It happens all the time.
I’m in line at a restaurant. A single guy is standing next to me. The hostess ignores me and looks straight at him, asking him if he would like a table. No awkwardness and no surprise that he is by himself that night. Then, it’s my turn. The conversation goes something like this:
Hostess: “How many?”
Hostess (either clears her throat or looks at me with surprise, or both): “Just you?”
Me: “Yeah, just me.” (Usually with sarcasm because I can’t help myself.)
Hostess (composes herself): “Okay, right this way.”
It doesn’t stop there. Once I’m seated, I’m treated differently by the staff, from the waitstaff to the busboys. They look at me awkwardly and treat me with a covert sympathy as if I didn’t choose to be alone.
The truth is, I chose to go to that restaurant alone, and I love it.
I love going out by myself. I don’t have to worry about small talk and can enjoy my meal in peace. I have dined alone all over the world and savored every moment. It took me a long time to get to this point. When I was younger, I didn’t always enjoy dining alone. I needed someone to go out with or I felt insecure being by myself. Then, at the age of 25, my grandfather suddenly passed away. That incident sparked a fire in me—I didn’t want to take life for granted anymore.
I decided to go after my dreams and pursue an acting career in Los Angeles. A year after his passing, I packed up my car and drove solo from Chicago to L.A. Starting over again on my own changed me, and I was no longer afraid to be alone. As a new L.A. resident, I was comfortable doing things alone and learned to enjoy my own company. Since then, dining alone has become second nature to me. It gives me a sense of freedom that comes with doing what I want without relying on people to accompany me. It has also helped me become bolder in other decisions, such as moving to New York on my own and backpacking Europe solo.
Sometimes a tragedy changes people, and my loss awakened the courage inside of me to live life comfortably on my own.
It is easy to read about a journey of someone else learning to be comfortable on their own, but how do you do it yourself? How do you get to a point where dining solo comes naturally to you?
Here are some suggestions to become more comfortable with enjoying your own company:
1. Remember that you are enough.
As women, it’s easy for us to think that we have to have something else in our life to be enough, whether it be possessions, friends, or a partner. This often stems from what we were taught in childhood and then reinforced throughout our lives. It makes us think that we can’t do things on our own, including going out by ourselves.
How do we fix this mindset? For me, it started with my self-talk. I stopped telling myself I couldn’t do something but instead thought, “Why can’t I? Why don’t I try?” The more I told myself that, the more courage I attained to go out and do something beyond my comfort zone, such as eating alone. The more things I did that were uncomfortable, the easier they became over time.
This is something I had to teach myself because I didn’t grow up with this reinforcement; I learned it from coaches and mentors. I encourage you to give yourself positive self-talk. Every morning, look at yourself in the mirror and say, “You are enough.” You can also include any other affirmations that work for you such as, “You are beautiful” or, “You are worth it.” It will be awkward at first, but I promise you, over time it will change your mindset and give you the courage to do things that you normally wouldn’t do. That includes dining solo!
2. Thinking time.
I love dining with groups of people as much as dining solo. The camaraderie is great, and it has resulted in a lot of bonding time with friends. There is something that dining solo has, though, that dining with people could never give me, which is time alone to breathe and be with my thoughts. This may sound scary to some, but it is priceless for me. It is one of the only times where I can enjoy myself without distractions or anyone needing anything from me.
I value the times when I can truly taste my food, people watch, or come up with ideas or plans for the week. If dining solo scares you, think of it as a time to be alone and relax. Bring a book, look at your phone, or write down a list of activities for the week. Order your favorite meal and take your time enjoying every bite. Try it once and see how you like it. It may be more enjoyable than you think.
3. Baby steps.
The first time you dine solo does not need to be an extravagant affair. It doesn’t even need to be at a restaurant! Start small. Go to a coffee shop or a bar. Sit at a table by yourself and drink your coffee or beverage. See how it feels. If you’re uncomfortable the first time, that’s okay. Try again. Remember that anything uncomfortable takes time to get used to. Once you are comfortable going out solo for a drink, then try a restaurant. When going out, remember the positive self-talk to give yourself and the many ways you can use your solo time. Who knows? You might enjoy it.
The most important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself. It may not feel natural at first, but over time it could become something you look forward to!
I have enjoyed dining solo for over 15 years. It has often become the highlight of my week and something that is a natural part of my life. As much as I love it, the sad part about it is the reactions I receive from the staff of restaurants. This reaction is not reserved in just one city but has been seen all over from New York to Barcelona.
What is it about a woman dining alone that is so odd? Haven’t we progressed as a society, as a world, to the point that a woman can walk into a restaurant and sit alone without receiving sympathetic stares from well-meaning people? And why do people still see it as unnatural? It baffles me that this is the reaction of so many people.
If a man can dine alone, then why can’t a woman? In my opinion, women who dine alone are the best kind of women. It shows that they are independent, self-sufficient, and able to enjoy their own company. These qualities are respected in men, and it’s high time they’re also respected in women.
We can talk a big talk about women empowerment and equality, but until we are all comfortable with something as simple as a woman dining alone, then there will continue to be a battle for women to truly have the same rights as men.
I look forward to the day that I dine alone and am looked at in the same manner as a man dining alone. That will be a day to celebrate!