There exists a Tumblr dedicated to posting pictures of people eating alone. It's called Table For One, and it's remarkable how much anxiety it can inspire.
I discovered the page a little over five years ago. It's bizarre; all these pictures of strangers taken by anonymous people create an eerie portrait of what, on the surface, feels like loneliness. A trend begins to emerge the more you go back in the blog's timeline: fluorescent lighting and poor sitting posture over (mostly) fast food are not very optimistic when framed together and presented in such a voyeuristic manner. It's a little nihilistic, frankly. How sad, I would think. Those thoughts soon blossomed into full-blown anxiety. I avoided doing much of anything alone—aside from coffee runs—out of fear of being photographed, hunched over a Chipotle burrito bowl and find my sorry, lonely image posted to the blog. How humiliating. How irrational. How very, uh, very.
Now, eating alone in New York City is commonplace. A good friend of mine actively enjoys taking herself out on any given weeknight to sit at her favorite bar, where she orders pretty much the same thing she always does, and simply enjoys the solitude. It's extremely admirable, that confidence. The first time I did that (January 31, 2014), I packed a bag with my notebook, planner, a pen, and my book. I went to Jack's Wife Freda's newly opened West Village location around two in the afternoon, walked in and asked, rather proudly as I recall, for a table for one. The look of pity I half-expected the hostess to give me never manifested. The other patrons—just a handful then, though now it's grown to be as popular as its first location in Nolita—didn't pay attention to my lone, solitary self. (Turns out no one really ever does. Thanks, science!) I ordered myself a pint of beer and the one thing on the menu I always order because I like consistency and am also terribly fearful of trying new food. I read, journaled, and got my calendar in order. I told myself to look busy because if someone was going to submit a photo of myself to Table For One, I better look occupied and not like the pitiful strangers whose solo dining experiences brought me there in the first place. It was lovely.
Since then, I've made it a point to take myself out to eat once a month. Psychologist Ester Buchholz tells Psychology Today alone time is a chance to regulate the rest of our lives. "It can teach us fortitude and the ability to satisfy our own needs... It brings forth our longing to explore, our curiosity about the unknown, our will to be an individual, our hopes for freedom." She considers solitude to be "fuel for life." Many seem to agree, as eating out alone has grown in popularity by over 62 percent, according to a late 2015 study by OpenTable.
I, for one, get it. I've turned my eating out solo dates to full-blown day-long solo dates. I'll carve out a large chunk of time during one weekend day a month to go to a museum or see a matinee, and enjoy a meal at the bar at, yes, Jack's Wife Freda. I try to not look at my phone. It's become therapeutic. My journaling and self-reflection have gotten more nuanced. I feel more in tune with where I'm at, where I've been, and where I'm going. Eating out alone has, like Buchholz suggests, enriched my independence. I no longer worry about looking occupied if I get to the bar before my friends do. It has forced me to say hey to myself and grow comfortable with the space I occupy. It'll be a cause for celebration if I do, indeed, one day wind up on Table for One because tables for one are fucking amazing and truly, effortlessly glamorous. Cheers to that.