"Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)
I've been divorced for sixteen years, and I've had many challenges to overcome as a single person. One that plagues many singles is eating out. Do you notice many people eating alone? It's just not a common occurrence. No doubt the reason is the awkwardness that goes along with it. It's often easier to just go through a drive-through and get something to go, or just eat at home. The problem with that, though, is the single person often ends up feeling like they can't eat some places because of this. So they are left with three choices: find someone to go with them, go alone, or just go home. There isn't always someone to go with, though, so option 1 is really not a good one. Option 2 is usually awkward, and option 3 can leave the single person feeling like a reject from society if they have issues with rejection or self-esteem.
So what to do? In our society, mealtime can be as much a social event as it is for one of nourishment. But that's another blog post, so let's just set that part of it aside for now and deal with the actual practice of eating out alone.
Fortunately for me, I finally overcame this hurdle about 3 or 4 years ago. I don't remember the exact date, but at one point I had a revelation: most people don't even notice me when I am sitting there alone. I've come to the conclusion that as a whole, people are too self-absorbed to get outside themselves to make eye contact or act like they notice. I used to fear that people would stare at me, like I'm part of a side-show at a carnival. That sounds extreme, but I used to be painfully shy and extremely self-conscious. That's how I used to feel when I found myself in a situation where I had to dine out alone. Oh the freedom I felt when I realized I do not care what anyone thinks about me! I now march into everywhere from fast food places to nice restaurants, all alone, and I do not feel awkward anymore.
Occasionally, though, there is a situation that comes up that challenges that freedom I feel. Today was one of those. I had been craving the hibachi fried rice of a local Japanese restaurant for weeks. If you like Japanese cuisine, cooked right in front of you on a hibachi grill you know what I'm talking about. There's just no substitute for it. Today, as I drove away from church to go eat lunch, I realized, as I drove through town looking for inspiration, that this was really what I wanted. So I went there. They seated me at the end chair of an empty table and I sat there alone. Of course I knew they would wait until some more came in to serve me, so I settled in and prepared to wait until the table, which seats 10, was filled up. I've done this several times and it's always been fine.
I hadn't been there long when they seated, in the remaining 9 chairs, a family celebrating a birthday for a teenage girl. So there I was, the only stranger in a family birthday party! Awkward. For the first time in 3 years, I felt a little self-conscious, being the introvert that I am. However, this was a nice place that I love to go to. It's a rare and expensive treat for me, so I got over it quickly and still managed to enjoy my meal in spite of it.
I wanted to be upset with the restaurant for doing that to me and to them, but I knew I couldn't blame the restaurant. I wondered at God's sense of humor about this, and I figured it was a test. I came home after a wonderful meal, full of fried rice and chicken and a to-go box of the leftovers (tomorrow's lunch!), and prayed about it. I asked Him, are you asking me to blog about this? Many times He prompts me to blog about things I have had problems with but have gained victory over. I had wanted to blog about eating out singly before, but it just never felt right. Today, though, I finally came to the conclusion that this is what He was asking me to do. There must be readers out there who would benefit from knowing that others struggle with this issue, but it's ok to eat alone, even in an awkward situation.
The funny thing is, I think the birthday family was more uncomfortable than I was, because I think they felt bad for me because I was eating alone...sorta. Ha! It became amusing after a little while, and I actually felt bad for them...but not for me! I know who I am in Christ, and I am comfortable dining out with or without company.
So if you struggle with feeling like you're on display, or violating some kind of social custom when you dine out alone, take heart! There is freedom in knowing that you have every right to enjoy a meal all by yourself in a restaurant. Chances are, no one will even notice.