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A Table for One

Updated: Dec 25, 2021

A Table For One

From a young age, we are typically surrounded by people. These initial relationships in infancy and childhood teach us trust, love, acceptance, safety, stability, and confidence in numerous aspects. We move from family settings to classroom settings to social engagements to work environment, often labeled as a member of some sort of group. Sister or daughter indicating a family unit. Friend or better yet, best friend, linking to a social acceptance. Professional titles such as nurse or teacher provide identity and some indication of background and schooling. We bond, find comrades with whom we connect, expand and contract those closest to us as we maneuver our years and situations. We are socialized throughout life in early basic engagement, engaging in cultural norms of surrounding environments, developmentally through life’s experiences, and then we do it all again as we shift, grow and change.

These social situations have a constant impact on how we respond, develop, current interests and priorities. Who are we when these social influences are stripped away and we stand alone, intact as one single being? Solitude creates a sense of discomfort that is unlikely to be eased without practice. It is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. The deafening silence that comes with an empty house or solo road trip. The nerves that tingle when we walk alone in places meant for groups. The insecurity of sitting silently, eavesdropping on others’ conversation. It can seem excruciating to be by yourself, with only yourself. However, the benefits of intentional time alone can be breathtaking and self-changing. Allowing for distance at times in our lives reaps resilience, an opportunity for self-reflection, and ultimately a more intimate knowledge of self. A deeper connection with our true person. What we like, dislike, what brings joy, motivation, peace. Some of these things cannot truly be discovered in their entirety unless we spend intentional time entirely alone.

I remember the typical social settings throughout life. Group trips to the bathroom in high school, team camaraderie in sports throughout the years, plans with friends on weekends, consistent romantic relationships, longevity in most of my jobs. There was always comfort in being part of a group or couple. For me, so many of those social influences hindered my true knowledge of myself without my awareness. My likes tended to be the likes of those closest to me. Some of those hobbies and interests have stuck around because I truly enjoy them, some have faded along with the relationships, some have shifted as relationships have flourished in adulthood. The insecurity I felt in my youth was softened by sharing common interests with my people, even if they weren’t truly my own interests. I had difficulty being alone. I was uncomfortable with myself, didn’t take the time to truly be with me, so I tended to be somewhat of a chameleon. It has worked for so long because of my adventurous spirit. This boyfriend likes rock climbing? I will rock climb! This one likes sports? I will host Super Bowl parties! This friend sings karaoke? I will sing! I will go, I will dance, I will drink, I will be together. With anyone who would have me. Just so I didn’t have to be alone.

I truly love the life experiences that I’ve had with countless people who have all shaped me in some form or fashion throughout my journey. I’ve gone places I would have never dreamed, cultivated long lasting friendships, done things I had no idea I was capable of doing, met others along the way that lent to great fun, planned adventures and was spontaneous, led and followed. I have shape-shifted as my connections have ebbed and flowed. These connections were key. My connection to myself, however, was always on the back burner, sometimes even nonexistent, and I didn’t realize this until much later in my adulthood, becoming more acutely aware in the last 6 months or so. I also didn’t realize what a disservice I was doing to myself by seeking external satisfaction instead of also exploring my internal workings.

My move to Arizona in 2009 at the age of 26 was a huge “alone” move, but even in that, I drove from Montana to Arizona knowing I had a safety net upon arrival. My dear friend from college lived in the same apartment complex and I had another immediate friend-by-default in my roommate, my friend’s coworker. The tears that soaked my cheeks much of the long drive were of fear and sadness and loneliness on my way to the unknown. But everywhere I have gone in life had familiarity waiting for me. When I left home for college, one of my best friends from high school was already slated as my first semester dorm mate. If I traveled, which I did a lot after moving to Arizona, there was a friend or family waiting for me upon arrival or accompanying me on the adventure. The transition or travel was occasionally solo, but companionship was planned. My first major adult move away from home was my choice and trip alone. But still a safety net. In settling in Arizona, there were quick friendships, endless socialization, adventures, experiences and constant companionship.

Lunch with girlfriends. Game night with the gang. Concerts with my roommate. Friendsgiving. Apartment complex mates met at the pool. My network quickly grew as my inner self remained overshadowed. I continued in the uncomfortable idea that being alone was bad.

The greatest catalyst for my appreciation of alone time was my child. He is and always has been an amazing companion with his own adventurous spirit and easy-going nature. However, when he was a toddler, his father, my then-husband, kicked off a new career that ended up taking him across the country. I was suddenly and unexpectedly a “single mother”, working full time and juggling my energetic little boy. When my husband returned home at one point between jobs, I anxiously handed off my son and for all intents and purposes said, “I’m leaving.” There was a little more planning than that, but I was so exhausted in every aspect that within a few days I was on a plane to Montana, Airbnb rented, solo hike and sleeping in on the books. I needed the quiet. The escape from a schedule. The deep breaths. The limited cell phone signal in the mountains. The prospect of rest and refreshment.

I hiked miles and miles. 12 to be exact, to a beautiful, silent lake up in the mountains, crossing streams and soaking in the sunshine as I headed up the trail. The deep sense of grounding that overtook me on the trail is still clear in my mind and has become a very peaceful place to me in the years since. I was present, moving my body repetitively toward a goal and I reached it in solitary triumph. I explored the water’s edge, watching a frog swim in the shallows, appreciated the puffy, billowing clouds overhead and at some point reluctantly headed back down the trail.

With dirt on my shoes, I entered a brewery across from my Airbnb, bought a couple beers to go and went back to shower. I then set off down the sidewalks to the main street to find dinner. I sat by myself and watched people, ate alone, chatted with a few, but mostly just enjoyed my quiet space. I went home to my family refreshed and a little sore from the miles I trekked on my trip.

As my marriage ended and we began cross country co-parenting, I hesitated to let go of my little one. On trips to visit Daddy, I tagged along to reassure myself that everything was okay. As my son got older with a stronger voice and was easier to manage than in his toddler years, I started venturing out. Airbnbs in downtown Seattle, exploring, art museums, restaurants. I was still close enough for (my) comfort in case I was needed, but that really wasn’t necessary, as my son was blessed with an amazing and perfectly capable father! As our trips continued, I looked forward to my lone long weekends of my favorite places and new adventures. I learned the streets to the extent that I’m mistaken for a local. I learned to be comfortable with chatter or companionship. Most importantly, I took advantage of this time to do what I wanted to do without anyone else’s input. I sought out interests that were genuinely mine, some of which I loved, others of which I was indifferent. But they were mine.

The last trip we made was especially impactful to me. I picked out my Airbnb downtown, close to restaurants, Pike’s Market and the city attractions. The first night, I went to the little Italian restaurant on the block. I had a new empowering feeling of being able to walk up to the host stand and immediately be seated because I asked for a table for one. My little table near the door allowed me to watch the comings and goings as I sipped a glass of wine and combed the menu for the perfect dish. I ate all of the bread in the basket, using more than ample amounts of oil and balsamic vinegar. I eavesdropped on the neighboring conversations, occasionally giggling to myself at their humor. I surveyed the wait staff and Uber Eats drivers stopping in for pick-ups. I checked my phone a couple times when my watch buzzed to indicate a text message, but the majority of the time, I was present. I savored my meal. I observed my surroundings. And despite the occasional fleeting thought that people might think I was a weirdo or wonder what a pretty girl was doing eating alone at a nice restaurant on a Friday night, for the most part I did not care. I paid for my fabulous dinner, went back to my apartment and watched Netflix.

In my evolving comfort with my aloneness, I have come to know that people are really not paying attention to me. They are paying attention to their own situation. So I should too, regardless of whether that entails others or is simply me. The joy that comes with embracing the temporary discomfort far outweighs the missed opportunities. Why order in when you can enjoy a romantic restaurant ambience? Don’t miss that movie on IMAX just because no one else is free to go with you! Craving the outdoors? Go hike or swim or lay in the sun solo. Covid put a stop to paint and wine nights? Paint and wine in your kitchen with your own choice of music as motivation! Drive without the music on and pay attention to your thoughts. Find an avenue that neutrally initiates contemplation. (I recommend the card sets by The Skin Deep: Put the world on pause so you can hear yourself.

I have gotten so much better at solitude, most importantly healthier forms of solitude lately. But there is still so much I need to learn about myself. So many undiscovered pieces of myself in which I have neglected to invest. Some of these relate to core values, like spirituality. Others are energy, health and exercise involved. Time management and priority adjusting. Family and motherhood.

The temporary surrender of social security can have profound benefits. But it is hard. It is hard to be uncomfortable. It’s hard to be alone and quiet and presently with yourself. It definitely takes practice. My personal discomfort comes in digging into the depths of who I am at the age of 38 and feeling guilt and sorrow for slighting myself for so long. The beauty and benefit is that it’s finally here! My time! My time of awareness and intention to finally discover myself! It truly fills me with a whirling sense of joy, peace, and adventure to imagine the possibilities of who I will become as I pause other people and learn to give myself a voice.

“Table for one, please.”

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