Flavor of the Week: Eating Alone

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Birds do it. Bees do it. And if we’re continuing with that theme, even educated flees do it.

I do it. I eat alone.

Yes, in my head all of the above was sung to that tune.

Unlike falling in love, as Ella Fitzgerald puts it, eating alone does not seem to be something we all do. Eating alone requires a certain confidence; a balanced ego, if you will. Of course, if your ego is so large that you become insecure, which is normal so don’t be too worrisome if this is you, then you would never be seen eating alone. If you are this person, then your ego is dependent on what everyone else thinks of you and your sad salad bar creation with maybe some whole grain bread on the side.

There is also an alternative ego: your ego could be what I would like to think is well-sized, so that you are comfortable enough to eat alone without having to tell a passing friend, “Oh, I’m just reading quietly here, getting some ME time!” and push her away when in truth, you just had no one to sit with when you got to the place of eating, the home of said pathetic salad bar, and you’d rather stick with your story than admit your intentions were not solitude and loneliness from the start.

There is an art to eating alone, of course, no matter what size your ego decides to make itself on any day of the week. One must consider where he or she is eating (consider seating arrangements, location of place, type of eatery/cuisine), what he or she is eating, and what he or she is doing, if anything, while eating.

All rules can fly out the window if you decide to throw them there. My dad has two great stories from his high school years. Both involve vomit, but the more hysterical (and perhaps less disgusting) of the two is when he was driving his ‘Stang (hell yeah daddio) and his inebriated friend was riding shotgun, who proceeded to roll down the passenger window and vomit out onto one of the great highways of central Jersey as my father continued driving at 70 miles per hour.

In this fashion, you can throw the etiquette of eating alone out the window.

To do that, though, you must be truly confident, like the tired, middle aged people on lunch break with not a brain cell to spare for catching up on Instagram or reading the Times. Instead, these people eat alone, like so alone that his or her phone is not in plain sight, and they look out the window and make me think, wow, is this my New York life in ten to twenty years?

These people are the exception, though, because they don’t care about eating alone because they don’t think about eating alone. They just eat.

If you are a college freshman, though, you think and care about eating alone. You think and care about eating alone so much that you have group chats with eight girls in them and your conversations, maybe even your friendships, are built from the foundation of sharing meals, eating at the same times, and not being together but rather just not being alone.

To avoid eating alone at any stage of life, one might get “to-go” or “take out” and eat at his or her desk. Whenever I try to do this, whether it’s to save time or to avoid eating alone, I can never actually work and eat simultaneously. I have discovered that it is a lot more comfortable to eat in a place of eating, where you can chew freely, and if I’m going to be catching up on Instagram for those fifteen or twenty minutes regardless of where I am, I may as well eat alone.

So, I do. I eat alone.

I’m not the best at it, though. I usually spend my time on my phone, or writing emails between bites. Once in a while, however, I have no shame. I get quality, one-on-one time with Dinner or Lunch, who become proper nouns when your friends with real names are not dining with you, and I just look at my food and think about chewing like the French nutritionists tell us to do.

In the city, I can eat alone anywhere at any time and feel okay. In suburbia, however, I cannot do that. This could be for a few reasons: I am still afraid of half of the people I went to high school with and their judgments; the odds of me running into someone I know, even a mother, at an eatery is too high, and our conversation would ruin the point of eating alone; when I am in suburbia I usually spend most of my free time catching up with people, and the best way to do that is over a meal (arguably because it is a good way to avoid eating alone); people are in less of a rush, restaurants are in less of a rush, there are less places for counter service, less people to people-watch; this leads to everything becoming awkward.

I want to say that eating alone is eating alone, so if I can do it in the city I can do it in a small, Jewish suburb of the city. But then I remember that eating alone, like the math from AP Calculus I have very much forgotten, depends on its factors, as previously stated; it is not an independent variable. Math people: did I do that right?

I have no problem eating alone when I’m alone, if that makes sense. I don’t get self-conscious. I’ll face the world solo with my fork and knife — and teaspoon, if I’m feeling dessert — even in peak hours of eating.

Do you? Would you? Did you? Don’t do? Should you? LMK. Asking for a friend.

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