The last two years have been tough for single people. The spectre of The Spicy Cough looms large over dating culture, with many singles forgoing in-personal romance for virtual dates. Naturally, all the dating apps have made a big pivot towards virtual dates, with their marketing saying they’re just as good as physical ones. But that’s a damn lie.
Or maybe it isn’t? Maybe it’s better to just get ghosted by someone you’ve never met while you’re chilling at home rather than getting stood up and having your time wasted IRL, as I found out a few weeks ago.
After having a great chat with a very cute girl on Hinge and making plans to get drinks at Jangling Jacks, a cool spot in Sydney’s Potts Point, she messaged me half an hour after she was supposed to meet me at the bar that she “totally forgot to message me earlier” and that she “had a migraine and a little cough”. Yeah, I didn’t buy it either.
I was pretty disappointed… Mostly because I’d ordered a cheese plate. Let’s be clear: I have never really been a cheese plate or charcuterie sort of guy. It’s just not me. It was totally out of character – I thought that whilst I was waiting for my date to turn up, I’d order it so that we’d have something to snack on straight away. A bit of a gentlemanly move or whatever.
But now I was left sitting on my own in a mostly empty bar with a whole plate of Comté, Brie and crackers all to myself. I couldn’t tell if the bartenders were judging me or pitying me. Either way, less than ideal. But it actually all turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
It was a blessing for two reasons: firstly, it made me realise how good cheese plates can be. The subtlely fruity Comté, shaved into delicate florets, was a revelation, especially when paired with the apple compote provided. The Brie, too, was heartbreakingly good (pun entirely intended).
But it was also good as it forced me to appreciate the joys of dining alone. And actually, I really did enjoy dining alone. I was glad I ordered the cheese plate, as it was not only a welcome distraction (under the circumstances) but a delightful experience in its own right.
There’s a huge taboo around dining alone in our society. Particularly when it comes to fine dining. Eating for utility on your own is one thing – no-one bats an eyelid at someone eating a sandwich on the train, for example – but going somewhere even somewhat fancy on your own just to enjoy a meal? That’s weird. It’s considered sad.
But really, when you think about it, what’s sad about eating a great meal? It’s not depressing, it’s liberating. It’s one of the purest forms of self-indulgence and self-care one can, well, indulge in. It’s a truly underappreciated art that like all art, more of us should practice every now and again.
As VICE’s Nell Frizzell put it best back in 2014, “one of life’s greatest pleasures is a solitary meal. But in the age of the iPhone, we don’t really know how it feels to truly eat alone anymore.”
“People eating on their own do not deserve pity… Why? Because to concentrate on what you’re consuming, to be able to take in your eating environment alone, is one of the cornerstones of self-sufficiency.”
“You are free from bullshit food shame, from other people’s boring diet restrictions, from small talk, from having to meet someone so late you’ve eaten the napkins before the starters arrive and, most importantly, from compromise. You are an island.”
And don’t worry that you’re going to be judged by restaurant staff – it’s quite the opposite, actually. “You get more guest interaction with a solo table, which improves their experience and makes us happy,” James Lowe, chef and owner of acclaimed London restaurant Lyle’s, tells The Guardian.
“If [guests are] alone, they’re there for the food. They are saying they don’t need the entertainment of others. They are saying they chose our restaurant, and they’re here to enjoy it for themselves. It’s a real compliment.”
I’ve written about the joys of dining alone before for DMARGE, but it was only when I got stood up and ate that cheese plate that I really, truly got it. That’s why, when my date made a half-arsed apology for standing me up, I just responded “ah well, more cheese for me” – and I meant it. Fuck ’em. The cheese was great and I hate small talk anyway.
In the end, two of my mates ended up rescuing me, and we had a lovely night bar-hopping throughout Potts Point. Ironically, we ended up getting some tacos at The Butler, which were pretty good… But that cheese plate definitely hit different.
That’s not to say that dining alone is for everyone, or something you should attempt super-recreationally. While you’ll find plenty of literature extolling its virtues out there, you’ll also find plenty of evidence that it can actually be quite bad instead of good for one’s mental health, as this Quartz article relates. I mean, in the end, I had to be forced to embrace it, as it were.
But I’m glad I was, and it’ll be something I’m going to start doing far more often. Maybe it’ll help me come off as brooding and mysterious…