Eating alone

I mostly eat alone. There are semi-regular meals with my children and grandchildren, yes, which I enjoy, and coffees on patios with friends, but I’m still wary of having people in on account of Covid. So, I eat alone. I’m eating well, thanks, taking care of myself, thanks, and I usually keep company with a book while I eat so eating isn’t actually the loneliest part of living alone. I know some people think reading while eating is a bad idea, one ought to be concentrating on chewing, I suppose, but that’s boring in the extreme. Eating alone, a book is a fine substitute for conversation. 

The other day, during that awful heat dome that pressed over the northwest of the continent, I decided to have supper at the local White Spot. My apartment doesn’t have AC, and I was managing with fans, but by the afternoon of that day it had gotten just too hot. I was compelled by the AC of a restaurant and the food would be a bonus.

“Table for one,” I said to the attendant at the front desk when I came in.

Slight pause. “One?”

“Yes, one.” She wrote it down and I sat down to wait. The place was full and more people were coming. Obviously I wasn’t the only one longing to cool down in an eating establishment. 

When it was my turn, I sensed some slight confusion, or perhaps dismay, by the front staff, perhaps as to where I should be put, one person taking up a booth when up to four might be seated, and that many more orders and income etc. etc. I had this weird fleeting wish to say that my husband had died, as if I needed to explain why I was eating alone, or as if to say, well there’s just one but actually two if you know what I mean but only one of us is visible. But that would have been awkward for them, and disingenuous on my part, for I was there specifically because of heat, not grief.

I had a better idea, though: I quickly offered to eat at the bar counter, which was empty due to Covid restrictions, and they thought that was just wonderful, to allow one person there. Their relief –honestly, it was palpable, I don’t think I was imagining it. I felt happy to do it too, for them and everyone behind me, also wanting to eat in a cooler place, so I’m not recounting this with indignation. It was interesting, though, to pick up these various vibes about “one” and also my own sensations in those exchanges.

The White Spot folks were super attentive to me after I’d made my “sacrificial” suggestion, and though I did feel a little conspicuous perched at my bar stool with my meal and water, without the protection of a booth, it was okay, I had a book, and also there was a hockey game on if I wanted to look up from the book, and the bartender and I had little bits of conversation about the game (like sports fans do, ha ha, after I’d asked what TB stood for and learned it was Tampa Bay playing Montreal). The manager bustled over at one point to ask about dessert and was perhaps overly enthusiastic about my choice of cherry pie, as if I’d pulled a winning ticket or something, though I believe it was because they were out of apple, which I’d actually wanted at first.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve eaten in a restaurant alone, and I’ve never been self-conscious about it, but this time I was, and I think it’s because in fact, I now mostly eat alone. As of course many do, regularly, but it’s newish for me, that’s what I mean. It wasn’t an exception being marked as much as an extension of personal reality into a public space.

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To mark Sundays, I use my china for breakfast.

19 thoughts on “Eating alone

  1. Excellent Dora! I really enjoyed this story and felt with you. You took me right there with you.
    Just one question – how can cherry pie come SECOND after apple, or after anything? It’s numero uno with me!

  2. I’ll take apple pie over anything (with a bit of vanilla ice cream, please). I like to read the paper while eating breakfast, and often read to Hardy, who is a good listener. I’ve heard from others that eating alone is the hardest part after losing a spouse and I believe it.
    I love the way you write, Dora, that chatty, intimate voice, makes me feel as if I’m there beside you having this conversation.

    • Thank you Elfrieda. That sounds like a perfect combination: breakfast, the paper, you reading, and a good listener! Let’s go for apple pie next time we’re in the same city.

  3. I didn’t know you were in the heat dome too! We have no a.c.either, and generally Alamosa is quite lovely in the summer. But this year, wow. It’s to be 87 today and THAT is hot in this sun. I love that you were so appreciated for being able to sit at the bar That is Tim’s favorite spot anyway, and I suspect it’s so he can keep an eye on any sporting event that is happening on the screen! Glad to hear from you again.. Your writing, is as always, on point.

  4. Well put, Dora. I can relate to the reluctance to eat alone in a restaurant, although I do frequent the coffee shops in the Mall when shopping. At home there is always the company of the TV as the news conveniently comes on at dinner time.

  5. Have been eating my meals alone since 2009. Usually on my lap in front of the TV! I have never gone to a restaurant by myself! I go out with girl friends. Your courage gives me hope!
    The return to Church this am was fulfilling ! Felt like life was returning, to my heart and soul.

  6. You write cinematically, Dora. Have you ever tried mystery novel writing? For some reason, that question popped in my head. I ate my breakfast alone this morning and watched part of the Summer of Soul documentary on Hulu about the Harlem Festival of Music in 1969. Loved that combo.

    But eating alone in a restaurant is a little different. I have only done it a few times, and I too had a book. But I got hit on anyway. Not a pleasant memory.

    • I’ve never thought of mystery writing! Thanks for planting the thought, Shirley. 🙂 — And so sorry about that unpleasant memory. — Wishing you a joyous summer.

  7. You make alone sound lonely, but that’s because you’ve lost the love of your life and you’re going through a massive change. Great how you can articulate so succinctly the myriad of emotions. Of course, it’s all still raw and you’re feeling self-conscious . . . but after a time I bet you’ll feel quite invisible and might be writing things down as you eat, not later, upon reflection.

    • Oh thank you Gabe, this is truly encouraging! Not just reading as one eats, but writing. (And finding that lovely invisibility.) Somehow I have the feeling that’s what you do!

  8. I loved reading this – and although I can’t relate to eating out alone in the same way, pre-pandemic I often ate out alone while John was at a cricket match and although I enjoyed it would often read a book too. Speaking of which, I am really enjoying your book “All That Belongs” although strangely, it takes me longer to read on Kindle than it does reading a “proper” book. M xx

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