During my first post-college job, my editor turned to me one afternoon and asked why I ate lunch outside alone. This gig was super underpaying and overworking with no benefits including gas coverage for the weekly interviews we’d drive to Los Angeles, in traffic, to record. So those 30 minutes were my saving grace between a rushed morning and the three afternoon articles I had due by five.
I didn’t get to say any of this of course, because before I could speak up, my managing editor weighed in, stating, “I’d NEVER be caught dead eating alone. Especially in a restaurant with a book! That’s so embarrassing!” Was it?
Looking back, I wish I had shut down that conversation because shaming people for sitting alone/doing things alone is ridiculous. Even four years later, I still feel a twinge of pride when I go to a movie or walk into a restaurant and ask for a table of one like I’m still responding to his question.
During my day off this week, I visited Central Park’s newly opened Hallett nature sanctuary to wander the maze of trails and spy on dreaming raccoons nested into the arms of trees. I journaled while cozied up next to a pond and dug into the idea of being alone. It’s different than being lonely though I think the two are often confused for one another. I’m talking being alone, in a state of contentment, with yourself. No family, no friends, no social media — just a conversation or a day looking inward.
I’ve never had a hard time being alone. Chalk it up to being an only child but my brain works best balanced between social time and time by myself. While in the moment, I’m treating myself to adventures and pastries and long hours of reading, when I stop for a second, the self conscious thoughts about what people might think of me still whisper in my ear. Do they think I don’t have friends and that’s why I’m alone? That I’ll be single forever, and everyone somehow knows but me?
These thoughts are fleeting and infrequent, but they still happen. Maybe they always will, but now at 26, I’m capable of combat them and silence them with the reminder of how much I enjoy being in my own skin. I love going out to a good meal, watching a movie, reading in the park, taking a trip — all on my own. This time gives me insight to myself and an appreciation for my loved ones when I do see them.
After the park, I set out to find an ice tea and a scone. I’d always wanted to try Alice’s Tea Cup and finding it so close, I decided to sit down and treat myself to the whole spread. Me, myself, and my book about sexism in sports. (It’s called “Eat, Sweat, Play,” I’m obsessed.) And there I sat, next to two other women doing the same thing, with nothing on our agendas but to finish our BLTs with blue cheese and text our moms.
It wasn’t awkward or rushed or weird, it was empowering because I refused to let it be anything else. On the walk home, I noticed all the other women doing the same along the streets of New York. Out on cafe patios they sat, some with books, some catching up with emails, but firmly planted at their single table with a glass of wine and one silverware setting.
So to answer my ignorant editor’s question: Why do I eat alone? Because I’m some damn fine company and this company deserves a scone.