Flitting about the internet the other day, I came across an article on The Atlantic website titled “How I Learned to Eat Alone and Not Be Lonely,” written by Morgan Ome. She recounts her experience during COVID-19, when her world “shrunk to the square footage of (her) apartment,” and “food became a mode of injecting pleasure and delight into an otherwise bleak and lonely period.”
Much of her time was spent ordering meals in – mainly pizza from a favorite local spot in Washington, D.C. She also spent a lot of time sampling different brands of instant ramen, and baking loaves of banana bread.
This routine got old pretty quick, and Ome began to desperately miss the social interaction of dining with family and friends. She fell into despair and a declining state of mental health.
But then she happened upon various “eat with me” videos on TikTok, in which people share their cooking/dining experiences with others. This became quite a thing during COVID – folks making and watching “eat with me” videos to share their experiences and form a community during lockdown. You can link to the article to read all about it.
Two years on, Ome still doesn’t like eating alone that much, but she has learned to accept it. I’m guessing millions of others feel the same way.
Which is all a long, winding, and laborious route to the main point of this here blog, which is:
Eating alone, while depressing to many people, is one of the true pleasures of my life.
I say that even as a family man with a wife and two kids. We eat all of our evening meals together, which I have come to learn is a fading tradition. But to me it’s important, having a family meal. It gives us time together to have a chat and a laugh, and to talk about our days and dreams and whatnot.
Okay, the conversation isn’t always lively. With kids, it takes a little prodding – and by a little prodding, I mean a lot of prodding. A typical talk with our teenage daughter might go like this:
Parent: How was school today?
Parent: Anything interesting happen?
Parent: Learn anything fascinating?
Daughter: I don’t know.
Parent: What classes did you have today?
Daughter: Different ones.
Parent: Do you realize your hair is on fire right now, and your earlobes are melting?
You get the idea. She’s a very bright girl, but: a teenager.
Even so: It’s family time, it’s a home cooked meal, and it’s important. We also have lunch together on weekends, usually out at a restaurant. My wife and I have the occasional date night when we dine together by ourselves, and that is always an enjoyable experience.
Other than that, I eat all my meals alone. Breakfast usually involves cramming a banana or orange down my throat while doing kitchen chores. Weekday lunch is a chickpea salad at my work desk.
On Daddy’s Night Out, I might treat myself to a nice meal in a restaurant, at a table of my own, preferably tucked in a nice quiet corner. This is how I like it. This is how I’ve liked it for just about the entirety of my adult life, 40-odd years now.
I can understand why most folks don’t like to dine alone. But I will never, ever be one of them.
I can think of few things I like more than eating a meal all by my lonesome, with no distractions, just me and a plate of deliciousness, accompanied only by something to read. I’ve blogged before about my obsession with food, and my superhuman ability to knock it down in unreasonably large portions, like a boss.
Meals are sacred to me. I look forward to them with a single-minded fervor that borders on the deranged. I enjoy the mixing of flavors, the savoring of flavors, thinking about the next flavor even as I’m enjoying the current flavor and reminiscing about the flavor that seduced me only 10 seconds ago.
What I don’t want is a bunch of other human forms getting in the way of me and my fork (or spoon, hands, or chopsticks), especially on nights out by myself. I don’t mind socializing, it’s not that. I enjoy meeting people out for drinks, engaging in lively banter, laughter and lies. But when they order food, I order another beer. And when we all call it a night, I head either home or to the nearest all-night restaurant to eat by myself.
This became such a part of my modus operandi as a younger man that it became a running joke with my friends. “You’re not going to EAT?” they’d wonder. “Why aren’t you going to eat? Why don’t you at least order SOMETHING?”
“No,” I’d answer. “I’m just not hungry.”
Which was a lie. Most of the time I was starving – because I’m always starving. But I was willing to hold out just so I could eat alone, with no distractions or conversation, nobody coming between me and the divine victuals being plowed into my mouth.
Do you know how hard it is to convince people that you really don’t mind eating alone – that you, in fact, prefer it that way? They act like you’re a Freak from the Planet Geek. It simply does not navigate through the canals of their brains.
When I was a single man living in faraway places, with no family nearby, I would often get invited by friends to join them for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or some other holiday dinner. It was nice of them to ask, but all I really wanted to do was make a big pot of chili at home, drink beer, watch sports, and chow down – all by my l’il ol’ self.
Sometimes I would make excuses, or even fib a little, to get out of it. Other times I would cave and go to their homes, where I would eat turkey and drink white wine, all the while thinking about the chili and beer I wasn’t having at home by myself.
I don’t even like others interrupting my food experience. Once at a Mexican restaurant many years ago, I ordered a huge platter of various enchiladas, tamales, chiles rellenos, flautas, burritos, rice, beans, tortillas, chips and salsa, and a beer. I was getting ready to dig in when a mariachi band strolled up to my table and went into song, serenading me and me alone. I planted a grin on my face and nodded along, even though inside I was thinking, Can you guys please just finish the fuck up already so I can eat in peace?
Oh, I applauded their effort when they were done, and tipped them a couple bucks. Polite applause, followed by a gracious thank you. We must be gracious, my friends.
But when they finally wrapped it up, I started shoveling food into my mouth like a backhoe on a time clock, shifting my eyes around to make sure no other interloper would make an appearance.
Other times I’ve been seated alone, ready to enjoy a lovely solo meal, when some acquaintance or other would spot me from a few tables over and call out my name.
“Vance, howya doing, boyo? What are you, ALONE? Come on over, pally, join us! Plenty of room! Waiter, one more chair, please!”
Well shit, you can’t say no, can you? Even though you want to, you can’t say no.
This isn’t just a case of an aging man being antisocial. I’ve been this way since at least college, when I would often head to a nearby greasy spoon by myself and chow away in an ecstasy of quiet and isolation.
As a young adult I would go eat meals alone after work. On weekends, I would order heaping piles of breakfast alone. Lunchtime? Just me and the food, more often than not. In many ways I was waaaaaay ahead of my time, because research shows that dining alone can actually be good for you.
According to the Delishably website – an authority if ever – solo dining has numerous benefits. It gives you the option to choose wherever and whenever you want to eat, dine at your own pace, try new foods, and spend some quality alone time. It’s easier to get reservations when you are alone, and easier to find an open table or barstool.
You can eat healthy without anyone else wondering why you ordered that hideous quinoa salad.
You can also eat unhealthy without anyone wondering why you ordered that hideous triple bacon cheeseburger with the side of tater tots and onion rings.
It helps you relax, aids digestion, keeps you on your own schedule.
Weep not for me if you see me dining alone, my friends. Know that I am in my happy place. Feel free to come over and say a quick hello, then feel free to scoot right along….
Note: The photo is from the Nikkei Asia website. I don’t know what this gentleman is eating, but I want some – alone.