SFR’s Love & Sex issue generally focuses on, well, love and sex. Woody Allen’s famous line, “Don’t knock masturbation—it’s sex with someone I love,” amuses because—like it or not—the theme “love and sex” generally implicates autonomous objects and subjects.
As someone who enjoys and even relishes dining alone once in a while, both at home and in restaurants, I’ve always considered Santa Fe to be an environment conducive to this fondness. Whether by choice or out of necessity, most of us eat alone on a pretty regular basis.
I’ve had solo suppers when I’ve yearned for company just as I’ve had dinners with others when I wished I’d been alone. There’s a huge difference between grabbing a smoothie on the run and cabbing to a quiet, solitary supper in a foreign city, but the single constant factor at every meal is our own selves: our greatest love affair and certainly our most important relationship.
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are,” wrote Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
Nothing makes my heart swell like gazing around a dinner table of friends or family; if you’re very fortunate, then maybe friends and family will gather together around the same table, breaking the proverbial bread from the evening’s uniquely misshapen loaf as they share stew and stories. At other times, solace can be found in those things we prefer to adore in private: klezmer music played so loudly that the ice clinks against the sides of your tumbler of scotch, a cup of tea to soothe the flagging spirit, a bowl of porridge eaten in a small bowl you’ve had since infancy, eaten with a warped steel spoon that has survived six moves.
“Barcelona is the worst city for dining alone,” Pille, a friend and food writer, says. “I love dining alone, but there are places and times when it just doesn’t feel right. People either look sorry for you or a little scared.”
Though some people are too lucky or self-absorbed to notice or worry about sideways glances from strangers at the expense of a good meal, I understand Pille. I once tired of feeling the boring eyes of locals at mealtime in a small village on the coast of the Indian Ocean where I’d gone, alone, to research bananas. “I have people!” I wanted to shout from my little table in the corner of the cafeteria. “They’re just not here.”
Though tapas, nachos and pizza are made for sharing, some things were made for one: a burrito, a burger, a bowl of soup, now and then, a pint of ice cream. I don’t like community tables but will always sit at the bar if I can. So, a couple of times a month, I’ll take a seat at the bar at one of my favorite restaurants in Santa Fe—granted, some are more amenable than others to the solitary diner. I’ll have a beer and then, very deliberately, order something that I wouldn’t make at home: a burger or a steak, usually. I don’t do this in an effort to make new friends or meet new people. I don’t feel the need to tinker with my phone or look otherwise busy.
Habits and proclivities vary from one person to the next, and there’s no accounting for taste. The book Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, named after a Laurie Colwin story on the same topic, is a compilation of essays written by chefs and food writers on the subject of eating alone. The way I cook for myself differs enormously from how I’d cook for another person. A plain boiled egg or the odds and ends that I love but didn’t make it into my last dinner: broccoli stems, bread crusts, the extra custard that didn’t fit into the bowl of trifle. Nothing’s weird, after all, when nobody’s there to think it is.
If there are a few personal luxuries on which you’d be ill-advised to economize, start by eating what you really want to eat. As the inimitable Dolly Parton says, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”
As a (married) friend brilliantly put it, “Isn’t it funny that nobody feels sorry for you or expects an explanation for why you’re in a committed relationship, even though there a million more screwed up, selfish and stupid reasons why people get involved with each other than reasons they have for staying single?”
So if you’re alone and would prefer not to be on Valentine’s Day or any other, then listen up. Magic is afoot. Venture out and explore. The world is your oyster. Oh—and oysters don’t really boost the sex drive, but don’t tell that to the happy couple sitting across the bar.?
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