Karyn over at hotpotato wrote a thought-provoking post about cooking for one, and it made me wonder how much of the "feast when partnered, famine when single" phenomenon is just an extension of the fear of dining alone.
The fear of dining alone is apparently known as solomangarephobia, and Adam Roberts (The Amateur Gourmet) expresses it best: "For many, the fear of dining alone is the same fear that causes them to marry the wrong person, to maintain destructive friendships, and to participate in group suicide." If the fear of dining alone is bad, however, the fear of dining out alone is far, far worse.
Dining out alone is not looked at as a choice, but an absolute last resort. There is an entire body of literature (I checked) on dining out alone that offers tips and coping strategies and possibly hotlines for emergency counseling services. I wouldn't be surprised if someone starts a service in NYC - because such things always begin in NYC - that matches up strangers for meals just so that they won't have to sit at tables all by their solitary selves.
Oh, wait. That's online dating. Never mind.
I can only conclude from my research that I must be part of a tiny minority, because I enjoy dining out alone. I went out for lunch at Zaftig's Deli yesterday. I sat in an alcove by the window - just me and my plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes - and had a quiet, peaceful meal.*
I grew up in a household where shouting matches were frequent, and there was no ceasefire during meals. Arguments were begun, continued, and concluded at the table. Meals were a time to refuel, not family time. We ate together simply because it was the most efficient way of doing things. When we dined out, my parents refrained from arguing, but the dynamics at the table were still strained. Sometimes, the only advantage of dining out over eating at home was the improvement in the food.
I find dining out alone to be a selfish act of the best kind. I choose the place, and I order exactly what I please. I can order dessert if I want it. (My mother doesn't approve of dessert.) And I can luxuriate in the silence. There will be no arguments if I'm dining out alone.
Some people see dining out alone as the embodiment of their greatest fears. For me, it might be one of the greatest freedoms I have.
*Good, but nothing to write home about. I think I'll try the beef tongue sandwich next time, and see how it compares with the one at Rubin's.