I'm currently writing this article while eating alone in the dining hall.
When I was a freshman in high school, we talked a lot about ostracism and the feeling of loneliness when we read "The Scarlet Letter." My teacher was super hipster and progressive and "with it," so our assignments were always weird. For this unit's paper, we had to go to a restaurant and eat alone, and then write about it.
I'll be honest- I skipped the eating alone part and just wrote a fake paper about how being alone can feel awkward. Like, as if I had time to go to a restaurant and eat alone. There was "Pretty Little Liars" to watch!
Anyway, I know most of the people in the class also faked the assignment, but the super disciplined, nerdy kids actually did it, and their papers all talked about the awkwardness of eating alone in a public place. They described feeling way too vulnerable, lonely, and most of all, embarrassed. For some reason, there's just something unsettling about eating alone in a public place. At home, people eat meals alone all the time and it's fine. But in public? BAM. Social anxiety.
That was seven years ago. Fast forward to now, and thanks to the dining hall...pretty much all of our meals are in a public place. There is no "eating in the comfort of your own home," and eating alone takes on a whole new meaning.
When I was a freshman, eating alone terrified me. What would people think of me? They probably would look at me and think, "Wow, what a loser! She probably has no friends!" If I was starving but didn't know if anyone else was going to the DH, I wouldn't go at all. If I walked into the dining hall and didn't see anyone I knew, my heart would pound and I'd panic until eventually I'd just leave, wasting a swipe, but refusing to succumb to the humiliation of eating alone.
Fast forward to junior year and I've reached that "who cares" stage. Seriously, it's a dining hall, you're there to eat, whether it be with people or alone! Sometimes your schedule and other people's schedules don't align and you won't have anyone to eat with. That's okay. Somedays, you'll just be super starving at 5:00 pm, and nobody else plans on eating till 6:00 pm. Somedays, a meeting or appointment will throw off your normal routine, and you'll walk into the DH at an awkward time. Eating alone in college is inevitable.
It's really not as embarrassing as you think. Nobody is looking at you thinking, "oh they don't have any friends!" Everyone eats alone once in awhile, so nobody assumes it means you have no friends. Really, nobody cares or notices. People are too wrapped up in their conversations and food to notice other people.
Now that I'm a junior and more confident, I eat alone on occasion. It doesn't bother me at all. In fact, sometimes it can be enjoyable. In college when you live in a dorm with a roommate, alone time is rare. When I eat alone, its a great time to unwind, catch up on Youtube or Netflix, get some work done, or read "The Observer." It can be pretty relaxing.
The other day, I was eating alone, and a freshman approached me and asked if she could sit with me. "I just don't see anyone I know!" she said. I smiled and said of course she could sit with me. We didn't really talk when she sat down, just ate in silence, but it was okay.
I saw my freshman self in this freshman: nervous and a little awkward. I know right now for her, eating alone sounds terrifying, but I also know that in a few years, she'll be way more confident, like me.
Everybody has those times were they eat alone. It can feel awkward to be alone in a crowded dining hall, but really, have more confidence in yourself! Nobody is judging you. Just because you're alone on occasion doesn't mean you have no friends. Use that time to unwind. I promise you, dining alone is not the humiliating situation you think it is: it's normal.