Opinions, Column

How to Appreciate a Table for One

I love eating alone. There, I said it. I love ordering whatever I want and not worrying about a predatory fork from a fellow diner. I love eating slowly and deliberately. I love getting swept up in the chatter and the clatter of restaurants. Call me a selfish diner or a loner, but I absolutely love eating alone.

I didn’t always feel this way. Eighteen-year-old me hated eating alone. She used to walk into Mac with a heavy heart and sweaty palms. Looking out at the sea of unfamiliar faces and crowded tables, she felt an inconsolable sense of defeat. She felt completely and utterly deserted. Maybe you felt this way too. Maybe you still feel this way. There’s something terrifying about walking up to a table alone and claiming it for yourself. This fear stayed with me throughout freshman year. I began wrapping up my dinners to go when none of my friends were available. I left the tables for closer squads than mine.

Somewhere along the line, I got over the fear. I think I can trace it to sophomore year. As the only one of my friends with a 9 a.m., I had a choice. I could eat breakfast alone, or I could skip it altogether. I struggled through two weeks of grumbling stomachs and exhaustion during classes before trudging into Lower at 8:30. At first, I resisted. I set myself up with a bowl of cereal and a textbook. Or a study guide. Or my phone. Anything to distract from the silence and the empty seat across from me. One day, I looked up from my steaming cup of coffee and glanced around. I noticed that I wasn’t alone. Groups and couples and a smattering of other single diners surrounded me. And none of them were looking at me. None of them were judging me for being alone, mistaking my empty table for loneliness or rejection.

This discovery changed everything. Slowly, day by day, I learned to put down my phone. I left my textbooks and study guides in my backpack. Although I did occasionally pull out a book, I mostly learned to enjoy the silence. I started ordering more lavish breakfasts: omelets and croissants and the occasional stack of pancakes. I ate slowly and with as much pleasure as one can find in cafeteria food.

With my eyes out of a textbook or off of the table, I started to notice things. I noticed that Lower looks downright cheery in the early-morning sun. I noticed the ebb and flow of diners at 8:45 a.m. I noticed the group of BC dining workers laughing and enjoying breakfast before their shift. Above all, I noticed how calming and empowering these solo meals could be.

With a newfound sense of confidence and independence, I started seeking out more adventures on my own. I went on long walks and coffee dates and afternoon movies, with only the streets of Boston to keep me company. I started trying new restaurants and coffee shops, not because my friends wanted to, but because I did. I became a selfish diner, and I didn’t even feel bad about it. I no longer felt alone or afraid. My own company was enough.

Sometimes I think back to 18-year-old me. I think back to the stressful dinner runs and the to-go boxes. I wonder how I ever felt so scared of eating by myself. But I know that fear extends beyond the dinner table. Who wants to be alone? Who wants to feel lonely or unwanted or forgotten? Perhaps it’s just at a table, alone, that we must confront these terrifying feelings. Learning to let them go, learning to stand (or sit) on our own two feet, can take time. It takes courage and acceptance and probably an inconvenient class schedule. But let me tell you, once you work through the fear and the insecurity, those meals might just be the best part of your day.

So here’s my challenge. I want you to go on Yelp and find an intriguing new restaurant. Put on some lipstick or a tie, and take yourself out. Say those dreaded three words: “table for one.” Say them again and again until they roll off your tongue with ease and pleasure. Keep your phone in your pocket and your book tucked away. Sit and eat and watch and listen. Above all, enjoy.

Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor

April 6, 2016