back to top

How I Learned To Love Sitting Alone In The Cafeteria

SPOILER: It took me over 20 years.

Posted on

When I was in high school, I was terrified to sit alone in the cafeteria.

Nathan W. Pyle / Via

I was VERY self-conscious about it.

Sitting alone was, to me, the height of embarrassment. The mere thought of it felt like social death. The rest of the school day there was a seating chart and I could easily slide in and out of my classes without worrying about it. But lunchtime — oh, lunchtime. That was when I absolutely *had* to find my friends and sit with them, no matter what.

Then my first year in college, I started learning how to sit alone.

Nathan W. Pyle / Via

I was still pretty self-conscious about it.

My freshman schedule was such that I ended up eating alone quite often. I still had to fight off the inner thoughts of embarrassment every time it happened. Though I put on a brave face, I would find myself looking around the cafeteria quite a bit, looking for other loners like me just to know I wasn't the only one who was sitting alone. I was still dependent on others to validate me.

By the time I was a senior, I mostly enjoyed sitting alone.

Nathan W. Pyle / Via

I was still secretly a tiny bit self-conscious about it.

As a senior, I finally started to embrace the benefits of being alone. I could come and go as I pleased. I could read. I could eat food slowly or quickly. I could stare out the window. Nine times out of ten, I didn't really think about the fact I was sitting alone.

Now, as an adult, I never even think about it.

Nathan W. Pyle / Via

I'm never self-conscious about it. It doesn't even occur to me I'm eating alone.

A few years after college, I moved to New York to pursue various creative interests. As a freelancer, I found myself alone all the time, for every meal. It was during this time that I finally understood that I had simply learned to be alone much later than other kids did. It's a totally normal part of growing up.


It took me so long to realize this pretty simple lesson:

Nathan W. Pyle / Via

I didn't get it until I was a senior in college.

Other kids had learned to sit alone long before I did. In fact, some learned it very early on because they moved several times. (I had grown up in the same neighborhood my whole life.)

This all may be obvious to you, but it really blew my mind as an adult.

If it happens, you should respect his space. It could be that this kid is just ahead of his time.

I wish 16-year-old me knew that. It would have made life a lot easier.