Friday, July 20, 2012

Table for one

For a short amount of time in college I worked as a waitress at my favorite dive Chinese restaurant. The pay was terrible, we tip shared the miniscule tips we received, the owner was completely insane, the kitchen staff was lewd, and the other servers were not always the most pleasant humans in the world. That being said this place still to this day had the most amazing potstickers I have ever eaten.

During my stint in food service hell I became very familiar with one particular group of customers. They almost all came in during the early lunch hours, they always ordered the exact same thing, they always tipped me under the table so I wouldn't have to share it with the girl who was reading in the closet instead of working, and they were always alone. I loved my solitary diners even if I never understood them.

You see I could not do that. There is no way in a million years I would ever be able to eat by myself in public. I could have a book, or a smart phone, or a trained monkey and I still could not sit in an eating establishment and have a meal by myself. If I am in a restaurant and my dining companion gets up from the table for an extended length of time I start panicking.

I have tried to eat alone, but it just gets ugly. I get nervous feeling like people are watching me. I can't actually eat my food let alone enjoy it. I start having panic attacks and have to make a hasty exit normally just as hungry as when I came in for the meal.

I tried eating alone in the college cafeteria exactly once. The meal ended with me in tears having had about two bites of my dinner. That was probably a poor environment considering it was the dinner rush, the place was packed, and I was forced to sit with a group of incredibly attractive guys who were doing there best not to look at me. Still I couldn't do it.

I can go back to my house, or my cube, or my car and eat alone. Eating is certainly an issue. I just can't do it in public without support. Honestly I don't even like eating around strangers in a group setting. When my office does big group meals, I have trouble eating anything at all.

I have no idea where this particular phobia comes from. Yes I would say it is a phobia. It probably comes from my mother somehow. I don't mean that in a bad way, but I know my mom has issues with eating alone in public as well. It is a thing.

So having never been comfortable with eating alone, I used to always watch my solitary diners with a sort of fascination and envy. I would love to go to my favorite eatery with nothing but a book and enjoy a quiet meal with no distraction from my literature. I would like to be able to go to a cafe with my netbook and work on my writing while enjoying a snack. I would love to not opt for inhaling a fast food burger in my car while out running errands because a sit down restaurant with a salad would give me hives.

My best friend B says that it is a quirky thing she loves to do. I say it is a quirky thing that gives me fits. I envy her. Perhaps some day I will work my way past my fear out of necessity. Perhaps someday I can be that brave.

Someday I want to be ok being just a table for one.


  1. I totally LOVE going to restaurants alone.  Movies too.  There's just something greatly relaxing about being able to enjoy a meal and a good book without worrying about what anyone else wants or thinks, not having to make conversation or wonder if the silence has gone on too long or worry if I'm talking TOO much. 

    Don't get me wrong, I love going out with my friends and family too.  It's a completely different animal.  But yeah, my very occasional treat to myself is to go to lunch at a sit down restaurant and take a good book and relax. :)

  2. I had to train myself to eat alone in restaurants- mainly while I was traveling during and after college.  I can't do it unless I have a book with me, otherwise I get a little weirded out by it.

  3.  It gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about that. I am always nervous about strangers watching me, what they are thinking about what I am eating, how I am eating, why I am alone, and god knows what else. I feel like eating alone puts a target on my head somehow. I wish I could do it, I just can't.

  4. I've eaten alone but it's not my favorite thing to do.

  5. I've eaten alone plenty of times BUT reading material is a must! Otherwise it's just you looking at the other diners who are looking back at you wondering 'Why is she eating alone?'. 

  6. Hildred BillingsJuly 20, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    As someone who, when living abroad, ate at my fave local restaurant every Sunday night by myself (usually ordering the same thing! Man, I wonder if the staff misses me?) I can safely say nobody is looking/wondering about you, although it can be hard to convince yourself of that. It's like going to the gym, for me. You're exposed as hell and everyone else is there working out, but -nobody cares-. They're in their own world and you're in your own. I guess think of it like this: when you see somebody eating alone, reading a book/working on a laptop, do you sit and wonder about them? I mean, besides usual stranger wonderings ;)

    I'm obviously not a doctor, but it sounds like you have some pretty bad social anxiety in that case. If it's something you really want to overcome, I'd suggest taking baby steps, like going for a walk by yourself, going shopping by yourself, etc etc, and noticing that nobody's watching you...unless they're a total creeper. But I don't think thatt's the norm. (Then again I could be completely talking out of my ass, in which case, ignore me!)

  7.  *hi5*  I totally feel the same way that a meal and/or movie alone is a treat sometimes!  :-)
    I used to 'take myself to a movie' (there was a theatre near where I worked and I'd just go see whatever was playing soonest that I had even a vague interest in seeing) about once a week.

  8. It is so funny that you wrote about this today, dad and I were just discussing this exact subject last week when we went to our favorite Mexican place to grab some nachos for a late afternoon snack.  There was an older woman in the restaurant a few tables away from us, sitting alone, eating her meal.  It was early for dinner, late for lunch, and my first thought was she came in early so that people wouldn't notice she was eating alone.  I felt so badly for her, in fact I mentioned to dad that we should offer to join her so she wouldn't have to endure that torture alone.  I flashed forward in my life, wondering if dad should die before me and thought if I would ever be able to come back for a late snack of nachos alone or would I have to order ahead and take them home to be able to enjoy them.  I thought about my mom, living alone for so many years, and knowing she ate most of her meals out, how did she do it by herself?!  Yes, you most likely got the phobia from me, although I almost took offense to that statement when I first read your blog, however upon thinking about it, I knew you were 100% correct.  I myself have also only been able to eat exactly one meal alone, with dreaded results as well.  It was at a Taco Bell, and I was out running errands and was absolutely starving.  I was so hungry and still had a million errands to run before I could make it home, and really thought I could make myself eat alone.  I ordered my food, sat down to eat, then started to shake uncontrollably, I mean physically I was having such a problem that I thought I might pass out.  A few days after that I found myself in the hospital ER trying to explain to the doctors about my experience, which had continued off and on after my alone eating experience.  I later learned, after a few days in the hospital and a ton of tests, that it was the affects of my thyroid going crazy and not actually the experience of me eating alone.  You can only imagine how uncomfortable it was for me to have to repeat this story to one specialist after another, I just knew they thought I was crazy.   They kept asking me, "so let me get this straight, you ate at a Taco Bell?"  Like it was my choice to eat at a crappy fast food place for the reason my body kept shaking uncontrollably.  My alone eating experience, nor my choice of restaurants had nothing to do with it, it just so happened that it started when I was eating alone for the first time in my life.  I've never, never had the nerve to attempt to try that experience again, I prefer to share my meals with someone I know if I have to eat in public, otherwise, I'm also doomed to stuffing down some fast food in my car, or waiting till I can get the food home.  Life is funny sometimes, sorry I passed it along to you, but rather an eating phobia than some of the other things that could have been passed along!

  9.  I remember when that happened. I was still in high school. It freaked us all out quite a bit. I doubt that helped my dislike for eating out alone.

  10.  I am not a huge fan of being places alone with strangers, but I have no problem doing most anything else alone. I can shop alone, I do it all the time and find it peaceful. I can get my hair done, or a mani/pedi alone. I can get my oil changed alone. It is just eating (though I have never tried a movie alone).
    I watch people everywhere I go, so I am probably not a good judge of what is normal.

    And the staff probably does miss you. I know I always was sad when my regulars missed a day or more.

  11.  If I were to try again I would need a book of some sort. Perhaps a paper bag as well in case I hyperventilate.

  12. I eat alone fairly regularly. I have a regular coffee shop where I've befriended the staff and I sit and knit or read before and while I eat, and I have a regular cafe where I take myself for a treat. The first time I went there they seemed confused that I was eating alone, but they got used to me. I carry books and knitting with me everywhere I go, which makes things easier, probably. I have more issues eating in front of people than alone.

  13.  Apparently it is a matter of properly distracting yourself from the situation. I will just have to try to read harder.

    On a totally non food related note, and a total you related note, I am trying to teach myself to knit. I mean I in theory know how to knit, as I have done it before, but I can't cast on or off, or do anything but a normal stitch and a straight(ish) line. So yea I was actually thinking of you as I stood in the yarn isle at the craft store looking for cheap yarn so I won't be mad at spending the money if this doesn't work out.

  14. Lys Childs-WileyJuly 22, 2012 at 1:06 PM

     I guess I finally hit the point of not caring if they're looking at me, wondering what I'm eating or even criticizing what I'm eating (Yeah, the Fat Lady is eating a cheeseburger and fries, not a salad.  So?), or even thinking about me.  It is one of the few areas that I have actual self-confidence in.  I wish it would spread into other areas of my life! *LOL*

  15. Lys Childs-WileyJuly 22, 2012 at 1:08 PM

     *return hi5* Totally!  We can't afford a lot of movies right now, but whenever the husbeast and I give ourselves an allowance, I sometimes use part of mine for a movie.  I tend to choose either movies we've already seen together that I want to see again, or movies that I know he's not interested in, so that I don't feel guilty about seeing something I know he wants to see too.  But yeah, I love going, grabbing some popcorn, and just losing myself in it. :)