Tuesday, April 10, 2012

SWG2L: Party Of One

Jonah Hill, continuing to make Jason Segal uncomfortable.
(Universal Pictures)
Matthew the Waiter: Hey, how's it going?
Peter Bretter: Hey, I'd like to grab some dinner, please.
Matthew: Okay, great. Is your wife gonna meet you?
Peter: No.
Matthew: Your girlfriend?
Peter: No, I don't have a girlfriend, so...
Matthew: [confused] You're just by yourself?
Peter: Yeah.
Matthew: Sucks. Okay, so just one. Here's your wine list, your menu, come on. You want, like, a magazine or something? It's gonna be boring if you're just sitting by yourself.
Peter: No, I'll be alright. Thank you.
Matthew: I would just be
so depressed.
("Forgetting Sarah Marshall." Yeah, that's right. I just quoted that. I swear, it's relevant.)

I had coffee with one of my single friends a few weeks back and we got onto the topic of "Things To Do When You're Single." More accurately, we were talking about things that should be experienced and one of my favorites came up: going out to eat alone.

Now, don't get me wrong. Generally speaking, it's more fun to be out with a group than by yourself and my preference certainly lies with eating with other people.


There is something deliciously independent about taking yourself out to dinner. You're doing something that, quite frankly, most people aren't all that comfortable doing -- and you're doing it by choice. You're treating yourself. Believe it or not, it's a huge confidence booster. It's also a chance to relax without having to wonder if the person or people you'd normally be with are enjoying themselves. This is true "you time" and -- bonus -- you don't have to do dishes after.

Even better, there are a lot more opportunities for random conversations than when you're with a crowd. This is probably my favorite aspect and I've come to really enjoy talking to strangers. The topics that came up when I went out in Wausau (a pretty regular occasion, as shown by how familiar Red Eye staff were/are with me) ranged from politics to soccer to Packers to medicinal marijuana. While I was in Vegas, I ended up talking beer with a couple from England and roller coasters with a bunch of hot Australians. One of the more recent times I went out in Sioux Falls, I ended up talking with a guy working on a patent for ... well, I'll summarize as "stuff for autoclaves." [As soon as I wrote it out I realized just how off the wall my excitement about that topic sounded. Hey, it was a random meeting of two people into the same kind of nerd work. It was cool.]

Those are the things I know now. The first time was hard and I understand completely that heading out alone can be a bit daunting that first time.

Here's what I do:

1. I pick a night and a place that make me comfortable. For me, that means a night that not everybody and their neighbor goes out to eat (read: not Friday or Saturday) and a place with either small tables or a bar. I don't like sitting alone in a booth for eight. The salt and pepper are always too far away then.

2. I bring a book. It's low-risk (if I spill on it, it's frustrating but it doesn't short out) and I don't feel like I'm trying to prove that yes, I know people. Phones are dangerous -- there's no excuse for conversation and texting the whole time I'm eating would actually make me feel obnoxious as opposed to comfortable. Don't even get me started on the people who insist on talking on the phone the whole time. Ugh.

3. I have no outlandish expectations. I assume the food will be good and that I'll be able to relax. I don't assume that I'm going to meet someone terribly interesting and leave with a story. (Although it does happen frequently.)

4. I chat with the staff. Not always a lot (hey, they're working), but they like a break here and there, too.

And really, that's it. That's all that you need to hear.

Whatever happens, don't let an attitude like Matthew's mess with you. There are those who think it's odd when people are by themselves, but half of them are also jealous -- they don't think they could do it. And a lot of them can't.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have plans to make of a similar nature. If you need me, I'll be reading at a bar nearby...


Andi said...

Strangely enough, I read this while out to eat by myself on a business trip.

Ashley said...

Rock on. Even though that probably means you were reading it from a smart phone ... *Sigh.*


Whitney H said...

I believe the caption for that photo is, "I just went from 6 to midnight."

Good post though. I found that going out to eat alone isn't too bad. I did it a lot in my previous job due to a decent amount of travel. The best part about it is that you always get to go where you want.

Andi said...

Is an iPod Touch any better? I still have a dumbphone.

Lee Ryan said...

Eating out alone is an art-form (I think...) and your ability to enjoy it says a lot about your ability to be comfortable with your own thoughts. (again...just my opinion...of course)

Ashley said...

... I'll allow it. :)

Ashley said...

Pretty sure you're right, but I stand by my own caption. And YES to the getting to go where you want part. May be my favorite thing.

Ashley said...

My suggested amendment would be, "Eating out alone while not weirding out other diners is an art-form." Which I suppose plays into a person being able to enjoy it as well...