Dispatches From Dining Alone

It is 4:30 and I forgot to eat lunch, but managed a decent breakfast. It was the usual; hard boiled eggs, half an avocado on whole wheat bread with olive oil, salt and pepper to dust it off. There were two cups of coffee (half of one sipped at 8 before school drop off and another at 9:30 when I gathered myself). In-between there were two large mason jars of water with lemon. I don’t usually surprise myself, but around lunch, I somehow do. I am indecisive, heavy with work and tracking how long it will be before I tap back in. “How far did I get down my list?” I ask myself before pulling away. 

Considering all of that head noise, the issue with lunch is the fact that I almost always want to buy myself a bite. I need to be in the sun. My knees are begging to be vertical, and my soul is incredibly eager to be around the sound of cars, revved bikes, and loose conversations. I am also desperate for a coffee, as the day’s wall is drawing closer. As my eating habits don’t change but the weather does, I am noticing something which I forgot about entirely this winter… I often dine alone with the early dinner (and coupled) crowd. 

The sun hangs low, and I find a good spot to fulfill my belly that is a balance of healthy and pleasurable. I go for food that cannot fail (read: no surprises). There is no book. My eyes are drained from the screen, so that’s a no too. I people watch, avoid those in direct eye line and cater to what can be seen floating around me. 

Years ago, dining alone would have filled me with dread. Between the kids, a relationship, and a large family, the experience was rare. More often than not, I would have spent it doing something or thinking of the next things to do. But dining alone these days, and realizing that is part of my own adult story, is a strange and wonderful thing.

 I make it a challenge:

What if I fight the urge to distract myself with my phone?

What If I don’t fixate on what others may think of me?

What if I so thoroughly enjoy my food, that the enjoyment alone is the thrill?

What if I strike a conversation with the waiter, and I learn something new? A word in a new language? An ingredient in my favorite salad? 

What if I look up and see a friend I haven’t seen in years and ask questions with more depth? 

Or I spot the way the birds still flock, or the hand movements of fellow diners create cursive letters?

The challenge and possibilities feel endless, really. I no longer associate falling smack in the middle of late-lunch and early dinner dining as a foray for the loners, the writers, and the wanderers. It is a delightfully strange experience, only awarded to those who allow themselves to be uncomfortable for more than a minute.

I can’t help but feel the sway of it all on the way back home. Like the dots of my heart and soul are allowed to simply reconnect with my brain before reaching back into parenting. Or maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time spinning words in my head for work, that the solo dining pairs itself with connection?

On the Brian Lehrer show today, callers discussed their fears of joining the world again. It wasn’t virus related per se. Much of it was about getting used to solitary moments (for better or for worse) and needing to navigate what that means for their lives, sooner rather than later. It was interesting to hear how people found sudden comfort in isolation. And how others knew they needed to find their way back in and of the world.

I wonder though, is dining alone the new avenue for getting nervous feet wet?

Photograph from Paris years ago.

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