Flashback to the time I am sitting in my car in a car park and I feel that life is about as glamorous as it can get.
I suppose the only redeeming feature of this car park – and it is a deal breaker – is that it overlooks a giant glacial lake and enormous snow-capped mountains. A few seagulls roam around in front of my car cawing to each other, and the sun is trying to peek through the clouds on what is a windy, cool day.
Why am I sitting alone in my car, I hear you ask? That’s a good question, and one that takes quite a lot to answer.
You see, I was sitting in a cafe earlier with a newspaper and a cup of coffee. I was killing time waiting for a friend and so quite enjoying the downtime. However, due to the weather being what it was and the time of day – roughly five in the afternoon – the patrons of the little cafe were jostling for space.
All around me were couples, friends and families drinking or munching through cakes. Some groups just sat there, their drinks finished, empty plates pushed away from them, and chatted.
Due to the single occupancy of my table, I’m quickly approached by a older couple who ask if the other seats are taken. Naturally, being the amenable person that I am, I shake my head and gesture to them to sit.
Suddenly, the tiniest of niggles nags at the back of my brain.
How long can one person sit at a table before they feel like they are in the way? Less time than everyone else, apparently.
Of course, I know the difference between a library and a cafe, a park bench and a restaraunt. The latter are places of business that do not wish for their patrons to sit at their tables for hours nursing a single cup of coffee whilst other customers clamour for a seat. Naturally, I’m not oblivious to that fact and do not sit for unacceptable lengths of time.
My opinion is; as a single person I am not expected to linger as long as the coupled-up sweethearts at the neighbouring table, or the two guys enjoying a slow pint.
How long can one person sit at a table with an empty cup of coffee, peacefully enjoying their day, when space is of a premium? Being by myself, I cannot help but feel I am supposed to drink my drink, read my paper and then get the hell out and stop cluttering up the available space.
I noticed that no-one asked if they could sit at any of the spare seats at any of the other tables. It is less intimidating to approach a single person than a group, I know, but the principle still stands: you ask them if it’s ok to share their table just as you ask that lone person if it’s ok. If you are going to launch into an animated conversation about your great uncle Cyril’s false teeth, then it is surely better to sit on the sidelines of another chatting group of people rather than shattering the peaceful reverie of the person without company.
This is a situation that many other people may find me petty to consider.
How silly to worry about such a thing. Buy your coffee, drink it at your own pace, then move on, right?
And that is right, except the guys nursing their beers lingered and the young mum and dad with their baby lingered.
I did not linger. My moment was shattered and now it just felt like, well, just how long are you really going to sit there alone, hmm?
So, I vacated my table and went to sit in my car with the seagulls for company.
Table For One, Madam?
For me, what all this boils down to is feeling comfortable whiling away time in my own presence in a public place.
It’s easier to kill time in pairs or in groups. You can idle away the time casually chatting about nothing in particular or gossiping about last weekend’s antics. You can even sit there totally bored in a group making mind numbing small talk and wishing you were somewhere else.
But if you’re alone you check your phone, send a few texts, browse a magazine then feel like you should move on.
It is a challenge for me to feel comfortable whiling away time alone. This is strange for me, still, as I have been travelling for over three years. You would have thought I’d be ok with my own company by now.
And I am.
I’m perfectly happy pottering about at home or carrying out an activity with a purpose – i.e. visiting the supermarket, the library or any tourist attraction. But put me in a hedonistic environment, such as cafe, bar or any public space where where being alone isolates you as the odd fish and I still admittedly flounder.
I feel like I am taking up space that I should relinquish to those who are more deserving of it, such as those who have come out to socialise with other people.
Which is, quite frankly, ridiculous.
Here’s To You
It is time to stop giving a damn about what anyone else thinks.
I am perfectly happy travelling by myself as I know I will never be fully alone for long. I even wrote a blog on the ways I make friends whilst on the road.
For some reason, I think we are scared to dine alone for fear of being considered as a social outcast: look, everyone, this person has no friends!
But in reality, no one gives two hoots about whether you are eating lunch in your own company or not because they are all wrapped up in their own thoughts and situations.
If I can fly to South East Asia alone for a two month backpacking trip with only a single scrap of paper for an itinerary then I can eat a meal by myself without getting antsy, surely.
On my first night in Bangkok I walked to a nearby restaurant then sat and ate a delicious meal washed down by an ice cold beer. Being alone was a fabulous, heady rush of adrenaline mixed with anticipation.
And every time I have eaten alone since it is because I have chosen to be where I am. Just because I am single occupant does not mean I have less of a claim on that table.
So the next time I find myself without company, whether in my own home town or on the other side of the world, I am not going to ignore the rumble of my tummy or sit hidden from view in my car.
Table for one? Why the hell not?
And I’ll have a large glass of wine to go with that, too. Cheers!
What are your thoughts? Do you love dining alone or does the idea fill you with dread? Can you happily while away time by yourself or does it feel like a bit of a chore?