Cheesy name aside, the premise behind "Invite for a Bite," a female-only app that allows traveling businesswomen to meet up when they're in the same city, is pretty awesome: why not hang with a bunch of professional women with great stories to tell? Naturally, though, the CNN reporter who profiled the service didn't describe it as a fun way to make new friends but as a lifesaving solution to ease the terrible awkwardness and social anxiety that comes from — the horror! — simply being a woman sitting in a restaurant alone without a companion by her side. It's almost impressive how the writer manages to cram in quote after quote from successful women who think it's just awful to eat alone within her barely 800-word-long article:
"I detest walking into a restaurant to request the dreaded table for one," says Peachey, who typically makes three or four business trips a month. "When I walk into a restaurant or bar alone, I feel others see me as either a woman out to pick up men or a sad, lonely spinster."
Andrea Banfi confesses that she's skipped meals altogether to avoid eating alone. "If no colleagues or business partners are around, I just don't eat. I can't remember when I last had a meal out on my own," says Banfi, head of records management and operations at Guinness World Records.
If you're a woman like Katy Donoghue, a hospitality company executive who overheard customers at the next table commenting on how sad it was that she was on vacation alone, [the app] means you won't have to face the scorn or sympathy of fellow diners. "They even went so far as to comment that I was single, because I had no ring on and I was obviously trying to stay in shape by eating a salad so that I could attract a man," laughed Donoghue.
Sheesh! And don't get too excited about the one woman who realizes that men typically don't have to deal with the "crazy cat-lady" stigma of eating alone — "My husband happily walks into any place in any city for a drink or some food," she says, "So why do I scurry in and act like a lunatic?" — because she chooses to use the app and not eat alone instead of learning to actually enjoy the experience, which is a huge shame: anyone who feels comfortable reading, going to the movies, eating, or just walking around by herself knows that spending time solo can actually be really fun.
One of my favorite authors, MFK Fisher, often writes about eating by herself — she devotes an entire chapter of The Gastronomical Me to her experiences dining alone, and describes in detail the way others often looked at her with resentment and a "hurt bafflement" because she was a mid-20th century lady who preferred to sit by herself instead of with strangers. However, as much as I love Fisher, it has to be said that she often seems to enjoy eating alone to a semi-boastful extent. Waiters, intellectuals, and handsome men are constantly approaching Fisher to proffer extra caviar, or cocktails in hidden side-street bars, and/or any manner of foreign delicacies because, apparently, she exuded an aura that she was better than average, destined for more meaningful experiences than those around her. (She was also a babe, which I'm sure didn't hurt.) For example: in "The Measure of my Powers," Fisher, traveling in Guadalajara, rejects multiple invitations to dine and drink with the gauche Americans staying at her hotel and ends up in the dining room, alone, where she cannot bring herself to touch the "abominable" tourist menu. Naturally, it is only a matter of time before a waiter whispers in her ear, "There is an American Kitchen and there is a country kitchen…" and then brings her a simple brown clay bowl of beans and tortillas. (Which are, obviously, transcendentally delicious.)
"There must have been something about my face that broke him there, in spite of my being an uninvited unexpected diner there," Fisher writes. OF COURSE there was. But there must have been times when Fisher was ignored, when no one plied her with secret slices of pâté or glasses of special-occasion-wine, when she felt lonely and went home to partake in the 1930s equivalent of watching 30 Rock reruns. She doesn't write about those times, because banality is unpleasant to read about, or to recall. But I think forcing yourself to be alone when you're depressed, or bored, or disillusioned is just as important as spending time by yourself for pleasure.
Wanting to connect so badly that you end up disconnecting from yourself isn't a gendered experience, but it seems like only women are judged for publicly daring to shut their cellphones off and sit in peaceful or troubled silence. I first learned how to be alone while studying abroad in Argentina, where I would wander the streets by myself, incredibly homesick and unable to chat with my friends via my crappy, app-less Nokia. I was sad for a variety of complicated reasons, and it sucked to dwell on being so sad, but it was creatively and emotionally fruitful, too. In the end, it was well worth the pitying stares.
Image via Ildi Papp/Shutterstock.