I knew things had taken a turn for the worse when I searched for “Good Places to Eat Alone” on Yelp.
How had we gotten here? Why were we in this situation? When did we start on this slippery slope? These were the questions I posed my supplementary personalities, for as great a gang as they might be, it gets super creepy carrying on with them in public.
Surprisingly, none of them had an answer for me (Jasper gets awful shy sometimes) and since genuine introspection on my part was definitely not gonna happen, I needed a way to rationalize away my distaste for eating by myself.
I’ll be the first to admit the occasional solo meal is not the biggest tribulation in the world.
But there comes a point when the silence in your restaurant booth becomes so oppressive; when the server’s pitying eyes become too overbearing; and the conversations around you become enviable enough to make the temptation to talk to yourself nearly irresistible. And let me tell you: that’s no way to enjoy a Tostada Pizza at CPK. It just isn’t.
But okay – maybe I’m just bringing in my own baggage and insecurities into the act of eating alone and that’s what’s making it trying, but I’m not about to air my sexy laundry out in public so we need to go deeper but just in another direction.
I mean, really – what is so bad about eating alone? There’s a stigma attached to that, one with an origin that’s difficult to trace. Even now, I find it hard to objectively state why it is such an unfavorable thing.
The Media (capital M) certainly perpetuates this perspective – and yes, I do feel like a douche capitalizing that M. When I try to contemplate precisely why eating along is bad, my mind comes up short in logical, thought-out explanations but is replete with images in pop culture.
The feeling I get from Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks epitomizes that for me:
Eating alone is made dehumanizing, every person’s face glimpsed there except for the lone man – he has none.
Even if you might be surrounded with other people enjoying a meal, no solace can be taken from this, the lone man placed on the side of the canvas away from the other diners; the man behind the counter; even the bright lights of the diner itself.
Instead, he is placed closer to the comparative gloom and dark of the outside, its hold on him evidenced by the pronounced shadows on him compared to the other figures. The lights of the diner touch him as if to say, “Even if you might be in here now, you’ll always come back to the darkness.”
On the contrary, one could also argue that lone diners are not always portrayed as sadsacks in the media, that this is more akin to a Rorschach test in which I have revealed I pay more attention to the negative portrayals as opposed to the positive or neutral ones for reasons that may or may not be obvious.
But it’s definitely not that. No way.
[This is where I would put a real picture of myself eating alone to further the irony, but that would be just too much sadness for you to handle so I'll spare you. BYE!]