Eating Alone – The Solo Life

Their knowing looks caught my eye a couple of times as I consumed mediocre, overpriced seafood. I washed it down with agua con gas, which is what they call sparkling water in South America. Their faces spoke volumes of pity amidst the dim ambience and lively holiday chatter – pity that I was eating alone. If only they knew it was also my birthday, I thought to myself. I smirked between reluctant bites of yucca con queso and poor excuses for sushi.

It was Christmas Day in Cusco, Peru and I had made reservations at a “fancy” restaurant in la Plaza de Armas, Cusco’s city center. I had just arrived in Peru that morning and I was traveling solo for a week. There was a table of four situated against the wall adjacent the picturesque window overlooking the Plaza de Armas. The two older couples sitting there ate, drank, laughed, and conversed. What they obviously noticed was that my two-person table was serving one that evening. What they hadn’t noticed was that I, too, was studying and wondering about them – how did they meet? Are they locals? Do they always go out to eat for Christmas?

Plaza de Armas Cusco Peru on Christmas Day
Plaza de Armas Cusco Peru on Christmas Day, 2016

I was lonely. I’m not going to lie. The shitty food didn’t help. I would later be chastised by a local for even stepping foot inside this particular tourist driven dining establishment. Had I known it catered to foreigners, I would have certainly opted for something else. Had the table of older couples asked me to join them out of sheer pity, I just might have!

Eating Alone Like a Sore Thumb

It wasn’t the first time I had felt such a way at a restaurant while dining alone. It was the first time it was a holiday and my birthday whilst dining solo. A month after my divorce, I was on a business/leisure weekend trip to San Francisco where I had made reservations at a French restaurant located in Chinatown of all places. The food was fantastic but the waiter who took forever to approach my table because she admittedly assumed I was waiting for someone made my loneliness the giant elephant in the room. If only she knew I was going through a divorce! I ate a quarter of my meal before flagging her down to box it up so I could take it back to my lonely hotel room – at least there I could be lonely without an audience.

The Solo Life is Familiar

Doing things alone have always been a part of my life. More often than not, it’s a comfortable and sometimes desired act. Going to the movies happens to be one of my favorite unaccompanied pastimes. I recall having a conversation with my mother years ago while enjoying breakfast, solo, at one of my favorite mid-city Los Angeles cafés, Fiddler’s Bistro. I had been going to Fiddler’s since I moved to LA at the age of eighteen. It was a lovely, spring morning in the city of angels and I gladly snagged a patio seat. When I told her I was eating alone, she replied with slight dismay, “I don’t know how you do that!”

“I don’t know how you do that!”

It may have more to do with doing things that make me uncomfortable until I’m comfortable with them or it may have to do with enjoying the solitude of my own company versus the draining camaraderie that sometimes comes with others’ presence. I have a hunch it has a lot to do with doing the thing that society tells people, like the San Franciscan waitress and the old couples in Cusco, is strange or pitiful. I find it to be a liberating factor in defying conformity. No matter how strange, pitiful, or lonely I might appear to the outside world, what matters most is how I feel on the inside.

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