The other day, I did something really scary.
My friend had cancelled our dinner plans. None of my other friends were available at the time. No one had thrown a text message in a group chat to ask if anyone wanted to go to the dining hall. No one had texted me and asked what I was doing for dinner. The sun was setting, the dining hall was starting to close, students were returning to their residence halls, and I had yet to eat. I briefly contemplated skipping dinner and eating crackers and peanut butter. I even considered locking the door and hiding in my room and never coming back out. But I bravely armed myself with my book, my earphones and my bullet journal, walked out of my dorm to the dining hall and picked an empty table to eat at. Alone.
I loved it.
For the first time in a while, I had a whole hour all to myself. Although I spend time alone a lot writing papers (or procrastinating on said papers by looking at memes), eating at the dining hall by myself was different. It was one of the first times that I carved out intentional time to do what I enjoyed. I read my book. I made a new spread in my bullet journal. I texted my friends and family abroad. And, most importantly, I ate ice cream. Spending intentional time alone turned the uncomfortable experience of eating alone into a time of rejuvenation and self-care.
Yet eating at the dining hall alone wasn't easy, and it took me a great deal of courage to do so. After all, there's a reason that we text our friends and ask them if they want to eat with us. When I go to the dining hall by myself, I feel self-conscious, apprehensive,and unsure. But my experience is also a reflection of how other college students feel about eating alone. We view eating not only as a daily necessity, but as a social activity. We are constantly surrounded by people, that eating alone almost seems jarring and outside of the norm. Don't get me wrong: the Emory dining hall makes eating by yourself natural with plenty of tables-for-one. But even so, I personally find that sitting down at a table by yourself is a challenge. When faced with the constant fear that other students will judge you, it's easy to turn eating alone into eating lonely.
It's normal to feel self-conscious. It's normal to believe that everyone around you is staring at you and believing you to be friendless. It's normal to believe that you are friendless, too. That, at least, has been my personal experience, but it is also normal to sit by yourself in the dining hall and think nothing of it. My encouragement for you, however, is to embrace eating alone. Don't see it as a time of social deprivation, but see it as an opportunity to spend time with yourself. When we're constantly busy with schoolwork, a mealtime can be the perfect time to relax. In the end, we as students are always surrounded by areas of life that need our attention. Who knows - the one hour you spend eating alone could be the refresh you need to prevent you from reaching exhaustion.
So, go eat alone every now and then. Read that book you've been meaning to, journal, listen to a new album, and by all means, treat yourself to ice cream. Remember that no one is judging you, and that everyone eats by themselves sometimes. Most of all, remember that you are so loved and valued regardless of whether you are sitting at a table for twenty or a table for one.