Table for One
When I was younger, I hated the idea of eating alone in public places. In college, if I couldn't find anyone to go with me to the dining hall, I would just get food and go back to my room to eat; when I graduated and was living on my own, I ordered a lot of take-out. I just assumed that if I sat at a table by myself, everyone else in the restaurant would be staring at me, either feeling sorry for me or wondering why I had no friends (um, yeah, self-absorbed much?). Since I didn't want to sit in my apartment alone ALL the time, I did start going to coffeehouses. I was still pretty uncomfortable but at least there, I could write in my journal or read a book (note: this was also back before there were Starbucks on every corner with everyone sitting for hours with their laptops using the wifi). After a while, I did start feeling a bit less conspicuous. I even remember specifically looking around at the other people who were by themselves and thinking, "Hmmm, they don't seem sad or pathetic - so maybe I don't either..." But I still couldn't imagine going into a sit-down restaurant and eating a meal at a table by myself.
At some point, I realized that the main person judging me for eating alone was me. Admittedly, I didn't acquire that attitude overnight. It took me a while to shake the feeling that if I ate by myself, it meant I was loser with no friends and everyone was staring at me. I started by eating out when I was traveling. In my mind, it didn't seem as sad if I knew I wasn't eating alone because I had no friends but just because I was from out of town. But doing that also helped me realize that no one else cared - no one ever seemed to look oddly at me and I saw plenty of other people dining alone. I also had a similar thought to when I was in coffeehouses, that I wasn't sitting there wondering why they were eating alone or thinking they were losers, so maybe they weren't thinking anything about me either.
Nowadays, I'm generally OK with eating out alone. Not that I'm going to five-star restaurants or anything, but I no longer have a problem telling the host "Table for one, please". Sometimes it helps to have something to read (yay for smarthphones!) but I also make a conscious effort to look around and, in particular, to savor my food. How often do we go to restaurants with other people and focus more on the conversation than the food? That can be great too, of course, but there's something sort of zen about not doing anything but really tasting your food.
I have no doubt there are plenty of people who still think it's "sad" to see any woman eating alone in a decent restaurant but since those would be strangers whose opinions don't mean anything to me, why should I let them stop me from having a nice meal out?
[Originally posted on my Quirkyeconomist blog]