“I was frustrated sometimes but not lonely. I never feel lonely when I’m with you.”
So says Marianne to Connell in (I don’t need to tell you which Sally Rooney novel this is, do I?) I have felt this sentiment with friends, family, lovers and sometimes even strangers. But it rings most true with a meal cooked at home and a table set for one. Because to be alone is not to be lonely. Sufjan Stevens sings “to be alone with you.” For me, it is “to be alone with food.”
Since the dawn of time, food has been a social act. It has signalled gathering, a coming together. To break bread is to resolve conflict amongst friends and enemies. The disciples tucked into wine and loaves at The Last Supper. The best part of a wedding – and a funeral – is the snacks, right?
We host dinner parties. We squeeze in a lunch reso at local restaurants. We sink Prosecco at bottomless brunch (2021 is the renaissance of this strangely addictive Sunday activity, I’m sure of it). We buy rounds of pints for our co-workers/uni mates/Hinge dates. We swap stories around the fire after boozy family barbecues. But that person sitting alone enjoying a glass of orange and a plate of sardines? They’re having a frankly joyous time watching the world go by, getting lost in a book or their own thoughts.
Feasting alone is a quiet act of resilience. It’s to go against the grain of needing to prove your social value. A gentle fuck you to the status quo that tells us – I’d like to add here, primarily women – that to be alone is to be in lack. It’s an uncomfortable habit to get into. But there are some gratuitous advantages. Like: no need to reserve a table because you can always slip in at the bar. It’s far sexier. Bonus points for two dirty martinis before you get onto the small plates. Also, that whole sharing vibe when one of you is veggie and the other a meat eater? Delete. Insert whatever your stomach desires here.
The joy of solo eating shouldn’t stop at restaurants. To ease you in, make it a ritual to cook for yourself – just you – a truly epic meal of double the portions necessary. And eating it at the table. Or on the sofa. Maybe candles? Some mood music? Eaten at a conversational pace. Because it’s tempting to wolf your meal down without thinking when it’s you and your 345th episode of Scandal (just me?). The beauty of food is about enjoying getting it on the table, and the pleasure of savouring each bite.
Loneliness can often feel like spinning slowly, trying desperately to grasp at anything to anchor you – but everything still slips away from your grasp and you become too tired to try again. Being alone is like standing still. Grounded. Peaceful. Perhaps in front of a chopping board. Or sat down with your favourite meal (roast chicken, slow-cooked beans and mustard vin salad for me). Dig into the solitude. It will always be there for you.