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In defense of eating alone

In defense of eating alone

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  • There is joy in eating out by yourself even if it isn’t for everyone

I’ve always loved eating out by myself. (Then again there are things I swore I loved until I didn’t —like starting stories with “I”). However, getting the chance to do so only lasted until the final stretch of college. That time to spend alone turned into working lunches to discuss our thesis, lunch dates because it was the only time my suitor and I had, and barkada breakfast/brunch between classes with newfound friends (yes, I spent most of college in solitude). 

Before all these, it was just “I.” It was okay. I’d enter fast food chains alone—not unheard of for college students really, hogging a table meant for four all to myself with three seats to spare for my bag. In my head, this is where my meet-cute would happen. A stranger would ask if I minded sharing a table, we’d strike a conversation, and the rest you know from rom-coms. Though in reality, in the rare instances that someone has asked to sit next to me, it was to ask me about God or if I had spare change. I’d rather shoo them away than move to the singles bar stool area. Romantic aspirations aside and after a few of those encounters, I have been more than happy with my own company.

We need to be able to think of aloneness as not synonymous with sadness—most especially in terms of eating—but a greater enjoyment and appreciation of the self.

Back then, sometimes, when my allowance would, well, allow, I’d go on a date with myself to a “fancy” restaurant. (The now-closed Chocolate Kiss at Bahay ng Alumni was already fancy by my college standards.) Unlike fast food chains, these kinds of places have relatively fewer customers save for lunch and dinner. It is at these opportune moments that I’d indulge myself in, say, a slice of cake and a pot of tea, the bill enough to feed me lunch throughout the whole week. In my inner monologue, I’d convince myself, “Minsan lang naman.”

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When you eat out alone, there are no awkward attempts at filling in dead air, no checks to be split, no piece of finger food left untouched out of “courtesy,” no thinking of plausible reasons to excuse yourself when you find that you don’t like the other party. It’s just you and your thoughts, as daunting as it sounds. But if you have a game plan, which takes years of developing, it’s not as bad, and can even be meditative.

Some people won’t dare eat out alone. It is scary to be out there on your own, yes, but there is also joy in solitude, especially in the context of eating. A thing I love about dining in sans plus one or more is that I can people-watch instead of engage in conversation. This way I get to flip the tables. I look at people as if eating out with others is the “taboo,” not eating alone. I’d whip out a book sometimes as I wait for my order—this was pre-democratized internet where there was barely any public WiFi, and LTE? What’s that? Yes, sometimes, it’s a cover. But other times, it seriously is an escape. I can read and eat in silence and consume ever smaller bites of a dish so it can last me longer.

Other people have ways of coping with the alienating feeling of being the lone diner on a restaurant table, too. A TikTok user said that when dining out by himself, he would bring out a pen and paper and pretend to jot down notes so the staff would think he’s a restaurant critic. It works out in his favor in the end. He receives stupendous service, extra servings per order, and complementary desserts and drinks. Genius.

Photo by Beth Macdonald on Unsplash

Eating alone, especially here in the Philippines where food and eating are seen as communal affairs, is often frowned upon, met with inquisitive, “concerned” looks. Every meal at home is served to a family with waiting stomachs rumbling in excitement (or forced enthusiasm, depending on who you ask). One simply does not skip family breakfasts, lunches, and dinners in Filipino households. You’re only off the hook if you’re sick or have pre-approved whereabouts.

Outside, a worried diner who’s spent their lifetime in those dining halls with their families looks on at a single person in a booth, with the curiosity of a child: Why are they eating alone? Is it not lonely? Could I possibly make them “happier”? 

Don’t.

Chances are they are on their own by choice. Because even if it is unthinkable, doing things without the need for a companion is a necessary task. To be comfortable in your own company is a skill worth honing. Not everyone after all has the luxury of having their own rooms, their own safe spaces at home to do this in. 

We need to be able to think of aloneness as not synonymous with sadness—most especially in terms of eating—but a greater enjoyment and appreciation of the self. I may look alone but I am having the time of my life eating this slice of cake that cost me a week’s lunch allowance. Please leave me and my cake alone.

Nolisoli.ph © 2020. Hinge Inquirer Publications, Inc.

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