Once, a friend I barely knew texted me to go to the cafeteria because she had no one to eat with. I remember thinking how queer that particular text message was.
It was an SOS. To me it read “Help me, I’m alone, let’s eat together.”
So I went. I had nothing else to do since all my classes were done. But now I think the real reason I went to eat with her was I couldn’t refuse something that sounded scared and lonely.
I walked to the cafeteria, past people who had eaten their lunch and people who hadn’t.
When I found her in the crowded cafeteria, I knew she was telling the truth. The seat beside her was empty, and so were the seats facing her. I sat across my friend and made small talk while she picked at her lunch. She looked happy to me. I thought agreeing to sit with her while she ate was a thing people always did.
It was expected–I saw it in the movies. I saw it on TV. I saw it around me, at that moment.
And then I thought, “Few people like eating alone.”
So how come sometimes, I don’t do anything to turn my Eating Alone situation into an Eating Together situation?
I know few people like eating alone because it’s considered a social faux pas. As far as I’m concerned, eating alone doesn’t violate any prissy table etiquette so I don’t think it’s too bad.
I read an essay written by a woman who thought eating alone was a weird experience. Out of the ordinary. Not what she’s used to. Because when you eat alone, how should you conduct yourself? What goes where? The hands feel awkward when they leave fork and spoon to gesticulate during a conversation. But an animated conversation is impossible if you are alone.
It’s just you and your plate on the table.
I consider eating alone as an exercise on solitude and self-contemplation. It’s something that we need from time to time.
Say you’re having lunch alone in a fast food place. You feel queasy and a little bit embarrassed because people who are not eating alone, who are eating together, are watching you smother your burger and slurp your soda. But you’re never sure, your feelings are doubts and nothing more because just when you tilt your head to bite your burger, you fail to catch the stares of the people eating together.
Could be it’s all in your head. Paranoia. Big Brother complex.
Could be you’re plagued by self-consciousness. Like Cady Heron locking herself inside a bathroom stall before she was popular.
The thing is, you’re not really afraid to eat alone. No one is. Man puts food in his mouth, eats it, digests it, shits it down a toilet. What man is afraid of is to be seen eating alone in a public space.
People who are afraid to be seen eating alone, do they ever marvel at how much food tastes better when they’re not eating with someone? Because when you are eating by yourself, nothing can distract you from savoring every morsel of your food. Your taste buds have sweet, salty, sour and spicy down to a science. You appreciate the process that went into creating the stuff you’re stuffing your face with.
When you eat alone, you become the walls. You think people are watching you but the truth is, with no one to distract you, you can sit comfortably on your red plastic chair and discreetly eye everyone around you:
Like the busboy wiping chewed up muck from the table. The mom swatting her kid’s hand for picking a french fry on the floor. The bearded guy wearing a suit who has barely touched his chicken from reading today’s paper. The college boy and the college girl arguing about Jesus in voices loud enough for the whole room to hear.
And everybody else sitting on red plastic chairs with trays of food in front of them.
As you’re watching everybody else while eating your burger, just sitting there on your own, you begin to think it’s okay not to have someone sitting on the opposite seat.
Because it’s nice and quiet and your food tastes good.
(Watched ‘Mean Girls’ last night and remembered I have this is in my Drafts.)