There’s a scene in the new documentary “Bully” where a bullied kid eats alone in the cafeteria. Technically, he’s not alone — there are other kids on either side — but they ignore him so he may as well be. It broke my heart. I wanted to reach through the screen and hug him.
The scene struck a nerve, because as my family can attest, I’ve ALWAYS hated seeing people eat alone. When I was young we’d be out at a restaurant, I’d spot a person dining solo, and it would bother me for the rest of the meal. I was so weird about it that it occasionally became this cruel joke where my family would point someone out and say, “Hey Doug, that person’s eating alone,” just to twist the knife a little more.
Emotionally, I still feel those same pangs of sympathy, even though intellectually I understand that for adults, eating alone is not a sign of loneliness or despair. People do it all the time, by circumstance or by choice. They could be traveling, or exploring a new restaurant, or thrilled to have a night away from their screaming kids, or maybe they’ve just had a long day at work and need to unwind without constant gabbing.
(Unless it’s Valentine’s Day. If I ever see someone a person dining alone at a restaurant on February 14th, I may just curl up in the fetal position and weep. Which is strange because I don’t give two shits about Valentine’s Day.)
I can’t say that I’ve ever had dinner out by myself (aside from traveling), but I’ve certainly done breakfast and lunch. Eating alone can be great — sometimes you’ve got an absorbing book that you want to plow through, or you simply want the serenity of solitude. I recently popped in for lunch somewhere and spent the meal leisurely reviewing flashcards for Chinese class. That was both relaxing and productive.
So no, a person eating alone doesn’t warrant a pity party. And yet, I know the next time I’m out at dinner and I see that man or woman sans companion, I’ll be glancing over for the rest of the night. I only hope the person has a book or magazine.
What are your thoughts on eating alone? Do you enjoy it or do you always seek out a dining partner? And are you a sap like me who wants to go around the restaurant giving hugs?