Me, myself & I

At 16, I left home to pursue my love for dance. At 18, I flew overseas, from England, by myself and at 19, I spent a summer in Mongolia — all alone.

While these experiences have physically displaced me from the people I used to spend time with, by and large, I do enjoy doing things alone.

Spending two years at the Quinte Ballet School of Canada in Belleville, Ontario, where I lived with a host family, I passed my summers dancing in Belleville, Toronto, Quebec City and New York City, where I often knew no one.

While studying in southeast England, I took a five-hour train ride to Bristol alone.

When I worked in Tobermory, I took a weekend trip to Manitoulin Island by myself, which included riding the ferry, dining out, sightseeing and staying in a motel.

That same summer, not only did I dine out alone multiple times but in one case, I was also the sole diner in the entire restaurant.

In a similar fashion, I visited the theatre by myself this year. And the list goes on.

Why do people do things alone? Here’s my take on it.

Seeking to multitask to the max, we dine alone even if all that means is getting two pages ahead of finishing a course reading or sending an e-mail that we won’t have to do later.

I’ll admit that my productivity may not be as high when my stomach grumbles for that gourmet burger or decadent dessert before me. But at least I’m slightly more ahead of the game than if I hadn’t set out to work while eating a meal.

Even if school or work constraints suggest the need for no breaks, dining or travelling alone can provide a new working environment that in itself is very refreshing.

Doing things alone enables us to work on our own time without the stress of fitting to someone else’s schedule.

Others have listed reasons for dining alone, such as the pleasure of not rushing to finish a meal if your eating speed is highly divergent from fellow diners. Spending time in solitude after a busy day replete with extensive interaction is another reason to enjoy lone meals.

Brendon Dawson witnesses these types of individuals on a regular basis.

Dawson, ArtSci ’15, has worked extensively in the fine dining industry and is now in his third year working at Casa Domenico, an Italian restaurant downtown.

He said he sees at least one person dining alone during every shift, if not more.

More often than using their electronic devices, he said, solo diners will read the paper, a book or nothing at all while eating.

“Bringing entertainment is usually commonplace,” he said.

Dawson said he enjoys serving solo diners because he gets to know them better than most customers. In fact, some of his most entertaining customers are those who dine alone.

“They’re very open, oh absolutely, if not more so because they’re not occupied with the conversation with their dinner partner,” he said.

In regards to whether there’s a stigma associated with dining alone, Dawson said it’s a self-imposed stigma.

“Just go try it out, see if it’s really that bad — it’s not.”

The first pop-up restaurant for solo diners, where each table seats only one person, makes clear that dining alone is gaining steam. It also negates the solo diner’s potential worry of occupying a table meant for two in a busy restaurant.

According to its website, Eenmaal, which launched in 2013 in Amsterdam, is “the first one-person restaurant in the world and an attractive place for temporary disconnection.”

Restaurants in Amsterdam and in Antwerp, Belgium, are scheduled to pop up this month and next, respectively. Future pop-ups in Brooklyn, London and Melbourne are also in the works.

Marina van Goor, a Dutch designer and former corporate lawyer, is the creator of Eenmaal.

She told the Journal via email that in virtually all cultures, eating dinner together may be “one of the most extreme forms of togetherness.”

“So the tabu [sic] that surrounds having dinner in public in your own company is very recognizable,” van Goor said.

Differences exist between countries, she said, noting that the need for temporary disconnection is increasing in bustling cities and high-density countries, such as Japan.

Most pop-ups are usually open for three or four days a week and don’t have wifi, van Goor added. And while most guests don’t use electronic devices, Eenmaal offers newspapers, magazines, sketchbooks and pencils instead.

She hopes to open a permanent location in Amsterdam in the future.

Though it’s the first restaurant for solo diners, Eenmaal isn’t the only one to cater to individuals. Solo diners can go to Moomin Café in Tokyo, for example, where accompanied by a large stuffed animal in the seat opposite them, they aren’t forced to stare at an empty chair.

Alex Bradbeer, who calls himself “a guy that travels and blogs about it”, has been travelling solo for the past two years.

Currently in Albania and planning to travel to Kosovo, Macedonia and maybe Bulgaria or Serbia afterwards, Bradbeer documents his experiences on his blog, “Finding the Freedom”.

He thinks solo travelers are more approachable and that people are welcoming and willing to offer help and advice to them, citing in particular his travels to India.

“Especially in India, I’ve got a lot of business cards, saying if you need anything, please don’t hesitate to call me,” Bradbeer said via FaceTime.

He certainly recognizes the awkwardness of dining alone, especially while others dine with at least one other person. “[Y]ou wonder if other people are maybe judging you wondering why you’re by yourself,” he said.

“But then, I just think what I would feel if somebody was by themselves. You know, I wouldn’t think anything negative or judge them for it, so it’s something you got to get over.”

When solo dining at a restaurant with wifi, Bradbeer said he’s definitely on his phone, like most people in this day and age.

“It might break the monotony of sitting by yourself, not speaking to anybody, waiting for food. It’s something to pass the time.”

While most of his time is spent travelling solo, Bradbeer will occasionally team up with other travelers, although he said a benefit to travelling alone is being able to do what you want without being tied to somebody else’s schedule.

“And, even if you have partnered up with somebody, if you disagree or you’d like to go your separate ways, that’s an option,” Bradbeer said. “It’s about being free and being solo is part of that.”

Being solitary also opens up the door to unique experiences. For instance, Bradbeer recently met someone from his hometown of Ottawa at a gym he visited alone in Tirana, Albania.

Following their conversation, in which the man gave Bradbeer his card should he require anything while in the country, he then offered him his beach house in southern Albania next summer.

When he asked why this man had approached him, Bradbeer was told it was because he was alone. Had Bradbeer been accompanied by a friend to the gym that day, he likely wouldn’t have been approached.

Emily Gong also understands the benefits of travelling alone.

In the summer after her second year, Gong, ArtSci ’15, went to Italy for the Queen’s-Blyth program and also studied at the University of Cambridge for two months. Most recently, she completed a research fellowship in Tibet to study cave complexes in the Gobi Desert.

While in Europe, she travelled alone to Venice and Paris and also went on weekend trips alone to places like Amsterdam and Prague.

There were many art venues she wanted to visit, she said. For her, galleries and festivals are a personal experience.

“I feel like looking at art is like, if you’re trying to share it with a friend, it’s kind of like trying to share a book,” she said. “It’s not doable.”

When you’re alone and focusing on your surroundings, you care less about what other people are thinking. “I think as long as you’re fine with it yourself, it doesn’t matter what you think others think of you.”

In comparison to European countries, where she said it was more accepted and understandable to do things alone, in Tibet it wasn’t possible for her to travel alone, given that she doesn’t hold Chinese citizenship.

“To get into Tibet, you need a permit, you need an entrance permit and so you have to first apply for that entrance permit and then afterwards, you need to apply for a group to go with, in order to enter in,” Gong said.

Her final verdict?

Gong said travelling alone, rather than with a friend with similar interests, makes you more observative.

“[Y]ou’ll be more prone to stick to her or him when you’re approaching new things than if you were alone and then observing and seeing everything for just yourself,” she said.

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