I am sitting in a nearly vacant Symphony Hall, looking out the huge windows onto City Hall. I’m squeezing in a few minutes to write in between my decadent dinner of French onion soup and moules (and two glasses of Cote du Rhone) and an 8:00 performance of Emanuel Ax playing Mozart.
Last year, I bought three solo tickets to symphony performances throughout the year. I was able to select the performances, the seats, the dates. Sure, I could have purchased a pair of tickets to each show, but at the time I was buying the package, it seemed luxurious—in fact, empowering—to take myself out for symphony dates. It was during a tumultuous week with J, and my “fuck it I don’t need YOU” spite apparently led to a subscription to the symphony.
I suppose that’s healthier than an alcohol bender.
At any rate, I have gotten into the habit now of taking myself out to dinner before the performance, and tonight I happened to go earlier than normal. Part of it was to leave the office at a normal hour, part of it was hoping I’d get a table or a spot at the bar large enough to write during dinner, but that didn’t happen. Which is probably for the best—I had my Kindle and enjoyed my book as I was eating and could catch snippets of the conversations around me without needing to engage. I actually love going out to eat by myself, the only downside being I can’t order quite as many things because there’s no one to share with. I think I always read a book, though. If I’m out by myself, it’s because I want to be with myself. Even if I don’t read much, having the book open honestly deters well-meaning strangers from interrupting my introvert recharging period. I’m not alone because I have to be, I’m not sitting there wishing I could talk to someone—it’s my preferred state at that moment.
That perhaps sounds contradictory, trying not to interact with others despite being in a public place. There are plenty of times I can, and do, hermit when I don’t feel like being social or around people. Even friends. But, I also love to eat out. I love feeling pampered, taken care of. I love not having to cook or clean up. I love eating things I couldn’t make myself (usually my only requirement when I go out to eat). And yes, I also want to avoid small talk just to fill the time. I’m fine with silence, I’m fine not really interacting with someone sitting right next to me.
I think this makes some people nervous. At the restaurant, where I was sitting at the bar, there was a woman waiting for a friend who struck up a conversation with those on either side of her, almost immediately. To her left, a stylish, middle-aged black woman with an orange scarf I coveted who was, like me, solo. That conversation didn’t last long. To her right, a man from New York (I overheard him say, though the accent gave it away), who casually chatted with her off and on throughout his meal. She was especially eager to tell this man, also there by himself, that she was waiting for a friend. After he left, she almost immediately turned to the man she could now see due to the vacant seat, who was sitting next to me. For someone by herself, she talked more than anyone.
I know some people are just naturally more inclined to interact with others more and it’s not necessarily out of the nervousness of being alone. I have to say, I interpret it as nervousness. Why else interrupt a perfectly pleasant silence, connecting with my own thoughts, engaging in text banter with J, being able to silently observe my surroundings, with small talk?
I know people who have never eaten out alone. Never gone to a movie theater alone. They imagine feeling awkward, feeling sad, feeling judged. Or, if they can’t pinpoint it, they imagine just not liking it. I can appreciate that many activities done out in public are associated with doing so with a friend or two—especially in a city like San Francisco, where it seems like everything is a social outing with the Facebook event and guest list to prove it.
For all I can get hung up on feeling awkward and judged, for some reason it doesn’t follow me when I’m out like this by myself. Somehow, instead, it makes me feel empowered and strong. Maybe it’s because I’m choosing it, rather than being stood up or rejected. Even now, sitting in front of my laptop as other patrons slowly trickle in, I stick out like a sore thumb (not just because of my age, but because I’m “working” here). But I don’t care.
I’ve been looking forward to being-out-by-myself all day. All week. For me, it’s restorative. And I don’t, not for one second, feel alone.