I don’t eat meals alone. When I’m on campus I grab coffee before class and eat lunch with at least one other person every day and constantly make dinner plans. I’m an expert at convincing people to wake up for Sunday brunch, getting friends who aren’t even hungry to meet up for a late night snack on a Friday night, and coercing people into ordering yet another Domino’s ham-and-pineapple pizza. Food and company go together like white on rice. Eating alone is something I only do in my dorm, on my bed, streaming The Office, when all five of my friends are busy with their own lives.
So if I can eat alone in my room (which I do increasingly often as the weather gets colder and the Domino’s guy knows my address by heart), what is stopping me from eating by myself in public? And if there’s a difference between eating by yourself in the privacy of your dorm and eating in the dining hall on a Monday morning — and if that difference is the presence of other people — are you truly eating by yourself when you’re in public? These are the questions I have for society. Specifically, other college students.
Here is what I know:
- I am alone
- I don’t really care that I’m alone (she says in an article that coincides with Valentine’s Day)
- regardless of that, I like to eat with other people
This whole phenomenon of eating alone only came to my attention when I got to Dartmouth; and even up until a certain point last year I thought only lonely people ate by themselves. It wasn’t until a few friends told me they sometimes like to eat meals alone that I realized it’s something people do voluntarily, and not because they can’t find anyone to eat with them. Which sounds like I pity every single person sitting by themselves at dinner, but in reality it never crosses my mind because I’m too busy deciding what I’m going to eat and how I’m going to pass Italian III. (Which means I should probably stop over-thinking this — someone tell my brain to turn off, please.)
Part of my need to eat with other people stems from my extraverted personality (see my recent Myers-Briggs interpretation) — obviously school is emotionally and academically challenging, and I get a lot of my energy from interacting with other people — I certainly enjoy talking, as anyone who’s met me in real life can testify. Meals are like short spans of recharge-time before disappearing back into the library to finish a paper due at midnight.
But I think another part of me is truly scared to be perceived as being alone — which is completely unfounded, I realize, but on a seriously superficial level I care about what other people think of me. If I’d rather eat an entire carton of lo mein from The Orient in my room than a buffalo chicken salad in a crowded cafe, what does that say about the way I prioritize my own health? Not that I think I’d miraculously start eating salad in public, but you get the idea.
Even at home, I’ve convinced my sister to come with me on various excursions to cafes and restaurants, and on numerous occasions convinced a friend to accompany me to Panera, Chipotle, Starbucks or Taco Bell because I didn’t want to eat in a restaurant by myself. Is this how life is supposed to be? A never-ending cycle of texting people to meet up because you don’t want to be alone for eternity, a totally egregious fact that becomes strikingly apparent when you’re eating by yourself?
This spring, I’m going back to school and I will hopefully find answers to this food-related identity crisis that I’m having. As the Italians say, vivo per mangiare — and I would really like to begin enjoying food and my own company. Part of me also suspects that eating alone isn’t solely a college thing — I should probably get used to it before I graduate and have to leave the Dartmouth bubble.
tl;dr: I need help learning how to eat by myself.