Lurking over lunchables: How I learned to love eating alone

There’s a specific outfit I’ve meticulously put together for when I go out for solo suppers. It accessorizes the nervous fidgeting I keep in lieu of conversation.

It holds the pens that I use to scribble on napkins while absentmindedly smashing food into my gums. Draped in various shades of dark denim, it’s the perfect ensemble for blending into the linoleum seating, or being sucked into the shadows in the corner booths where I lurk over lunchables.

But while there’s no compliments forthcoming when dining for one, I’m happy with the arrangement – the best part about eating alone is the lack of concern over the food stains that dot my t-shirt like tiny, tasty wounds.

All that’s missing my ensemble is the bib – the tuxedo cummerbund equivalent of sloppy Taco Tuesdays.

Regardless, everything about the scenario was not an accident. The serving staff are lovely, silently smiling. And despite the fact that I am utterly tardy, the meal arrives quickly amidst a picturesque halo of steam.

The best part about eating alone is the lack of concern over the food stains that dot my t-shirt like tiny, tasty wounds.

It took years for me to feel at ease when engaging in an activity typically reserved for groups. Whether it was attending a punk show, slouching in a movie theatre or ordering an extra-large triple cheese pizza at a local resto, it’s far too easy to fall into discomfort during a solo outing.

Eating alone got worse the moment I suspected that someone filming me with their phone while I crammed taco tots into my gullet while sullenly occupying space at a mall food court. Meal ruined, I thought as I retreated to a change room to hide and wait out the imminent panic attack.

Despite being an only child, growing into a space devoid of others, these are the moments when I feel exposed, like a friendless fraud waiting for an imaginary companion over a dwindling cup of coffee. Or a creep lingering too long over a linguine noodle.

As a natural born recluse, I can think of worse things to engage in without a co-pilot. Solo grocery shopping, for example, is ground zero for all things gloom and dread, where my worst fears manifest themselves as being caught lingering too long next to the mayo section. It invites more than a few self-conscious thoughts: Are people staring at me? Do they think I’m really going to eat all that sandwich creamer?

Eating alone isn’t exactly a new thing for many – there’s literally thousands of very reasonable explanations as to something that essentially amounts to a tiny social blip. But while single apartment dwellers practice conversational tidbits on stuffed animals while an infinite supply of nattering courtesy of Netflix fills up space in the background, there are those of us who wish to simply celebrate the milestone act of getting out of bed and leaving the house. That and successfully smuggling vitamin D tablets and smashing them into the innards of a restaurant burrito.

But, like any dining date, coupled or not, it’s all about the atmosphere.

Having lived in Saskatoon for three decades, I’ve amassed a personal list of loner-friendly diners – spaces where a milkshake will arrive with two napkins but only one straw, no questions asked. At these oasis for the companionless, the staff are non-judgey, the booths private, the other patrons oblivious – it’s a slice of solitaire heaven.

That, and the obvious perks to a witness-less night on the town: Dressing to kill, and, aside from the stains, leaving nary a trace of a meal left behind.

– Illustration and decoupage by Scummy Magic.