Table For One: The Unexpected Joy Of Dining Alone

Even with wonderful friends, family and a partner, I don't always want to be surrounded by people.

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“Table for one? Or will someone else be joining you?” A dinner reservation for one person never fails to raise a few eyebrows. Whether it’s the waiter who sympathetically leaves two menus on the table (you know, just in case) or the fellow diners who look on with pity presuming I’ve been stood up by a date or am going through some kind of quarter-life crisis that can only be solved by three courses of pasta and profiteroles.

In fact, I just want to be on my own. I actively choose to spend time alone on a semi-regular basis, most recently when my partner went away on a work trip for two weeks. It coincided with a weekend that lots of friends were away on holiday/at weddings/doing whatever else seems to keep people’s diaries choc-a-bloc throughout summer. I probably could have searched through my phonebook for someone who was free but, honestly, I didn’t want to.

Instead I took my towel to my nearest swimming pool and spent hours reading my book, listening to music and eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. When I’d had enough sun, I went to a nearby bakery for brunch and had a look in the shops. It was my perfect day – with or without company.

Not everyone has the luxury of choosing to be alone, of course; many are forced into one-on-one time because they have no one: 5% of adults in England say they ‘often’ or ‘always’ feel lonely (with women and young people disproportionately affected). Then there are those suffering with ill health, disabilities or bereavement who go for long spells without human contact.

But for those of us who spend our days surrounded by colleagues in the workplace, our evenings and weekends with family, friends and partners, all the while being constantly bombarded by WhatsApp, social media and email, time to ourselves can be a rare treat.

Time to yourself not only gives you the chance to do practical things you don’t normally get round to (reading that book you’ve been carrying around for three months, listening to a podcast someone recommended in 2017) but also the activities your pals don’t want to do (like that climbing session).

“We’re all meant to be living our best lives, going to festivals, parades and parties every weekend with huge gangs of friends.”

In a less tangible way, spending time alone also allows – or perhaps forces – you to sit with your own thoughts, to think about things that might normally be drowned out by conversation and the noise of companionship. When you’re alone you get time to ponder without purpose.

It is worth noting that I’m a real introvert (the most introspective person my partner says he has ever met), so perhaps sitting alone with my thoughts – replenishing my energy reserves – might just be indulging personality traits that others don’t have. But I believe more people could benefit from it.

As adults, we’re all meant to be living our best lives, going to festivals, parades and parties every weekend with huge gangs of friends, then sharing the photo evidence online and getting hundreds of likes, and never once succumbing to the FOMO that serves to engulf us all if we let it.

Given this constant social conditioning since childhood that we should be surrounded by people, it’s no wonder many recoil at the idea of spending time alone – a sign we’ve failed at climbing that social ladder. And if you’re an extrovert who gets their energy from other people, this must be even harder.

But as someone who has come to love spending time alone (honestly mum, I’m not sitting at home crying), even when there are many wonderful souls in my life I can choose to spend time with, I wish more people would give solo a go.

Reservation for one, please.