Eating Alone (and Loving It)

When most high-schoolers think of eating alone, they think of something like this:

Now that my first year at NYU has swiftly come to an end, I can conclusively assure that your mindset on this subject will change drastically in college. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that eating alone can be one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself in the middle of a hectic and busy day. Let me give you some backstory.

I am probably the most extroverted person I know. I’m fairly certain that at the very instant I shot out of the womb, I was already making small talk with the nurses. I grew up with a big sister who I bothered every single day without fail, and a mom who always encouraged me to walk up to new people with a smile and a conversation starter. Put simply, I’m a people person, born and bred. Observe this real life footage of my sister and I bonding as children:

The downside of my inherently social tendencies was my complete terror at the thought of being alone. As a little kid, I would go into mini-fits of anxiety anytime my parents left me for a few hours at home to go out to dinner. Sleepaway camp was my absolute nightmare until I was about thirteen.

Eventually, I moved on and learned how to survive and thrive without my parents constantly by my side, but my need to have people around me instead manifested itself in a reliance on my friends. In high school, I couldn’t bear to take a day or even a meal to myself. Whether it was hanging out with friends by the pool on weekends or shacking up together in a Starbucks to study for our classes during the week, I did my best to always be surrounded by other human beings. I was intentionally avoiding the importance of knowing how to be alone before I came to college.

Moving to NYU was like jumping into a fishbowl full of exciting and interesting people—a million things to do, a million places to be—it was an extrovert’s playground from the second I stepped foot on campus. As Welcome Week began, I was instantly greeted by the presence of other people through the various clubs and activities that incoming first-years were meant to participate in. Even when I lay my head down to go to sleep on that first fateful night in Brittany Hall, the faint city sounds in the distance were a welcome reminder that I would never truly be alone in my New York community. I was thrilled.

By the time a week and a half went by, all the commotion that enveloped me was started to become just a little bit overbearing. This was certainly not a feeling that I was anticipating since I truly loved the fact that there were so many new and amazing people I could now go on exciting adventures with. But at the same time, I was still adjusting to my new environment, and quite frankly, I just needed to make some time for myself.

That day, I did the unthinkable. Without so much as a blink, I walked into Weinstein’s dining hall, grabbed two slices of pizza, sat down at an empty table, and ate my entire meal alone. I didn’t try to talk to anyone new or call a friend over to join me like I normally would. Instead, I just sat, and ate, and thought about how many hours of makeup and CGI it must have taken to get rid of Voldemort’s nose in Harry Potter.

The best part was that nobody cared! There wasn’t a single eye roll or judgmental stare or “are you saving this seat for someone” to be found that day. In fact, there were loads of other people on dates with themselves in that dining hall alongside me. I think that’s awesome.

Of course, my decision that day was by no means life changing or wholly monumental. But it did give me the opportunity to realize that spending time completely alone is the optimal way to stay in tune with your mental stability and sense of self. That might sound funny or over the top to some, but the fact of the matter is, college can be really overwhelming sometimes. It’s easy to forget that you should be prioritizing yourself.

Months since that day, eating alone has become a somewhat therapeutic facet of my daily proceedings. Naturally, I still choose to spend most of my time with other people, but for at least one meal per day, or maybe every two days, I try to take time for myself. These are baby steps, but steps in the right direction. Sometimes, all you need after a Stats midterm is to sit in your favorite booth at Lipton’s dining hall, eat a pasta salad, and watch an episode of Game of Thrones on your phone.

I have always known how much I depend on spending time with other people. Now that I’m here, I’ve learned that it’s about time that I started depending on myself.

So next year, when you’ve had enough of the rest of the world and you need some quality time with Netflix and your own thoughts—Palladium Sushi isn’t a bad way to start.

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