I’m Fed Up With The Social Stigma That Women Can’t Dine Alone

Toa Heftiba

I take a sip. Too much citrus, not enough sweet. The mezcal smoky comes across, but on the whole we’re drowning in grapefruit. Next!

It’s Sunday and I’m sitting in the Ponce City Market in Atlanta. On this, the holy day, exploring the market qualifies as my act of worship – a temple to a few of my gods, food and drink. I’m drooling as I debate which shop to move to for my second dinner. And, did I mention I’m by myself?

Families stroll by, though not as often as husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, friend-friends. All laughing, joking, and enjoying each other’s company. And then there’s me. Sitting by myself, polishing off Bang Bang shrimp and a drink called “Once Upon a Time in Mexico.” This isn’t my first rodeo eating alone, and it certainly won’t be my last. Fret not, I’m not here solo because I have no love of my own. This is a deliberate action to savor my last minutes of vacations, and I want to be alone with them.

Food is, historically, a communal event. We ate together because we hunted and gathered together. The men toiled in the fields and with them, the wild children ran in for mother to provide morsels. We started working in factories, taking lunch breaks or dining in boarding houses with our fellows. Such a time intensive task, food is easiest when it’s for the masses. It’s only in our modern era we’ve created fine dining focused on food for you and you alone. Technically it’s still enjoying it with others, but you’re not expected to break your bread and bond with the person next to you.

When I moved to a new city from my college town, I found a conflict. I wanted to go out, but I didn’t know anyone. I’d call in take-out orders, pick them up, and enjoy at home with Netflix when I felt lazy, but it wasn’t the experience of eating I wanted. A burgeoning foodie, I wanted to be out in the restaurant. An excuse to get pretty and, with a new champagne-taste budget, an excuse to be luxurious.

I don’t remember where I first went out on my own. The new hip bar with open windows and soaring ceilings I best recall. Then it became a habit. When you work 60 to 72 hour workweeks on the reg, starting up a nuclear plant, you want your night off to be special. I’d go out and drop some cash on whatever I wanted – oysters, champagne, carpaccio, cocktails – things that would remain delicious at home but are elevated with atmosphere. I grew more accustomed to eating alone. The novelty faded, the routine took hold.

Part of the routine? I’m the only woman here alone.

How many times do I see a woman like me, sitting at a table or at the bar clearly alone? I’d say one in fifty. No, I don’t take tally, but I’m a pretty quick analyst with a good memory. Especially once I noticed, every time I went out I’d see if there was another sister soldier out by herself. It’s rare, so very rare. Women are always with their friends, boyfriends, husbands, new dates, anyone rather than be alone. Men? I see them alone all the time. The slightly-more-than-young professional watching the game. The old geezer with a newspaper. The frazzled businessman sucking down a miller light. Any given night, for us loners, they outnumber me ten to one. Why is that?

I come to conclusions, the ones we don’t want. That women are afraid to eat alone. They’re afraid of the judgment. They’re afraid of the space. They’re afraid because when women go out alone on they’re in danger. Two main reasons then – social stigma and actual fear.

Neither conclusion I’m very happy with, though clearly the former is better than the latter.

I’m generally frustrated women still feel they can’t be so many things because of societal conditioning and nonsense.

(Bless ye Gods of Rock who so instilled “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” to my core.) What are they going to do? Whisper, “Aw she can’t get a date?” at you? Shiver me timbers, the horror! I feel confident in pushing women out of their shells which say “People will judge me if they see me alone,” in favor of “I’ll go out if I please.” Now quit being a ninny and take yourself out for a nice meal. By the time you take a bite of that chocolate ganache, those bad thoughts will be banished.

The second reason, I’m less certain to start shoving. Are they actually in danger? Should I withhold my encouragement out of fear for their safety? Forgive me, I’ve worked and walked home alone in the 6th most dangerous city in the nation, and a few of other nations to boot. But with the dismal sexual assault statistics aside from the milder standard sexual harassment most women face when they walk out the door, I can’t be confident in this one. We’re still inventing nail polish and toothpicks to detect roofies in drinks. I’m not going to stand on the mountaintop and proclaim “Thou Shalt Go Out Alone!” since it appears there’s demonstrable evidence it could be a bad idea. I need better odds.

But it reminds me of the people who don’t travel because they’re afraid of it. “Aren’t you scared something will happen? Aren’t you worried about terrorists or being robbed?”

And no, I’m not. In my experience, most people are good, kind, caring people who just want to help. My experience out alone is no different. All I can tell you is of my experience, you have to make your own. And in my experience, I go in, I sit down, I order a drink and some phenomenal food. Mostly my only interactions are with bartenders and wait staff, but on rare occasions I’ll be sitting next to an old fogey who’s away from his wife and is clearly lonely and harmless. When I engage him, he’s never creepy, only interesting. Only once has anyone been skeevy enough towards me to make me uncomfortable and leave. I don’t plan on letting one bad experience ruin anything else in my life though, why do it here? I’ll urge you to do the same. And next time you want to go out for some fine class living, lady you do it. Sip and savor. TC mark

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