A Table For One: Why Solo Dining Isn't Sad Dining
With the menu selection and the wine glass reflection I'm a dining with myself
"What exactly is it about the lifestyle that you miss so much?" she asked. That warm tingly feeling in my chest stars to spread. I put my hand to my heart as I begin to warmly recall the culture, the social and travel opportunities, the constant cycle of change and challenge. I sing its praises with an overwhelming feeling of pride, how a Mother speaks of her child. "And when you think of your life here, at home, in a more "traditional" environment how do you feel?"
I feel like I'm drowning.
It’s a quiet and calm drowning. Not in a sea of violent and aggressive waters. It's serene. It sneaks up on you. Life here is easy. It's comfortable. It’s predictable. It's smothering.
I wonder how much of this is self-inflicted and how much of it is due to circumstance. My age has me at a challenging stage: mid-thirties are a time when many are "settling down." They are buying homes, choosing partners and having children. So many children. Or is it a geographical circumstance? Life here is different. People are scattered around various suburbs. There is no public transit system that unites us. Most of us spend too many hours sitting at a standstill on the highway. By the end of our days, we are spent, sent home to recover before we do it again.
IN A CROWDED LONELY NIGHT
I enjoy dining alone. Well, I don’t always, but I do it. Sometimes. Mostly when I travel and am in an unfamiliar place but want to explore. I think nothing of throwing on a nice top, some red lipstick and setting out on foot into the unknown, walking and surveying my options until something catches my eye and I pop in for a drink, a bite or sometimes a feast. When I get there it is always enjoyable. A moment to recharge, no pressure to fill the silence with small talk. Just me and my meal, sitting, sipping, thinking, being.
I don't do this at home and yet I live in a fascinating city. Ask me why I moved to Hamilton and I will gush profusely about the charm, the glamour among the grit, the distinctive art scene, the ornate architecture that whispers to the city's affluent past, the energizing and emerging food scene. Now ask me when I last got out to experience this and tried a new restauran, cafe or art show and I will have to rack my brain. A month ago? No, maybe more…2 months? 3?
I hate the fact that it can take up to 8 weeks to plan to see a friend or 2 for some drinks and a catch-up. Why is that? My rose-tinted recovering expat glasses tell me that it wasn't like this in London. That I could throw out an invite to check out a new space and there was always someone willing to come along, and quite often more. Case in point: I'm headed to London in a few days and I sent an email to a couple of people giving them ONE possible date for a meetup. The result? Almost every single one said "Sure! Looking forward to it!" Those that couldn't had tolerable excuses such as trips to Spain, Italy, Greece. I am well aware that this data is skewed and I can’t compare organizing drinks with a permanent local friend vs with an overseas one who only pops in once every year or two, but still, it leaves me perplexed. I miss existing on the brink of being able to walk into the local pub/shop/spot and grab a bite to eat, the possibility of this coming to fruition hinging only on an invitational: "picnic on the common, you in?" text to a friend.
The realization that some, if not much of this is possible at home but not enjoyed because of my own inaction is a bitter pill to swallow. Yes, logistically it is harder to organize meeting up with people here, but having to do something "alone" has never stopped me before. It seems the shame of "sad spinster woman dining alone" is a cloth spread only across tables at home and not those abroad.
WELL THERE'S NOTHING TO LOSE
I put on a flowy top. Threw on some earrings, slapped on some lipstick and headed out. I walked. Damn does it feels so good to walk again. I am aware of how frequently I use my car here at home even when I don't have to. North America, if nothing else sure knows how to make life comfortable.
I walked a measly 15 min and ended up in the Ottawa street neighborhood where I had a meal at a new spot, Caro. A place I've wanted to check out but haven't bothered to because, well, I was alone. You know what? I had the best dining experience that I've had in a long time. The next day I walked again. This time I walked 40 minutes to the James Street neighbourhood and popped into one of my favourite spots, Toast. As I sat in a nearly empty space quietly sipping the rose flight placed before me my shoulders dropped, my breathing rate slowed and I felt anchored again. This is what I miss. This sense of community, of exploring place and space, of living and moving and doing.
LET'S SINK ANOTHER DRINK
Food is social. Food connects us and grounds us in the most basic ways. This is especially when you're solo. The experience of getting out and engaging with the local space connects you to your community, to your unknown neighbors. The conversations I had with the wait staff and people in the venue were uplifting and energizing, filling my evening with a sense of connection, discovery, and satisfaction.
The lesson here? Walk more. Do more. Eat more. Live more.
Do you take yourself out for the evening alone? What has stood in your way or helped you to experience this? I'd love to hear your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.
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