As I sat at a corner booth enjoying a nice taco salad, the stares started. First, looks of mere curiosity as people sat down at the surrounding tables. Then, looks of wonderment as if I were attempting some death-defying feat. And finally, looks of pity, of sheer sorrow that I sat alone at what I’m sure others viewed as an “empty table” of just me and my mound of lettuce, meat, cheese and salsa.
I might as well have been sitting under a gigantic, glowing spotlight.
I was officially on display. Now, I wasn’t committing any mortal sin. I was merely enjoying a nice lunch. The only (apparent) problem was my lack of company.
As I chewed, I couldn’t help but muse: Why is it that people equate a solo breakfast, lunch or dinner to a sort of death sentence? Is it really so pathetic to want to eat not at a table a deux, but at a table a uno?
MORE JUICE AFTER THE JUMP…
People going places alone isn’t a new fad akin to the poodle skirt or the old-fashioned sock hop. We’re, after all, becoming a culture of “Me-Me’s: everything under the sun is personalized these days. There’s individualized health care (supposedly), individualized diet plans (I’ve never been a fan) and I assume the “I” in iTunes stands for individual tunes or some close derivative.
But a person wanting to fly solo often seems to be the worst transgression. It’s easily overlooked if you can’t help your soloness (for example, you can blame your parents for that brother or sister they promised you, but never delivered), but to make a conscious choice to do so? And wouldn’t you know, the silent supper is battle numero uno on the High-Brow Groupies’ list. There’s nothing sadder to them than sitting alone in a busy restaurant or sipping a cup of coffee with only your laptop as your company. The degree of aloneness doesn’t matter to them. It’s all the same. And it’s all and equally a bad, bad no-no. The great taboo of the 21st century.
I assume the reason is that it’s the slippery slope of soloness. Before you know it, you’ll disconnect from the world entirely. You’ll stop using computers. You’ll unhook your phone. You’ll invoke a vow of silence. By the end of the first year, you’ll have yourself holed-up in your house conversing with your cat in a language the two of you spent day and night perfecting.
If they can stop you from eating alone, that’ll be the first step to fighting The Big Bad. Maybe then they’ll have a fighting chance.
Us solo people are smarter than that, though. People go to the theater on their own (as my sister says, “Why would you go with someone when you sit in a dark theater for two hours?). They go shopping on their own (As I say, “It’s better that way; I can’t be bothered by those anti-shopping types, after all.”). Some people even go on walks by themselves. A few weeks ago, my mother took to the streets for an early spring walk. She came home cool, calm and collected, a new sense of freshness glowing from her semi-rosy cheeks.
Had I really committed the ultimate restaurant faux-pas that day so long ago as I became one with my taco salad? I wasn’t sure, so over the next few months, I kept eating out. Each time alone. I enjoyed everything from fine grilled cheese to gourmet-worthy tuna. And contrary to popular belief, the food tasted delicious, I wasn’t lonely and – gasp? – I actually enjoyed the peace and tranquility. I never really contemplated any worldly matters (besides wondering if cheese fries were better with the cheese slathered over the top or in a cup on the side). I just sat and ate good food.
The way I see it, eating out solo is the perfect, even sane, option. No awkward conversation as you try to juggle talking and eating at the same time – it doesn’t work too well, trust me. You can order what you want without “those” looks (or maybe I’m the only one who’s ever experienced that).
In the end, I say a solo sit-down is like having a date with yourself. It’s a chance to get to know yourself. And at the end of the night, you don’t have to come home disappointed, though, I’m sorry to say, you will be stuck with the check.