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The eating out solo experiment

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So there I sat. Alone. It was a big move for me. I love going out for dinner with friends. I love talking about what to order and then talking about how the food tastes. I love recounting the good and bad of any given day. I love laughing over a glass of wine. I love breaking bread over conversations about the broken world. I love the whole idea that food is a way to bring people together. Yet, there I sat. Alone.

I’ve decided that since I plan to visit 50 places I’ve never been the year I turn 50 I need to get comfortable with being alone. After all, I really want at least one of my trips to be by myself. If I am at home, being alone doesn’t bother me. I can find something to keep me busy or not. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Out in public, it feels different. Actually, shopping alone is fine. Running is fine. I think even going to a museum or whatever I find interesting will be ok. But I get stuck when it comes to eating alone.

So I take the first step and order a glass of wine. OK, deep breath. I look around and scope out the scene trying to look ‘chill’. I have no idea if I pulled it off because all I could hear was the thumping of my heart in my ears. When did I turn into such a weirdo?! I settle in and the stark realization that it’s just me sets in.

Growing up, dinner time was loud. I was the oldest of 6 kids. Any time it was time to eat, it was time to talk.  In my brain, eating is a social activity. Even studies show that families who eat together are happier and healthier. It’s less about the meal and more about connection. Who am I supposed to connect with when I am by myself? (I’m not sitting at the bar so the bartender is not an option)

I turn my attention to the menu. I’ve picked one of my favorite restaurants so truth be told I already know what’s on the menu. Maybe I’ll find something I haven’t tried. In the absence of connection, I focus on the food. At first, I wished I had tried this whole experiment somewhere new. A restaurant I wasn’t familiar with so I could immerse myself in an unknown menu. In retrospect, I think it helped that my first foray into solo dining was familiar. I wasn’t thrown off by wondering if people were staring at me because I already knew what to order.

Suddenly my phone rings. Its an unknown number from somewhere in the United States where I know no-one. Chances are good it’s an irritating telemarketer. For a brief second, I consider answering it so it looks like I have a purpose. I put on my big girl panties and resist the temptation.

Instead,  I take a look around. I wonder about the group of guys sitting at the bar. I smile at a kid that toddles in with his parents. I actually LOVE people watching. Always have. Usually, though I share my ‘stories’ about the people of which I know nothing with whomever I am with. Turns out I love people watching even when I am by myself.

Ok, that didn’t take long. The restaurant isnt’ that big. So I text my sisters, because that’s what I do whenever anything important happens in my life and this felt important. One of my sisters suggests I bring a book next time. That feels Ok for lunch, even breakfast, but dinner, not so much. But ‘something’ is a good idea so I grab my laptop.

When you run your own company there is always work to do. My glass of wine is empty now and I order another. I’m starting to think I’ll survive this. My food comes and I am reminded why this is one of my favorite places.

I am starting to breathe easier. Maybe it’s the first glass of wine I drank super fast but mostly I think it’s because I reminded myself that humans, as a rule, are self-absorbed. You have to work hard and be intentional about thinking about other people. I’m guessing at least half of the restaurant didn’t even notice me and that all of my angst was for nothing. Kudos to my waitress who didn’t at all make me feel self-conscious.

Oh, my waitress. Waitresses rely on tips and that means I shouldn’t there all night just killing time to practice being uncomfortable. So, I ask for the check. I’ll make the tip worth it.

There is a little research that suggests eating alone has negative health benefits but tonight I’m calling it a win. I did it. I didn’t want to cry. I mostly enjoyed a great meal, got a little work done, and lived to tell about it.

You can teach an old dog new tricks.