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Why you should not be afraid to eat alone (personal experience)

I am aware that a number of people are afraid to be seen eating or dining alone in public. We are afraid of looking pathetic, alone and does not have any friends that we have to resort to eating alone.

That is most of us would rather pack the food to eat in a secluded or hidden place (less likely to be seen by someone we know), eat at home or not eat at all if there is no one to eat with us.

You would know that you can be with a group of friends partying and yet never feel so lonely. On the other hand, you could be in your own company but never felt so contended.

I understand, because I’ve been there. But in this article, I would like to share my personal experience and the benefits of learning to eat alone.

How I learned to eat alone and enjoy my own company

Friends who knew me years ago would say that I am quite a timid person. I would never thought of travelling overseas alone. When I was working holiday jobs in between school holidays, I do not have anyone to eat with and I had to eat alone. Everyone has his or her own established lunch partners and seldom anyone would want to associate with a new face who is only working temporarily.

Being young then, I equated eating alone to having no friends and lack of social acceptance therefore I feared meal times. Therefore I understand how you feel and I also wanted to share this article hoping that you can can change your perception that there are a lot of good when it comes to eating alone.

When I graduated and came out to work, I started with shift work and would have colleagues who worked at same shifts to eat my lunch or dinner with.

During those days, friends who know me would know that I am by nature quite timid and would not think of travelling alone.

However,  the experience years ago when I had to spend about 2 days all by myself in Bangkok changed all that. I was stranded and had to find lodging and fend for myself all alone and it was only the second time I travel overseas (first time was during my company’s teambuilding).

I had thought it is going to be a scary experience. But as it turned out, I had so much fun by myself exploring the nearby places. Only thing that scared me quite a bit was the room, which I suspect to be a little haunted… I left the lights and TV on the whole night.

A year or two after that, I was sent on an assignment to Chennai by my company and I chose to detour to Sri Lanka on my own to visit Anuradhapura… alone. That time Sri Lanka was still in war and Anuradhapura, located on the Northeast was the main army base. Every where I went there were road blocks and army team. The 5 star hotels there were quite deserted (however there were still tourists).

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I had all my meals alone because I was travelling by myself and found I absolutely enjoyed the experience.

Alright, I know most people would not mind to travel and eat alone but would not be caught dead to eat alone in their own towns, least they may be seen by friends/relatives who may take ‘pity’ on them.

I want to say, eating alone is really not pathetic, okie!

You must really learn to eliminate this mindset if you want to find more inner peace and time for yourself.

Why sometimes it is better to have your lunch alone

Have you ever wondered why many people at the top of management  often eat alone? In one of my former companies, I used to see the CEO eating by himself quietly.

When you have the need to eat with people, in a way you would be at their ‘mercy’ at times. Even if you are the boss and those people are reporting to you.

You are afraid of making objective decisions for fear of offending your colleagues or subordinates …. who may happen to be your lunch partners. If you have the phobia of eating alone, you would always place yourself in this position of vulnerability.

A few months ago, a friend (who is holding a reasonably high position) had to make a decision regarding work distribution that cheeses off her lunch partners. Up to that time, she had thought her so called lunch partners (who always insists on eating out and my friend always seems to be the one driving even though they all had cars) were real friends.

When something my friend had to implement something that they do not consider to be in their favour, her ‘friends’ ganged up and turned against her. They went out lunch without inviting her. My friend was shocked and very hurt.

I explained to her that she had opened up that vulnerability and that power because she rely on those ladies as lunch partners because she was afraid to eat alone.

However, I also consoled her that:

  • my friend is in a higher and more influential position that her lunch partners. Being the type of persons they were,  they would realize soon enough that it is to their disadvantage to offend my friend and would soon come to make up
  • this incident would tell her what type of person her lunch partners truly are.
  • We get to choose our friends but often not our colleagues. We still need to work with them minimal 8 hours a day so it is important to remain cordial but once she know them for who they are, don’t be so silly to invest emotionally into the ‘friendship’
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True enough, about a week later, one of them came to apologise. My friend still go out and eat with them but she is more wise now.

That explains why ‘it is lonely up there’ and the higher you go, the lonelier you would get. When you move higher up the corporate ladder, you would find many people who wanted to have meals with you because they want to build up ‘friendship’ with you in order to get that edge/ promotion.

Most people who have been ‘bitten’ may eventually choose to dine alone at work.

Nothing wrong with eating alone

Why I prefer to eat lunch alone at work

In my last job, during the beginning I was having lunch with some colleagues. Then I made the decision that I preferred to have my lunch alone.

It is not that I do not have anyone who wanted to eat with me. In fact, my colleagues considered me to be very friendly and yet they wonder why I prefer to eat lunch by myself.

Because my company’s food court is quite warm (no air condition), I would pack my food and eat at my place. Another reason why I do not want to eat at the food court was because when I do that, someone I know would take their tray and seat in front of me.

Here were my reasons (and it may be some of yours too):

  • My colleagues loved to get out of the office – so they love to travel and explore different places to eat. I find it hassle to get parking, to wait for everyone to be ready,  battling the elements (either the weather gets very hot or it is raining) and always a feeling of rushing because often it would take more than an hour and everyone had to rush to get back
  • I spent many hours a day on the phone talking on the phone with staff from other departments to discuss on processes, issues and to write communication. At the same time, staff would often come to my desk to see me to seek help on the issues that they have been facing. So during lunch, I really did not feel like talking
  • I really needed the downtime to ‘recuperate’ due to the high demands of mental energy in my job. When I eat my lunch, most of the time unless it is urgent, I do not check my mails or swipe at my phone. I just eat and learn to enjoy my food.
  • Sometimes I take a walk around my office block by myself to get some exercise and clear my head. My company invested a substantial amount to landscape and maintain the surroundings of the office and it is often windy (which I love) at some part areas.  At first, I used to get weird looks from other staff who do not know me (but my colleagues knew my ‘eccentric’ nature so they were used to it). Eventually, I did  see a staff or two also started taking walks around the block
  • My own factor….When I have lunch with colleagues, I find that I also ended up talking and discussing about work. After coming back from lunch, I often felt mentally drained instead of revived. When I eat quietly by myself and remove all electronic interference, I felt more rested and really to tackle the challenges on the remaining of the day
  • With colleagues when we enjoy each other’s company, I tend to eat more
  • In my work, I take fairness and righteously seriously. I would not protect or side people just because I am friends with them. From time to time, I also had to implement certain things that do not go down well with some of my colleagues. I had run ins with some colleagues but we would often make up, then only to have run ins again. It would be awkward if they were my lunch partners and get upset with what I did
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Of course, I am not totally anti social or a loner. At times during birthdays, farewells, colleagues from other offices coming over or at my bosses insistence for ‘team bonding’, I would go out and have lunch.

But throughout, I have learnt to enjoy my own company and it has given me a lot of inner strength and stability. It did took me a while to get over what ‘other people is going to think’ but once it became a habit, it no longer bothered me.

Please also remember, it is better to eat alone than to eat with toxic people who only talk negative stuff and drain your energy (they are also known as psychic vampires, even though most of them do not consciously intend to be one). Don’t allow your fear of worrying what others think about you to end up turning you into a negative energy drainer.

One of the reasons many people tend to feel lonely and depressed is because they rely on external stimuli/entertainment such as their Smartphones, social friends, entertainment, substance abuse to keep themselves occupied when they are alone, bored or refused to face certain emotions.

However all these things are external and does not provide real satisfaction and happiness.

Eventually whatever that we deny, repress or keep bottled up would one day rise to a crescendo and explode. One day when we wake up or driving back in a traffic jam… we may wonder why we feel so sad and depressed.

If we learn to enjoy our company and be more conscious of our inner world, we would have means and ways to deal with these emotions when they do arise. A time to recharge and rejuvenate is essential to prevent emotional burnout and to build our inner stability.

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