Sometimes—if you’re lucky enough—you get the opportunity to have a nice meal alone; alone in a crowded restaurant. Maybe you’re traveling. Maybe you’re freshly single. Or maybe you’re like me and people annoy you most of the time. Going to the movies alone should, by now, hopefully a perfectly acceptable thing for someone to do and not be deemed pa-the-tic. You shouldn’t be talking anyway, right?
But to eat alone. There’s something about it that conjures up notions of that binge eater in high school who would eat her sandwich solo in a bathroom stall at lunch (oh, wait. That was a scene from Mean Girls. Still.)
Even so, it’s a romantic enough notion—the transience of it all. The idea that for maybe one moment in time you can stop pretending to look busy, or maybe pretend to be someone else, or better, pretend to be happy (MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” was overplayed for a reason.)
Order whatever you want. Order it if it’s expensive. Order it if you’re lactose intolerant. Order it if you’re scared of fish with the head still attached. Order it if you’re a fauxgetarian. If you typically avoid ordering BBQ ribs because you’re scared of your face looking like a toddler post pizza party, go for it. Because even if you think they are, no one’s looking at you. Trust me.
Don’t bring a book (or MacBook). That’s cheating. Don’t eat at the bar. Don’t spend the whole time Tweeting. That’s also cheating. Don’t go home with the waiter/bartender/busser. That’s grounds for disqualification. Biggest rule of all: Don’t pretend you’re Carrie Bradshaw. Yeah, yeah, we all know she would sit/talk to herself and sip Pinot Grigio while “researching” her next column. Just. Don’t.
Do your very best not to sit next to a couple. (Once, unchaperoned, I sat next to a couple at a bustling downtown resto and he proposed to her. I could barely to keep down my poached salmon and rapini).
Make conversation with the waiter. Ask about the wine. Ask about the pine nuts in the salad. Ask about what part of Spain the roasted blood orange came from. Ask about the name of your grass-fed cow (Betsy? Cute!). These are all the things I hope you’d be too embarrassed to do in front of your friends. Or—yeah right—too consumed in conversation. This time around, you’re given free rein to ask all the Portlandia-esque questions your little yuppie heart desires. No one’s watching, remember?
If you’re not normally friendly (what normal person is), use this as an opportunity to practice your people skills. We all need this, apparently, since we can’t talk IRL beyond 140 characters. In case you’ve forgotten how to be gracious after too many years spent in your alienating city: smile, say please, thank you and don’t use sarcasm (servers are usually too busy to detect a sarcastic tone. Trust me. I’ve been there.) That’s it, really. Politeness 101 in under 140 characters.
Whatever you do, just don’t compare your experience—not even for a second—to going on a date with yourself. Well, unless you really enjoy talking to yourself (what normal person doesn’t).
When in doubt: look around and observe. Pretend you’re someone else. Pretend you’re enjoying yourself. But don’t look like you’re yearning for conversation, or worse, looking for a date.
Pretend you don’t care. Actually, pretend you do.
Even if you don’t get any at the end of the night, a companionless meal out might be the most romantic thing you can do. Revel in your isolation, your lonerness, because, well, that’s all we’ll ever have in the end.
And remember: despite it all, the best thing about dining alone is that you don’t have to share any of the bread.