I can say with certainty that this meal was not actually the first time I dined out alone, but I can say it was the first time where dining out alone was an event for me. A fancy restaurant, a reservation—it was thought about and prepped for as something that would challenge my comfort and determine if I was as independent as I thought I was.
2007. After finally settling into a regular, career-type job in Edmonton, I now had paid vacation time and the ability to save up to do something with it. But, my friends were either coupled up or students, so finding a travel partner who had the time and income to join me on a big trip was next to impossible. Not one to wait until someone was available, I decided I would go on a vacation by myself. Somewhere far and foreign and big and urban. Somewhere I could walk the streets unnoticed and fulfill some sort of fantasy of being a gutsy, worldly girl traveller: Buenos Aires. And as I had some Chilean friends and it seemed close, Santiago, Chile, as well, for good measure.
First up, Santiago. First night, the critically acclaimed Astrid y Gaston. Although I had graduated up from “Let’s Go!” travel guides and did my best at due diligence internet research on cultural differences, I still ended up being the silly Canadian who makes a reservation for the first seating. When no one else is there. So, I killed some time at the bar with a pisco sour and eventually moved over to my table for one. I felt self-conscious. I felt strange. I felt special. I had something to read. I ordered wine and multiple courses and savoured my meal. Avoiding eye contact with other patrons was easy when I had delicious food to distract me. The dining room eventually filled up, including the private party space that was located in a loft-like area above the main dining room. As the room was rather quiet, they were easily heard and seen as they looked over the ledge to the diners below.
“Look at her. Isn’t that sad?” I heard in a thick drawl.
It took but a moment to realize that she was talking about me. And it took but two moments for all the insecurities and self-consciousness I was trying to suppress about the dinner, the trip, my appearance, you name it, to rise to the surface and seize me up.
My cheeks still flushed, I unclenched my fingers and took another bite. F*ck it. I would never see her again.
I may live on for her as the sad solo diner, but she lives on for me as the small-minded American who talks too loud. It was the FIRST night of my big adventure. It was unfair to let her ruin it. I hear her words almost every time I enter a restaurant alone, but they have become like my Rocky anthem. It is almost to spite her that I eat alone when I don’t have a dining partner, or frankly, when I don’t want one. And I will make a reservation, goddammit. For one!