EATING OUT ALONE: The Empty Chair
I recently started "snack eating" in front of the computer because I HATE eating out alone. I love to cook but making a really nice dinner and then eating it alone can be very depressing. And then I have leftovers to toss out. It gets weary hearing, “Just freeze the leftovers” because they pile up and end up in the dumpster anyway. Why delay the inevitable? Now I know I deserve to go out for a nice dinner now and then but it’s an endurance contest just to get through the experience.
First you have to brave the gauntlet at the check in counter. The host/ess always says, "JUST one?" as if I'm some sort of freak. Most of the time they look around as if they just cannot believe you are eating by yourself. I mean, who does that, right? Well I beg to differ. You cannot tell me in this world where we are all busy that I'm the ONLY person who is a party for one for the entire day. I usually bring my Nook or a magazine, but sometimes I have to leave. If they start playing sad music I’m hit. I've had times where I started crying. It’s also a cultural thing for me. I come from an Irish-Italian background and Italians believe that eating is a social event/family time. If I focus on reading I can "endure" it but if eating out is always an endurance contest what is the point? I might as well nuke a frozen meal and sit at home and surf the internet. This reminds me of the movie “The Lonely Guy” with Steve Martin. Remember when he goes to the fancy diner alone? Then a HUGE spotlight shines on him as he walks to his table and stays shining on him so badly he can barely read the menu. He flags over the waiter and asks if they could please turn off the spotlight. It’s a funny scene but as a person who always has to eat alone I find myself feeling as if I’m dining under that spotlight. I know it’s self-imposed and just some mental pressure I put on myself but it can be a lonely thing to eat without company.
I remember one night I wanted to go to a fancy place; a steakhouse or out for seafood and I had extra money. I remember trying to call
everyone I know and posting things on Facebook asking if anyone wanted to go out to eat with me and that I would pay the entire bill. I explained I just didn’t want to eat alone. No one responded. All I can say is, that was a bad night. I got sucked into my negativity thinking, “Wow I can’t even PAY someone to eat with me.” I went home and ate a 2.00 pizza. I’d rather pay for someone’s meal than face the empty chair across from me.
With the rude host or hostess I actually visualize having some fun and saying, "No it's not a party of one, it's a party of two”. (Pointing
to an empty space beside me) “My imaginary friend Hello Kitty is here with me. What's wrong with you? Don't you see her standing here?” (Then I would lean forward and whisper in a threatening tone) “She doesn't like it when people ignore her.”
Then I could order us both drinks and food and talk to her and laugh. I could also flag down the server and explain that Hello Kitty’s fork is dirty and her fries are cold and ask for a clean fork and hotter fries. I could say, “You know she’s too embarrassed to say anything but I expect better
treatment than this.” It would be funny and since I work with mentally ill adults I could certainly pull of that “performance". I would also ask the server to put our bills on separate checks and I could even have Hello Kitty leave a dollar or 2 towards the tip (maybe Hello Kitty dollars?). Out of all the people to eat out with I have to pick Hello Kitty because I love Hello Kitty—I am 50-year-old kid, what can I say?
I realize that eating out alone, like many things I have to deal with as a newly divorced woman, is something I have to get used to doing. I have to not beat myself up if it takes time to get used to it and if I take time not feeling sad. It is my hope that I can just become comfortable with my own company and not worry what people think or feel as I have that blasted spotlight over my head.
I heard a friend on Facebook complaining that she had to cook dinner and wasn’t feeling well. I realize that maybe my being free to have
popcorn, string cheese and no-bake cookies for dinner isn’t so bad after all. I have no one to harp or complain, and I can eat at whatever time I wish.
Today I was sitting in my car stuffing my face with a Big Mac in the McDonald’s parking lot. I saw a man eating and looking off in the distance with a sad facial expression. I realized I’m not alone at all. Many of us are hiding out, trying to find a way to eat and not have to face the empty
chair. He looked over and I waved and smiled. He smiled back and we continued our “meal”, kindred spirits in a world that says it’s not OK to eat alone. For one brief moment we connected and then we went on with our solo lives. I said a prayer for him, and for all of us who are on our own at a point in our lives when we were just sure we would have someone, that somehow we find joy in our solo living.
I know that while my friends/family aren’t with me in person they are with me in my heart and what really matters is that I’m loved. I am truly
loved by them and my God. So I always make sure I say grace and give thanks to God that I have money to buy a meal when so many don’t. I can walk into a diner and know that it just takes time to get used to living and dining solo. I will be OK.
How about you? How do you handle dining alone?
As for me, hand me my Nook and give me my table. I’m in the mood for Chinese buffet. And bring me 2 sets of chopsticks; Hello Kitty wants to learn how to use them.
God bless you,