Swallow Your Fear, Dining Out Alone Isn’t Terrifying As You Think

Robert S. Donovan
Robert S. Donovan

The first time I took myself to lunch and a movie, I had recently bought new lipstick. I paired it with my favorite blouse and requested a table for one at a Miami Beach restaurant, indulging at once in a key lime pie martini. I ordered a bruschetta appetizer as my entrée, an espresso for dessert, and at the theater I purchased one ticket to Crazy Stupid Love. (Unrelated: I am yours forever if you’ll have me, Ryan Gosling.)

This was two years ago, four months after my four-year and mutually oppressive relationship ended. In the past week I have eaten one brunch, three lunches and two vegan dinners absolutely in public and alone. I have friends who say, aghast: “I could maybe have a beer at a bar alone, but never a whole meal!”

What’s with the stigma?

The food will taste the same – it’s the company that’s unique. Sometimes you hear of a $6 special at a Thai place and of course you have to go, no matter the somber stare of the host as she asks a second time, “Are you sure you aren’t expecting anyone else?” and slowly, if not too slowly, takes away the extra table settings. It is as though she feels this poignant shame for me, and concurrently a pride in her own life situation, as I open my book of the week and continue. “All this poor girl has in life is a book,” she probably thinks, filling the table’s lone water glass.

The truth is I don’t think about it anymore, but when I first entertained these companionless meals I was anxious. Too often I talked myself out of the happy hour I’d been keen to try and into Subway. What I intended as a way to treat myself became a habit of loneliness and, eventually, if not inevitably, a lesson in loving myself. I woke up many years to someone’s morning breath, his arms holding me still through three snoozes. Every night I had a date. Then, after a series of arguments and decisions that dissolved love into outrage and hurt, I was all that was left. What do you do when you’re the only one left?

You buy yourself roses, that’s what. You make sure you like your pillows and you compose a fantastic playlist and you buy a new shade of lipstick. You take yourself to watch a live band and you sip on the cheapest beer on the menu and you appreciate that the world still happens even while alone. You move to the city you never thought you could but always wanted to when watching Sex and the City late night, sympathizing all too often with Miranda’s cynicism (and on some occasions, Samantha’s sexual prowess). You think introspectively, you behave selfishly, and in time you heal yourself. You empower yourself.

Thursday night I sat alone in the orchestra of Avenue Q. It was at best a fleeting thought to invite someone else. After the show I watched an actress accept the proposal of her then-boyfriend. I joined in the collective aww and applauses of the audience. Outside the early signs of autumn flirted with the tree leaves and I thought, though that woman was beginning her happily ever after, and I was theoretically by myself in witnessing it, I felt glad for her. I walked to my neighborhood bodega and purchased chocolate ice cream with no desire to cry into it or use it to fill my hollow single-girl insides – I bought ice cream simply because I like ice cream. I thank my solo outings, my purple lipstick and my killer book collection for this, for the ability – no, correction, for the mastery of enjoying my own company. TC mark

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