
When Lost Migrations, an animated film series I’d been waiting to see for months, finally premiered in Karachi earlier this year, I immediately saved the date in my calendar. But instead of doing what I, or anyone around me, would usually do – coordinate with a group of friends – I decided to go alone.
A few years ago, the idea of doing anything alone, much less in Pakistan as a woman, would have seemed impossible. Women in Pakistan are generally expected to socialise inside, rather than in public (although there are growing attempts to challenge this by women’s movements), and many believe there can be safety risks to going out alone.
But quitting having to be dependent on other people to make plans has been my own private revolution. I’ve got to know myself in entirely new ways.
When I was growing up, the house would always be full of family members and visitors, accompanied by lots of food and loud conversations. As a result, I was great at small talk with other people, but having to sit with my own thoughts – not so much. As I wasn’t used to going out alone and never thought it was even an option, I would often miss events I wanted to attend as my friends weren’t interested.
After I moved to London from Karachi to go to university, I stuck to the same pattern. I missed a gig I really wanted to go to, simply because I didn’t have anyone to go with. But after a few months, I decided to try something different: I decided to go to the Imperial War Museum and very excitedly termed it a “date with myself”, planning and replanning every detail of how my day would go. After growing up in a family in which I was rarely ever even alone in the house, much less outside of it, my day at the museum felt quite the adventure.
Sitting in a cafe alone before I headed to the museum was the first time I’d ever been out to eat alone, and initially the silence seemed deafening. I kept thinking that people would be staring at me or judging me, but slowly the discomfort began to ease. I had a list of specific activities I wanted to try in London – and after that first time I went out alone without having to fit in with anyone else’s schedule, or coordinate plans, something just clicked. I didn’t wait to find someone to do things with: I just did them myself.
When I moved back to Pakistan during the pandemic, going out – much less planning activities alone – was a far-off dream, thanks to lockdown. When things finally did start moving towards a kind of normal again, I found that what I’d learned in London had changed my approach for good. Going out alone for leisure in Pakistan is seen as strange, so I was definitely more conscious taking that step here – but beyond the occasional questioning glance, I realised most people admired it. Most of all, I admired myself a lot more. I’d always struggled with confidence, and this new approach has slowly changed the way I saw myself.
Anmol Irfan is a freelance journalist and founder of the Pakistani community magazine Perspective
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