I knew the menu from cover to cover and my choice of food was decided well before the waiter ushered me to my seat.
‘I’ll have chicken and chips,’ I told him when he returned to take my order. Nothing fancy or unique but I was already looking forward to it.
Then came a moment I’ve come to expect as a solo diner.
‘Do you think he’s been stood up?’ whispered the person on the next table, head bowed to avoid me hearing them but still very much within my earshot.
‘Well, I would,’ came the hurtful reply.
I froze, my heart rate beginning to climb even as I tried to counter the panic and anxiety building within me.
Once my meal arrived, I looked at it and it stared back at me. Suddenly, after being judged from afar, I’d lost my appetite.
Yet, despite such insults and the sour after-taste they leave, I would still urge anyone to dine alone. It really is an experience not to be missed.
I was 19 years old the very first time I’d sat down to a solo dinner – barely an adult. As I waited for a friend one day, pangs of hunger drew me into a pub so we could get food as soon as they arrived.
By the time they eventually told me they weren’t coming, I was so desperate to eat that I picked up the menu and a sympathetic waiter took my order. I even requested a dessert.
That’s the beauty of dining alone. Starters, salads, sweets, all without a side of judgement at the size of your order – or even the need to share.
I found myself going out to eat alone again when I finally moved into my own home. After living with housemates or family my whole life, I finally had to breach long-standing barriers of indecision and low self-confidence.
No longer could I rely on others to open the front door, answer important emails from a landlord, or carry out the dull housework, so I had no choice but to push myself out of my socially anxious shell.
And one of those ways I found I enjoyed the most was dining alone. The freedom to enjoy my own tastes, at my leisure and financial capability, sampling the best (or worst) a menu has on offer.
As a food lover, dining alone has opened up a world of cuisines and experiences that would otherwise be gated if I was waiting for others to join me at the table.
This, I found, was one of the best parts of adulthood.
In one restaurant, I was sat next to a young couple who were dining alongside their sleeping newborn baby. A spilled glass of red wine opened the floor to a warm conversation between us.
By the end of the meal, I’d learned it was their first time eating out as parents, and our small talk and jokes brightened my day – and hopefully theirs too.
On another occasion, a waiter told me he was quitting after his shift – I was quietly honoured, though admittedly surprised, to think he felt comfortable telling me, a solo diner, his intentions.
Such was my pleasure, I found myself extending this love of leisure liberty to other activities too. I’ve attended plays, concerts and conferences – all activities that seem to be designed around the partnership or group, so it feels like I’m breaking new ground every time I take my solo seat.
I’m not restricted by a companion’s feelings or judgements about the experience. If the concert or play was good, I feel no fear in standing to applaud.
Without my boosted confidence in dining alone, I’m not sure I could have attempted this. It’s brought a freedom to enjoy what I am passionate about without social barriers.
I even braved the daunting challenge of a solo overseas holiday last year.
As my efforts in trying to find a partner for the trip failed, I took a deep breath and boarded the plane for Greece alone, submerging myself into a new culture, both as a holiday destination and as a way of living.
When I arrived, I found my resort was a beautiful, idyllic paradise – for couples. As I looked around my fellow, loved-up travellers, I felt lonely and spent most of my trip constantly fixed to my phone for moral support from loved ones.
I came away feeling proud for having embarked on this adventure, but knew that even in such glorious sunshine, my mental health had its limits.
And of course, as the people wondering loudly if I’d been stood up shows, loneliness isn’t the only pitfall of trying to do things alone. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard people comment unkindly on why I’m sitting down for supper alone.
Even venues themselves will sometimes make this experience harder for solo customers.
Too many times have I been shown to a table at the back of restaurants, placed in a draught or by the toilet doors, poorly lit with a table wobblier than my self-confidence.
In one case, I was denied a table all together, despite seeing plenty of empty spots clear and set with cutlery.
However, my experiences at both ends of the spectrum won’t reduce my willingness to go it alone. My initial nerves upon entering a restaurant or waiting for a show to start are usually countered by the blissful enjoyment those activities provide.
Whether it is indulging in food or watching musicians perform, I feel such pride from proving to myself that, through enjoying these things, I can feel more confident in myself.
These activities are the sweetness on which my single life is built around and I refuse to allow other people to make me feel inadequate for arriving solo. And neither should you.
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