Table for One

Who calls and reserves a table for one in a restaurant? Dan Griffin has learned to enjoy his own company.

Just the other night I went out to dinner while out of town for work. I left my iPhone in the room knowing how often I use that as a way of having to avoid being with myself and simply being present. I sat in the mostly empty dining room and noticed my fellow travelers sprinkled throughout the room also eating by themselves—and every single one of them had a smart phone. Nobody was simply eating their dinner. I could feel the pull of distraction wanting me to ask for a newspaper. Hurry through my dinner so I could go upstairs and watch TV or do some of that all-important work I always have to do. I resisted, asked the host for some bread, and took a deep breath, and smiled. I would not give in. I savored each bite, taking my time, practicing (somewhat) mindfully chewing my food. I enjoyed my dinner and my time with myself.

How do you experience solitude? How is it for you spending time with … yourself?  How often are men even asked that question? Whether we like it or not, it is a universal truth that if you can’t spend time quality time with yourself then you can’t spend it with anyone else. Many people know me as outgoing, funny, some would even say charismatic. My public persona. The one who shows up when the stage lights are on. Those who know me intimately also know how much I used to struggle with insecurity, self-doubt, and intense social phobia—and still can to this day. It was debilitating. Around others I was often the life of the party but by myself I was a totally different person.

Years ago, after ending a long term relationship, a good friend challenged me to learn how to spend time with myself; literally date myself. I took his suggestion to heart because I was tired of needing to be around people to be okay. I was tired of losing my mind when I got in relationships because I was trying to get them to fill a hole in my life that nobody is big enough to fill.

♦◊♦

I called the restaurant and made a reservation, “Table for one, please.”

“One?” The woman’s voice sounded as sarcastic as it was surprised. They made the reservation but I swore I could hear their laughter. Who calls and reserves a table for one?

I showed up for my reservation shaking to death internally. I sat through my whole dinner petrified that everyone else in the restaurant was looking at me with pity. “Look at him, nobody to be with. What a loser. Etc.” All judgments that I had about myself, projecting them onto the various customers eating their own dinner much more concerned with their own dining experience. It may have been self-centered fear but it still felt real at the time. I then went to a movie by myself. Some men and women have no problem doing these things alone but for me they were quite difficult. That is the main way that difficulty being alone with myself showed up in my life, it may look different for you.

Today after years of practice, I enjoy time with myself. I travel a lot for work and love to go for walks or dinner by myself. I have discovered the difference between restorative time and isolating or hiding from the world. Far from a master, I have come to the point that I truly appreciate being able to have time to myself. The difference between a calm and peaceful aloneness and a frenetic and desperate loneliness being contingent on how well I am taking care of myself.

I know a lot of men who struggle with loneliness. Many, like me, seem to be social experts but they constantly feel as though they do not fit in or people don’t really want them around. But it has nothing to do with other people. They can’t stand their own company! Many men have a sense of a dull aching inside of them but don’t have any idea they are lonely—they think it is everything but that. Other men know how lonely they feel but keep it to themselves fearing how others might judge them for expressing such an “unmanly” sentiment.

In solitude we gain true intimacy with ourselves and we also deepen our connection to Life. Or The Universe. Or God. Whatever you want to call it. A man’s relationship with others is his gift to them. A man’s relationship with himself is his gift to himself.

—Photo Bob Jagendorf/Flickr

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About Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin, M.A., has worked in the mental health and addictions field for over sixteen years. He lives in Minnesota with his beautiful wife and two-year old daughter and has been in recovery for 17 years. He wrote A Man’s Way Through the Twelve Steps (Hazelden) and co-authored Helping Men Recover. Do you want to read more of Dan’s writing and learn more about his work? You can go to: www.dangriffin.com.

Comments

  1. Your socially awkward self sounds very much like me. I dread dining alone, and I won’t see a movie by myself. Because my group of friends is quite limited, I generally just sit at home rather than go out alone.

  2. I’m the opposite, I suppose. I love and relish my privacy. I have never once experienced the emotion of “loneliness,” and I doubt I ever will. When I dine out, I usually do it alone… and I’ve never felt the slightest anxiety or depression about it, much less wondered what others might be thinking of me.

    Oh, and I usually bring a book. I love reading through a meal and being alone with my thoughts.

    • PursuitAce says:

      Right with you copy….I’ve no idea what loneliness is…7 billion people on the planet?…I wouldn’t mind a week alone on the whole thing with just me and my thoughts.

    • Copyleft must be a long lost relative of mine.
      This is the second time the words have resonated with me with such exact similarity.
      I go to lunch, to the movies, and to various public venues alone and have no issue.
      i have gotten the stares but usually I just smile and wave.
      But I can see how many people do struggle with being solo.

  3. My women friends and I were discussing this very topic the other day. None of them had dined alone except for me, while on a business trip, with a book in my hand. I admire the way you’re handling it, and hope I’ll be able to do that too, someday. We women concluded that it might be nice to have a table set aside for people dining alone who wanted company (just someone to exchange views with, not as a way to pick someone up). I don’t suppose it will ever happen, though. And again, that’s not the solitude you’re referring to. Back to practicing the mindful eating, then…

    • HeatherN says:

      “We women concluded that it might be nice to have a table set aside for people dining alone who wanted company.”

      If you can find a Basque restaurant or a tapas bar, that can sort of end up with people who are dining alone ending up all dining together. But yeah…it’s kind of strange how automatically separated people are when we dine, particularly considering how social eating is. It’s social…but we only do it with people we know. There’s a research project in that somewhere, I’m sure of it. :)

  4. This is a great topic. I’ve experienced dining alone as liberating, but have not done it too often. Gabi – as for Mindful Eating, there was a great piece in the New York Times recently that discussed this (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/08/dining/mindful-eating-as-food-for-thought.html?_r=2&hp).

    And there’s also a great book called Mindful Eating by Dr. Jan Chozen Bays which I just started and am enjoying. Thanks Dan for getting this topic out there!

  5. Brad Kelstrom says:

    This was great and I completely relate. I’ve always hesitated to do things by myself because I felt insecure and that others would judge me. I’ve always felt very sad when I’ve seen people at the movie or out to eat alone. One thing I have to do so I don’t feel overwhelmingly sad for others (and not feel insecure about myself) is to remind myself that I don’t know the whole story. The person alone at dinner may be on a business trip, but has a loving family and close friends. I pushed myself to go out to dinner alone while traveling for dinner and it was very awkard for me. I am getting to the point where I am okay at the movie, but I relate to being dependent on the phone. I love the line about having “restorative time” versus just wanting to isolate. This gave me a new perspective on doing things on my own, it’s really about self-care and getting to know myself better.

  6. These are great comments. We all have our challenges – for some men this resonates for other men it is something else. What is great for those men who do identify is there is a place to connect around and maybe even feel less alone. That is what is great about GMP

  7. This is an excellent article that should speak to the newly separated. I am one of those people that can enjoy my own company. I guess because I have lived for the last twenty-five years having no regrets and few other reasons for guilt I have often dined and movied alone. In fact, I prefer to see movies alone. But that’s because I study the skill of the movie makers. But also I refuse to not enjoy myself just because I am alone at the moment. Because of my tastes being different from a lot of friends I will wonder through museums alone. This is because I have greater appreciation for art than a lot of people I know.

  8. I believe everyone should dine alone on occasion, for the very fact that it allows you personal insight and introspection that is not easily available when dining with a partner or group. As Dan discovered, it’s amazing the ideas which we project on to other people, which may or may not be true but is a reflection of our own anxieties and fears at that moment.

  9. Valter Viglietti says:

    Thank you Dan, a fine piece.

    I’ve met several people who “can’t stand their own company” and, in the long run, being around them is no fun. And it’s hard for them to acknowledge that the issue is inside them, not outside.

    Personally I like being with myself. I enjoy my own company a lot. :)
    I’d rather be alone than with someone not interesting enough.

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