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.
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.