Table For One

Eating alone can be difficult

Photo by Ismail Hamzah on Unsplash

I live alone, and for the most part, love it. I crave solitude and quiet. It is where I can hear my spirit and soul. It is where I come back to replenish myself after being with others. It is where I can be completely myself. 

There is one part of living alone, however, that is a challenge for me. 

That part is eating by myself. I don’t know all the reasons why this particular activity brings up more feelings of aloneness and discomfort at times, but it does.

I have spoken with my women friends and many of us agree that going out to a restaurant alone (especially in the evenings) is often uncomfortable. That is one of the places where being uncoupled feels like it stands out more obviously. Table for one in a sea of tables for two or more.

And then, for me, there is also something difficult about eating alone at home. Our society can sometimes make reference to parts of this. I have had people ask me if I find it hard to cook for just myself? (Why, I wonder, is it referred to as just myself? As if that self doesn’t deserve as much?) I would like to be able to answer their question with the response that I love nurturing and cooking well for myself. But that would be a lie.

As I continue on this path of aging, I find myself more and more aware of this issue. And I am consciously working on asking myself what this is about, why I have such difficulty treating myself as I would treat another guest in my home. Do I not deserve as much? Can I resolve this and enjoy that time and embrace this most basic form of self care before I die? 

It’s complicated, I think. 

For one thing, I have issues with food. It is my drug of choice for numbing feelings of discomfort. And it leads to weight issues, which then lead to more increasing issues with eating and food. A vicious cycle. Not an uncommon issue among women, I think. 

I have never been into cooking that much. As an only child of an Italian mother, the kitchen was really her domain and I never learned to cook from her. She was a great cook and I am sad to not carry on that piece of her. She would shoo me away from the kitchen at times and tell me to go and do my homework. 

What I have learned about cooking has mostly been from cookbooks. That’s ok. What’s not so ok is that I don’t take the time or expend the energy on myself. 

On the somewhat rare occasion when I do spend time preparing food and meals for myself, like when I feel like cooking up some things on a weekend for the week ahead, I enjoy it. I can feel the self nourishing quality of doing this for myself.

I don’t keep it up. 

I don’t always sit at my dining table to eat either. 

I am working on doing this more, to acknowledge and be conscious of nourishing myself with a meal and allowing myself to begin to enjoy the whole ritual around that. To acknowledge that I am alone and that this is ok. That this can be a time to truly self nurture both body and soul without distraction.  

Some more history. Growing up, eating at the table held mixed feelings for me. Dinner times at the table were those times when my father would focus on me, focus on things that he felt might be less than ideal, and talk about them, lament about them. Maybe something that he didn’t like about my face, or how I ate, or something that he had noticed that I might have done that he was not pleased with. 

 God, how I dreaded those times. My stomach would clench into a knot as I waited for what was coming when, during those times, I could feel his gaze slowly turn toward me. Sometimes I could try and distract him by bringing up something that I knew that he would want to talk about, but most of the time I did not feel like it was my place to initiate any conversation. That was mostly a role left for my father.

We didn’t really go out to eat either, as my father thought it was a waste of money, and also would say that no one could rival my mother’s cooking anyway. I wondered, though, if she might not want a break sometimes, to feel treated and taken out. 

And so I sit at my own table, breathing deeply into any feelings that come up and ask those feelings what there is to learn, to acknowledge, to admit, to work through. Now that I am an older woman, I want to be able to simply surrender into what is my current truth and honor that. To understand that I have consciously chosen to be alone at this time of my life to finally discover who I am. Without being defined by anyone else’s boundaries or definitions of who or what I am or should be. 

I want to own this Self that has taken me a lifetime, soon almost 70 years, to come home to. This Self that has gone through my own stories, as we all do, and is still here to tell them. This Self that is still here to keep creating more tales to tell, until the time for stories runs out. 

I want to nourish and nurture this self. Not only with my writing and painting and walks in the redwoods, but to literally admit and consciously welcome the nurturing of my body with food. Food that I have prepared. To welcome the love of self that involves feeding myself healthy, nourishing food. 

To finally claim the right to sit and enjoy my own company. 

At my table for one.

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