London is the perfect place to fall in love. The possibilities for an unforgettable date with the beloved are countless. It’s especially gratifying if the person you’re trying to impress is yourself. Here we go. Self-love: that much maligned notion, inevitably associated with deluded hippie doodah. And yet, how can we possibly make space for someone else before we’ve made peace with ourselves?
Pressures of city living can sometimes leave us feeling burnt out to a point where we cannot even think of giving an ounce of ourselves to another. The winter months are especially demoralising; we often wake up before the sun and come home long after it has retired back to the other side. On such evenings, Netflix and a TV dinner seem like the only tolerable companions.
But how about a date? There are so many advantages to being one’s own date. For one, you don’t have to compromise on the restaurant choice. Or dress up. Or pretend to be slimmer, smarter, richer. And no matter how bad the date turns out, the time and money you’ve invested will not be lost. Even if your date is in a cranky mood or does something embarrassing. It’s as safe an emotional investment as can be made. We’re often so preoccupied with fulfilling our commitments to others that we forget about giving ourselves the time and compassion we deserve. London offers endless choices and the good news is, most of the options here are either free or fall into the category of blissfully affordable. Here goes our prescription for slow love in the city…
First of all, take a walk. It might sound like an obvious idea, but when it comes to caring for yourself in London, walking cannot be omitted. You may be one for ducking and diving, weaving and free-wheeling through the crowded thoroughfares – charged with that bolt of anonymity a heaving city of millions will give you – but nothing beats a stroll in nature to boost your wellbeing. Wherever you are based, you’re probably less than half an hour’s walk from one of the numerous nature reserves or greens.
Take the Parkland Walk, for instance. Having started life as an abandoned railway line this urban miracle, winding its way through the hills of North London, is one of the most picturesque places in the capital. While immensely popular among locals, it is still delightfully quiet (particularly during the week), and the atmosphere is one of sun-dappled enchantment and calm contemplation. Start your walk at Highgate Station and follow the trail towards Finsbury Park. Look up. Watch the sway of ivy-drenched trees against the sky. About half-way down the Walk you’ll start glimpsing the city, far in the distance, almost a mirage. Stop. Listen to the tweet-twittering of birds instead of updates. Take a deep breath, maybe let out a little primal chant. The city before you is yours.
If you fancy a longer stroll, why not explore the wonders of the River Lea? Head to Tottenham Hale tube, and start your romantic escapade with the Walthamstow Wetlands. Somewhere between there and Stoke Newington, you are guaranteed to get in touch with your higher self, and if you can make it all the way to the Olympic Park – well, I think this relationship has potential.
London may not be as famous for its hills as San Francisco or Rome, but there are still some glorious panoramas to take in. From Alexandra Palace, Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath in the North, to Greenwich Park, Crystal Palace and Severndroog Castle in the South – the sight of this magnificent city sprawling before you is sure to make your troubles melt like lemon drops.
With the first date under your belt, you might be ready to take things a bit further. Maybe, just maybe, it is time to go shopping. And I did say that most recommendations here are free or affordable, so bear with me. This is retail therapy on a budget, though I’m sorry to say that I’m not the first person to think of this: Holly Golightly beat me to it. Who can forget the opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Audrey Hepburn in a sleek Givenchy gown, sipping coffee and gazing at the Tiffany’s storefront? It’ inspiration. The point is, just seeing your favourite things – be it books, clothes, jewellery – beautifully arranged in a shop without the stress of actually spending money, is surprisingly satisfying. Some of the best places for alternative retail therapy are garden centres. Plants and flowers are balm to the soul, a lullaby whispered, not to mention the fact that if you do decide to actually treat yourself, plants, as a rule, are far more reasonably priced than jewellery. Poor Holly could have saved herself a lot of emotional pain if she chose a different shop.
Your first point of call should be Conservatory Archives in Hackney. This slice of paradise lost is the perfect destination for you and you to spend some quality time enjoying the lush greenery. Afterwards, treat yourself to a coffee at the nearby Palm Vaults. This gorgeous café is filled with hanging baskets and is as close to an exotic getaway as you can find without leaving London. On Sunday, do yourself a favour and head to the Columbia Flower Market. You are guaranteed to leave a happier person. Splash out on an armful of buds and blooms, perhaps a super-bright or unusual bunch, all for your significant self.
By this point you may be ready for a more serious commitment. Perhaps you’ve arrived at that crucial stage in your relationship where you’re ready to get physical. Although the mind springs to a spot of yoga and meditation as a way to tune into yourself, perhaps you’d consider a spicier suggestion. How about taking yourself out dancing? Nothing makes love blossom faster than an old-fashioned spin, and the Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden offer a vertiginously eclectic range of classes. Even if you’ve never danced before, you can unleash your inner diva by learning to vogue, strut or belly dance, and the best part? The only partner you’ll need is you.
Chances are that by now you’re feeling more aligned. You feel good in your skin and you’re enjoying your own company – and that’s what’s important. At the end of the day, we all sleep alone. So set the stage for that too. Stock up on candles, tea lights, fairy lights and essential oil burners. Put some soothing music on. It’s just you now. And that’s wonderful.