Table For One, Please M23 Márquez
Paradoxically, solo dining holds both an irresistible allure and an insurmountable fear to me. Before entering university, eating alone was an alien concept. The time when I was a tot, I had bland bok choy rice for lunch with my kindergarten classmates every school day, and in secondary school, I found myself eating out with the same bunch for four years straight. Yet now, with lectures and labs popping up erratically in my schedule, and the fact that I’m living in a hall, occasionally I can but resign to eating alone. People talk about the fear of socialising, but they fail to mention that the anxiety from having no one to socialise with is far more profound than anthrophobia. Imagine walking into a restaurant and telling the waitress “Table for one, please”. You would be led through packs after packs of diners in duos or trios and, eventually, settle in a table for four. Initially, customers nearby would pay little heed to this single patron, expecting your friends or family to join you soon. Once you start breaking the bread though, solitude would radiate from you like the stink from Bleu de Gex on a cheeseboard. Before long, people would have already formed a million hypothesises about why you have your meal alone, and none of them is savoury. Ok, to be honest, no one knows exactly what is going on in the mind of the folks around you, and if I’m to bet, it’s more likely to be about money and sex and cars than you. Yet, solo dining is indeed an abnormality and for this, we are stressed and restless for not conforming to social norms. Plus, on the practical side, all the menu items for sharing are out of the question, as is that colossal Brooklyn Blackout cake that you’ve been dying to try. With all that said, over time I’ve come to appreciate solitude. For one it’s because when I do go out without company, I often have no other options and so I’d better learn to make the most of this inevitable element of life. However, it’s more due to the freedom that solo dining offers. I am the master of every decision from picking the place to paying the tips, without some domineering dudes constantly trying to hijack my mind. When occasionally I fancy a lavish treat, I can head straight to La Vache without any companion shooting me the “are-you-trying-to-get-me-broke” look and when I crave a local bite, I can have a bowl of hearty fishball noodles in the eatery near my hall without anyone reminding me that it’s been my third visit in a week. The very taste of the food itself transforms as well with eating alone. Junk food like Doritos and pepperoni pizzas are better with friends, but real food always goes very well without one. No longer required to focus on the endless stream of gossip and other social nuances, I can truly savour every bite of my dishes. To me, this zen state is what we can call ‘mindful eating’. All these may sound self-soothing, like that night when your best pal told you “I never wanted that girl anyway” after being rejected. At the end of the day, however, most of the time we dine with others merely for the sake of dining with others. We phub or we take a sudden meticulous interest in the one-page menu, all to shun real conversation. When the meal is over, there will always be a photo brimming with smiling faces so we can brandish it on IG or Snap and announce to the world what a wonderful time my friends and I have had. Is this any better than being alone? If one finds solitude intolerable, one does not deserve companionship; this is a thing I’ve been telling myself ever since an emotional trauma a while ago. One can be alone but not lonely. As in meals and life, sometimes for various reasons we have only ourselves to accompany us. I don’t like these moments any better than you do, but when I do need a table for one, I will ask for it without reservation (pun not intended).

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