By Caroline Selby
Dinners are a family affair for me. Unless it’s an extremely rare occasion where I eat out with friends, I eat dinner with my parents every night, whether we go out or stay in for one of Dad’s delicious, home-cooked meals. But ever since my nephew was born five years ago, my parents have been traveling to Chattanooga once or twice a month to stay with my brother and his family, leaving me to my own devices when it comes to dinner.
Usually I would dig into the fridge for leftovers or pop something in the microwave to eat, as I am too dangerous to be let loose with the stove. Other times I would pick something up from a local restaurant and take it home. But lately, I’ve taken to eating out alone, something I would have been horrified to do just months ago.
The very thought of eating out alone, especially in a sit-down restaurant, used to cause my rotten social anxiety to soar. What would people think if they saw me eating solo? Would they pity me for not having anyone to eat with? Would they think I was some spinster who couldn’t get a date? Well, why that last one may have a ring of truth to it, I decided one night that I really didn’t care what people thought of seeing me alone in a restaurant, so I picked up a magazine and took myself on a date to a local eatery.
Talk about a nerve-racking experience. The first time I ate out alone, I was so nervous, I sat myself in the very back of the restaurant, hoping no one would notice me. I kept my eyes glued to the magazine I had brought, not daring to look up, afraid of people staring at me. Despite the fact that I had told myself I didn’t care what people thought, I lacked the confidence of believing it. I ate as quickly as I could and left as soon as possible.
I didn’t think I would be able to do that again, but the next time my parents went to Chattanooga, I decided to try.
The second time was easier. The hostess just gave me a friendly smile when I told her, “It’s just me tonight.” I went armed with a book again, but found myself so engrossed in my delicious dinner, I barely looked at. This time I raised my eyes and did a little “people watching” of my own. Nobody seemed to notice me all by myself, aside from my waitress who was extremely friendly and charming. Success!
This past weekend, I ventured out by myself for the third time, this time to a fast-food joint. I took my tray to a table, deliberately not choosing one in the back. I had a magazine with me again, but I didn’t touch it. Instead, I just sat by myself, by the window, and watched the world outside while I ate. I was halfway through my meal when I noticed a man sitting two tables away eating by himself. And not long after, another lone woman entered the restaurant, taking her food to the back of the dining area. I had to smile. I was not alone in being alone.
A Google search yielded some helpful hints on dining alone.
1. If you’re in the mood for conversation, ask to be seated at the bar or counter if available. If there’s not one available, go at off-peak times and spark a conversation with your server.
2. If talking to strangers isn’t your thing, bring a book or magazine.
3. Take along your social network. You’re never really alone if your online friends are along for the ride.
4. Ask for the check even if you aren’t finished eating. This will cut down on the time you must sit alone at the table after you are through.
5. Have confidence in yourself. Eating alone should be enjoyable, not something to be afraid of.
While I will probably always have that burst of social jitters before stepping into a restaurant alone, I know now that it is something I can do. And if you happen to see me out and about myself, stop by and say hi. Even if I have a book or magazine with me, I always enjoy a friendly conversation.
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Caroline Selby is a Crossville Chronicle staff writer. Her column is published periodically. She may be reached at email@example.com.