Table for One, Please

My latest blog post over at WeAretheRealDeal. You can read it here or after the jump.

HPIM2111
Everything tastes better in California ... even at a table for one!

Ten years ago, at a café in Buenos Aires, I ate my first solo meal in public.

I was 19, bordering on 20, and none of my friends who were studying abroad with me could meet me for lunch that day.

I was out and about, doing what I loved to do in that city (i.e., listening to Dave Matthews Band’s #41 and Typical Situation on repeat play on my Discman, wandering and deliberately getting myself lost so I’d need to find my way back home) and I was starving.

Back then, though I was heavier than I am now, I didn’t have major body image issues, per se … but I did recognize that “one of these things is not like the other” and that “other” was me.

You see, as a chubby girl in painfully-thin Buenos Aires where women seemed to survive on cappuccinos and cigarettes … I was definitely different.

Still, I braced myself and did something I’d never done before: sat alone and ate in public. And this was a very big deal to me. To not only be out alone, but also to be seen eating in public alone.

The thing is, in high school and college, I rarely did things alone. I guess you could say I had co-dependence issues, even though I didn’t recognize it as such at the time.

My BFF and I were inseparable in high school—we cheered together, ran track together, even dated in the same circle. In college, my dorm door was usually open for friends to visit. I just didn’t like to be alone back then.

Like my high school BFF and I, my college BFF and I were also joined at the hip: in the same sorority and sharing the same friends, but always preferring to spend time together over anything else. (Not much has changed though we live in different states :))

Sure, sometimes I’d venture to CVS solo for something I needed or I’d take the bus to Georgetown alone to shop, but aside from classes or internships, most things I did were with friends.

Especially dining, which is such a social activity in and of itself.

In my mind back then, if someone was eating alone, it was an act of circumstance… not choice. I never could have imagined why it might be nice to dine alone; in my mind, so-and-so had no friends; I felt sad for them.

For me, a table for one was a matter of insecurity; had I been more secure in myself previously, maybe I would have not minded dining solo back then — but I feared it more than anything and would never go to the dining hall alone, let alone a café or restaurant.

Til that day in Buenos Aires at a café, when hunger trumped my own insecurities.

I remember I had pasta, and just sat there and forced myself to sit with my thoughts.

It was hard for me to do; I remember I imagined the women staring at me, the men gawking, wondering if I was “desperate” (yes, I was single and heartbroken and had an unrequited crush at the time, so desperate wasn’t a stretch …) but that didn’t really happen. (OK, sometimes, maybe, as documented in this poem, but not this instance of which I speak).

Some people glanced over, but the truth is, even if I’d been with a group of 10 of my friends, with my auburn hair, fair skin and blue eyes, I stuck out like a sore thumb—even if I’d been thin and felt confident, which I didn’t.

On this day, they were, if anything, gazes of curiosity at la gringa, not disdain.

And, lots of people were alone. Somehow knowing that gave me comfort. Somehow, it made me feel a little more secure in myself. I almost felt brave for stepping out of my comfort zone.

Ever since, I’ve been much more comfortable dining alone. When I got back to the U.S., I eased into it (a trip to Starbucks, for example) and now when I travel alone, I’m not worried at all about anyone but myself.

Maybe some of it has to do with having lost weight 5 years ago and becoming a little more comfortable in my own skin … but even now with this bit of uncomfortable weight back on, I don’t feel any less confident dining out alone …

The truth is (and I so wish I understood this a decade ago …) no one but me really cares. Everyone’s focused on their own meals/experience. I was just too insecure then to realize it.

So fast-forward a decade to yesterday, when I arrived in San Diego for a conference and dined alone, alfresco.

I remembered my post about “being in the moment” and put down my Blackberry, put down my camera, and focused on the meal.

Everything tastes better in California, even simple spring greens, fresh strawberries and chicken dressed in balsamic vinegar. There I was, sitting at a sidewalk café with tons of passer-bys … the only one in the café at the time … but it didn’t matter. No one stared at me; no one cared.

So I savored my lunch.

Ten years ago, I probably would have high-tailed it out of there the moment the check came. But this time, when my meal was over, I lingered for a bit before heading out, absorbing my new surroundings, people-watching, remembering a similar alfresco meal with my husband at a café in Oaxaca, Mexico earlier this year… just soaking it all in.

It’s moments like these that I recognize just how crucial a role self-confidence plays in how we perceive ourselves and how we carry ourselves.

Even with my issues … I’m secure in myself enough now, at 30, in a way I simply wasn’t at 20.

I think there’s a lot of truth to those who say your 20s are your “figuring yourself out years” 30s are your “secure in who you are years” … Because truly, I’m beginning to feel it already.

At 30, I finally feel “unapologetically myself.” Thank you, MizFit, for bringing that phrase into my life!

And it’s really nice to know that a table for one doesn’t set me off into a tizzy.

How about you? Are you comfortable dining out alone? Have you had an “aha” moment re: confidence/body image recently?

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3 thoughts on “Table for One, Please

  1. I’ve never been comfortable eating alone. In fact, in college, if I didn’t have anyone to go eat with, I would just stay in my room, or go out and get something to eat. I That’s a lot time when I would get some sort of fast food. I still have a hard time eating by myself, I guess b/c of insecurity issues. I’m not sure what the stigma is about eating alone.

  2. That is awesome…I was totally into DMB and my favorite song was #41 when I was 20-21. I have never thought to eat alone in my hometown but on vacation I totally will. The first time it happened I didn’t even realize I was eating alone. I know that sounds weird but I was in Seattle and so preoccupied with people watching and really wanting to eat at the asian market that I didn’t pay any mind to it. When I was telling my friend about what I did that day she pointed it out. It was then that I realized it isn’t very important to me what people think. I felt pretty liberated by that.

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