One of the great things about being single is that eating out becomes incredibly easy. When I go to a restaurant, there’s no impassioned debates about what to have and where to go, I just go wherever I fancy going and that’s that. When it comes to ordering, I can have whatever I like. And nobody is going to try to steal bites of my parfait, either (get your own!)
Unfortunately, when I enter a restaurant alone I seem to become the elephant in the room.
You would think that a woman eating alone in this day and age wouldn’t attract much attention, but you’d be wrong about that. Many waiters and waitresses look behind me as I come into cafes and restaurants just to be doubly sure that their eyes don’t deceive them and that, yes, oh my God, a woman has just walked in on her own… This is particularly pronounced now that I live in Japan, where women are often too shy or embarrassed to eat out alone due to this very reaction, which is a face from waiting staff even more bewildered and perplexed than it is back in he UK.
Then, of course, there’s the stares that you get from other diners. In some unusual situations, I have been asked by more nosey onlookers if I’m waiting for someone and on more unspeakable occasions presumptuous male diners have even informed me that a lady shouldn’t be eating alone and would I like someone to join me? (Actually, someone will do shortly thanks, his name is Spaghetti Carbonara and we’re in for a very messy, creamy night…) It’s also not unusual for single diners to be turned away from cafes and restaurants because a single diner at a table for two won’t generate as much revenue as two diners would do at the same table. But dammit, you don’t know that, I might order more stuff on the menu than two married couples combined…! (In all seriousness, I probably would…)
There really is something about the empty chair opposite a single woman in particular that seems to draw everybody’s eyes when I go out to eat. I find that men eating alone don’t get nearly as much unwanted attention (though as always, if you’re a single man then please feel free to add your thoughts on this). Humans are social creatures, and so the fear of being lonely weighs heavily on our minds so I think it throws people when they see someone who seems to be so at ease with an empty chair. However, also at the backs of their minds, even if they don’t quite realise it, is the bewilderment that here is a woman apparently content with not appearing to be in a relationship.
As I mentioned, many people find it embarrassing to be seen eating out alone. I have known single women who have said they won’t go to eat out alone because it ‘feels weird’. It seems to me that some single women feel that being seen eating out alone, a situation that is associated with intimacy and interaction, might be a kind of admission of failure to have ticked the metaphorical ‘box’ of being in a relationship– it is a kind of social embarrassment, and perhaps this is what drives many single women to stay away from restaurants or cafes unless they have company. On occasion, I feel it too, particularly when asked if I’m waiting for someone. At the back of my mind is a little voice that says “Should I be?” However, it is fast drowned out by my stomach, which replies, “Yes, the waitress, where the hell is she with that spaghetti carbonara?”
Some more condescending individuals of course see my being out alone as an act of defiance or some kind of noble protest. About a year ago I had an experience in the UK when I went to my favourite cafe and observed a young man on a table across the room with his good lady friend. I noticed that he kept glancing at me out of the corner of his eye, clearly expecting me to be joined by someone at some point. When I stood up to leave, he watched me go before leaning across to his good lady friend and saying “Was she here on her own? Oh my god, that’s brave.”
Mate, the next time I see you on a bus by yourself, be warned– I’ll burst into applause, a flash mob will appear and start singing “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” and the mayor of the town will then award you with a sticker that says “I got on a bus all by myself!”
What people surprised by singletons alone in restaurants and perhaps many single people themselves need to realise that there is nothing defiant, brave or embarrassing about being seen out alone. All we need to do is see the empty chair as a chair, and not a space that should be occupied by someone, just as you would regard that space if you were at a table for four with three people. When you go out with a group of three and sit at a table for four, you’re hardly likely to have random other diners invite themselves to join you so why should the situation be any different when it’s one person at a table for two? In either case, it’s not that there’s someone missing who should be occupying that space. It’s literally just a spare chair.
Eating out alone is a part of my day-to-day life, and one that I have grown used to over the many years of being single. To be honest, I actually do enjoy it very much. There is nothing more relaxing than being in a cosy space with a good book, your thoughts, or just the time to pass. I recommend you try eating out alone sometime if you’re a single lady and haven’t done so before. Soon, you’ll find the empty chair even becomes good company. But perhaps most importantly of all, and I cannot stress this enough, the empty chair isn’t going to try stealing bites of your dessert.
The empty chair would lose its hand if it even tried that on me, anyway. Nobody, but nobody, fucks with my parfait.