As a single young woman that spends a good deal of time on the road, I’ve gotten used to queries as to why I don’t come equipped with a dining companion — or a husband, for that matter. My answer is usually served with a side of smugness, as most simply don’t understand the spoils of dining single: the quality people watching, a lack of awkward conversation, the moments of introspection, the extra attention from the front of the house. It surprises me that folks still look at dining alone as a punishment rather than an indulgence. My personal stance is that treating yourself to a nice meal and a good glass of wine can be just as gratifying as splurging on a massage or mani-pedi.
I addressed this issue in my recent Department of Deportment column, asserting that being a party of one can indeed be a party if done properly. And as it turns out, there’s mounting evidence that spending time alone can actually make us better people too, both cognitively and socially.
A recent Boston Globe article cited research that “certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking. There is even research to suggest that blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life — that if we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them. Just as regular exercise and healthy eating make our minds and bodies work better, solitude experts say, so can being alone.”
And you certainly won’t be alone in your alone-ness. A piece in the April issue of the New Yorker stated that over thirty-one million people in the United States are living single, a fact that author Nathan Heller jokes, “may or may not prove a useful thing to know on certain Saturday nights.”
Of course, there’ll be moments where you want company. But don’t be so quick to connect with a rando creepo from OK Cupid just because you’re scared of flying solo. Being alone doesn’t have to mean that you’re lonely. Just take it from poet and publishing guru Daniel Halpern, who graciously shared these off-the-cuff couplets in response to my column:
THE DINER IN THE CORNER
A table in the corner of the room, my table, 52,
beyond the new electronics, dinner alone all the way through.
For a moment. For an evening. If it’s true the price of fame
is the loss of anonymity, goodbye applause, goodbye acclaim,
I’m welcomed back to my seat in the neighborhood restaurant,
a plainly clad waitress and the missing maître d’, just a pleasant
welcome back, the specials a few chalk marks on the blackboard
leaning against a badly painted wall. Tonight it’s the grilled sword-
fish, Mussels in Cast Iron and Brussels Sprouts Carbonara.
I have the company I need – a novel and recent emails are a
Happy evening’s entertainment. Solo, nothing to dialogue,
Only my plate and me, sustenance, some wine and monologue
Between self and soul. It’s pretty fucking grand sitting here
In the corner at table 52, just me and me, unpardoned and clear.