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.