There have been a couple of articles recently on the growing trend for eating alone in restaurants. It seems that more and more of us are taking the opportunity to eat out alone, and restaurateurs are picking up on the potentials of this new market. One restaurant owner has opened a venue in the US filled only with tables for one, which has been so popular more branches are being opened all over the world. This is interesting to me as I’m increasingly getting into the habit of doing things alone, and not worrying about it at all. I have never felt spied on or snickered at when I’ve gone out alone, unlike, apparently, the author of this rather silly article in The Guardian, who bemoans the fact she has been placed almost in the kitchen or in the centre of a restaurant when eating alone, as though she were a piece of rubbish or an exhibit to be stared at (if she’s so self-conscious, why not request a table somewhere else?). It’s true that it can be unnerving going to places alone where people expect everyone to be in twos or more, but I find it perfectly easy to ignore them- and I am generally quite shy, so if I can do it, anyone can. I do think it’s important to pick somewhere I feel comfortable, and where I know I will enjoy the food- something another restaurateur picked up on, remarking that attracting solitary diners is the biggest compliment a restaurant can receive.
It isn’t just eating alone that I’m enjoying more and more. I first went to the cinema alone at university, to see The Lives of Others. It’s an extraordinary and incredibly moving film, and I was so glad that I was enjoying it only in my own company. Some films are much better enjoyed alone. I am particularly perceptive to other people’s moods, and can often tell if my companion isn’t enjoying something as much as I am, and it distracts me and makes me worry. If I’m alone, it doesn’t matter. If I don’t enjoy it, that doesn’t matter either- I can leave, and not have to worry about spoiling anybody else’s enjoyment. Sometimes, I take a while to make my mind up about a film after I’ve seen it, and need some time to reflect. But if I go with someone, they might start talking immediately and confuse me completely. It depends on the film, of course, with some it doesn’t matter a bit- but with others which are more subtle, I tend to need a while to think it over and process it. Some people I’ve gone to the cinema with have felt the same as me, and we’ve talked aimlessly about other things for half an hour after leaving the screen before one of us will pick the subject up, turn the film over, and we’ll start to examine our reactions to it. Other times, however, people will turn to me the moment the film ends and say: ‘Well, I thought that was brilliant. What did you think?’ And I don’t know yet. If I go alone, I can make my mind up in my own time.
Much as I enjoy seeing films alone, particularly obscure ones, my favourite solitary date night these days is to the theatre. I have seen several plays alone, and I absolutely love it. I have been fortunate that most of them were excellent, the kind of plays that require a great deal of mulling over afterwards: A Doll’s House, A View from the Bridge, The Crucible. The latter two in particular are so powerful, I came out feeling almost bruised. When I left A View from the Bridge, I was trembling and cold- there’s a lot of confrontation and pain in it, which made me cower in my seat feeling slightly queasy during the performance, and those effects lasted for a long time afterwards. I would not have been good company for anyone who came with me, and I might not have been as deeply affected by it had I seen it with other people. I am aware that most people aren’t so easily moved by things as I am, and that it can be bewildering and even slightly irritating. So I try and rein it in when I’m with others. But I don’t give a hang what the strangers sitting next to me think if I go on my own.
After seeing The Crucible, I rather wish someone would put on a theatre performance only for people going alone. At the beginning, as soon as you took your seat, you felt the creepy mood from the music, the lighting and smoke billowing across the stage. I found it profoundly annoying to be interrupted from all this goosebump-inducing theatrics by the people behind me discussing which was their favourite type of gin. (Tanqueray seemed to be winning, but they all admitted there were several new types none of them had tasted. One kept exclaiming that she preferred ‘juniper-y tones’ and asked the others loudly if they agreed, but they ignored her completely). I was sat next to a surly teenager who asked her father why ‘they were so far back’ (we were seven rows back in the stalls. Seven rows out of eight, granted, but barely five metres from the actors on stage). During the interval, she started musing to her father whether they would do such-and-such a scene, which had been in the film. I didn’t know the plot and was mightily pissed off at her inconsideration. I ended up having to put in earphones to drown the silly woman out. It would have been so much better if everyone had just been quiet and soaking up the atmosphere. Be warned, if you do go alone, you may became an unofficial usher: I was asked about the running time and whether this was row L or M and did I know if they were in the right seat? By the time the play started I felt like the Old Vic should offer me a job. I didn’t mind answering people’s questions though, and in fact this might just be me, not the fact I was on my own- I get asked for directions with astonishing frequency, especially considering I have what people now term a ‘resting bitch face.’
I know that many people wouldn’t enjoy going out alone, and I’m not saying I don’t sometimes enjoy doing these things with other people- of course I do, I often enjoy it immensely. I just don’t see the need to not go to things if I haven’t anyone to go with, or if I just feel like going on my own. My next solo experiment is a concert- I’m seeing Paolo Nutini live at the O2, all on my lonesome. It’s standing tickets so nobody will be able to tell I’m alone, and I know I won’t care who else is around once the music starts. Perhaps you should all try it sometime, if you want to go to a film or a play or a concert, and don’t know anybody you want to go with who would be as keen as you. It’s a lot more fun than you might think.