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Eating Alone

NPR is posting a series of stories about eating alone, and the series emphasizes the social stigma of it:


I've seen the "embarrassed to eat alone" phenomenon in movies and TV--heck, the latest Muppet movie did an entire song and dance number about it--but I've never encountered it anywhere else.  I love eating alone in restaurants and have never felt the slightest embarrassment.  Why on earth would I feel embarrassed?  It's no different than buying groceries alone or going to the car wash alone or going to a movie alone.  Nobody cares--or if they do, so what?  Why would I give half a crap about what a ticket taker thinks of me, or the opinion of someone who wears a dirty apron?

I enjoy eating alone.  First of all, it's QUIET.  I can sort through a day's set of thoughts or problems without interruption.  I can go through my to-do list for tomorrow.  I can untangle my reactions to what happened at work last week and what I'm going to do about them.  I can whip out a book and relax with some nice reading.  In a modern twist, I can shut my mind off and watch a few videos on my Netflix stream.  The only demands anyone makes of me come from the server, who only wants to know if I'd like a refill.  It's a delightful change of pace from most of my meals.

Also, I can CHOOSE WHERE I EAT.  Darwin, for all his other wonderful qualities, keeps to an extremely limited food palate.  This sharply limits the restaurants where we can both eat, usually to my despair.  I want to try that new INDIAN place or a THAI restarautn or some ETHIOPIAN food, but Darwin won't even cross the threshold.  When I eat alone, I can eat wherever I want and try something adventurous.  I love going into a restaurant I know nothing about and asking the server, "What's the best-tasting meal here?" or "I don't know anything about this kind of food--what do you recommend?"  Even better if I don't know how to eat it and have to ask how it works.  And right now, the only way for me to do that is to eat alone.

I can understand why restaurants--servers--dislike loners.  We take up an entire table, but the tip is based on a single meal.  I get that.  So even though it really isn't my job to ensure the restaurant fills its tables, I do tip heavily to make up the lack. But I never, ever let a restaurant seat me in a crappy table just because I'm alone, and I've never had a greeter turn me down when I say, "This table won't really work for me.  Could I sit over there instead?  Thank you so much."

Back when I was doing my grad work and I stayed in the dorms for short visits, meals were served in the cafeteria.  Never a morning person, I ate breakfast by myself, even though I could have sat with other grad students.  (I'm grouchy before lunch.)  To keep people away, I buried myself in a book while I ate.  One morning, a woman named Ellen stopped at my table with her tray.

"Could I sit here?" she asked.  "Whenever I eat alone, people stop and ask if everything is all right, or they bug me to join them, but in the mornings I just want to be alone with my thoughts.  I won't talk."

"Of course!" I said.  And we passed the meal in comfortable silence.  She sat, I read, we both ate.  It was lovely.

Even when you eat with a friend, you can eat alone.


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( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Nov. 21st, 2015 09:27 pm (UTC)

I agree.  I have never had a problem doing public things on my own.  For many years, my wife and I did not share the same taste in movies.  Until LOTR, if I wanted to see a fantasy, superhero, cartoon (except Pixar), or Bond film, I had to go alone, and it never bothered me.  We often go Christmas shopping separately, so I end up dining out on my own (Christmas shopping, IMHO, earns me a nice sit-down dinner rather than the usual mall fastfood). I don't judge anyone else who might be eating alone, and I don't worry about being judged.

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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