Under the red awning funky multicolored lights twinkled, music thumped, and the restaurant bustled with activity. Servers carrying precarious trays of beer squeezed in between large groups of friends guffawing at each other’s tales, families laughing at the fathers who were trying to get down with the beats, women on girls’-night-out leaning close together to be heard over the din, and… me sitting by myself in the center of it all. After the hostess faltered after I held up the “number 1” sign to signal that I was dining alone and her attempt to seat me at a table off to the side by the kitchen, it became apparent that at Spiler’s in Budapest’s trendy Gozsdu udvar that people never ate alone. Or, more specifically, no one went to Gozsdu udvar, an alley of funky cafes, hip bars and eateries, alone. But I had selected my own company, and I had selected this place for dinner, and I was determined not to be cowed by the raucous environment and the fact that in my solitary state, I did not belong.
After I gave the hostess a look saying, “no one puts Baby in the corner”, she seated me at a table for two in the center of the action. I could watch everyone. Everyone, I realized, could watch me. I had a decision to make: sit there in discomfort or decide to own it. It was my very first solo vacation in a foreign land; I was supposed to be having fun. Instead I was like a shrinking violet, apologetic for bringing a disease that one wants to get: the prospect of loneliness. But I was alone by choice and I wasn’t lonely. I decided to own it.
Squaring my shoulders and leaning back in my chair, I looked about the room like I owned the place. I ordered my food with confidence and selected the Magyar Vandor Ale as if I did it everyday. I took out my journal and wrote. People who are writing look important. They have thoughts. Important ones. So much so, they should be recorded. So I wrote down my very important thoughts of what I ordered for dinner (salmon with cucumber salad). I made eye contact and directed the servers to me when I needed important things. Like dessert. “See?” I projected to everyone, “I eat dinner alone all of the time and I like it.” Yep. Everyone could watch me.
If they wanted to. It took me awhile to realize that nobody wanted to. They had other things to focus on: their companions, their food, beer, and trying to hear over the noise. The only one watching me was me.
The problem wasn’t the restaurant or the atmosphere or the other diners. It was me and my decided lack of self-confidence. It didn’t matter if I was alone; I was a paying customer, and everyone treated me well and were very helpful, including sharing what they thought I should see in Budapest. I alone had the problem with my act of being alone. Dining at Spiler’s reminded me that everyone has their own concerns; that if I had friends or my husband with me, I would have never eaten there– it was too loud; that I chose to be alone, chose my own company, and therefore, in order to feel like I belonged, I needed to accept myself; and that when I need confidence, I could always fake it.