Never Eat (Dinner) Alone

Wow. I just sat down voluntarily to a meal by my self. And by voluntarily, I mean without any planning or challenge I create for myself 'forcing' me to.

It may be wildly misguided, but I'm going to attribute it to the November Challenge I've just done.

Never Eat Alone. Sounds impossible, and turned out to be just that. I quickly realised breakfast only made sense to be consumed alone. Short of disturbing my housemate from a much needed sleep, striking up conversation with randomers before 8am, or feeling hungry all commute and squeezing it in at work, breakfast was going to happen alone. And it did. It makes sense, it works, I left it be.

Lunch too, was not always a conversational event. Frankly, when it came down to it I valued that peaceful little moment of my day too much to corner people into awkward group eating. Some days it happened naturally, but if didn't I didn't push it.

I did, you'll be glad to know, succeed with dinner. Let me tell you about it.

This challenge really begun on Monday 9th November, but I snuck in three extra days without even realising it, and so I say it started on Friday 6th. Which leads me to my first point:

Eating together can be so natural, you barely notice it. Or a pain to organise.

I went to my parents house for a family party that weekend, and so every meal from Friday dinner time to Sunday lunch was eaten with people as a matter of course. It was easy, natural, expected and unquestioned. It was an event to be there with my family, but the fact that we ate together was the least remarkable thing imaginable. 

And then I was walking off the train coming home when I realised I'd never have a better time to start the November Challenge, with three 'free' days behind me. 

Monday morning dawned and I got my thinking cap on on my commute in. This would take some organisation. I phoned a friend, a lovely lovely friend, who (slightly baffled) immediately agreed to meet me Tuesday after work for dinner. One down three to go. Later on that same commute I messaged a Facebook group of neighbours to see if anyone wanted to have dinner with me tonight. I got one acceptance and was pretty damn please with myself. On wednesday, I go to chior and figured I could sneakily snack while talking to all the nice people there so I relaxed and let Thursday (my last day) sort itself out.

Monday

Monday was largely a success. I was late finishing work but the stranger I'd invited into my home to eat with me was fine with that, we postponed it two hours, I cooked a simple noodle, cabbage and tofu stir-fry, we snacked on avocado bagels and shared a cup of tea. I went to bed around midnight absolutely knackered, but happy with how it had gone.

Tuesday

Tuesday was a joy. Weekday 'date' night with a friend is highly recommended and I hope it will happen again soon. It was a real treat to have a proper catchup with a friend mid-week and I left feeling revitalised and ready for the rest of the week ahead. Top marks group eating: relaxing, indulgent, uplifting.

Lesson learned:

For me, it's worth the effort of meeting up with someone mid-week.

Wednesday

Frankly, a farce. It made me realise that for all that I hate the lack of ritual and disorganised effort of some loneeating occasions, I've also developed lovely loneeating rituals which I miss when that option is taken away.

In this case, getting a falafel wrap and eating it in the bus on the way to chior. Instead, I was hungry all the way to chior and awkwardly ate a humous and spinach baguette while the organisers were getting ready before chior. Not great, not an improvement.

Third realisation:

I love (some of) my) loneeating rituals and don't want to give them up.

I wrote this in my diary:

"Unnatural to eat alone? Feels more unnatural to have food, be hungry and not be able to eat because you're alone."

Thursday

Having left this to 'sort itself out' and ended up spending a fair while googling 'supper clubs' and variants of 'places to eat in London where you can meet people' on the Wednesday night. I was fairly tired by this point and the last thing I wanted to do was force dinner down my face in the company of strangers in a random pub 'meet up', but I was determined to finish the challenge. I text a friend, she was busy. I went to bed.

Inspiration struck during breakfast. My own definition of eating with someone was to be in conversation with them, not physically proximate. Skype was the answer and I was in luck, my Dad would be cooking for himself that night and so we arranged to Skype while preparing and eating our evening meal.

Again, a lovely experience. I felt more purposeful in the shop buying dinner: I was eating dinner with my Dad. We'd arranged to cook macaroni and cheese together.

Skyping while cooking was also surprisingly fun and different, the connection wasn't great but I really felt like I was cooking with someone. I was. The sounds effects were awesome, as was the companionship without needing to always talk. Macaroni needed to be al dente and roux's needed to be made! That was the focus, but I was doing it with someone.

Eating together, bypassing geographical location.

Well, there we go! A good learning week.

I read an interesting article critiquing Sherry Turkle's new book where she apparently argues that:

"The technologies that supposedly bring us all together...in fact disconnect us from each other—and also from ourselves." 

And I must admit my week also rather goes against that. A community Facebook group and Skype, as well as of course a mobile phone, enabled me to get the best out of this week and have great group eating experiences. 

To bring it full circle to conscious loneeating, I think that by noticing how I approach group eating: how I plan the meals, how I start cooking the minuet I get home and how natural it feels to give it time, helped me give the same attention to loneeating and enabled that spontaneous, satisfying loneeeating experience.

How did you get on with the November Challenge? Tweet and Instagram your journey with the hashtag #lonechallenge or including the @loneeaters handle, or email article@loneeaters.com with the full story. We would love to hear from you!