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Flying Solo

I have a semi-secret pastime: I like to dine out alone.

I don’t do it all the time, but I’ll occasionally feel the urge to go out and enjoy a nice meal = countless solo dinners.  [insert cravings for seafood, steak, and other foods I typically don’t cook]  I usually get these urges on typical “date nights” (imagine Fridays and Saturdays), so given my unattached status, I go out and do just that–enjoy a meal to myself sans company.  Sometimes I bring a magazine or the day’s RedEye to read or my journal to jot down a few thoughts.  I’ve dined at a number of places around town and sometimes I’ll sit at the bar if the restaurant has one.  This past Saturday night (what prompted this blog), I went to the Italian restaurant down the street, and the NCAA semi-finals game was on, so I ate dinner and watched Michigan State beat out UConn.  I’ll often treat myself to a hearty meal (with room for dessert sometimes, too, mmm) and maybe get a glass of wine or a cocktail depending on where I am.

Now, it might not sound too out of the ordinary, but all things considered, very few of my friends say that they enjoy doing the same–or have actually even dined at a “nicer” restaurant alone.  I’m not talking about running over to Panera and grabbing a bite, but going out to a sit-down restaurant and, well, relishing in it.  A friend of mine once said that she would feel too uncomfortable eating  alone.  For me, though, there’s something oddly empowering about it.  If anything, it reminds me that it’s good (and can actually be fun) to take time out of your routine to treat yourself and feel secure in doing things by yourself, specifically with this type of social and public activity.

When I first described these dinners to Parv, I jokingly started to call them my “lonely heart dinners” (thank you, The Office, for inspiring that one post-Valentine’s).  Despite their newfound label, my solo dinners aren’t supposed to be mopey examples of “why it sucks to be single.”    Far from it.  Frankly, I like good meals, and I take comfort in the fact that I can enjoy them–even if I’m flying solo.

I started to think about all this when I was eating my dinner on Saturday.  I continued to consider it even when I grabbed some coffee at the Borders across the street and then headed home.  Why do I secretly like having these nights out?  Well, in a weird way, it’s a quirky thing to do…and as such, it’s a good confidence boost because people typically don’t find/make time or even want to dine out alone.  A new thought also dawned on me: it makes me feel confident that wherever I end up being in four months or whatnot, I’ll still be able to enjoy these little things.  The thought of moving to a new city is scary, and I have no idea if that will even be an issue, but if it is, I’ll build a new social network, settle in, etc.  And I’ll still be able to go out and enjoy nice meals to myself because  it’s something I like to do and it’s something I already do.

I love my friends, and of course, I spend meals with them, too, but there’s something deliberate and comforting about having these solo outings.  Date nights to myself, I guess you could say.  Close friends and significant others  have a direct influence over us, and I know folks who definitely lean on the side of being extroverts, social butterflies.  But I love having my space at points, and my lonely heart dinners reaffirm that sentiment.

We’re at the cusp of spring weather here in Evanston = more couples being out and about.  It’s so easy to feel like you’re the only person not in a relationship.  As it happens, I have only a few close friends who are in that position, too (so you know who you can and can’t rant to about single status grievances, ha).  The single gals, like myself, suddenly become very conscious that we are not walking side by side with a male counterpart.

On this topic, Parv and I started talking about dating when we were at the gym last week (ps: we started going to the gym again).  A common rumor is that Northwestern students are “too busy” to date.  Is that really true?  I haven’t been on a date in quite a *long* while, so I told her how much I’ve just been interested in meeting someone new and having a fun night out.  Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more apparent that it’s difficult to find nice, attractive, smart, and SINGLE guys out there.  I thought over this as I enjoyed my dinner.  Have I been so out of the loop of dating that I never realized that people don’t go on dates anymore?  Date nights are reserved for people *actually* in relationships?

All this considered, it might seem quirky and weird that I basically treat myself to dinner from time to time.  And I might be sitting there alone, but I don’t feel alone–and I think people should be able to enjoy that feeling.  Often, the concern might be that it’s awkward or uncomfortable to sit at a table eating while others around you are mid-conversation with each other, etc.  But there’s something to be said about flying solo.  Chances are that people aren’t paying as much attention to you as you may think.  And hey, you may even enjoy the experience and realize how it’s refreshing to get away for a bit.

Long story short, I encourage everybody to just indulge themselves in a “lonely heart dinner” (at a restaurant with a server and all), regardless of your actual “lonely heart” status.  Our social networks are amazing and great, but sometimes they become the overwhelming  means for how we organize our lives, and we increasingly depend on that support, which is healthy and definitely necessary; however, you sometimes forget what it’s like to do things “not with your boyfriend” or independent from your immediate social circle.  What would you do if everybody was suddenly (and coincidentally) out of town?  Or if you were starting off totally fresh in a new city?  Moral: you should remember how wonderful it can be just to take time for yourself–and your sense of self.  You’re important, too.