09/29/2009 (8:48 am)

Table for one

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Last night I bumped into my physical therapist at the Red Brick Tavern. He was there with his wife, kids and some friends. As the hostess was seating me at a table near theirs, a concerned expression came over his face.

“Is…Brian meeting you?” he asked. “No,” I said, “I’m here by myself.” His concern grew. “Oh…” Just as it seemed he was about to invite me to join them, I interruped. “It’s okay – I’ve got a book.” He looked really uncomfortable. “No, really,” I assured him. “This is fine. I do this all the time.”

My physical therapist is a really nice guy. He is a born and bred Rosendalian, and clearly not familiar with the New Yorker phenomenon – celebrated tradition, really – of dining alone. Like many who’ve never lived in the city, he still equates a table for one with loneliness. For people like me, it’s nothing like that.

Social as I may seem, I am also part New Yorker, which means part loner. I lived alone in Manhattan for more than a dozen years, much of that time also working alone, and, quite frequently, dining alone. Although I enjoy eating with family and friends – and my husband, of course – I also love going out by myself for a meal or a coffee or a glass of wine.

I can often be found at Market Market by myself at lunch time. Nobody bats an eyelash, but, really, that place is more of an outpost of Brooklyn. Half the other people there are eating by themselves too, while reading a book or the Bluestone Press or the Brooklyn Rail, or writing on their laptops. We all nod to each other, and maybe schmooze a little, but, transplanted New Yorkers all, we know not to take the schmoozing too far. Each of us knows the other is enjoying that unique city phenomenon of being alone among other people. It’s nice to be able to get a dose of that up here. (We all also seem versant in certain urban body-language clues that indicate those occasions when it’s appropriate to ask, “May I join you?”)

There was a time when I was uninitiated in this. I remember going out to dinner with my Manhattanite grandparents as a teenager. The first time I noticed a woman eating by herself, with only a notebook and pen for company, I felt sorry for her. “That poor woman,” I said. “Some people like that,” my grandfather corrected me. “People do that in the city.” The next time I witnessed it, my attitude was different. I specifically recall being in some fish restaurant on Third Avenue in the 60s. A casually chic forty-ish woman pored over The New York Times between bites of trout and sips of Chardonnay. To me, she epitomized the cosmopolitan, independent kind of woman I wanted to be when I grew up.

A word of advice to those who are new to this: Reading material is crucial. It doesn’t really matter what it is. While interesting books and such obviously make better dining companions, printed matter also simply serves as a prop. Even the local pennysaver will do. It helps you politely say, “I’m here by myself because I choose to be. I’m not lonely; I’m busy – busy enjoying my own company.”

17 Comments »

September 29, 2009 @ 9:47 am #

One of my favorite things to do — eating & reading alone in a cafe or restaurant. I can focus so much better than in the quiet of my own home. I love doing it. I love taking a New Yorker that has a really good article in it and just diving deep. Then coming up for air an hour later, having utterly forgotten where I was.

September 29, 2009 @ 10:05 am #

So glad you can relate, Marta. Upstate, it’s more comfortable to do in some places than others.

September 29, 2009 @ 10:39 am #

Going to the movies alone is also a favorite solo activity. Especially during the day when everyone else is at work.

September 29, 2009 @ 10:52 am #

Yes- that’s a great pleasure. I know that one well. Traveling (not the wah-nee kind, of course) can be enjoyable alone, too. Uh-oh…I feel another blog post coming on… Thanks for commenting!

September 29, 2009 @ 12:57 pm #

It’s a great way to meet new people! Sari, isn’t this how we met? Were we both eating alone at the Bywater Bistro? :)

September 29, 2009 @ 1:35 pm #

I have loved eating alone (walking alone, going to the movies solo) since I was in my early 20′s at least. The best thing about eating by yourself, besides being able to savor the flavors without interference, is to overhear other conversations at other table (easy in Manhattan where tables are usually crammed). I’ve often thought such dialogue is worthy of a short story at least. Or a mind trip imagining what these people are all about. And others might see you as being more mysterious than you really are, sitting there, so sure of yourself, alone.

September 29, 2009 @ 1:43 pm #

I too love(d) dining out alone when I was in the city. Interestingly, now that I’ve been living up here for 8 years, I hardly do it. Perhaps because of the self consciousness I felt that you describe others feeling for you. I do go back to the city a few times a month, and always get in an alone meal.

I too enjoy going to movies alone, and unfortunately I experience the discomfort of others noticing and how few if any others are there alone. Thanks for writing about this Sari!

September 29, 2009 @ 2:40 pm #

Glad you can relate, Holly, and that you enjoyed the post. Thanks for commenting!

September 29, 2009 @ 2:43 pm #

I think you’re right, Carla! I think that’s how we officially met. The funny thing about that night was that I was feeling brain dead from working like a maniac, and I wasn’t equipped for conversation. Then I ran into EVERYONE I ever knew in Rosendale and the area at large, and talked and talked and talked…and had a fun night. :)

September 29, 2009 @ 2:46 pm #

I think you might be right, Miriam. One of my favorite overheard conversations, at Lenge, a sushi restaurant no longer on 68th and Columbus:
Older woman: I like the sound of the letter “B.”
Younger woman: What?
Older woman: You know – “buh.”

October 6, 2009 @ 4:30 pm #

[...] gotten lots of nice responses from readers about how much they relate to my post about dining alone. Some wrote about feeling less self-conscious about doing that themselves now, [...]

January 14, 2010 @ 9:33 am #

Sari, I’m a Constant (married to the 3rd oldest son (4th oldest child), but did not participate in the tour of the “old home place” in 2006. I noticed that you said your physical therapist was a born and bred Rosendalian. Could you share his name? I thought my husband or one of his siblings might know him.

January 14, 2010 @ 9:51 am #

Hi, Kathy. Nice to hear from you. My physical therapist was Daniel Hoyt, who grew up in Tillson. Hope all is well with you and the rest of the Constant clan. – Sari

January 14, 2010 @ 4:49 pm #

Sari, the Constant clan continues to prosper and grow. Thanks for asking.

Thanks, also, for providing the name of your physical therapist. I will send that to my husband’s siblings to see if any of them make a connection.

FYI, I have had the link to Rosendale Ramblings in my “Favorites” since returning from Rosendale in 2006 – when the Constant Clan invaded your home. Periodically, I would go out and see if anything new had been added. Yesterday, as I ate lunch at my desk, on a whim I checked again (for the first time in a very long time) and was thrilled to see all the “recent” activity. I sent a link to the blog to all of my husband’s siblings, so you may begin to hear from some of them.

As I read your blog, I see the sites in my mind’s eye. Although I never lived in Rosendale, we enjoyed many visits between the time we married and the time Eric’s parent sold “the homestead”. In particular, I remember one night, asleep on a sofabed in what was the office (left front room closest to the fire house), when the fire siren went off. Back then, there was another house before the fire house. I distinctly remember how loud it was, and how startled I was when it sounded. I can’t imagine how loud it must be NOW, with nothing to dampen the howl.

Thanks so much for Rosendale Ramblings! I know the siblings are enjoying reading through your musings.

Regards,
Kathy

January 15, 2010 @ 9:24 am #

It’s so good to know you’re all reading – that someone is reading! Glad to hear the Constants are doing well. Thanks for being fans of the blog! I will be blogging more soon…

Best,
Sari

March 12, 2010 @ 6:53 pm #

Loved this piece Sari on dining alone. Very reminiscent and a great capture. Me too: I’ve been doing it alone my whole life and I’m 54; even dined alone in Paris …Amsterdam … Florence! The dubious attitude toward women eating alone, God forbid movie going — OY!– is, of course, aimed at women. No one would think twice about a guy having a beer or burger by himself. Old habits die hard.

March 14, 2010 @ 9:23 am #

Glad you could relate, Melissa! Thanks for letting me know.

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