Denise was filled with trepidation at the thought of eating alone at a restaurant … until she actually went ahead and did it.
So yesterday night, I found myself alone in the office at 8pm. It had been a long day, I had been working for close to 12 hours straight; writing, training, attending meetings.
I was starving … and craving a big juicy steak that I knew was available just across the road from my office at Wine Connection Bar & Bistro.
Problem? I didn’t have anyone to dine with.
Of course, it’s not like I’ve never eaten alone ever in my life. In fact, I didn’t have any problems with it when I was travelling solo. I’ve also eaten alone here at hawker centres or salad bars in between meetings. But there was something about having dinner alone at a restaurant – a bustling one at that – that just felt, well, sad.
So self-conscious was I that I spent a good ten minutes listing down the pros and cons of eating alone with Alain on Facebook chat. “Bring something to read,” he advised, “So you don’t get bored while waiting for your food to arrive.”
I’m not sure why I felt so much dread at the thought of dining alone. I guess because eating – especially at dinnertime – has been ingrained in us to be a social activity. Anyway, I’m most definitely not alone, cos there’s a website – which I believe is based in the US – called Invite For a Bite, which connects solo women diners with each other so they can be spared the ignominy of dining alone.
But anyway … since I’m trying this new thing now called Tackling Your Fears Straight On, I headed to Wine Connection. As expected, the restaurant was positively bustling, as it usually is at that time of the night, so any hopes of getting a quiet corner table went out of the window.
“We only have a tapas table available,” said the hostess. And was that a pitying smile I just caught?
“What’s a tapas table?” I thought to myself, as I was led into the restaurant. Turns out, it was a high table SMACK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RESTAURANT.
As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough that I was eating alone, they just had to give me the table with the highest visibility!
Not wanting to prolong the agony longer than I had to, I ordered promptly after I sat down, feeling painfully self-conscious the whole time.
“Will anyone be joining you?” asked the waiter.
“Um … no. It’s just me.”
“Oh, just you? Okay.”
I flipped open my magazine and started reading, if only to be spared anymore pitying/curious looks from other diners. Despite the busy-ness of the restaurant, my ribye arrived in just 5 minutes (I did order it rare). As I cut into my steak, I found myself easing into the situation. I ate it slowly, savouring every tender morsel. I took note of how the Malbec I had ordered tasted and felt in my mouth as I sipped it. “Could afford to be a bit more full-bodied,” I thought.
After awhile, I found myself totally relaxed in my surroundings. I realised that I was probably being over-sensitive to the situation – hardly anyone paid any notice to me as they were preoccupied with their own social engagements. To entertain myself, I started making up stories about the others sitting around me.
“That couple is having an office romance, but they are keeping it a secret. Those four people sitting over there must be colleagues who don’t have a lot in common; everyone’s looking at their phones and talking to one another at all. And what are those hipsters doing eating here when they should be hanging out at some indie coffee joint?”
I basked in the attentive service. One waiter came over to ask me how my steak was. Yet another wanted to know if I needed a wine refill.
Far from being the “eat and run” experience I thought it would be, I found myself thoroughly enjoying my own company. I took my time enjoying my food and wine. By the time I left the restaurant about an hour later, I felt completely unburdened by the day’s stresses.
I have to say, dining alone is one of the most liberating experiences I’ve had in a long time, even for someone who’s used to doing things on my own a lot. I realised that a lot of the fear I felt about eating alone was unfounded, and it actually reinforced my own self-identification as an independent woman. And even if there was someone there last night who was judging me for doing what I did, who cares? I pity that person, for he or she will never be privvy to the joys of enjoying one’s own company.
About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Obviously, she’s also a fan of verbal sparring. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.
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