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This evening I found myself with some extra free time after nannying late and before a coffee date with a friend. I was hungry and very tired (still getting used to this low, low, caffeine in-take thing), so I decided to do something I don’t get to do very often anymore– take myself to dinner.
There’s this small local restaurant that I like for it’s casual quietness and the best burger I have ever tasted. Period. If you know much about me or my relationship to food (mostly estranged or awkward, but I’m working on it) you know that if I am going out of my way to eat it, it has to be a pretty damned good burger. Typically I’ll look for reasons not to eat a burger.
I walk into the restaurant and am greeted by two young hostesses, I’m guessing that they’re eighteen or nineteenish. They both look at me expectantly, waiting to hear how many people are in my party and I have to disappoint them with the news that it will only be me. I learned a long time ago to expect a certain amount of weirdness at this moment, but these two girls acted as though they weren’t sure what to do with me. One of them looked around the not nearly full dining room as though she wasn’t sure where to sit a single diner, even though there were small tables set for two aplenty. Obvious choice, young lady, come on.
I’m seated (at one of the two-seater tables) and wait a few minutes before a waitress comes over. My menu is closed because this is a restaurant I’m familiar with and I came in knowing what I wanted to order. The waitress looks a little distressed when she asks to take my drink order and I’m thinking maybe she’s just had a rough table. I order water and then she notes my closed menu and asks, sounding even more concerned, “You already know what you want?” I nod my affirmation and give her my order and she hurries off, assuring me that she will be right back. I was really grateful for the attention, but she said it as though she was afraid to leave me alone for to long for fear she might come back to find me trying to drown myself in my water glass in despair over having dinner alone.
At this point I start to notice the eyes of every single waitress in the place. I also notice that I am the sole single diner in the entire place. No big deal, but apparently the staff things something horrible has gone wrong with my evening to leave me on my own for a meal. I’m kind of amusing myself with the idea of waitresses imagining that I had been stood up when my waitress brings my food. She hands me my burger with a look that I feel is meant to be sympathetic but is only coming across as pitying and she asks, “can I bring you mustard?” in a tone that implies that her desire to provide companionship is so great that she’ll do it with a condiment if she has to. I pass on the mustard and she walks away shaking her head. Clearly I have lost all hope.
I enjoy my food, I read my news feeds in peace and quiet and without rushing. I am able to ignore the staring that is unabashedly taking place and I am managing not to be annoyed by the over-attentiveness and what seems like the overwhelming urge to refill my water glass of my waitress. Then the restaurant owner comes by, I know he’s the owner because most of the occasions I’ve been in his restaurant with my Dad the two of them have stopped to speak to one another. He approaches my table with a look of alarm and I’m preparing to hear that there may have been a finger in my burger or something when he asks me how my meal is, while furrowing his brow like he’s looking at a puzzle he just can’t quite figure out.
Having finished my food and paid, I was over it and ready to get to Starbucks, a land in which it is PERFECTLY FINE to be alone… in fact, in some ways I feel like the single customer is rewarded for their independence by being left alone, by being given quiet to work, write, read, or whatever singular activity you might like. In the land of Starbucks the single coffee-sippers are in the majority and they are also the ones looking on with some frustration of parties of more than three who are probably being noisier than is appropriate for a library, which is the ideal noise level for a Starbucks save for the occasional sound of a blender or coffee grinder.
I’m not scared to eat alone. Clearly. I just remember now why I don’t do it very often. Do men go through this when they dine alone? I don’t want to believe that this is just a girl problem, but I almost feel as if the perception is way worse when it’s a woman eating alone than if it’s a man, and I bet, just considering that there are a few more female waitstaff than there are male, that single male diners probably get hit on more often than female ones do.
Anyway, I appreciate Starbucks for it’s single-diner friendliness.
I left the house a little early this morning so I could grab breakfast at Starbucks.
I should have invited someone to meet me here… Except, you know, it’s Wednesday morning and all of the people I would want here with me are either too far away or have to work or have children.
Oh well. Good thing that I do ok alone.
Being alone doesn’t freak me out the way it does some people, I mean it’s not my preferred way to spend time, but I can definitely find ways to enjoy it.
I people watch mostly.
Like today for instance in one corner of the store there was a group of mom’s of young children, three of them if I’m remembering, they had a laptop open playing Elmo while they sipped coffee and chatted.
In front of me was a group of older ladies in the comfy chairs, it was clear by the way they met that this was a regular event for them. They each joined the group and picked up a conversation that had clearly been started at some earlier meeting. Beyond these ladies was a table of businessmen, notebooks open, barely saying a word to one another and just to my right was an older woman alone, working on some kind of project. She was interesting because random people kept coming to her table to say a few words, I couldn’t ever grasp whether they knew her on a personal or professional level.
All that going on around me makes it seem less like being alone, even though technically it can still be lonely.