Table for One, Dammit

table for one

I don’t go to church, but I do eat alone in restaurants.  There is a similarity in the experiences – the quiet lighting, the solemn way the maitre d’ ushers me to my seat, the hushed whisper of his crepe-soled shoes, the smoothing of my skirt before I sit, the brief smiles at faces turned momentarily toward me.

Some people detest eating alone but I like it.  Things smell better when you eat alone – there are no words building up across the table, keeping the aromas pushed close to the plate.

People are uneasy when a woman eats alone – especially paired people.  Within the pairs, the women feel a sort of sympathetic self-conciousness.  The men feel a frisson of curiosity at the possibilities.  The women belatedly sense that the men are frissoning and resent how an empty chair increases rather than decreases  my capital, when a moment ago they’d been feeling so relieved to be dining out as part of a  pair.  Dining alone is yet another thing most women would rather not have to learn to look sassy and self-confident doing.

I look up to see a woman looking at me as she makes a remark to  her pinstripe-wearing husband, her lipsticked mouth forming the words as clearly as if she’d spoken them in my ear:  I could never do that.  He gives one of those looks around the restaurant that is designed to seem casual so he can see who she is talking about.  As his eyes pass faux-innocently over me, I think about winking but don’t.

I am briefly annoyed.  If it was that kind of restaurant I’d order fajitas, because of the sizzle that makes heads crane towards me as if I were dancing and my skirt had suddenly caught fire .

But it’s not a fajita kind of restaurant.  It is the kind of restaurant where the good lighting adds $15 to every entrée.  Floor to ceiling windows are open to the mild California night air that puffs at the sheer red fabric hanging there so that it billows romantically.  The women of the couples that sit near these curtains work hard to conceal their delight at the way they imagine themselves to look in this setting, and carefully avoid looking at me, the lone woman , who might be looking back but isn’t, because I am looking at the curtains too, thinking how  they remind me of the red light district in Amsterdam, where hookers lounge in red curtained show windows like actual merchandise, bored with the way they straddle the straight backed chair in fake black leather, bored with the way the tourists gawp as if at something newly sexy and unsuspected when for them it’s just nothing at all but more of the same old thing.

I order oysters, discreetly sniffing each as I lift them to my mouth, enjoying the faint briney smell that always reminds me of the aftermath of sex.

I order rack of lamb and the pungent taste of the meat evokes a rolling grassy hillside dotted with my dinner’s brothers and sisters.  I like this vision and contemplate it as I chew.

I order asparagus spears which arrive brushed in olive oil and standing in a bristling green bundle so that their heads look like the tops of shrubs in the spring after its rained.

The only time I was in Amsterdam I took a shortcut back to my hotel from a restaurant. It was a fancy restaurant but I left still hungry for something.  I used the map to plot my shortcut and was deep in  the Red Light District before I knew it.  Dusk had fallen and suddenly men were everywhere and I got nervous and ducked into the first shop with a door open.  There were three women sitting there in chairs, not dressed particularly sexy and though they didn’t say anything,  I could still tell right away that it was not a shop shop, but a girl shop, a sex place.

They didn’t seem surprised to see me, a woman, standing there as if I wanted what they had, though I had it too. I looked around and gave an embarrassed smile and left, walking back to my hotel as fast as I could go.  I never realized that the sex workers actually lived in the Red Light District  (I always imagined it like a deserted Wild West Town during the daytime) but obviously at least some of them do, because as I walked I could smell the smells of the lives they lived above the red lit windows.  I could smell unidentified meat cooking, and the mineral smell of ancient pipes that stained the old buildings with their sweat.

The meat smell made me think of home, how my mom had a schedule of meals and you knew what day of the week it was by the meat – Monday was round steak, Tuesday was hamburger, Wednesday was pork chops, Thursday meatloaf.   We always had cheap meat except on weekends.  Every Sunday I woke to the sound of bacon frying, the car starting up as my dad went to get the milk and the paper.

The waiter asks if there will be anything else. I send him away with an order for a cappuccino and an apple tarte tatin, and a folded over napkin for the woman.

Yes you could, it says. With a smiley.

The best part of eating alone is not having to negotiate over, or share, dessert.  I enjoy the way the espresso cuts the stickiness of the caramelized apple.

The waiter hovers; I look up.  A generous pour of port breathes alcohol and fruit into my flushed face.  “From the gentleman,” he gestures and I look up to catch pinstripe’s smiling nod.  I lift the glass and wink at his scowling wife.

207 responses to “Table for One, Dammit

  1. The lack of negotiating is what gets me. I love to travel by myself, keep my own schedule, rest when I want and stay out late if it pleases me. Of course “you could do this”. It’s not rocket science. It is simply living fully.

  2. Pingback: Table for One, Dammit | Von Simeon·

  3. three course meal at a table for one has been my goal for a long time, you are living my dream! I’m working up to it. solo salmon maki roll today, solitary steak-frites tomorrow, and then THE WORLD.

  4. Pingback: Table for One, Dammit | Nuboseando·

  5. I really enjoy reading your post – great style, and can relate to it to an extent you cannot imagine, in fact I’m heading out tonight sans beau, just like you did, to enjoy myself and incidently make the female part of the couples mad. Cheers.

  6. I loved your post. I feel the same way as you but I think it has something to do with our personalities. I imagine you are an independent woman, perhaps out going? I always try to encourage my twenty year old daughter to have courage to do things on her own (like eat out) but she just doesn’t have the confidence to handle the looks and comments of others. Good for you!

    • I think that the worst thing to do is not do something b/c you think others will stare or comment. Remember, those comments or looks take seconds. Then everyone goes back to what they were doing, which is being the center of their own universe and mostly ignoring you, the solo woman diner.

      A few seconds being the object of interest is not much to bear considering the entire experience is a couple of hours…and the restaurant staff are usually pretty nice to a solo woman.

  7. What a delightful, sensuous read. I love how you braided with ease the narratives of traveling to Amsterdam, your childhood relationship with food, and this wonderful dining experience. I can learn so much from the way you write. Following for sure.

  8. I love eating alone too. Sometimes I just want to eat, to enjoy good food without having to make small talk or listen to someone’s problems. It seems odd that if a woman eats alone, she’s wanting for company, whereas if a man does he must be doing a power lunch/dinner.

  9. I really like this post! I too love dining out on my own (I mean, I also love dining out with someone or several someones but have no fear about having a meal by myself) and can totally relate to this experience. There is something that is totally liberating about being able to have a great meal alone, especially since I know a lot of women who are uncomfortable about doing so.

    However, the great frontier for me is having a drink at a bar alone. I am from Asia where a woman having a drink alone is immediately suspect as being on the prowl or to be pitied. I confess that maybe it’s just me, and people don’t really care. But I haven’t really done it yet, so I am not sure. Your post made me think that I should actually do it and see.

    • I hear you – I would have a very different feeling about having a drink alone at a bar. Since sexism is a worldwide phenomenon it probably won’t surprise you that American women labor under the same yoke as women in Asia – have a drink alone and you are ‘asking for it’. You certainly should have no expectation of drinking alone, it will be assumed that you are open to being ‘picked up’ on..most would assume that, indeed, that is the only reason a woman *would* have a drink alone, not because she’s, you know, *thirsty*. Maybe I’ll try it again. You should too, and report back! (not often someone orders you to go get a drink, huh? :-p)

  10. Is it OK to use this in my blog about being single? It inspired me to really think about why I love living alone….. but haven’t made that step yet…. dining out alone.

  11. I envy people that could eat alone they’ve got a lot of guts. I always feel odd when people stare at you when you go there alone to a restaurant. In Asian countries it’s normal to eat alone. I mean you eat and then leave and no one stares at you while you slurp your noodles down. Cool read!

  12. Absolutely perfect! There is such joy in being alone (not lonely), especially eating alone at restaurants and having the time to fully enjoy the food and people-watching around you.

    • Funny how many people think alone means lonely. I like going to the movies by myself too. In San Francisco that’s not considered odd behavior, but in my hometown people express sympathy and concern if I tell them I went alone to the flicks.

  13. Reblogged this on The 43 Year Old Vegan and commented:
    I’m quite comfortable eating alone these days, provided I bring a book for company. I always eat at the same place, the staff knows and likes me and vice versa, and I enjoy this idea of being a threat to all the dating, married couples seated around me.

    Early on, I unconsciously picked up the etiquette of acknowledging couples: quick or no glance at the man, friendly smile for the woman. It’s not full-proof by any means. As my confidence grows in myself, body, and brain, so does my gait walking around the lake, music thrumming through ear buds, causing a pleasing strut. I adorn restaurant chairs now, not purposefully (I don’t think) but because of my high comfort level at eating solo. More men notice me as they make their way to their table for two, or return my smile as they and their partner walk past me.

    I don’t fly under the radar anymore. Consider yourself warned.

  14. i enjoy eating alone
    but i’ve also noticed the odd looks…
    often i’ll bring a book for the time between ordering and when the food arrives… putting it down to focus on what i’m eating
    it takes something, a kind of focus inward
    everything seems to be heightened…
    the food, the atmosphere, the sounds, people…
    it’s quite vivid, really
    and it takes something to be able to be with that.
    thanks for your post

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