It all began when I was in New York City killing time before a business meeting. I always loved dining out, so I was happy to stumble upon an enticing-looking restaurant called the Banc Café. I walked in and requested a table for one—I was freshly out of a relationship, so this seemed like a bold move at the time. “It’s just me,” I said, standing vulnerably in front of the handsome host, wondering if he would label me as a desperate single girl.
“Stop it, Diana, this is New York,” I reminded myself. “People dine alone all the time here. You can do this! You’re a single, secure, independent woman.”
During this first solo dining experience after my breakup, I didn’t have any of my I-am-alone armor—a newspaper, book, magazine or legal work. And things got especially tricky when I had to use the ladies’ room (who watches your coat and handbag?).
Still, I survived.
I sent some text messages here and there and did some people-watching. I noticed the couple cozied up in the corner noshing on fried calamari, the single straggler at the bar enjoying his beer while watching a recap of the Yankee game, the suited-up New Yorkers hurrying by the windows with their smartphones.
Where do I fit in? Who am I now? I used to know. But now I’m lost sans girlfriend title.
Before I could answer my own questions, the waiter served me the most perfect prosciutto and fig flatbread that I have ever seen. It was topped with wild mushrooms, melted brie, onion confit, almonds and truffle oil—an amazing, comforting combination of crunchy and cheesy. When I took my first bite, I wanted to exclaim, “This is amazing!” But when I looked up, reality hit me hard. The only thing sitting across from me was an empty chair.
My ex was gone, and I was worlds away from finding a replacement Prince Charming.
As this realization soaked in, I started to worry about dining alone—and being alone—forever. Is this how my whole life is going to be? I wondered between bites of flatbread. A table for one with no one there to share my lunch with? No one to share my life with? I felt my appetite waning and the internal panic rise inside of me.
So much for being an independent woman.
I’ve always had a hard time letting go of love, foolishly believing the age-old idea that you’re nobody until somebody loves you. So when my relationship ended, the memories of the good times haunted me. Every street in Philadelphia reminded me of our doomed partnership.
Food was at the center of these memories since we both shared a love of dining out.
There was the Old City wine bar where we had our first date, discussing politics and poetry over red wine and dark chocolate. The cash-only Italian BYOB where he introduced me to his family. The South Street diner where ate pancakes on Saturdays.
The sushi restaurant where I admitted that I wanted to be with him forever. (It turned out that forever didn’t mean forever after all.) I had love in my life and I lost it, and that fall from grace made everything I did solo seem meaningless.
I temporarily allowed myself to melt into the depths of despair while I reminisced about the good times I had wining and dining out on the town with my boyfriend. Then, I took a deep breath and brushed off my sadness. I knew what I had to do: suck it up, get out of my rut and start living again.
I needed to reconnect with myself and carve out a new path in life, regardless of whether I was going to walk it alone or hand-in-hand with someone I loved.
So, I took out my cell phone and snapped a photo of the remaining half of my flatbread. I savored each bite and had a photo to remember the new memories I was beginning to create on my own. It really was delicious, even if I didn’t have someone to share it with. I looked around the beautiful restaurant, took it all in, and smiled from deep within my heart.
This is the moment when I will start living.
Since that first solo dining experience at the Banc Café, I’ve learned to enjoy the time I spend with myself. I’ve dined alone and traveled alone, snapping hundreds of photos of my favorite foods, which would eventually become the basis of my food blog. It’s one of the first things I created on my own after my breakup, and I did it simply because it made me happy. It put me on the road to finding myself again.
I’ve also learned that you’re never really alone. When your mind is quiet enough to observe and appreciate the world around you, you come into contact with people and ideas you may have otherwise missed.
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These are the things that will fill your whole being with joy and wonder, strengthening the relationship you have with yourself and planting the seed of love for right now (whether you’re on your own OR in a relationship).
While I would love to find someone to share my life with, I know I can’t postpone my life until that happens.
I dream of that special someone sitting across the table from me, asking me how my day was and whether my steak was cooked properly or not. But I won’t wait until he comes along to go out and order it.
I will try to live in the present, to be kind to myself regardless of my relationship status, and to do all the things that I love NOW instead of waiting until true love comes along.
After all, life is too short to live any other way.
Diana Marie Collins is a lawyer, writer, food blogger, and educator. Follow her on Twitter.