I have had the same conversation roughly 79 billion times, and it still unsettles me. Interestingly, only once has it been with a male. It usually goes something like this:
“Don’t you just hate going to the dining hall alone?”
“How is that possible?”
“Well, I sometimes prefer to talk to no one. I did it all the time at community college. It wasn’t like high school, where everybody made it a huge deal.”
“I can’t do it. If I don’t know that I’ll see someone I know in the dining hall, then I don’t eat.”
“What do you mean, you don’t eat?”
“I just live off of the [granola bars/celery/Chex Mix] in my dorm room. I, like, can’t eat alone in the dining hall.”
This phenomenon might be a side effect of being a first-year female college student, but I think its origin is the high school cafeteria. I remember the looks people gave me if I ever sat by myself in the lunchroom: Does that chick have any friends? It is my firm belief that college provides people far better things to do than judge the lone she-wolf and her Dixie cup of gelato. If someone does give you the Judgy Face, they’re probably getting a degree in underwater basket-weaving and they really don’t have anything better to do.
Unfortunately, society is abundant with judgmental types who get off on making you feel inferior for completely normal and healthy behavior. (Here’s looking at you, Internet.) Recently, 4Chan, a popular image board site, birthed a meme that further ruined the idea of dining solo: the infamous “Forever Alone” guy, with a boulder-like chin and a lonely tear on his cheek, smiles through a gritty complexion. His image is used for self-deprecation and serves as a tool for online public scrutiny. For instance, if someone were to post a Facebook status about ordering for one at a restaurant, it wouldn’t be long before someone plastered the Forever Alone guy in a sneering comment.
Restaurants, too, have perpetuated our fear of eating alone. You often see the single-seaters along the periphery and in the back of the establishment. If you don’t have an eating accomplice, don’t even think about sitting at that well-lit table near the host. Loners, even gregarious people who eat alone for the sake of efficiency, are becoming second-class.
Sure, society is ruining the experience of solitude, but now that we’re adults, we have to let it go. Is mere conversation the sole legitimate reason to eat in public? Can someone really tell how worthy we are as humans based on the number of obligatory mid-chew head nods?
If you want to get by in life, drop the I’m-So-Popular-I-Never-Have-Time-To-Pee facade. Those of us who are in college can see through it now. If I’m hungry, I don’t care about waiting for a group of friends to join me, though I might have been conditioned to.
Honestly, why would you rob yourself of the joy of actually tasting your food and observing the scenery uninterrupted? I don’t need to hear about how horrible your sociology professor is, or how “turnt” you got on Crossfade Wednesday, while I’m trying to enjoy my salad. The image of you puking your guts out is not appetizing. I would much rather stare at the clouds.
In the spirit of emotional well-being and overall humanism, it is my wish that people will embrace and celebrate the act of eating – and being – alone. Life will be full of lonely moments unless you learn to like your own company. If you can take a shower, read a book, or practice the aria from “Carmen” tout seul, you sure as heck can tuck into a sandwich. At least it’s more socially acceptable than conducting a one-woman opera in the dining hall.
If you ever feel hungry – whether during zombie hour or at midday – then eat the granola bar. But do it because you’re a lazy teenager, not because you’re afraid of eating alone in public. To all of you budding independents, let me heartily say: happy Lone Wolfing your food.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the April 2015 Teen Ink EBSCO POV Contest.