How lonely that sounds.
But I am alone.
Will people wonder why I’m alone? How am I meant to read a book whilst using a knife and fork? Is there anywhere I’ll look less conspicuous?
Lately I’ve heard twice that London is one of the loneliest cities. It’s so easy to feel anonymous in the most enormous crowds.
When I’ve had success I like to celebrate – maybe with dinner out and a toast to the achievement. If I’ve had a miserable or tiring day, I might like to get a coffee and cake. Essentially most life events lend themselves to some sort of edible experience. Except that this is when I want someone to share it with. Not a romantic trip out necessarily, just with a friend, but there’s not always someone around. This is entirely reasonable. No one’s life revolves around me except mine.
But I’m often scared of going alone.
‘Table for one please’ doesn’t trip off the tongue, and what would I do while I’m eating? Read? Just eat? People watch?
My first, enforced, experience was a buffet breakfast. Now I love a buffet breakfast – food aplenty, juice and fresh coffee. What’s not to like?
I was on a course, and had been put up in a lovely hotel for the night before. So I went and ate alone. And I didn’t know what to do with myself. I observed other lone diners reading the paper, and wished I’d picked one up. I got seconds, wondering if someone would clear my table thinking no one was sat there.
It has been a brave and courageous move for me to go, alone, into a cafe and sit by myself, not analysing what others might think. If they’re anything like me they’re far too focused on their tea and cake to care.
I can immerse myself in writing, easy enough to do while delicately consuming (shovelling in) cake and sipping (gulping) tea. I can observe. I can listen. While enjoying the tea in the above photo, I overheard much singing and good natured teasing amongst the cafe staff, and it cheered my day.
But to be alone is unnerving. You don’t take up a whole table, you wonder what others are thinking, and listening to the animated conversations around you, you begin to wonder whether you should be there at all.
Stepping into a place where you don’t know anyone is intimidating. I don’t know who to speak to, and after the welcome where do I fit in? Do I loiter around after the event, or just leave?
But going alone is the first step. If I stand and wait just long enough, people will approach. If I leave the space free, someone will take it. Those moments feel like an eternity: the longest, loneliest time.
Meeting new people and having interesting conversations can be bigger than my fear.
Going to a new place and exploring can be bigger than the pangs of loneliness.
Reading, or writing to a friend, means I’m no longer so alone.
Entering that door without knowing anyone perhaps allows me to be uniquely myself. The overwhelming sweep of loneliness magnifies the extended welcome and friendship.
This evening I’ve been brave enough and bold enough to have coffee alone. I went and asked for a table for one, and ate alone, in the middle of Covent Garden – conspicuous yet somehow confident. Perhaps when I see someone alone next, I’ll offer to share a table, and make a new friend. But I’ll continue my tiny foray into bravery, at a table just, for the moment, for one.