Have you ever eaten at a restaurant alone? Not on a business trip, but in your home city or town? Personally, I have always avoided eating alone in a restaurant because, quite honestly, the idea of doing so made me feel pathetic. I spend a lot of time alone as it is. I live alone (which I wouldn’t change for anything), and typically, lunch is the only meal I consistently share with other human beings. I sometimes visit my parents and cook dinner for them, take my grandfather out for dinner and on occasion, I dine with friends. But most of my friends are in serious relationships or married, so their needs for accompaniment are typically met by their spouse or significant other.
I’m not sure where my idea that dining out alone is pathetic came from. But when I think of movies depicting such a thing, it’s usually when someone has been dumped or stood up on a date. There’s sad, pathetic music in the background and the person sits there just playing with their food and not really eating. Check out this short clip from the movie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It’s full of stereotypes affiliated with people who venture to restaurants alone. I guess my free association comes from things like this.
Even when I worked as a server, because of my idea that dining alone was sad, I would sympathize with people who were sitting alone. Freud would probably say that I was projecting my own insecurities onto them. It’s more than likely that these strong souls were quite content to eat a meal alone and didn’t think anything of it.
An additional contributor to my insecurities about dining alone would be the pressures society places on women my age who are still single. Maybe this is just an excuse, but when people make comments and ask you why you are single, putting your solo-ness on display at a restaurant feels all the worse. Yes society, you are right. Here is my pathetic existence on display for you to tut-tut and marvel at my ability to border on the edge of spinster-hood and wonder what’s wrong with me because no one in their right mind seems to want me. And again I find myself in a corner where I’m fine with things being the way they are. I accept it (well, most of the time). But under the haughty gaze of society, my confidence wavers. Thus, I have long since avoided going out and eating out or doing certain activities alone because I didn’t want my lonesomeness to be on display for all the world to see and to judge.
But recently, things came to a T. I couldn’t avoid eating alone, unless I wanted to starve. Over the 4th of July holiday, I went to DC to visit my sister and while she went to the office on the 5th, I took a mini day trip up to Baltimore to do some Poe-related sightseeing on my own. The lunch hour came and I knew that I wanted to have crab cakes, being in Maryland and all. But in order to have the meal I craved, I would have to go to a restaurant, request a table for one and dine alone in public. So I bravely strode up to a restaurant and asked for a table for one and…they sent me to the bar. As I sat there, contentedly munching on my crab cake sandwich and watching the people walk past me on the Inner Harbor, I realized that eating in a restaurant alone wasn’t so bad. No one paid me a second glance, at least not that I noticed. The servers didn’t seem to mind a small table (though I’m sure they would have taken the 4-top if given the choice). And although I was alone, I did not feel bad or embarrassed or anything else. It was nice to be out and about, and though things are always more fun when you have a companion of some kind to share them with, I was happy to have the experience of visiting Baltimore, seeing Poe’s grave and eat lunch while staring out at the Inner Harbor.
After the meal, I decided that I was quite pleased and that I would be okay with the idea of repeating this positive experience again, even in my home city. And so, I plan to bring this activity back with me to Kansas City and begin my own tradition of eating in restaurants alone every once in a while. I think I’m finished waiting around for someone—friend or otherwise— to join me on an adventure and that I’m just going to do it myself. There are lots of places that I have always wanted to try, but haven’t had someone to accompany me. There are numerous movies I have missed, simply because I haven’t had someone to go with, Groupons for restaurants I have wanted to buy but have refrained due to the lack of a companion. Well folks, not any more. If you need me, I’ll be the person sitting at the table, enjoying her meal and her own company after seeing that new movie at the theater. And if you have a critique, I don’t care. But, if you’d like to join me, I’d be happy to accommodate.