“Want to get dinner soon?” This is a common phrase that accompanies friendships, begins relationships and builds family ties. Eating out is at the core of our social wellness. It provides a neutral ground for first dates or a convenient meeting point to reminisce and catch up with old friends. But the concept that eating out is to be done socially makes a table for one taboo.
I chose to eat alone, once. I was in Thailand with my sister and a group of about 13 strangers that were part of the same travel company. We had been together almost every moment for over two weeks, and I found myself in need of alone time, away from everybody. So, while everyone was on the beach I went to each lunch alone at a restaurant overlooking the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand. At first I did not know what to do with myself. It was awkward. Where do I put my hands? Where do I look? Most who eat alone are accompanied by their smart phones which connects them to everyone they tried to escape, but my phone didn’t have service, so that was out of the question. I felt like everyone was staring at me, assuming they all thought I was depressed. I almost left, until I ordered my food and decided I was now stuck and must make the best of it.
Once I finally let go of my social anxiety and judging myself, I instantly felt relaxed. I did not have to converse with people, I could just sit and enjoy, truly appreciating the fact that I was on a tiny island in Thailand, otherwise known as the most beautiful place on Earth. Eating alone served as a moment of “me time” an act of self-care that although I was on the trip of a lifetime, I was lacking.
I am probably what many would call a “people person”. I need social interaction pretty regularly to feel fulfilled and energized. Eating alone never appealed to me because I quickly think, “Why waste an opportunity to get together with the people I love”, and after that one perfect experience, 7 months went by and I never ate alone again. Until, one day I had planned to meet my friend for brunch downtown. It was probably the prettiest fall day in Tennessee, and everyone was outside enjoying the perfect 70-degree and sunny weather. I decided to go ahead and get a table outside while I waited. And for those brief 15 minutes, I was quickly reminded of just how much I enjoyed this moment of alone time.
Even though I still felt like my waiter pitied me every time he came by to check on me, and I was a little nervous I would see a familiar face that would be concerned for my mental health, I felt at peace, and truly enjoyed spending time with my self.
They say do something every day that scares you, and eating alone can be really scary for those who struggle with social anxiety and low self-esteem, or for those who just simply have never tried it before. If you’re skeptical, try arriving 15 minutes early before meeting someone and ask for a place outside or a cozy booth. Best of all, you can order a delicious dessert first without having to share.