The Pleasures of a Table for One

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Savoring a cocktail in solitude. (Photo by Paul Henson)

It doesn’t matter if you’re single, married, with partner, with family or with lots of friends. Dining out alone is something good to do once in a while. Think about it as taking yourself out on a date. You’re not there to please another person – you’re doing it for yourself. If you take the extra mile to show your spouse/partner/date/friend a great time, don’t you deserve to treat you and yourself alone to something special every now and then?

But why is the prospect of dining out alone terrifying? Just the thought of it gives some people cold sweats and palpitations. Most would shun the idea. Mabuti pang mag-take out na lang kaysa kumain mag-isa (better to just grab food to go than eat out alone.) Too embarrassing, they’d say.

You walk up to the waiter to ask for a table for one, and you get a quizzical look. And when you’re finally shown to your table, you feel as if all eyes are on you. And you’re imagining what people are thinking: Poor thing. All alone. No one to share a meal with.

Guess what. They’re not thinking that. You are.

That’s you thinking you’re not special. That’s you thinking you don’t deserve good things by your lonesome. That’s you being afraid to be alone with your thoughts. Well, if you can’t enjoy being by yourself, you won’t be any good in the company of someone else.

There are many benefits to enjoying a lovely meal by yourself. For one, service is faster. The servers are more attentive to you, and when the chef is finished preparing your food, it gets to your table in a flash even before you’re halfway through your cocktail. There’s no need to time the food service, unlike when you’re in a group.

Dining by yourself also gives you the opportunity to disconnect, to be off the grid, even just for an hour or so. It’s a great time to set aside your mobile device and just revel in the bliss of having this personal time and space. You can let your thoughts wander. You can enjoy your food and wine as leisurely as you want. You can even have dessert and espresso. Go ahead… No one can stop you.

Being alone encourages you to be centered, to be in the zone. You set aside distractions and you become one with the moment. This is something that’s so difficult to do in our hyper-connected and multi-tasking world. When you’re free from all the noise, you notice things that you take for granted.

The flavors of the food become more pronounced. You appreciate the delicate balance of sweetness and acidity of the balsamic vinegar, the earthy quality of the truffle oil, the lovely combination of bittersweet chocolate with mint.

It’s a good time as any to people watch when you’re dining alone, but discreetly, I should say. You notice the nuances of relationships. Those two are just on the awkward getting-to-know-you stage, those two are intoxicated with their blossoming romance, those two have been married for 20 years. Those two dudes are best friends, but those two are secret lovers, for sure. That table is celebrating a birthday, that table is having a baby shower.

You also notice that not everyone in that restaurant is automatically happy just because they’re with someone. It can be a big family, a group of friends, a couple, but they’re not talking. Their eyes are transfixed on their smartphones, fiddling away aimlessly. Or their eyes are just wandering with a blank, expressionless look.

Perhaps the best part of having time for yourself in a restaurant setting is the gift of being able to love yourself. There’s no need to feel guilty or insecure. You deserve to treat yourself because you’re special, and because you are your own best friend.

In that brief period of solitude, you can come face to face with your innermost thoughts and be as light and as whimsical as you want, or as introspective as you wish. And by the time you ask for your cheque, you will realize that dining alone is not so bad after all. It’s actually good, and is something you should have started doing sooner.

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(Follow the author on twitter.com/Paulhenson or Instagram @heaveninawildflower)

WHY PEOPLE CAN RELATE TO ‘STARTING OVER AGAIN’

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Toni Gonzaga as Ginny and Piolo Pascual as Marco in a scene from ‘Starting Over Again.’ Screen capture from movie trailer.

“Do we still have a second chance?  Naniniwala ka rin ba na (do you also believe) our love story deserves a better ending?”  And with that, Ginny (portrayed by Toni Gonzaga) turns the world of her ex-boyfriend Marco (Piolo Pascual) askew in the box-office hit movie ‘Starting Over Again.’

After four years, Ginny returns to Manila from Barcelona, and discovers that Marco has moved on.  He’s in a wonderful relationship with Patty (Iza Calzado).  To make the blows harsher, Patty turns out to be kind, smart, successful and, yes, “kamukha ni (looks like) Mama Mary.”  Life is indeed unfair.

Do we still have a second chance?  It’s a line, perhaps, that has been replayed many times in your mind when you think of your ex.  You might even have said it out loud to that person.  It’s hard to let go of someone you love, someone who has touched your heart so deeply, that’s why you hold on to every last shred of hope.

This romantic film directed by Olivia Lamasan does not spare audiences from the depths of anguish, even if it is frighteningly painful.  Many people accept the fact that perfect endings are hard to come by.  I would have stormed out of the theater had this film chosen a different ending.

Why do many people relate so personally to the film?  Let me count the ways:

1. It’s not always love at first sight.  Sometimes, it’s love after irritation.

How many times have you found someone annoying, even obnoxious, only to fall crazy in love with that person? Indeed, thin is the line between love and hate.  It’s just like Marco who admits in his email to Ginny that he disliked her initially.

Sometimes, irritation is just a defense mechanism.  Often we are attracted to someone who mirrors our own qualities, the good and bad.  We can’t help it.  It’s part of our narcissistic nature.  And sometimes, if we’re lucky, the person we detested but have fallen for turns out to be a great person beneath the hard surface.

2.  Everything is perfect, until fear sets in and you run away.

Things were going rosy for Marco and Ginny.  They started making plans for a lifetime of togetherness, until familiarity set in.  Ginny saw too much of her failure-of-a-father in Marco that she had to escape.  As a friend once said, many would rather go for the easy way out, rather than the uncertainty of hard choices but with the potential to makes us truly happy.

When things fail, we beat ourselves up and realize how cowardly we were.  Toni was brilliant in her breakdown-in-bed scene.

3.  When you miss someone you love, every little thing can be a reminder of that person.

The smallest thing can trigger the deepest memories with that person: a scent, a word, a place, a time of day, a season, a food or drink, a color, a sound, a laugh, a smile, a gaze, a look.

Ginny learned from Marco that tastes and flavors of food evoke sensual memories of a person.  For Marco, a picture, a sketch on a paper that’s yellowing with age can open the floodgates of memories.

4.  Dealing with a break-up is indeed like grieving over the loss of a loved one.

When you break-up with a partner, the void is palpable, like a gaping hole in the heart. “I almost died,” Marco cried out to Ginny in their confrontation scene.  And no matter how hard you try, no matter how much love and support you get from family and friends, no matter how hard you count your blessings, nothing can seem to fill that empty space.

And you do go through the stages of grief, albeit unconsciously: denial, anger, depression, and if all proceeds well, you reach acceptance.  But before you reach acceptance…

5.  You will bargain, plead, even settle for scraps,  just to reclaim that person and win him/her back into your life.

What an amazing kitchen confrontation scene between Ginny and Patty.  My eyes almost popped out of their sockets and my ears couldn’t believe what they were hearing as Ginny tried to mess with Patty’s mind, break her confidence in Marco and eventually driver her to give Marco up.

Many people have those embarrassing moments when pride goes flying out the window, and you sink to the lowest depths to get your ex to love you again.  It doesn’t always work out, but somehow, you think it’s better to do it and fail, than wonder what could have been and have regrets later on.

6.  Just when you think you’ve moved on, life plays a trick on you.

There’s a chance encounter; a text, call or email out of the blue.  Often, this tests your resolve and you start seeing signs (or signs you want to see):  Why did we have to meet each other again?  Maybe we’re meant to get back together…

Ginny asked herself that question over and over again.  You convince yourself that you’ve gotten over a person, but seeing him/her with someone else makes your chest feel like it’s going to explode.

You pretend you’re cool, but you’re a ball of nerves when you see each other again.  You dress your best, you try to look more gorgeous and successful to make the other person regret breaking-up with you, but secretly you want him/her back.  You just have to test the water if there’s still spark or magic between you two.

7.  You’ll know when it’s time to give up, lick your wounds and move on.

Often you just want closure, for not everyone can deal with open-ended questions and unfinished business.  Ginny and Marco had the benefit of closure.  What a bittersweet hospital scene that was.

But not everyone is as fortunate as to have that opportunity to settle score.  What to do?  When do you stop trying and finally let go?  You realize eventually that you set your own limits.  You’ll know when you’ve given as much as you could, and tried as hard as you can.

When you’ve done all you could, hopefully you can pick up the pieces, get back on your feet, cherish the good memories, look back without regrets, and gaze into the future, if not with hope, then at least with the knowledge that you will soon be okay.

You will eventually learn to love yourself, and be your own best friend.  And if you’re lucky, you’ll meet someone special again.

(Follow the author on twitter @Paulhenson and instagram @heaveninawildflower)