September 6, 2009

Who knew eating alone was an act of bravery? The other day I was at a restaurant having an early dinner when I got a phone call from a friend. She asked where I was and when I told her she said, 'Sorry, I won't bother you when you're with company."

I told her it wasn't a problem, I was eating alone. There was a pause. Then she said, sounding impressed, "That takes guts."

Really. Guts? I tend to think having guts applies to more perilous circumstances. Being in physical danger of some sort and forging ahead. Or having emotional fortitude - such waking up every day in spite of knowing what's out there - that takes courage. But sitting alone at the sushi bar eating a spicy tuna roll?

Who knew I was such a trailblazer?

"I find it uncomfortable," my friend said. She has never eaten a meal alone in public in her life. Why? "Because I'd feel stigmatized as lonely and pathetic. It seems like you've got nowhere to go and no one to see. You don't feel like a loser eating alone?"

No. Right up until she said that.

Not only do I enjoy eating alone, but most of the time, I prefer it. I'd rather eat alone than with 80% of the people I know. Why would I care about what people I don't know and will never see again think? I barely care about what people I'm close to think.

Whenever I see someone give me the sad look I'm tempted to say, "I'd rather be me than you." Which is saying a lot since being me isn't that great.

I've never understood why eating alone is so disturbing. I think it's far more depressing to see a couple sharing a meal - in silence. Or worse, a party of six struggling to get through the appetizers and keep the conversation going.

I admit, eating a meal alone during daylight hours is one thing. It says you're rushing around, grabbing a bite, or maybe just preferring to get out of the house. But eating a meal on one's own at night is tricky. It says: couldn't get a dining companion. And a woman eating alone on a Saturday night? I'd sooner starve.

Of course it comes down to where you eat. There's a certain level of restaurant where eating alone in the evening is easier. Sushi, for instance. The sushi bar is ideally constructed for the single diner. You sit facing a slab of raw salmon, your back to the restaurant; the only person you ever have to look at or talk to is the sushi chef and the topic never extends past your order.

Going out to an upscale restaurant is another matter. There's getting past the host or hostess who will invariably sound surprised when they say, "Table for one?" Whenever that happens, it seems like the next thing out their mouth will be: ew.

I love when people say that they have just eaten a meal alone - as though it's a major accomplishment. My friend, Heather, recently revealed that she spent the entire week eating meals on her own. "Dinner too" She stated. What I couldn't figure out is why this was something she was so proud of. Then I remembered, she's married. Her husband was away on business.

I know a lot of married people who eat out on their own and do so with confidence because they have someone waiting for them at home. Sometimes when I'm out I like to try and spot the husband or wife who is without their spouse. The men tend to look relieved and the women tend to look smug. They have a look that says, I'm here by choice, not default. And they make sure to flash the ring as much as possible.

Here's something I find distressing. I've noticed that lately, more and more restaurants have a community table where they try to seat all the single diners. No thanks. The whole point of eating alone is not to talk to people.

When I go out to eat I bring something to read like a newspaper or a book or maybe a notebook so that I can work. I like it. It's time when I can sit, alone with my thoughts, and contemplate where it all went wrong.