Dining alone might pleasantly surprise you

“I find eating alone to be a form of self-care”


Judith Gibson-Okunieff

By Shona McMorrow, Collegian Contributor

On a busy campus such as the University of Massachusetts with over 20,000 students, there is one thing that we often take for granted: the time we spend alone. Weekday afternoons on campus are busy to say the least. The sidewalks are full, the buildings and lecture halls are flooded with students. Stampedes are created when one class ends and another begins. Students’ lives are busy. We all have our own unique schedules that we have to follow in order for the week to go smoothly, or in many cases, to just barely manage the chaos. But even with these busy and distinct schedules, what do all students have in common? They need to eat.

Dining halls are one of the more unique aspects of a college campus. Although college offers much independence to young adults living alone for the first time and starting a new chapter of their lives, dining halls are oddly reminiscent of high school cafeterias with scattered tables, buffet-style food and plenty of people. Of course, this set up makes sense for the amount of people that need to be fed, but it also reminds me of the stress that came with it. Finding a table, making sure you had friends at each lunch and no matter what, never sitting alone. For me, the idea of having to eat at a dining hall raised the fearful question, “What happens if I do eat alone?”

That was a worry I found myself experiencing during my first few weeks of freshman year. The idea of eating alone was scary. It was something I had never done before, and in those first weeks, I tried to avoid it as much as possible. The way I saw it, eating alone was often viewed as being sad, and onlookers might be pitiful. That’s why the first time I went to the dining hall by myself, I walked in quickly and grabbed the first seat I could find so that I could get my food, eat and leave without drawing any attention to myself. As I sat down to eat with headphones in my ears and phone in hand, I realized that this was pleasant — something I could see myself doing again.

The anxiety soon went away and eating alone became a recurring part of my daily routine. There is something very peaceful about not having to hold an awkward conversation with a mouth full of food, not having to listen to the sounds of other people chewing and not having to make something as simple as eating into a social event. It also makes sense at a busy time of the day. There is almost always one open seat in any dining hall, ensuring that you will not have to skip a meal or spend your time taking laps or lingering by a group of people who look as though they are about to leave.

All this isn’t to say that eating alone is the only way to eat. There is something very special about sharing a meal with friends and immersing yourself in the community that is created on a college campus. However, with so much time being spent interacting with others, and for some, always being around another person such as a roommate, there is something to be said about taking time for oneself. For me that is between classes, enjoying my lunch with a podcast, a book, a playlist and when I get really busy even doing some schoolwork or studying. I find eating alone to be a form of self-care, and those who avoid it at all costs or are judgmental of those sitting solo do not know what they are missing.

Shona McMorrow is a Collegian contributor can be reached at [email protected].