DINNER FOR ONE

An introvert (Scout) on the merits of eating alone. 

“Anyone else joining you?” Expectant.
“No, just me.”
“Ah- ok.” Pursed lips. “Well, please come this way.”
“She must be lonely.” People murmur as I solemnly take my place at the counter, awkwardly wedged between couples and friends. They look to see if I’m checking my phone, anticipating a companion. They take a quick survey of my demeanour. I am immediately written off as eccentric – a quietly tortured genius who has sacrificed the corporeal pleasures of human company to immerse herself in a good book. Or perhaps just a Neville-No-Friends, as an balding old fashioned uncle might say.

Well, it may come as a shock, but I’m not.

I’m not simply “making a lasagne for one”, a handy euphemism for dealing with breakup coined by Flight of The Conchords.

Nor do I not harbour any deep anxiety about eating along in a restaurant. (I’ve been wont to attend concerts, films, plays and poetry readings on my own and without qualms.) But what I cannot stomach is the pity of other patrons, waiting staff and general passers-by. The irrepressible cheeriness of everyone around me, as if trying to infect me with his or her extroversion, simply affirms my choice to eat in blissful solitude.

For one; eating, drinking and reading are rare indulgences of the senses. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to successful meditation. I focus on every morsel. I try to imagine what it would be like if I picked up the food and rubbed it between my fingers. Silken polenta, snappish cucumber and lamb as tender as a freshly-twisted ankle. I hold the coffee in the little pocket between my tongue and the roof of my mouth for another second longer. I linger over every word, squinting at it, looking at the form of the letters and its place on the page. I follow my eye with a stubby, nail-bitten finger. I envisage each paragraph breaking apart and fitting back together again, tessellating on the page like Pangaea. And I cannot do any of this when I am trying to maintain conversation, polite or otherwise, as I eat.

Second; I am an introvert by nature. Imagine each person as having a heap of energy at the beginning of the day and every activity as consuming some of that reserve. For introverts such as myself, interacting with other people is like using a ladle instead of a teaspoon. Introverts are not necessarily shy or misanthropic. But solitude is a necessity for self-preservation.

“Eenmaal” – “meal for one” in Dutch – is a small shopfront that was converted into a pop-up restaurant with ten solitary tables in Amsterdam.

Solitude is bliss: Marina van Goor's Eenmaal in Amsterdam. (Photo: Vandejong)

Solitude is bliss: Marina van Goor’s Eenmaal in Amsterdam. (Photo: Vandejong)

Marina van Goor, Eenmaal’s creator, sought to break the taboo of eating on one’s lonesome. Chef De Ijsmakerji – of legendary ice cream fame – have made the solo dinner tantalising even to extroverts to whom social interaction is their bread and butter, with a menu that includes elderflower cocktail, and a sea lavender salad with chamomile butter sauce.

When I have a knife and fork between my fingers, it means that this is my time. I may choose to spend it alone or in company. But either way, I will defend my choice with every last blade and tine.

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One comment

  1. Doug

    Great blog entry. I worked at a restaurant where individuals that ate alone were called “aces” They had specific training so we didn’t make the “ace” feel awkward. It was cool.

    I’m not really sure why there’s such a stigma attached to being alone in public settings. I eat dinner alone and go to movies alone often. When you spend forty hours a week around lots of people and are consistently scheduled for social events, it’s nice to have some alone time for reflection and recharge.

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