A month ago a divorced colleague sounded astounded when I said that I planned to dine out alone after our appointment. "Where?" she asked. "Don't you feel conspicuous?" She was curious, because her daughter will enter college next year. For the first time since her divorce, she will truly be by herself, and she was already experiencing some anxiety at the thought of so much "alone time."
I thought about her concern, recalling the first time I dined alone in public. I wasn't divorced yet, and it was a Friday evening. I was surrounded by couples, mostly young and dating. It took all my energy to hold back my tears. At that time of sorrow, I felt even lonelier in that crowded space. Bob and I had been accustomed to dining out once or twice a week. We always set up a couples Friday, and we had followed that tradition for twelve years. When we dined alone together, we always had something to talk about. Our conversations were interspersed with lots of laughter, and I never tired of being with 'my man'.
During our separation, we would hash out our agreement at a public place. It was the only time in our long relationship that we had nothing to share with each other, and we resembled one of those silent couples who waited wordlessly for their food and stared out into space, ignoring each others' eyes. More than anything, I knew my marriage was over during those excruciatingly awful dining experiences.
After the divorce papers were signed, I persisted in dining out alone. Time is money, and I resisted having to go grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning the dishes during my busy week days. As time passed, I began to feel more comfortable sitting by myself in a restaurant. Here are a few tips for single dining success that work for me:
- Go to a favorite haunt where the waiters or waitresses have gotten to know you. This process might take time, but once the staff recognizes you, they will seat you at your favorite table and greet you with a smile. In less than a few months, the place will start to feel cozy, like a diningroom away from home. In one restaurant, the waitress immediately takes me to my favorite table by a window, and brings me a glass of cabernet. Even when the place is busy, I am given preferential treatment.
- If you don't like staring into space, bring something to do. I write notes in my datebook, check my phone or email messages, compose letters, read a novel or newspaper, listen to my ipod, and text message discreetly. I also bring a small electronic sudoku puzzle, which hangs off my keychain. If you are desperate for something to do and you forgot to bring along materials, pretend you are a food critic. Take note of the service, the dishes and their presentation, and the atmosphere. Formulate your critique in your mind.
- Go early, before the other tables fill up with families or couples. Usually restaurants are relatively empty between 5:30 - 7:30. One tends to receive undivided attention at this time, which is nice on the ego, and I always ask for the best table, which is usually available.
- If you are watching your pennies, go during happy hour. Drinks and appetizers cost less. An appetizer plus a salad usually fill me up nicely, and they are not hard on the pocketbook when the prices are cut in half.
- Don't sit at the bar alone. Older women tend to be ignored even by men their age, and that is hard on the ego.
- Dine out during the week. Weekends are still hard for me, and they might be for you too. I avoid going out alone on weekends by making sure to receive my new netflix DVD for Saturday, or to be with friends. On the few occasions that I dine alone on weekends, I dress up nicely. When I look like a winner, I feel empowered.
- Remember, people barely even notice you are dining solo. You probably feel more conspicuous than you really are.
Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than the absence of others.
(Source: Alice Koller, The Stations of Solitude, 1990, New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women)
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