“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do,” says Three Dog Night.
And, generally, I’d agree.
This year, when we did our Myer-Briggs types at work, I essentially scored off the charts in extroversion. And exactly zero people were surprised by that.
Which is why, of all of the things I considered for 30 New Things This Year, this maybe scared me the most (so far).
I intended to take this evening on a night while Aaron was out of town, but I accidentally overbooked myself and while time would have allowed a late evening dinner, nothing seemed “stress-free” about frantically running between work, a doctor’s appointment, a church meeting, and then dinner, all while trying to figure out where in that mix to walk the dog and feed the cat. So I took it a night later, while Aaron was in town but busy. He gave his blessing, reminding me that he absolutely loves eating dinner alone, but also… introvert.
After a challenging day at work (in a couple of months’ worth of unusually challenging days), I came home wound up, irritable, and anxious. I sort of wanted to just stay home, but I also didn’t want to cook for myself. And I didn’t want to be a quitter.
I have literally been thinking about this dinner for weeks. I Googled “How to go out to dinner alone” which is a sort of depressing search and also full of all the worst advice. I had very specifically selected a restaurant that was close to home, but not a place we go often, was a place where portion sizes meant I could enjoy more than one course, and was an overall small(ish) restaurant. The bad work day felt more like a sign that I had to do it than a sign that I shouldn’t do it.
So, I did what I would do for any date.
I showered. And I used the lavender soap. Because fancy. I did my hair. I put on make-up. Which I essentially never do. I put on shoes that tap loudly when you walk across a floor because that sound makes me feel confident.
(Turns out, those shoes are terrible for icy sidewalks, which Minneapolis is FULL of right now. Nothing says confidence like clumsily shuffling for two blocks, right?)
I drove myself to a quaint little French place in South Minneapolis called St. Genevieve. It is a place we’ve gone for drinks, but never for a meal. It does have a bar, but:
Kate’s Rule # 1 of Dining Alone: No One Puts Baby at the Bar.
I didn’t want to eat at the bar. I wanted to eat a table. And be served by a waiter. At a table. Eating at the bar is not the full experience I was going for. So, I walked up to the hostess stand and confidently said, “Hi! Just one tonight, but I’d prefer a table.”
And, even as I heard it, it sounded confident but inside I was dying a thousand deaths by the paper cuts of social awkwardness. Of course, I silently begged for ANY of the corner tables and instead she put me right in the middle of the booth that runs along an entire half of the restaurant.
The waitress approached immediately, before I even oriented my upside-down drink menu correctly, and asked if there was “anything you need right away?”
“No, of course not. Just a moment to look at the menu.”
And for the earth to actually swallow me whole right here and now, thanks.
I ordered a glass of wine (savior!) and perused the food menu. I ordered two courses: the celery soup (with poached apple, macademia nut, and tarragon) and the duck (with hazelnut, a cherry-liver sauce, sprouted lentils, and turnip). And then I just sat there, because:
Kate’s Rule # 2 of Dining Alone: No “Distractions”
A good 90 percent of writers on The Internet, were like, “When I dine alone I like to bring a book or newspaper or scroll through my phone to pass the time.” I think this is the worst advice. You wouldn’t (or shouldn’t!) scroll your phone at dinner with your significant other or a close friend– why would you do it when you are out with yourself? So, I allowed myself nearly no distractions except a small notebook in which I wanted to jot some thoughts on the day in for a few minutes.
I am not on this planet to “pass the time.” Thank you very much.
And it wasn’t until I was about halfway through that first glass of wine when I actually sat back into the booth, let my heart rate return to earth, and began enjoying myself rather than worrying about myself.
I let my attention waft between the conversations, never pausing long enough to eavesdrop but hearing enough to know that the pair of women to my right were long-time friends who raised their children together and were now bragging about their grandchildren, to know that the table directly in front of me was celebrating a 75th birthday, and the table next to them– a group of girlfriends– were celebrating an engagement. A pair of identical twins with identical haircuts laughed together at the bar.
I noticed the way the waitstaff choreographed their every move and how quickly tables moved between courses and then turned over for new diners but how there was not atmosphere of rush or sense of hurry.
The food was divine, and I don’t have the culinary writing chops to do it true justice, so I won’t, except to share how I described the duck to Aaron when I got home:
“And the duck, Aaron! The duck! It had this like, thick, crispy layer of duck fat all the way across it and I realize that this sounds like how a fat kid would describe duck breast, but if the shoe fits… and then there was this sauce and these things and the sprouted lentils! Dude, sprouts are like, exactly how you get a foodborne illness, but I didn’t even care! I ate them!”
And there aren’t any photos of the food because Rule # 2. I only touched my phone once, after the main course, to tell Aaron that this was “fucking delightful.” It’s not the most delicate or literary phrasing I could have used, but it was accurate and to the point.
By dinner, I was finding my rhythm and my comfort. I ordered a second glass of wine (because date night) and enjoyed my meal at a measured pace, because:
Kate’s Rule #3 of Dining Alone: Do Not Race to the Finish Line
And the longer I sat there, the longer I enjoyed the company of myself. The more comfortable I became letting my attention wave over everyone– I watched buses drive down 50th Street, I watched a woman frantically scroll through her ipad at the bar. She probably never took a chance to notice me, the peaceful thirty-something eating alone, not dying a thousand deaths by the paper cuts of social awkwardness.
I ordered dessert and an Americano.
Rule #4 of Dining Alone Rule # 1 of Life: Treat Yo’Self
Eat places with small portions, friends, so you can taste as much of their menu as possible. Taking the time to sip a coffee and enjoy honey cake with poached pears and a scoop of ice cream was maybe the highlight of the night. Maybe it was the two glasses of wine? Or maybe it was that I had the opportunity to pay the check and bolt the minute that last piece of crispy duck fat passed my lips, but I didn’t. I enjoyed a full evening and a full meal, beginning to end.
Though I am sure most of you are coming to this blog via Facebook, I think the way I summed up the evening on Facebook is the most accurate, so I will share that again here:
I just did something brave.
Really, fucking brave (for me).
I got home from work, showered, put on make-up, and took MYSELF on a date.
A NICE date.
I went to dinner alone– ordered wine, had two divine courses, and dessert.
I did not scroll my phone or read a book. I just sat, on a date with myself, basking in the glory of just being Kate.
It took a half glass of wine to get over my anxiety of eating at a nice restaurant alone, but I am sharing this from my car and I am absolutely vibrating with energy. Vibrating!
Probably there is some ancient, life-guiding text that should be reminding me to stay humble, but I will save the humility for tomorrow because tonight I am super, super proud of me.
How often in your adult life do you reach a point where you literally vibrate with confidence despite getting no input from anyone else? Not often, for me. I spend a lot of time seeking the opinions of others to give me confidence. Approval, validation, course-correction, “atta-girls.” But that’s not what I am here for. I am here to bask in the glory of just being Kate. Amen! Hallelujah! Holy shit!