5 Things You Learn When You Dine Out Solo On Valentine’s Day
A Valentine’s Day PDA often elicits a reaction from single people that is eerily similar to that of a vampire experiencing daylight for the first time: the slightest graze of hands or the faintest kiss on a cheek is enough to have singletons shielding their eyes with their hands and hissing violently at loved-up couples, before ultimately disintegrating into a pile of dust right there on the pavement.
It’s hardly surprising, though. You can live your life as a single person without fear or judgement every other day of the year but come February 14th, all you have to do is sit alone on a park bench during your lunch break and actual strangers will think it’s OK to come up to you, grip your knee and ask, “Who hurt you?”
So I guess dinner’s out of the question on V-Day if you’re flying solo. Most find it daunting to dine out alone anyway, at least not without something to occupy idle hands, like a book or a phone or a good seven pints of beer. And onlookers find it even harder to comprehend: who are these sad people? Why are they here? Did everyone they know die in a fire? People can’t wrap their brains around the simple concept of enjoying your own company over a bowl of carbonara and Diet Coke. Which is why I decided to put myself to the test: I was going to head out to a fancy restaurant for a romantic meal alone at the most couple-centric time of the year. Here are five things I learnt over dinner.
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1. Your eyes fidget
My first bugbear of the solo Valentine’s outing, I realised, was that without a significant other, it’s awfully hard to find a place for your eyes to settle. When you’re not focusing your attention on the eyes of someone else, where are you supposed to look? I had no stimuli, and I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. People watching felt too much like voyeurism on this night of nights. It’s almost impossible to glance at another table without it looking like I want to grab a spoon and join their table. If I looked down I appeared too morose, and I really couldn’t handle the restaurant staff asking me “Is everything OK with your food”, to actually come and check I wasn’t going to off myself in their fancy toilets. I couldn’t bear it.
2. You order exactly what you want
I managed to make lemonade from this situation I had found myself in: I had ordered a silly amount of garlic bread to start and some messy seafood spaghetti to follow. The girl on the next table was eyeing this doughy, fetid mass with envy as she pushed a solitary prawn round her plate. We both knew that, if you’re planning on getting fresh at some point in the evening, noxious foods are a no-no. I shot her a smug glance that said “I don’t have to have sex tonight!”, and shovelled more of the beige stodge into my mouth.
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3. We’re phone addicts
As the night wore on, I was finding it harder and harder not to look at my phone. I had finished my garlic bread and now I was hungry for social updates. What was everyone on Facebook up to? Did I have any emails? How many girls on Instagram have managed to shoehorn a #luckygirl hashtag into their caption? I need to know! I decide instead to check my weather app. It’s not cheating – the weather is important. But honestly, who was I trying to fool? I was sat next to a window. It was mild outside and I was bored inside. I had no idea how to fill the time between courses and it was making me nervous. There’s only so many times you can read a dessert menu.
4. You HAVE to be happy in your own company
The marrow of the matter is this: if you’re going to spend an evening out on your tod, then you have to have a good relationship with yourself. You have to be content in your own company. And part of that is learning to relax with yourself in an unfamiliar setting. Because in reality, it didn’t matter what any of those couples thought of me, the singleton, who was for some reason sat at a table designed to seat four. I didn’t have to go home with those people. But I live with me all the time. I work with me. I shower with me. I watch Westworld with me. And so I decided to stop worrying about where I looked and how I looked and who, in turn, was looking at me.
5. It’s weirdly liberating
With that epiphany, my main course arrived. It was the messy spaghetti. I was wearing my nice shirt. I was wearing my best skirt. I decide to take full advantage of the fact that I’m alone at a four-seater table, and I cover myself in napkins: one on the lap, one in the shirt, one tucked into my hand for when the spaghetti lashes tomato sauce onto my forehead. Not giving a fuck is very freeing, I decide. And I know the sight of me trying to eat pasta armed with nothing but a fork and the enthusiasm of a stray dog is likely to be quite off-putting, but I’ve come this far.
It might have been the wine, but I started to genuinely have a good time. I ask the waitress to take a picture of me having said good time. She tells me she thinks I should untuck the napkin from my shirt. I reluctantly oblige. By the time my dessert comes, I have no qualms in being the person covered in chocolate sauce that everyone’s trying to ignore. I was now happily eavesdropping on other couples’ conversations. I had turned into one of those people that I normally hate. I was forcefully inserting myself into the lives of others, an unwanted moderator of their romantic tête-à-tête; guffawing, nodding sagely, and rolling my eyes sardonically in between huge mouthfuls of sickly sweet profiteroles.
Turns out, spending Valentine’s Day alone is fine. ‘Fine’ is really the only word that truly epitomises this experience. I came, I ate, I got an awful picture for my Instagram. But my relationship with myself had blossomed. I realised I was self-sufficient; I didn’t need another human to stimulate me, and I definitely didn’t need an ‘other half’ to share a two-person dessert with. I can eat a mound of profiteroles all on my own, thank you very much.