The hostess was marking off a table on her chart as I walked toward her greeting station. As she gathered menus, she looked up. "Are you meeting someone for dinner?"
"No. There's just me tonight," I smiled; bravely, I hoped. This was the one moment I had anticipated with slight trepidation, and my fears were unfounded. I had also envisioned marching behind the hostess with my head held high past a room full of diners in the crowded restaurant, but that never took place. I followed her the few quick paces to a nearby table, and since it was barely six o'clock, the restaurant was nearly empty. My fears of public humiliation were laid to rest. Whew.
"Your server will be with you in just a moment," she let me know, and she handed me a menu.
I had chosen the side of the booth that faced the wall, not wanting distractions, and not wanting to be recognized. This evening was about spending time with myself. I was having a GIRL's night out, a single woman having a singular experience. I didn't want to feel anyone's pity, if there was any to be felt, and I didn't want to engage in conversation about why I was alone.
One of the perks of living in a small town is nearly everyone knows me. One of the drawbacks of living in a small town is that nearly everyone knows me. This was my maiden voyage, and I wanted no undue attention. This was the very first time I had ever taken myself out for dinner. If my date went well, I intended to take in a show, too.
Earlier in the week, I had written a piece called "A Table for One". Friends had challenged me to try it, reminding me that it takes some getting used to, but it can be quite enjoyable. My friend Tonia even offered to join me, at her own restaurant, in her own time zone. We would exchange "selfies" during our dinner, as a token of solidarity. We were both reading Brené Brown's book, Daring Greatly, and we planned to take our books to dinner with us. My excitement grew.
A couple of hours before my date, I had decided I would dress up. Nothing fancy, mind you, but a simple dress and sandals, a light jacket, and jewelry. Anything beyond yoga pants or jeans would be considered dressing up in my microcosm. I was hoping it would boost my confidence. I chose a maxi dress because although I wanted to take my fashion up a notch, I did not want to bother with shaving. My secret is out. I'm a lazy date.
Before I left, I decided to take my selfie at home, in case the restaurant were too crowded, and I were too self-conscious to hold my camera up in mid-air to take the picture there. As it turned out, the restaurant was nearly empty, and people were enjoying conversations in their own booths, not giving my situation or me another thought.
South China Restaurant in Richfield serves salmon just the way I like it. The American special is almost always Grilled Salmon with Green Goddess dressing, garlic mashed potatoes, and candied carrots. It was prepared to perfection, as I knew it would be.
It was time to take my self-portrait, to share my success with my friend who had decided to support me in my "undate" at her own local restaurant on the coast of California. I glanced around to see if anyone would notice. Again, no one seemed to be staring at me, the lone diner; they were caught up in conversations at their own tables. I did it. I snapped the picture, and quickly sent it to her in a message on my phone.
Matt was my server, and he made me feel like I was a normal person. Not once did he question my solitary presence, and yes, I guess I had a slight fear that other diners or the wait staff might inquire about my being alone, but no one did. Again, whew. He was gracious, and checked on me throughout my meal, offering more water, and asking how everything was. He was very attentive.
Bringing my book to dinner seemed like such a good idea, until I was actually there. I picked it up to read, and while mildly distracted by the noise from the kitchen, and nearby conversations, I unsuccessfully tried to read a little more. Matt delivered my salad quickly, and no sooner had I picked up my book again, than my steaming plate of food arrived, smelling too good to ignore.
Glancing at the title of my book inspired confidence, though. DARING GREATLY. It may seem no big deal to you who have enjoyed dining alone, but for me, this was a very big step. I was finally admitting to myself that I do not have to be part of a couple to have worth. I deserve to treat myself well. I have value, just as I am.
Olivia Wilde, not Oscar, had this to say about solitary moments:
"But I think it's very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person."
Olivia, an Irish-American actress, admitted to feeling "wobbly" after the trauma of her divorce in 2011, and compared the dating scene with entering a shark pool.
Once I realized I did not need to hide behind my book, as if that were my reason for being alone, I simply enjoyed my dinner. I savored the mildly seasoned salmon, and the buttery mashed potatoes, and became fully present in the moment.
The evening was going well, and although I wasn't reading Daring Greatly, I felt like I WAS daring greatly. I decided to take my date to the next level. After dinner, I took myself to a show.
Cameron Diaz's latest movie, The Other Woman, was playing at The Reel Theater. People were already lining up for tickets. The last time I'd come to the movies, I'd been with my husband, and we nearly had the place to ourselves. This time, I saw several people I knew, and I was, horrors, alone. Not to worry. The friend I saw from Marysvale was with a large group of teachers from Marysvale. "Come join us!" she encouraged. Several of them are divorced, too, and they were enjoying a girls' night out.
I was okay with being just with myself, at that point, and found a seat against the wall, leaving a pair of seats beside me. The theater was filling up, and my friend ended up joining me. Once the movie started, the laughter filling the theater created a feeling of camaraderie. I was not alone; we were enjoying a communal experience. Alone in the crowd, but not lonely at all.
Would I do this again? Oh, yes, I'm planning on it. I feel much less "wobbly," to borrow the word of Olivia Wilde, and I hope to continue enjoying solitude on my terms. I'm learning that I am much braver than I knew. "Daring greatly" will be added to my list of mantras. My girl's night out was a smashing success.