Table For One
I should have known it was a fluke: the subway departed as soon as I boarded and took me across the city with no delays, I got to the restaurant fifteen minutes early and five minutes before we were scheduled to meet, and the weather was beautiful. Most importantly, I was having a good hair day. When the stars somehow align at the beginning of a solid Saturday night out, it’s almost always too good to be true.
I decided to wait outside the restaurant in lieu of taking my usual seat at the bar. Night was just settling in and the sky was an unusually rich shade of indigo. When I opened the camera on my phone to snap a pic, I noticed how well it complimented my vibrant pink button-down, so naturally, I took a few selfies to pass the time. Said session was interrupted by a text:
“I am so sorry to tell you this…”
The beginning of the message hovered at the top of my screen, but I didn’t need to open it to know what the rest said. I was being cancelled on.
On this rare summer night in the city, a handful of mutual friends were actually in town for the weekend, and I had somehow managed to make plans in succession all in the same neighborhood. I didn’t have any backup plans, so when the reality of being stuck in an unfamiliar area for a few hours before my next meet up settled in, I felt a little lost. And hungry.
I was paranoid someone I knew would see me alone, so l figured I would just find a spot to grab a quick slice or some similarly incognito take-out. There were many viable options, but their bright flashing signs and harsh fluorescent lights deterred me from entering any of them, as if it would only spotlight my hopeless state even more. I came across a ramen place where I’d be able to order on a screen and avoid human contact on all accounts, which seemed great until I realized my only dining option was to sit at an open counter that faced the busy sidewalk (I’ve never attempted to shove hot noodles into my face while walking down the block, but I can’t imagine it’d be pretty). The thing was, I was still looking forward to having a nice dinner to kick off the evening, and I was convinced that I could find something a little less pathetic if I just kept looking.
After nearly an hour of indecisive, aimless wandering, I paused on a quiet street corner when I realized any stranger could hear my stomach grumbling if they walked by, which was almost even more embarrassing than being alone. I was standing outside of a cozy looking, candlelit restaurant. Being able to have a nice meal was right in front of me, all I needed to do was get over myself.
Why is there such a stigma against eating alone? I love doing things by myself—in fact, I prefer flying solo for a lot of "social" activities (concerts, movies, beach trips, and shopping, to name a few). I wish I could say the same about dining out, but for whatever reason, I’ve always had a hard time doing so. Even if I find myself in a new place for work, I often debate taking myself out for a meal and end up ordering in. So when I forced myself to dine alone on a Saturday night in a bustling neighborhood in my own town, you bet I was shaking when I felt myself walk up to the host and ask for a table for one.
In my experience that night, dining out alone was akin to jumping off the twenty meter platform during my brief stint as a diver in middle school. The initial leap was terrifying. Everything happened in slow motion, all eyes seemingly glued to me as I approached my table. A cloud of pity filled the air: better me than them. But once I broke that surface, time sped up again, and the feeling was thrilling.
I dove into the menu, making choices based off my tastes alone. The waiter engaged me in conversation, recommending an unexpected wine to pair with my entree that hit the spot. I don’t know who I managed to fool, but the chef even sent me a free drink. (At least, I think it was drink—all I could understand from the busboy who delivered it was “greens...shot...limoncello...from the chef.” It could have very well been a dressing, but it arrived way before my meal and in a shooter glass, so I threw it back before I even had time to be embarrassed incase I was wrong.)
If said friend who had to cancel on me is reading this, I just want to let you know that I am not holding a grudge, and do not want you to take this public written account of our failed encounter personally. I do not at all doubt that your reasoning was valid. It’s just that I didn’t expect this little situation to spark such a drastic change in me, but honestly, I'm so happy it did.
I’m not saying that this was the perfect experience, as I still can’t believe I somehow mustered the confidence to pull this off. But it made me realize that dining out alone is just another thing I need to be more intentional about adding to my rotation of solo activities. Especially in New York, there are so many restaurants I’ve been meaning to try, but instead of waiting for people to approach me to make plans to go to them, why not just take the time to go on my own?
I am making it a new goal of mine (are mid-year resolutions a thing?) to take myself out to a nice dinner once a month from here on out. I found it to be a great opportunity to put my phone away and to actively spend time with myself, while being able to navigate new tastes and surroundings at my own speed. I highly recommend it to those adventurous enough to take up this challenge as well.
Who’s with me?