It's a given that as humans we are, by nature, social creatures. But in the same way that we should all take a casual afternoon nap, go barefoot more often and get regular massages, we should make it a point to periodically dine out on our own. Once you get past the association that solo dining belongs to the antisocial, friendless misanthrope and that it's a sad and silent testimony to one's loneliness in a chaotic and obscure world — there's something therapeutic and valuable about the process of dining by yourself in a restaurant.
The choice to dine alone is convenient and efficient. Company requires consideration: What can they afford, what will they eat, what area of town makes for a convenient meeting, will they bore the table with a detailed account of their knee surgery or the latest victorious battle in potty training their 2-year-old?
With solo dining you are completely free and independent, untethered by any social obligation whatsoever, at liberty to ignore table etiquette, flirt with servers, stand up and leave at your own discretion. Sushi or salad? Thai or Italian? Introspective mood or curious voyeur?
With this freedom comes a valuable mental freedom.
Sitting with no external concerns except forking food from plate to mouth leaves an abundance of mental space to pay hyper-attention to the food and the interplay of flavors — or to chew over the more miserable and pathetic aspects of your life.
Or, you can always eavesdrop.
Which is why some of my best meals have been solitary ones, often for this reason alone: By discreetly dropping in on the conversations of nearby diners, it elevates my view of my own immediate orbit.
Case in point: Last week I took myself out to a café that I love and is very welcoming to solo diners. I found myself seated next to a couple who appeared to be on a second date. She chattered incessantly about relationships with other men and spoke in sentences that all ended as if she was asking a question.
"My last boyfriend? He was a jerk? He had a creepy orange dog named Boom Boom that kept getting into our weed stash and was addicted to licorice? He let that ugly, smelly dog sleep with us? And would get mad if I complained? So then I'm like, no way? And he's like, we're a package deal, babe? And I'm like, whatever?"
Her remarkably tolerant (or masochistic) companion listened to this inane patter and still paid for the entire meal without so much as an offer or thank-you from Miss Overly-Self-Absorbed. As I slowly ate my salad of mixed greens with bleu cheese, toasted walnuts and cremini mushrooms with blueberry vinaigrette and drank my chianti, appearing not to be the least bit interested in anything but my book (a valuable prop), and resisting the urge to surreptitiously throw my leftover bread at the both of them, I embraced the opportunity to enjoy my own company and digest my own wonderful life. You might sit by yourself, but you are never really alone.