The first time I ate alone – like, consciously made the decision to go out for a sit down meal by myself – was in May 2015. I was 26 at the time, had cockroaches in my apartment and hadn’t yet learned the meaning of the word ‘gentrified’ (still struggling with that one tbh).
It was a lovely Saturday morning. My only plan that day was an afternoon patio party in Liberty Village, but after waking up alarmingly early for a Saturday, distracted by the beautiful sun I hadn’t seen in so long, all I wanted was to eat a big ass brunch that was just as beautiful.
I texted a handful of people.
“Last minute, I know, but can you brunch??”
And as I waited for a response I did my dishes. Plucked my eyebrows. Perhaps even cleaned the bathroom mirror with Windex for the first time since I’d moved in. But still no vibration from someone eager to join me in my quest for eggs benny.
I texted more people.
“CAN ANYONE EAT BRUNCH WITH ME??”
I tried to read a chapter of my book but couldn’t focus because I was too hungry and too distracted by the fact that literally nobody was responding. Was it that early? Was my phone broken? DID EVERYONE HATE ME?
After waiting a full 45 minutes (and enduring a scattering of ‘sorry babe can’t today’ messages) I decided I actually couldn’t go on with my day without eating brunch first. I had it in my head now, and nothing about my day to come would be even remotely satisfying if I didn’t satisfy this first.
With this realization I stared at my phone even harder, willing it to ring. Willing someone, anyone, to be free at this exact moment in time. But as the phone stayed silent, I accepted the terrifying situation at hand.
I had to go to brunch alone.
I slowly pulled on my black romper, tied my hair in a topknot and put in my contacts (because this was before Lasik waltzed into my life and I obviously had to hide myself behind sunglasses as I walked into the restaurant solo.) I stared at my phone one final time. It stared back. Blankly. Sadly. But as my stomach desperately cried out for Hollandaise sauce I knew it was now or never – so I threw a book in my purse and went outside.
I rode my bike to a restaurant on Queen with my heart pounding in my ears, barely able to lock it up to the post on the sidewalk because my hands were shaking. I wish I was exaggerating but I’m not. I was actually that nervous.
I walked inside.
“How many?” the guy asked, immediately pulling out two menus.
“Just one,” I tried to respond in a loud, confident voice that unfortunately turned into a weird raspy cough because I WAS SO EMBARRASSED TO ADMIT OUT LOUD THAT I WAS EATING ALONE.
He smiled. Sat me at a table on their garden patio. And then?
Literally nothing notable happened.
I just sat there like a normal human. I ordered a coffee. I ordered food. I read my book in between, stretching my legs out to soak up some of those UV rays I’d waited all winter for. They brought my food and I ate it with a knife and fork, sipping my coffee in between mouthfuls and hardcore eavesdropping on the conversations around me. It was quite satisfying.
When I finished they cleared my plates and brought my bill. I paid it. And then I left
It was an extremely normal situation. So normal, in fact, I actually judged myself a bit for being that nervous about it.
Since that day I’ve eaten alone a lot. Like, a lot a lot, in a variety of places for a variety of reasons. New Zealand patios, before I knew anyone. Indonesian markets, when Sabrina was too busy having food poisoning to join me. I’m alone right now, writing this via a pint & plate of fries at my favourite neighbourhood haunt. And admittedly yes – it’s different when you’re travelling. You have to eat alone. You are alone, and you can’t just not eat. You need food to survive and shit. So it’s different – and I know this because when I came home last summer after living in NZ, I found myself alone in a restaurant on Ossington. The only reason I was alone is because I was waiting for someone who had yet to show up. But I felt so self-conscious to be sitting in this trendy, Toronto bar all by myself while first dates went on around me and groups of girls caught up via the cocktail list. I was afraid someone would recognize me and think to themselves, WOW Leah is at a bar alone and probably has no friends.
I got so self conscious that I did what I fully believe everyone else would’ve done (slash let’s be real – probably has done) too: I pretended to get a text. I pretended to laugh at said text. And then I pretended to text back (when in reality I was writing a note to myself on my memo pad app that said ‘I’M ALONE AND NEED TO LOOK BUSY. Also, remember to take your clothes out of the dryer when you get home.’ I smiled as I wrote it so anyone watching would think I was involved in a cool, fun conversation. And then my friend showed up and saved me from my memo pad. And why I was this nervous is beyond me. I mean, I already knew how to sit somewhere alone and I already knew how uninteresting this situation was going to be. But knowing there were people in this city who might know me and might judge me; knowing that eating alone was not a socially acceptable thing to do – well. I got reeeeeeal insecure. And sure, that’s normal. But it’s also stupid.
Because here’s the thing: eating alone is an insanely anti-climatic situation that we’ve all built up into something to be weirdly afraid of. But we shouldn’t be, cuz it’s actually pretty enjoyable and a pretty good opp to people watch and eavesdrop and spend time with your ballin self. TRY IT! And if you don’t like it, at least you know you can always pull out your phone, laugh so it looks like you’re having a cool conversation, and leave yourself a nice little laundry reminder. And really, when don’t those come in handy?