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Table for One


“Just one?”

I wish restaurant hostesses wouldn’t use this phrase.

“Yes.” I say, inserting an upbeat smile.

I follow her to the far corner of the restaurant. “How’s this?” she asks. It’s a half-booth with one bench instead of two. As I slide in, it feels a little cramped, like a study carrel in a library. I can hear people chatting and laughing all around me, but the sides of the vinyl booths are too high to see anyone.

It’s perfect.

It’s perfect because unlike women born after the Moon landing, I’m still not so sure about eating alone in a restaurant. Eating alone was something I used to do regularly on business trips, but that ended a few years ago. In work mode, I would still be wearing a good suit and expensive shoes, always toting my phone and laptop and wasting no time in setting them out on the table. Eating was secondary. My message to anyone in the restaurant who cared (which was no one): I am working, not really eating alone.

But this was different. I was in jeans and a sweater. I’d finished a shopping trip in my old neighborhood, just in time to discover a fierce thunderstorm rolling in. It seemed a little dangerous to drive even the short distance home, and I knew this restaurant — a famous local ribs joint — well. I’d been here with my husband when I was married. I’d been here lots of times with my kids when they were in high school. Never alone.

“Waiting out the storm?” my waitress casually asks as she takes my drink order.

“Oh, yes!” I answer. (Translation: “I would never eat alone without a good reason. I have millions of adoring friends and family who dine with me often.) Every time she comes back to check on me, I talk about the storm as if Katrina is howling outside.

It’s silly, and I know it. But I equate eating alone in a restaurant with being dateless for the prom, passed over for the job, or walking out of the ladies’ room with toilet paper coming out of your pantyhose. For all the ways I think my age has made me comfortable in my own skin, I’m still waiting for the restaurant fear to go away.

I thought about how ridiculously shamed I felt when the hostess said, “Just one?” So a week later, I decided to take it on full tilt – Don Quixote style. I went back. Then I started going back once a month. And after a few visits, this last vestige of feeling embarrassment for no good reason left.

“One,” I always say, smiling. Not just one. One.

I’m good at dinner parties. I’m great at holidays. Years ago I bought a sturdy Amish table that seats 12. I use it often. But tonight, I set it just for me. I moved a candle over and poured some wine. I took it all in. All it needed was me. And me was plenty.

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Linda DeMers Hummel has been writing all her life but only in her early 60s did she realize it could be her full-time calling. After losing her job in the educational publishing arena three years ago, she left cubicles, fluorescent lighting, and her bruised ego behind and set out on a writing adventure.

Linda grew up on Long Island, New York, but Baltimore is now home. She has worked in several professions, all of which were connected to words. She’s been an elementary school teacher, college English teacher, editorial director, and curriculum developer.

She is the proud mother of three, mother-in-law to another three, and grandmother to seven. She is eternally grateful for all the writing material her family gives her when they least expect it.

4 thoughts on “Table for One”

  1. Linda, this is beautiful and probably my favourite post of yours yet. I really appreciate the way you inject humour into your life stories, “It’s perfect because unlike women born after the Moon landing” made me giggle (maybe because I’m one of those) but most of all I love that you made a conscious decision to return regularly as a table of one. I actually really enjoy eating alone, I usually make a point of doing so once a week (I call it ‘good practice’ just in case I don’t have any choice one day) but I do have quite a few friends who were both post and pre-Moon babies who tell me they’d rather go hungry than eat out on their own. Thank you, your writing always inspires me to work harder at mine. xx

  2. Brava! I found my voice on that one long ago. Even at the fanciest hotels and restaurants in NYC, I say table for one and have no problem asking for the table I want. If you’re not careful, they’ll put you back by the kitchen or at the worst table in the house. If you can, it’s also smart to make friends with the waiter. xoxox, Brenda

  3. I understand the discomfort of eating out alone now, as I get older, but for years I couldn’t because I was an only child and I did almost everything alone. I love that you worked to conquer this fear!

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