And so, it seems it’s time to wave a fond good-bye to Summer. My kiddo heads back to school next week, which means it’s time to hunker down, get back to the routine, and prepare for Fall. I’m looking forward to cooler temperatures, that crisp bite in the air, and the sounds of fallen leaves crunching under my feet. Fall brings so many images and memories to mind. The excitement and hope that comes with a new school year full of possibilities. The fun of watching the squirrels scurrying back and forth, busily gathering supplies for the coming winter. A feeling of freedom as my child heads back to school, and I make that adjustment from being “mom” all the time to being a little bit of “me” during those hours when she is away each day. Time spent with my dogs, walking, doing chores at home, or cuddling on the couch.
And then, there’s the “table for one” phenomenon. Along with all of its lovely sights, sounds, smells, and memories, Fall also brings the inevitable sense of doom one feels at facing a crowded restaurant and admitting she is dining alone. Just the thought of it is enough to fill even the most intrepid soul with a feeling of dread that kind of sits at the pit of your stomach until it manages to turn everything sour and icky.
Don’t get me wrong. For a long time, I did nearly everything all by my lonesome. I was young and audacious and grabby with life. I didn’t have a significant other with whom to do stuff, but it didn’t stop me. I was happy to be out there, doing what I wanted and enjoying life as it came along. I never thought about how we, as humans, are communal in nature. I never noticed the strange looks or, even worse, the way people might not quite meet my eye when I showed up to a restaurant or a movie or some other activity alone.
But I suppose time changes everything. I found my sweet hubby, who is not only the love of my life but also a very reliable “steady date” for pretty much any activity in which I want to partake. And I had a daughter, which means I spent several years with a small child permanently attached to me in some fashion. I mourned the loss of my “alone” time, but, truthfully, I quickly got used to having company all the time. I was safe within the confines of my little group and happy that way. Even when my hubby would suggest I do something fun by myself, I would shy away from the idea. I wasn’t bold or audacious any longer. Perhaps I was a little bit afraid.
The thing is, “alone” isn’t easy. It’s pretty darn hard, if you want to know the truth, particularly when it comes to sitting down in a restaurant. I think humans are at their communal best when dining together. It’s a time for stories and jokes and getting to know each other in an easy, enjoyable setting. So much so that it feels as if there’s a stigma of sorts attached to the act of dining alone. Every year, around this same time, I have to ease myself back into the mindset of the solo diner.
I think there’s an art to dining alone. For one thing, it’s important to own the whole experience. Be bold and proud, instead of hiding behind a book or the games stored on your phone. That’s not to say a book is unacceptable. The trick is to linger over each page, as if you know everyone is watching you and couldn’t care less. Writing is good, too. If you’re engrossed in writing, the people around you will presume you’re aloof, mysterious, and kind of neat. Also, they might just think you’re writing about them. This is a fun side benefit. When you appear at the host stand, only to be asked how many are in your party, it’s important not to say anything self-deprecating, such as “just one” … or “it’s only me” … or “flying solo”. These things might seem funny when they are rattling around in your mind — sort of a little way of making a joke and building some camaraderie with the host or hostess. Inevitably, once spoken aloud, they will leave anyone in the vicinity with the distinct impression that you are unwashed, unloved, and chew with your mouth open. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have to eat alone.
In a way, I’m looking forward to more solo outings once school starts. It’s a great time to people watch and, hopefully, get some writing done. Sometimes, it just takes a change of location to get those creative juices flowing. Most of all, I’m looking forward to meeting “me” again: that sort of funny, sometimes wise person who lives inside of me and answers to the name of “Patti”, instead of “Mom” or “Sweetie” or “Honey, can you …?” I will stride to the host stand with a daring sense of purpose, and, when asked how many are in my party, I will announce, “One!” I will say it with the kind of conviction and pride I seldom feel about anything in my own life. As I am sitting down, I will glance over at that hidden “me” and say something like, “It’s so wonderful to see you again. It’s been ages since we’ve gotten together like this.” And I think she will smile back at me and be glad she came.