Date yo self: Being out alone isn't as scary as you think.
The first time I took myself out for dinner and a movie, I had just thrifted three new sweaters for fall. I paired one with my favorite jeans and requested a table at a local Vietnamese restaurant, indulging in the largest bowl of pho they offered. I ordered spring rolls as an appetizer and iced tea to drink and at the theater I purchased one ticket to Gravity. (Unrelated: George Clooney, I'm beginning to think you're a bit overrated as an actor.)
This happened this past weekend, eleven months after officially leaving my marriage of fifteen years. In the past I'd grabbed a bagel and coffee, or a quick salad from a deli, or a hot apple cider from Starbucks alone. I'd even had a memorable solo meal in Little Italy once, where I escaped last summer after officially announcing my separation to my family.
I've had friends look at me, wide eyed with disbelief, when I've told them that I've eaten out alone. Some of them have confessed they might consider having a drink at a bar by themselves, maybe, if they were waiting for their husband or a friend to arrive, but never an entire meal. And certainly not a movie as well. Nope. Not going to happen. No way.
So what's with the stigma?
Eating and watching a movie at home is one thing. You're in the comforting womb of your living room, listening to the predictable hum of the refrigerator and that dog who lives next door, barking all night. It's safe, and secure, and occasionally a bit suffocating. For many if not most of us, eating alone is relegated to home or a quick bite somewhere anonymous, like a deli or bagel shop, where it’s more about sustenance than experience. Especially, it seems, for women. A quick poll of just a handful of my friends reveals that women still don’t eat out alone at restaurants with a sense of comfort or security, and it’s a shame. A shame! Because learning to enjoy a meal out with only your own company or that of a good book is an outright empowering experience. The sense of independence that coexists with ordering a meal and not asking what others are having or wondering if they'll approve of your choice or if they’ll want to share is something we all deserve to experience.
In case you were wondering, there’s a name for the fear of dining alone. It’s called solomangarephobia, according to psychologist Lillian Glass, and just about everyone has it. It boils down to solo diners thinking that other people are looking at them, when those eating around them are, in fact, focused on their own food.
I wonder if we don't eat out alone more because we aren't taught how. From the time that we're young, we learn to eat in the company of others. In preschool, children sit in groups of eight to ten when sharing a meal, and are pulled out to eat alone if they misbehave. As a teacher myself, I've witnessed what just the mere threat of being forced to eat alone does to my students. They freak out. Eating alone is considered punishment, a punishment worse than missing playground time. In middle school, kids realize that the ones who eat alone in the cafeteria at lunch are the ones that no one wants to eat with. Eating alone is a sign of social suicide. I'm certain that, whether by choice or not, every single person reading this post ate a meal alone when they were in school. This experience leaves a lifelong scar we carry into adulthood.
Let's not even talk about the stigma that comes with seeing a movie alone. Almost any human being with a pulse trembles at the thought of being in a movie theater alone, surrounded by happy couples sharing extra large tubs of popcorn. That crap is scary. I get it. I couldn't help but feel self-conscious when Gravity started, as I noticed couples curl into one another with the easy sense of intimacy they have with a significant other. Doing things alone can be outright terrifying, expecially if the activity at hand is synonymous with dating.
Bu what if you don't feel like sharing the popcorn? What if you want to see a movie in 3D but 3D makes your friends queasy and your boyfriend twitchy? What if you want to go to a movie ridiculously early, like at 5 pm, a time reserved for seniors fresh off the early bird special? What if all you want is a date with yourself? What then?
I say, put on your favorite jeans, swipe on some lip gloss, and take your own self out. Screw the so-called shame in going out alone. Movie theaters are pretty dark, and chances are no one will notice you. In addition, most people are incredibly narcissistic anyway, worrying about what their dates think of them and their taste in movies than notice you exist/are there alone/are audibly sobbing while Sandra Bullock tumbles through space towards almost certain death (spoiler alert.)
You probably feel a little anxious with the thought of going through with all this. That's okay. That's normal. But if you're willing to set aside your fears, you too could get the chance to bask in the joy of riding solo.