Table for One

Posted On: 06.21.12

As some of you who were following my tweets might know, I had lunch alone on Monday. At an outdoor cafe.

This was a big deal for me. For whatever reason, I’m not a fan of being alone, particularly in public. Interestingly, I’m fine with settling in at a coffee shop, popping in the headphones and losing myself in the screen, but a restaurant? No thank you. Have never done it.

Had never done it. Until Monday, that is.

My reasons for finally dining alone were many. But the main one was that I read two books that really affected me. Two books by Julia Cameron: The Artist’s Way and The Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right-Size. Both books underscore the importance of going on dates with ourselves. I will not go into details now, but you will here more about these books. Trust me.

I sat there. At the small table. And I drank green iced tea with mint and tucked into the most amazing avocado salad. And I looked around – at the people, at the streets, the cars blurring by. And perhaps most importantly? I listened. To the conversations around me, the relationships unfurling, the swelling sirens, the screaming kids in passing strollers – the symphony of a city. My city.

I did reach for my phone on several occasions. Refreshed my email inbox. Checked Facebook and my Twitter feed. Floated a few of my own tweets. But all in all, I was a good girl, sitting there like an adult, enjoying a meal, enjoying a day.

It was a big step for me. And I’m proud of myself.

Do you like to go to restaurants (or movies) alone? Do you love eavesdropping as much as I do? Any Julia Cameron fans? Do you tend to reach for your phone when you are alone like I do? Do you think it’s weird that I am cool with parking alone at a coffee shop to write but not at a restaurant to eat?

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  • Ladies' Home Journal Lunch! I attended the most wonderful and inspiring lunch yesterday at Ladies' Home Journal with Lee Woodruff and several other writers/bloggers. Together we pondered the question of sharing in this digital age. How do we tell authentic stories without negatively affecting those we love? Much more to come on this.
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37 Comments for: "Table for One"
  1. I love going to the movies alone. In fact, I prefer it. I don’t see movies often but when I do (and when it’s not a kids’ movie with my children) I almost always see them alone. I’ve eaten alone too several times. Doesn’t bother me, and as you say, I listen and see much more on those occasions. xox

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I have never been to a movie alone. Maybe that will be my next adventure? I am beginning to realize that doing these things – going on these solo dates – is maybe really important for writing and for identity, too. Maybe we can only really know who we are if we step away from others for a bit every day? And not just to work. Because if we are lucky, we “lose ourselves” in our work which is exactly the opposite of the aim (“finding ourselves”) of these “dates.” All so interesting to think about. Thanks, you. xox

  2. When I used to go on business trips at age 20, I often ate out alone. I would generally feel self-conscious and assume that servers and other diners wondered why I was alone. But I wanted nice meals, so I had to do it. Sometimes I would bring a book to busy myself. But I don’t think I ever really got comfortable with it.

    I do love eavesdropping. But it’s hard to get everything and still be incognito!

    I don’t think eating at a restaurant is akin to the coffee shop at all. You use the coffee shop as your office and go there to be alone with your words. Most people go to the office alone and don’t expect someone else to be sitting at their desk with them.

    Congratulations on making a date with yourself!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Yes, the self-consciousness. But I am realizing more and more how silly this is – how rarely people are focused on us. This question is making me ponder something – maybe it is important somehow for us to do things that we aren’t entirely comfortable doing, to challenge ourselves to stretch our comfort zone. I think this might be true, and it certainly keeps life interesting, too. Now I am wondering what to do next… go to the movies alone? go on an overnight trip alone? ask a stranger a question? learn to drive? 🙂 that last one would certainly be blogworthy.

      Thanks for your words!

      • You don’t have a driver’s license? Wow! I guess that makes sense since you are a city girl. But didn’t you ever have the urge to learn when you reached driving age as a teen?

        Yes, you’re right that it’s important for us to get out of our comfort zones to grow and learn. It makes for great blog fodder too!

        • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

          Nope. No license. I think it’s about time though. Who knows? Maybe this lunch was just the beginning of a new bravery. Maybe driving is next! 🙂

  3. I have no problem eating out alone or going to the movies by myself. I do place stipulations on myself for both of those things like, I won’t go to the movies by myself on a Fri night or a Sat night. Too date night and I feel like people would think I was pathetic for being alone and not being able to get a date. Too be honest I doubt anyone would notice me.
    I have made some really great friends by talking to the people around me. Usually when I go out to eat alone I try to sit at the bar. I promise I am not talking to people at other tables!
    They way I see it is if I want a good meal and no one wants to go with me then I can go only treat myself.I usually bring a book and occasion will check my phone.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Interesting. I do think you are right that going out alone on a weekend night would probably feel quite different than on other evenings… But maybe that would be an interesting experiment – to see whether even on these quintessential “date nights” people would notice that you are alone? I honestly want to get better about talking to people around me. I’ve never been great at this, but I think I’m getting better at it. I find myself having mini exchanges with strangers (at the coffee shops, on the bus, etc) and acquaintances (at school, camp, etc) throughout the day and there is really something very comforting and inspiring about this.

      Thank you, Brei!

  4. Kendra

    I love being alone. Although I do find eating out alone at a formal restaurant a little uncomfortable. I had to do that recently during a conference. I just read The Artists Way too! Loved it. I am trying to keep up with positive affirmations but it’s challenging as I often get discouraged about the long writer’s journey.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I cannot tell you how much the Artist’s Way affected me. I really want to get into the habit of doing Morning Pages, but need to figure if that’s realistic. Thanks, Kendra.

  5. Heather

    I love going to the movies and eating alone. I have done it for, wow, I think, since college. Especially the movies. I find myself letting my mind wander onto different paths than when I am with others or with my laptop. Congrats on discovering a new escort within yourself to ask out on occasion.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Interesting that I didn’t know this about you! Topic for a future discussion, no? Now, wouldn’t it be interesting if you and I went to the same restaurant, sat alone at different tables, convened at the end of the meal and compared notes? Would make for a fascinating examination of subjectivity of perception, no? Hope you are having fun!xo

  6. Kristen

    I don’t mind eating alone, seeing movies alone nor being alone in general. My husband on the other hand can’t stand it. It’s a challenge for him to do these things alone. I suspect it has something to do with our personality types as husband is a social butterfly and I am not.

    Glad you enjoyed your lunch alone!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      So interesting that you and your husband are different this way. Now you have me wondering whether, in a relationship, one person is usually more okay with being alone than the other? Hmmm… Thanks, Kristen!

  7. I started going to cafes alone during my semester abroad in the spring of ’98. (Much like your coffee shop outings, sitting alone in a European cafe is really common.) Cafes gave way to restaurants. And after college when I moved to Denver and didn’t know anyone I went to many movies alone.

    You know that I’m a big fan of doing things like this alone. I don’t have the same motivatiions about it influencing my writing that you do. But I think it’s important just to be alone in that way from time to time. I think it’s good to make choices – which restaurant? which flick? – only for yourself and without factoring in another person’s preferences. And I also find it really peaceful. (Especially in an outdoor setting with great people watching, as you did!)

    I’m proud of you and really glad that it seems to have been a good experience. You should try a movie one of these days. I actually think – for people who are hesitant about solo outings – that restaurants are much more challenging than movies. Once the lights go down everyone just gets lost in the film. (The only trick to it is not to go overboard on the soda, because you can’t leave your stuff in the seat if you need to slip out to the restroom!)

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Gale – I really like what you have to say about choice. How often do we actually decide things totally for ourselves when we are married with kiddos? I can’t remember. Even on this blog, when I am deciding what to write about, I have you guys in mind. What will the readers want to think about and ask about, etc?

      A movie might be next, but nice point about the soda. And I tend to be someone who makes a few bathroom trips anyway!!


  8. TJ

    Love this discussion! And love doing things solo too. Many, many moons ago, I was in France working a 3 week gig…at the Cannes Film Festival (yeah, crazy!)…and to decompress sometimes at the end of a day, I would get away from the crowds, walk a bit to the next village with book in hand and sit down for a wonderful meal. Of course with a carafe of wine, but it would have been just as great w/o the vino! At first, the waiter seemed concerned it was just me, felt sorry for me, and I’m sure other diners would have welcomed me to their table, but I assured them that the quiet time was delightful and just what I wanted. I had an 8 yr old back home too, so dinners were always a bit hectic. Once the waiter understood this was my idea of a heavenly indulgence, he only came back briefly to check on me and let me sit for hours, devouring good food and a lovely book. It’s one of my favorite ways to recharge depleted mom batteries. And a solo 24 hr trip a couple times a year is also good medicine. Good for you Aidan!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Oh – I love the portrait of you at the French cafe, savoring your wine and your words along with a good meal. Lovely stuff! My next book has scenes in New Haven and I have been wondering whether it might be good – for the book, for me – to make a day trip or maybe overnight to Yale. Certainly worth thinking about! Love the concept of recharging depleted mom batteries – so incredibly apt. Thanks, TJ.

  9. I love eavesdropping 🙂 I don’t, however, love eating on my own. I feel like my “alone” time is so precious and rare that I’d rather spent it either writing, practicing yoga, exercising or getting a massage.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I do think that’s part of it for me. My inclination has always been to use my time alone to do something “productive,” i.e. gym, writing, even meeting a friend for lunch, but I am realizing that having a solo lunch alone to take it all in might be “productive” and fulfilling in its own right. Thanks, Lucy!

  10. Love this. I think I want to be alone but it’s way harder to actually do it. Great post.

  11. Sue

    I adore Julia Cameron and used to do my artist’s dates regularly. I can easily see the difference between a restaurant and a coffee shop (even without the computer). I agree coffee shop easier.

    I have been to movies alone which I am fine with- my current issue is I cannot permet myself to go to one while my kids are in school as I always feel I need to be “doing” to justify my stay-at-home-mom title :-0

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Oh, I get it. The constant strive to justify, and feel justified in the things we do. Still, I think you should sneak out for a movie (and some attendant edible goodies) every now and then. You deserve it, right? We all deserve these little treats.

  12. Whitney

    After reading everyone’s comments, I realized how much I really enjoy going to a coffee shop alone versus with my husband. I think it’s because I started the coffee shop habit when I was in college and, except for the rare occasion when I’d go with a friend, I was pretty much always alone when I went. I like to read when I’m in a coffee shop, and having a companion there who is not also reading makes that pretty much impossible. I used to do this all the time even after we got married, but since we moved to the UK, I haven’t spent much time alone at all since the world over here still scares me a bit (and we have only one car, so separate outings are more difficult).

    I’ve also found that travelling alone to somewhat familiar places is heavenly (even if I’ve never been to a city in the U.S., I find everywhere I go to be “somewhat familiar.” Travelling to non-English-speaking countries is a different story). For whatever reason, dealing with the airport, the rental cars or taxis or trains, the hotel, etc. feels easier when I’m alone. Probably because I’m not worried about anyone else. Dinner can be a bit tricky for me sometimes, because I don’t like eating alone in public, so I usually get takeout…this is also heaven for me, though. Eating some buffalo wings in my hotel room while watching Nancy Grace is kind of a business trip guilty pleasure tradition for me! However, it really depends on the location I’m in…in the airport, for instance, having a drink or eating alone does not create any anxiety for me whatsoever.

    All in all, to be alone for me means I get to do whatever I want, with no guilt or pressure to be or do anything else. It’s a rare treat to have that kind of freedom.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Yes, a lot of this is about freedom, isn’t? About the simplicity and power inherent in being unencumbered. Love love love the image of you in a hotel room eating chicken wings watching Nancy Grace. Do I have permission to put that very setup in a future book? It’s just fantastic.

      Thanks, Whitney!

  13. Yay! Good for you! 🙂 When I read The Artist’s Way – 8 years ago already! – I started taking myself on dates too! That’s when I discovered the awesome-ness of the solo matinee movie! And I can totally relate to Whitney’s comment about using business travel to enjoy some alone time! There was something so freeing about eating take-out on the hotel bed while watching mindless cable TV!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Isn’t there something so powerful about that book? As I mentioned, I also just read Cameron’s book THE WRITING DIET which is part writing book, part diet book… beyond fascinating and it has already profoundly affected the way I view eating and food. Certainly blogworthy stuff… Traveling for business does sound kind of appealing when you guys talk about it, but I have such a hard time leaving my girls that it might not be as fun for me? Thanks, Salem.

      • I agree with you on leaving your kids for travel – once I became a mom, I only traveled for business one time and I HATED it (the simple pleasure times were my pre-kids days!) My oldest was 11 months old, and it was only for 2 days, but it made me realize how much motherhood had changed me. It was then that I started drifting away from my career and finally left it for good about 2 years later. Thanks for the tip on The Writing Diet – you’ve got me curious about how food and writing co-mingle!! 🙂 Thanks!

        • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

          I am pondering a post next week about what happens to our desires and decisions to travel once kids come… An interesting topic, I think. You’d be fascinated to know how much writing and eating intersect. Amazing stuff 🙂

  14. Karin

    Neither of those things create any anxiety for me. When I was in a bad (or more accurately sad) marriage, I preferred it to the alternative. I sometimes take work or a book for the wait time but I take a book everywhere so that wait time is bonus reading time.

    As noisy as some restaurants are (on purpose) just as well go alone because conversation can be really hard, especially if the other party doesn’t hear well.

    I love your posts for when I want to take my brain away from where it is at the moment. Thanks for being a writer.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      “Thanks for being a writer.” What a wonderful thing to say, Karin. I did love my solo restaurant outing so much that I am already thinking of the next date. So happy you are here!

  15. Aidan,
    I love this post and it’s so ironic this is the one you linked to me in!

    I dine alone frequently. Not like Ruth’s Chris alone, but Panera alone or coffeeshop alone. I like to bring books, my phone, my computer. I don’t think it’s a big deal to do those things…although maybe doing those things is what cushions me from experiencing the REALLY alone part? I’ve never just sat and eaten alone without something. I can do it if I have a book, it doesn’t have to be electronic equipment.

    Love this. I also go to movies alone and don’t have a problem with that.

    I breakfasted alone yesterday while my husband played golf (we’re on vacation). I read USA Today while I was eating. Does that count?

    Thank you ever so much not only for reading my blog, but for posting consistently fantastic content and for linking to me. I’m in awe.


    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      So fitting that I mentioned you in this post then!! I plan to truly embrace the art of solo dates and they are fun experiences to blog about. It has been such a pleasure to encounter you and your wonderful words in the bloggy wild. Thanks for all your kind and thoughtful words, Erin!

  16. I enjoy eating alone, but I think this is partly because I know I have the option to eat with others.

    I’ve craved alone time more after the birth of my daughter. It’s comforting and relaxing to listen to the sounds and pay attention to the sights that I usually ignore when I am tending to my family.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      You point out something so important – that dining alone is particularly enjoyable knowing that there is the option to dine with others. And, yes, there is something so magical about snips of time alone once we are tethered to little people. Thanks, Rudri. xox

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