Dining alone is a character building exercise — particularly for a woman. Not so much at Wendy’s, where I absolutely adore the Mandarin Chicken Salad, or at the Kingsway Garden Mall food court, where the hustle and bustle and noise level can drive you batty.
I mean some classy joint. Like the Pradera Café and Lounge at the Westin in Edmonton. Recently I was seated alone directly in front of the sliding door entrance looking out diagonally at the corner of 100 Street and 101A Avenue. Solo diners of either gender often bring a newspaper or book along. I fought the urge to bring a book to hide behind. I could have amused myself by eavesdropping on neighboring tables but chose not to. Despite the fact it was Juno week there was nary a star in sight that night so people-watching wasn’t much fun either. When Mike checked me in, he said the hotel would be full of press people. I was hoping for glitterati. Was it true or was he just trying to prevent an unfortunate stalking incident? Either way I didn’t see a soul I recognized.
Dining alone in an upscale restaurant forces one to really study the menu. It means turning inward to discover what you really want to eat rather than turning the decision into a game of consensus or being unduly swayed by others’ choices.
It promotes daring, a broadening of one’s tastes, some trial and error experimentation. When my Leaves of Mesculin Salad arrived I’d wished I’d paid more attention to Martha’s primer on greens and the finer points of salad building. So that’s what pine nuts taste like.
Dining alone promotes mindfulness. It forces me to slow down and savor. It infuses a sense of sophistication, albeit temporary and artificial. It means I’m more likely to engage the servers in conversation than if I were caught up with friends. It allows a first-hand look at how a maitre d’ may seat a woman alone. Am I scootched off in a corner at a tiny table or right next to the washroom or kitchen door?
Dining alone, like many solitary pursuits, requires more of us. We’re forced to face the reality, however briefly, that in fact we are in this alone. Spouses, children, friends, and family are wonderful companions on the journey but ultimately, largely, we travel alone. Those of us who are most comfortable in our own skins, in our own company, don’t mind these challenges. It provides breathing space, silence, thinking time. Most of us love the company of others and comfortably carry the conversational ball but we also like the distance, the anonymity of aloneness.
Dining alone needn’t be scary. Maybe Arby’s with your nose in the Edmonton Journal is a good place to start. Before long I predict you’ll seek out opportunities to eat alone in nicer and nicer places. Before long you’ll go from feeling strange and conspicuous to feeling worldly, confident, and oh, so lovely. These are good things, from where I sit.
*Reprinted with permission