Don’t worry,” I told the cashier as I tried to stop the blood flowing from my nose. “I’m used to this.”
He gave me a puzzled look before gesturing to the restaurant’s kitchen and telling me to wash my hands there when I was ready. The nosebleed — which conveniently erupted right as he scanned my debit card — was short-lived. So, a few minutes later, I was cleaning myself up and didn’t have to worry about bleeding into some unsuspecting spaghetti sauce or something.
Episodes like that are fairly common for me, and I’ve never been able to pinpoint the exact cause. It wasn’t until I was walking home after eating my dinner that I realized the cashier probably thought I had a cocaine addiction. I don’t, for the record.
Initially, I couldn’t decide if I wished I’d had a friend with me to share the experience, or if I was glad no one I knew was around to witness me making a fool of myself in a greasy kitchen. Definitely the latter, I realized — the glares of people behind me in line were enough to make me acutely aware of how ridiculous I looked. It was the first time I really truly appreciated the benefits that dining alone provides.
I usually fly solo when I eat out on weeknights. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the company — people are great, especially when they’re listening to me talk. But sometimes, when I tire of hearing the sound of my own voice all day, sitting by myself in a crowded place while eavesdropping on others’ random conversations is a good reality check.
It’s not that I don’t ever cook for myself. Sometimes I’ll make a quesadilla for dinner. Or eggs. Anything that requires more effort than that, though, and I need someone else to validate my cooking by eating it with me. The labor has to be worth it. Cooking is, after all, an ultimate sign of love. Which I guess makes me pretty unselfish.
The benefits of eating out by yourself far outweigh the drawbacks. True, when you’re in a group of people at a dining establishment, there’s a certain amount of schadenfreude in seeing someone else sitting at a table with only one place setting. People look down on solo diners. It’s like high school all over again. Common stereotypes I used to associate with people who eat alone are friendless nerds who can’t get anyone else to sit with them, or lonely slobs slouched on a recliner in their mother’s basement, shoving endless amounts of potato chips into their mouths while playing Halo 3.
But the disdain goes both ways, I’ve found. When you’re free from the obligations of conversation, you get to listen to all the little gems that pop up in other people’s mundane exchanges. Such as someone discussing their friend’s acquittal of murder charges. You know, the usual. Some call it people-watching; I call it judging. It’s America’s second favorite pastime, in my view — the first being eating out, of course.
There are also two different ways of looking at the constant staring you might receive when you take a table for one. Either those around are scrutinizing you, or they’re just jealous that you don’t have to try so hard. You’re mysterious. You’re like a B-list celebrity spotted in public, or some kind of exotic animal.
Plus, you don’t have to worry about things like appearance and manners if there’s no one else at the table. You can show up to Thai Basil in sweatpants and flip-flops or two clashing patterns of plaid. You can spill tikka massala on your face, clothes and/or the tabletop and not have to apologize.
Also, when you make bold moves such as striking up a conversation with a homeless man outside Top Dog, you don’t have to worry about your date thinking you’re crazy. Unless you’re eating out alone in the hopes of meeting the love of your life, in which case you’d probably want to be a little classier.
Be mindful that if you frequent the same establishment alone too many times, though, people who might seem to be strangers could recognize you. And those people could also be your classmates. A peer once confronted me awkwardly before lecture and told me that I obviously “really love that Gypsy’s place.” I stayed away from there for a few weeks.
Eventually, I conquered this quintessential “first-world problem” over the summer when I interned in Orange County, a place where I didn’t know many other people. At first, I dreaded the idea of eating by myself. When I decided to eat out, I got everything to go and ate it in the privacy of my apartment. Alone.
Yet once I realized I was spared from the fear of running into someone I knew, I was able to embrace the concept. More than that, though, I missed the college environment, so frankly I just enjoyed being around all the other people. After more than two months being “That Guy” most nights of the week, I learned that I don’t mind eating alone around people in Berkeley, too. I learned that solo diners aren’t pathetic. We just don’t give a shit.