Wednesday, February 25, 2009

One Is The Loneliest Number


Sorry for my recent absence from the blog, but starting a new job can be stressful and time consuming. I thought that learning the ways of a new office and position would be the hardest part, but I've had other challenges in addition to getting acclimated to a new setting and responsibilities. I've had the good fortune in the past of working in amazing buildings with cafeterias. There's never been any rushing out to the sandwich place or salad shop, no trudging through the rain for a midday snack. I've always had good, hot food in the comfort of my office building. Among those food comforts I've also always had the good fortune to work with friends. If not in the same office, at least in the same building. The closest I ever came to eating alone in recent years was a quick sip of soup (or anything I could eat one handed) on a super busy day when there was no time for lunch. But this new job has presented challenges of a different sort.

I'm once again fortunate enough to work in a building with a cafeteria, which has a great selection of hot foods, sandwiches, taco stands, stir-fry and an excellent salad bar. But this time I don't have anyone to eat with. I have no friends here and have spent every day eating at my desk, hunched over the computer like I do for the other 9 hours of the day. It reminds me of the days when I started in this business and had to squeeze in a five minute meal that mostly ended up on my keyboard or whatever my boss handed me. I swore that when I was no longer in that position I would take my hour lunch every day that I possibly could and eat away from my desk (and I did). After all, studies have shown that eating alone at your desk is a direct cause of weight gain and is just plain unhealthy for both body and mind (I know my body gained 10 pounds and my mind was definitely rotten because of it). So it's tough all these years later to find myself stuck at my desk, hoping someone will ask me to join them for lunch.

And then one day last week, as I skulked sadly back to my desk, to-go container in hand, I noticed several people seated in the cafeteria, eating alone. Some were reading, others just ate happily, smiling to themselves. And then I asked myself if I could do it. Could I eat alone in public? I've always shuddered at the thought, convinced that people would point and snicker, thinking me a lonely spinster without a friend in the world. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth, but these negative thoughts consistently crossed my mind. Why is it that I'd rather be miserable at my desk than risk being happy in public? And so, with this anecdote I ask you your feelings on eating alone in restaurants (or cafeterias). Can you do it? Have any advice on how I can muster the courage? I know so many people that love it, sitting in a corner table or at the bar, ordering what they want and taking their time. Please let me know your thoughts and in the meantime, I'll see how today goes, and if I can make it through another day eating at my desk.

-Laura

8 comments:

Jen said...

I hear you, Laura. After my first couple years living in the city, I became comfortable enough eating dinner alone at a restaurant. But for some reason the office cafeteria felt different to me too (when I had access to one!) so I'd always opt for the desk vs. sitting alone if I didn't have a crew to eat with. Why is that?

amoser said...

I gotta say at the risk of sounding anti-social, the 30-60 minutes i'm able to escape from my desk alone, and eat my lunch or dare I say enjoy the warm weather (that may or may not be right around the corner) is probably the best hour of my work day, on the days I'm able to escape like that, that is. Never underestimate people watching. Or listening to your iPod. Or reading. All alone and all in public. Total mind escape and I live for it before I head back into the grind.

wendyedit said...

I'm in my 40s and single and I travel for my job. I figured out a long time ago that I'd like my life better if I got used to the idea of eating alone in restaurants. Night after night of room service or fast food is not appealing. So an office cafeteria wouldn't bother me at all anymore. (The first few meals in fancy restaurants alone were scary, but waitresses are generally nice people.) That said, I also think you should try to view it as an opportunity. You need to make some friends in your office building--what better way than to find someone or a couple others who also eat in the cafeteria at around the same time?

wendyedit said...

PS It bothers all of us because we went to high school! People sitting alone practically had a bulls-eye painted on them for the mean girls and the bullies. But since we're not in high school anymore, most other people actually don't notice or care if you're eating alone.

Anonymous said...

The best way to be invited to lunch or to be in the "lunch loop" is to be perceived as someone who is approachable and fun. In my experience, after a few occasions of dining with the same people, you'll make it onto their approved list and they will ask you regularly to join them.

If you want people to perceive you as a fun lunch buddy, throw an office party or plan an event... send a general email out to your team/department/office (depending on size) saying that you're going to lunch and that whoever would like to join is welcome, that you're leaving at this time and meeting in this place. Pick a nearby restaurant that you'd like to try or that you know is good. Fridays or paydays are usually good days to go out to lunch since people have something to celebrate.

I read your blog religiously and from your entries, I can tell that you'll have no problem with this. :-)

Anonymous said...

The best way to be invited to lunch or to be in the "lunch loop" is to be perceived as someone who is approachable and fun. In my experience, after a few occasions of dining with the same people, you'll make it onto their approved list and they will ask you regularly to join them.

If you want people to perceive you as a fun lunch buddy, throw an office party or plan an event... send a general email out to your team/department/office (depending on size) saying that you're going to lunch and that whoever would like to join is welcome, that you're leaving at this time and meeting in this place. Pick a nearby restaurant that you'd like to try or that you know is good. Fridays or paydays are usually good days to go out to lunch since people have something to celebrate.

I read your blog religiously and from your entries, I can tell that you'll have no problem with this. :-)

Alex said...

I've always found eating lunch by myself a lot more comfortable than sitting alone in a restaurant during dinner. What really got my attention in your post was that your cafeteria has a great salad bar, stirfry and taco stands. My cafeteria, which closes at 2, pales by comparison. I can't even get grilled chicken on my salad. I'm officially jealous Laura.

Amanda said...

Eating alone is normally ok for me. I actually prefer it during the work hours. But after work is a whole other issue. I end up getting to nervous and head home where I just nosh on snacks until I think I will explode. But I want to try the eating out by myself. I think it will be a fun project.