Bear with me here, because I’m going to try and make an analogy between the practice of eating alone and a fireman’s pole. You see, in theory they might both sound pretty glamorous and titillating – you know, in the case of the fireman’s pole it’s a stiff erect thingie that you slide up and down. But then in reality, it’s just a metal pole and the firemen doing the sliding are all like your fat uncle who always makes inappropriate jokes about the lady reading the news on TV. Similarly, eating alone sounds like it could be alluring, you know… flirt with the waitress, fall into conversation with some enthralling stranger, catch up on your reading of French philosophy over a glass of wine, but more often than not it’s 45 minutes of listening to the sound of your own chewing.
Plus its incredibly difficult not to look like you’ve just been stood up.
Having said that, I do honestly believe there are perks to the lonely lunch, and that its deeply unsexy tag isn’t quite as justified as people might think. Because, lets face it, there are going to be moments in your life when you’re going to have about 45 minutes to kill round about lunch time, and if you’re going to dine solo anyway – you might as well do it properly.
1) Reclaiming your inner ‘messy eater’.
Maybe this is a guy thing (but I suspect it isn’t), but every now and again it’s fucking great to be able to hoof social niceties and just get down to the business of eating with energy and gusto, and bollocks to how many rules of politeness you drop barbecue sauce on along the way. You know: slurpy, sucky noises, eating with your fingers, licking sauce off the back of your hands, not worrying about whether pasta-bits end up in your hair – call me agricultural, but short of taking a bath in mashed potato, there’s no better way to spend a lunch-hour.
2) Ordering the triple-stack burger with chips, onion rings and a pint of Amstel – all while not giving a shit.
Every menu always has something on it, something so outrageous, something so artery-clogging that it practically gives you a heart attack just reading the ingredients list. But deep down you know that it’s what you want more than a blowjob under the table from the saucy travel agent who just told you that the return tickets to Zurich you wanted were way out of your budget range. Of course you never end up ordering it, because that’d be wrong and everyone would judge you. Or so you tell yourself. And so you stare wistfully at the deep-fried brie with cranberry starter and order the salad instead. You glance over the nachos with bacon and extra cheese and plump for the grilled chicken breasts with yoghurt, to the gentle applause of the rest of table. But this is no way to live. And so: Eat alone? Eat whatever the hell you want.
3) Not feeling guilty or inadequate for having nothing to say.
Next time you’re in a restaurant, take a look around: I guarantee that somewhere in your immediate vicinity there’s going to be that couple. You know – possibly wearing an outfit that just shaves the wrong side of being considered in-style, perhaps a little too much make-up and a very fancy cell phone that’s displayed just too prominently on the table for it to be accidental. And… they’re not talking. And not ‘not talking’ in that comfortable “I just need to stare in to your eyes for all the conversation I need” kinda way. No, it’s that silent, desperate inability to find anything to say to the person sitting opposite you. Not one thing. And so they just sit there and eat their food, feeling increasingly uncomfortable about the situation and wishing that there was some way to just end it all.
And don’t think that just because you wear fashionable shoes, that makes you immune to The Silent Meal. It happens to everyone… Because you know, sometimes you just couldn’t be bothered to make the effort coming up with new things to say that make for someone else’s good time. You’re fed up with talking about Zuma, there’s nothing left to complain about your job, talking about other people’s poxy dreams makes you want to suffocate yourself on a crème brulee on purpose, talking about your non-existent love-life (and why it’s your fault its non-existent) will probably make you cry, and then all that’s left is “why cats are better than dogs” and “why TV was better in the 80s” and you had those conversations yesterday. Seriously. Just everyone shut up and read the newspaper.
4) It’s a lot easier to hear other people’s conversations.
Okay, so carrying on from the previous thought, it’s amazing how much of other people’s conversations you’re suddenly privy to when you’re not having any of your own. You see, other people are fucked up – and they love nothing more to talk about how fucked up they are in public. There’s this ridiculous thing that happens when people walk into a restaurant in that they forget that everyone can actually hear what they’re saying when they’re busy telling their best friend how “I love my vibrator more than my husband”. Over pasta and a glass of wine, I’ve heard the intimate details of people’s business lives, sex-lives, holidays, disasters, affairs, insider-trading, ideas for novels, movies and TV shows (mostly terrible), where to shop for the best underwear, and what they think about their parents, boyfriends, children, bosses and co-workers. It’s brilliant. And also slightly depressing if you spend too much time thinking about it, so enjoy it in the moment and just remember to keep your voice down next time you’re at the Spur.
5) Flirting with the waitress/waiter.
Everyone knows that flirting with the staff is never going to go anywhere. Because to her: you are not unique, you are not special, everyone flirts with her all the time, you just happen to be sitting in her area and no she is not impressed. Yes she is pretending so that she’ll get a bigger tip. But, you know what? Fuck it – think of it as practice. Kind of like a flight-simulator for when you one day have to do the real thing. Besides, flirting is sort of the gyroscopic motion that keeps those perpetual watches going without batteries, it keeps you going when things are barren, and reminds you that just because you might have three kids and an unmanageable mortgage, and least perfect strangers still (pretend to) find you attractive.
Of course, these 5 rules also work for Lonely Breakfasts, Late-night Dinners, Brunches, Evening Coffee and packets of crisps bought from the 24-hour garage.