Earlier today, I had some time to kill before I had to teach a class in the afternoon, and I decided to eat out for lunch, and maybe treat myself to a brownie to hype myself up before work. I drove to an old haunt of mine that I’d grown to be fond of in the years since I first decided to try it out, and as I entered the restaurant and sat down, a waitress puts down two menus and I quickly stop her and explain, “Oh, just for me, thanks.”
And just like that, I can feel the stares from the patrons nearby as the waitress hesitates for a second before apologising for her assumption, to which I mindlessly reply with a rehearsed “No problem”, before I finally get to order. But at this point, my appetite has soured a little as I internally sigh at the curiosity mingled with pity that’s emanating from my fellow diners, all of whom have company with them. Which was sad, because I was really looking forward to that brownie for dessert.
I have friends who can’t stand the thought of eating alone in public. “It’s embarrassing,” and “It’s kind of pathetic,” are sentiments they share, and while I do understand that it can be a little awkward when you’ve never done it before, it’s not really something to be pitied. The idea that eating is a communal activity is one that’s still strongly enforced today, and yes, sitting down to eat together as a family is a healthy habit that should be fostered from young, and I myself will have four hour long conversations with my parents and my sisters over dinner. However, I’ve grown to love having a meal on my own as well without the constant chatter that comes with a family of seven.
I actually started eating alone when I first entered university and none of my friends’ schedules coincided with mine in the first semester, and I was pretty terrified of the prospect. I was the equivalent of the new kid at high school when everyone’s already gotten to know one another, except campus was a lot bigger than high school and I really didn’t know anyone else well enough to ask them to accompany me for lunch on a regular basis. It wasn’t a voluntary choice, and yet I remember feeling like such a grownup at eighteen, slurping fried noodles as I read lecture notes on my laptop. It was a foreign situation that I quickly adapted to, and when my friends were finally able to have lunches with me in the next few semesters, I’d still sneak away once or twice a week to eat alone. (Sorry, friends.)
I’d also lived alone overseas while studying, and that was probably when I really understood the true meaning of solitude. Having my meals alone really taught me to treasure the time I had to myself, and as a self-professed introvert, it was liberating to be able to walk into a dining establishment whenever I wanted to, and leave whenever I felt like it as well. I didn’t have to answer to anyone else’s wants, I didn’t have to wait around for the other person to finish, and I sure didn’t have to deal with the hassle of settling the tip and bill together.
There’s still this underlying notion that people who eat alone do so because they have to, not because they want to. And while that may be true for some, it’s definitely not an overarching truth. As preposterous as the idea might be, some people actually eat alone because it’s kind of fun. You get to order something without anyone judging you for your calorie intake and sugary dessert, and if you pick a great spot that’s inconspicuous enough, people watching is a pretty good past time. And there’s probably no such thing as truly eating alone when phones and the Internet are a thing, anyway. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve sat in the same spot for three hours on end with an empty plate and too many applications open on my phone. Nevertheless, eating alone is a common enough occurrence for me by now, that it’s gotten to the point where if my phone decides to suddenly shut itself down, I’d still be happy enough to catch up on some rare reading or bullet journaling on my own as a welcome distraction.
So for the entire two hours of lunch today, I sat alone, I ate alone, and I had no need to be aware or attentive to the presence of anyone else in the vicinity, unlike how it would be if I had a dining partner with me. And it was glorious.
And if I’ve kept you company during your solo meal with my words, then I hope I’ve alleviated whatever lingering loneliness and awkwardness you’ve felt eating that burger with one hand and phone glued to the other. Happy solo dining, friend, and don’t mind the stares. Some of them are probably wishing they were in your place, anyway.