Football Prediction Correct: My astute sports analysis courtesy of my husband and for fans of college football, the Big Ten Conference:
Ohio State University #1 -- University of Michigan #2
Why is it that we can be uncomfortable going to a restaurant alone, even under ordinary circumstances, much less a holiday? Is it simply because we're uneasy about what other people will think? "Ah, she doesn't have any friends, poor thing. I wonder what's wrong with her?"
Claude had an interesting account in a recent post at Blogging In Paris (link on sidebar) of her adventure eating out alone in Paris after her husband died. Comments to her along with those in my piece about my "Thanksgiving Adventure Alone" keep circulating in my thoughts.
I've noticed, and even done this myself on past occasions, that people, mostly women, eating alone, or maybe just having coffee, will bring along a magazine or usually a book to read. Men typically have a newspaper. Now why would we do that? Are we uncomfortable just sitting there looking around, noticing some others glancing at us? Are we wondering what they're thinking -- about us? Do we need to feel occupied somehow to convey we are engaged?
Maybe some of us alone at a restaurant just want to read, while enjoying having someone wait on us. Maybe when we don't bring reading material we simply want to contemplate our thoughts. Maybe we're just passing through from one place to another and this is a meal and rest break. Must be lots of other reasons why someone would eat alone.
In my case in the last thirty years or so, when I most recently started eating alone on occasion again, I was reading textbooks for classes I was taking, or using precious moments to bone up on information I would need to know for testing purposes later. In other instances when classwork was no longer a focus, I sometimes had other household organizational notes I was making. Then, there were those occasions when I simply was there to eat, or just have a relaxing cup of coffee with nothing to occupy me -- a break between my household responsibilities and those for my mother at her residence.
As I recall those years with my mother, I think of all the press about the boomers being a "sandwich generation," as though this was new. I think about all of us who were "sandwiched" long before the boomers were singled out as somehow unique in this regard. I don't think many boomers are so naive as to believe all the press put out about them, but I don't think it hurts to remind those who might believe that rhetoric, that many in the older generations have been there, done that, too, -- working, school, family, parental/other family member care. But I'm digressing from the topic of eating alone in public.
I can recall somewhere in the past when I initially had occasions to eat alone, sometimes having an uncomfortable feeling. I think I must have realized at some point how self-centered and egocentric my attitude was, to think all these other people would be paying that much attention to me, after a possible casual glance when I first appeared. I couldn't help being reminded of the similarity with that early teenage stage when many youth believe the world revolves around them. Some want to hide away from any they don't know and can become quite sensitive if any stranger even looks in their direction, much less directly at them.
I think also, going to a new restaurant filled with unfamiliar faces can cause a bit of anxiety. I think there is much to be said for returning to an older familiar establishment if someone is uncomfortable eating alone in a new restaurant. In my experience, as with other businesses I frequent, the faces become familiar, the staff or other repeat customers recognize my face and I theirs. I soon find myself thinking of the environment as familiar, welcoming and the people friendly.
Certainly the experience might be enhanced by the fact that I would never short change the staff on their tip, since they have to pay income tax based on the size of my bill whether or not they get a tip. Based on previous experience, I concluded since sometimes I ordered a larger meal (larger tip,) that when I only wanted a cup of coffee they didn't begrudge keeping my cup filled when that was all I ordered.
Now, I will confess that there can be some risks for a woman eating alone in a restaurant. Fortunately they are few, but not too many years ago I had a young man begin a conversation with me. He seemed quite sociable and not unattractive. At some point it became quite clear that he had mis-perceived why I was there and had an agenda quite different from mine. When the light dawned on me what he was about I gently but laughingly said to him, "Don't you realize I'm old enough to be your mother?" When that didn't deter him, I added, "I have a son who's probably close to your age." He seemed unbothered by that information. The fact that I was married was of no importance to him either. Perhaps if I didn't take commitments seriously, or I had been single, I might have viewed the situation differently. Circumstances as they were, I wasn't interested in getting into further conversation with him, so that was that. Perhaps men may, too, find their presence alone interpreted by an occasional other as erroneously indicating they're searching for companionship.
But then you don't have to be alone for others to take note. I was with my mother and my two small children in a restaurant one evening about twenty-five years ago, when I glanced somewhat repeatedly at a seemingly familiar face who happened to observe my glances. The next thing I knew the waitress told me he was picking up my check. I thought what the heck, why not accept, so nodded a thank you from our distance and kept trying to figure out why he looked familiar.
Some time after we had left, it dawned on me that he was the lead actor in a new detective TV series I had watched the night before on which, coincidentally, a friend of mine had had a role. I was sorry I hadn't made an effort to talk with the man who bought our dinner. He probably was feeling flattered that he was being recognized, which would have told him that I had viewed his TV show.
More holidays will soon be upon us, in fact several, in the order of their calendar advent: Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and that's not even counting New Years and events of the new year. There are many reasons why any one of us could be alone on a holiday or any ordinary day. If you happen to be out and about as a couple, with other family or friends, and notice someone alone at a restaurant, you probably don't necessarily need to feel sorry for that person. It just might be they are welcoming the time alone to themselves. Whatever the circumstances, which you likely will never know, a warm and friendly smile will probably be welcomed.
I surely hope anyone who may find themselves considering eating out alone whether on just a regular day or evening, or a holiday, will place the convenience, pleasure and enjoyment they can derive from the experience well above any concerns they might have about being alone.
Holidays alone may be more challenging, especially if we've been accustomed to being with others. Enjoy the meal, being waited upon, and treasure those memories of other times which you can summon forth with each bite of food and sip of beverage you take.
Being able to be alone and not lonely has been my experience almost for as long as I can remember, having long ago become comfortable with myself. This doesn't mean that I don't miss other people who may now be forever absent from my life. I, too, sometimes wish that others who are elsewhere, or otherwise engaged, might be physically present with me. But, I do have my memories, thoughts and can contemplate future plans.