I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance, during which I was told, “I always feel bad when I see people eating lunch alone.”
When I asked why, he explained that he saw it as an indication of social awkwardness. In his mind, that person was solitary because they had to be, due most likely to a lack of friends or an inability to acquire any.
As someone who consistently finds herself eating solo, I found this ridiculous and was shocked when others affirmed this impression. After all, looking around any given food vendor on Main Campus, be it a truck, Johnson and Hardwick cafeteria or the Student Center, there are often equal numbers of lone diners as there are pairs and groups. Since there seems to be a disconnect between those who are comfortable eating alone and those who fear it like the plague, I want to clear a few things up, using myself as the primary example.
I consider myself socially lazy – most days, I would rather spend 45 minutes having lunch and reading my email, writing a poem or watching “The Daily Show” than trying to catch up on as many details of my friends’ lives as can be squeezed into a short meal. When I do put in the effort to arrange lunch dates, it’s only ever with one person at a time. For the most part, my friends don’t know each other, and you won’t find me at a table with a group of 10 people talking about that party we all went to together. If one person isn’t available or bails, I don’t have six backups to fill my table.
The primary barrier to hanging out with friends is that everyone is insanely busy. Even when I was part of a “group” back in high school, and for a brief period as a college freshman, I hated trying to coordinate a time to get together between everyone’s basketball practices, math tutoring sessions and shifts at the Home Depot. I always find myself frustrated by how restricting it is to define my schedule around other people’s lives.
When I do schedule time to see people, what we do and when depends on a variety of factors including my level of tiredness – including how far into my menstrual cycle I am – and how much work I’ve saved for the last minute before its due date. If the perfect storm of sociability has not conspired to get me together with someone, I will end up eating alone. But there’s no need to feel bad for me.
Other than laziness, I’m comfortable lunching by myself due to my “type” as defined by the Myers’ Briggs personality test. The test is called MBTI, and it determines, among other things, how you are in relationships or teams. One of the components categorizes an individual as either an “E” for extrovert or an “I” for introvert. The two groups are defined by how they “recharge their batteries,” or what type of activity gives them energy. Extroverts refuel by engaging with other people, while introverts need time alone to center themselves.
Note: This isn’t to say that introverts hate people, it’s just that they don’t necessarily want to be around others 100 percent of the time.
In much the same way that colonists liked to barge into undeveloped places and take it upon themselves to “save the savages,” and insisted on passing harsh judgment on a lifestyle that they simply didn’t understand, Extroverts often look at us introverts and assume we’re having some sort of crisis.
When I eat a meal by myself I treat it like me time, and feel content just relaxing, people watching and mellowing out. Contrary to an outsider’s impression, I am not twiddling my thumbs and thinking about how sad I am to be socially incompetent and have no friends to eat with. If I’m alone, I’m actually cool with it, and so are the hordes of other single-diners near me.
On behalf of introverts, socially lazy people and lone eaters everywhere on Main Campus, I implore you to save your pity – we’re doing fine. Just finish getting napkins for the 42 people sitting at your table and enjoy yourself.
Victoria Marchiony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.