I was eighteen when I moved to New York, and I missed my family every time I sat down to eat: in dining halls with people I wasn’t sure I liked yet, in my apartment with the roommates I slept inches away from but barely knew. At home, eating was always communal. Even if we were eating pop tarts in the morning, we were eating them together, and at night we always gathered as a family for dinner. Here, in this new city, I wanted badly to feel at ease eating by myself because in my mind, this would mean that I was really living on my own as an adult. In high school, out of necessity, I mastered the art of going to movies by myself—something I still do happily and often—but eating something more substantial than popcorn, out in the daylight for all to see, was an entirely new hurdle. We’re taught early on to fear the prospect of eating alone—it is, after all, always the least popular kids who sit alone in the cafeteria. Type “dining alone” into Google and prepare yourself for pages and pages of solo-eating anxiety, including information on a café in Japan that seats lone diners with large stuffed animals to help them feel less awkward.
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I’ve always been a nostalgic person—which is really just a much nicer way to say that I’m absolutely horrible with change. When I was in high school my grandparents changed the wallpaper in their kitchen from a brown and orange floral pattern to the same floral pattern in shades of gray, and I cried for a week (this is an exaggeration, of course, but not a huge one). Fear and avoidance of change has dictated the decisions I’ve made for most of my life. Certainly it has played an enormous role in where I am at this very moment—poised on the precipice of a sea change brought on by years and years of changing nothing. Isn’t that a lovely term? A sea change. If you happen to be afraid of change and terrified of the deep ocean like me, though, it’s not quite so lovely.