This was the first-ever meal I had alone: a snacky platter of momos, something fancy whose name I don’t remember, and french fries.
I had just moved out of home (quite literally), landed in a different city, and the first place I went was a cafe. I had an unbearable pang of hunger and nowhere to be until late evening.
I remember it distinctly because it seemed so unusual to my 17-year old self. The social stigma with “oh God, no one should have to eat alone, that’s so sad” was too big in my head for some reason. I was too self-conscious: Are people staring at me? Do people think I’m weird? Should I have ordered a takeaway instead?
That was the first of many, many meals I would have alone in the next 3 years.
But the first time is the hardest (and a few times after that also, to be honest). Despite that uncomfortableness of the stigma that was in my own head, I enjoyed the experience of eating alone a lot. The other side of my head marveled at how beautiful the platter looked and how tempting the dishes are – it’s all for me to relish! How soothing if all these people stopped judging me, I thought.
The next couple of times, as a coping mechanism, I would bring a book to the table. But I never dared to open it – what if the sauce falls on the beautiful cover? I switched to earphones and pretended to watch FRIENDS or listen to music or some cool podcast to appear aloof, and, uhm “normal.”
I never read a page. I never listened to a podcast episode. All I did was try to hide the fact that I am eating alone from myself.
Inside my home, with no culture to guard me, I ate alone in pure bliss. I cooked for myself a meal only I would be able to digest (not a great cook, y’all, but it’s still edible). I would sometimes blast a TV show and other days I would just….eat.
Once solitude grew on me, so did eating alone. I came to look forward to it. I began to discard the culturally-unacceptable-reality I had built in my own head. Turns out I did watch FRIENDS and like Rachel, I’d be willing to turn down dates because I have a “date with myself.”
Don’t get me wrong, some of my best memories with food involve the passing of plates and a mouthful of conversations, but sometimes, I need a break. I like being alone and I like eating. It made sense to combine the two activities.
It had practical benefits too: I could eat in crowded restaurants because it’s easier to get a single seat. I can try a new dish that no one else might be willing to try. And best of all, I can eat without sharing (I’ll give you my heart but spare my food, please).
The dance of eating alone is mostly similar. Often, the first staffer is surprised when he/she/they hear no one else will be coming. I see the waiter’s faces change from confusion to pity as they serve a single plate. I imagine solo diners still look as weird to others as they did to me at 17.
I rarely enjoy anything as more as placing my full attention on food, on this moment, on the diner, hardly remembering I’m the only one without a companion.
Look at me, so well-fed, in belly and soul.