This article was originally published in Define Introvert.
There’s this scene — you might know it — from Steve Martin’s The Lonely Guy, when Larry Hubbard requests a table for one and receives a spotlit escort to his one-top.
It’s a funny gag, but of course it works because it tweaks folks’ paranoia about public solitude. Just search “eating alone,” you’ll find a vigorous discussion. In fact it’s apparently a problem in need of solutions, such as helpful online instructions for newbies, table-sharing services for business travelers, even blind dates with top-shelf-size plush toys.
Of course everyone understands the reality of monomesaphobia, this aversion to tables for one, to going about unescorted. Introverts, however, have no intuitive sense of it. To us, it’s like a shark’s revulsion for magnets — we can watch it happening to the creature, but we’ll never know what the animal is feeling.
For us, well, you’re somewhere, you’re downtown between appointments or on a long stretch of road, wherever you are it’s time to get fed, so you go. Or you’re in a hotel, or for that matter you’re at home and the fridge is looking neglected and there’s a new place opened up nearby you’ve wanted to try, so you go.
Or there’s a movie you want to see, it’s on the matinee, so you go.
Perhaps there’s someone you know who wants to try that spot or catch that film, and if you’re in the right frame of mind you can give them a call. Or even so maybe not, depends on how you’re feeling and if we’re talking Despicable Me or Schindler’s List.
Because after all, food and film don’t depend on company. And at times close company isn’t the best sort.
So you go. You take a seat at the bar (so as to avoid a stink-eye from the server who rotates into your one-top ahead of the four-top who walked in behind you) and the bartender’s a Bahamian nursing student who knows everything about the soccer match up on the sports feed, and it turns out the couple across the short end of the bar have family up where you do, and you have a perfectly fine evening and a pretty good supper. Then you’ve had enough so you head home, and the household quiet is like an Alpine vacation after all the chatter.
Now sometimes, these “single-serving friends,” if they favor the same sort of places you do and y’all get along, after a while you know when their kids are graduating and when someone’s in the hospital and they end up being… well, not the kind of friend you’d call up to catch a show or feed your dog while you’re gone or anything, but certainly friends of some sort, and sincere ones.
And if you stick to one town long enough and you like a spot well enough, you end up a piece of its memory bank. One server will turn from her conversation with another and ask you, “When did Julie get married, was that while Sam was still here?” and you answer, “Yeah, cause remember, he gave her those elf ears she wore all the time after they got back,” and she says, “That’s right!” and returns to her chat.
Now I know what some of y’all are thinking. Isn’t it just a little pathetic, though — being “that guy” by himself at the bar? And I get what you’re saying. Because for you, being known to your neighborhood as simply “the loner” for instance would be a shameful thing. For me, it’s more a convenience feature.
And that’s because, although I don’t know who said it, probably the best description of introversion I’ve heard is that extroverts “recharge their batteries” by being around people and introverts do it by being alone. So having control of the social thermostat, so to speak, is necessary for our health, and you can’t have that if anybody might drop by just anytime. Some folks are socially warm-natured and can’t understand things any other way, and some are actually out to save the poor introvert and although at heart they have the best of intentions, they still can’t help being a pain in the ass.
From an introvert’s perspective, the pathos comes from overhearing a coworker in the break room saying “Oh, I wanted to go to that, but nobody else would.” To our ears, this is like admitting you didn’t go out because your lucky shirt was in the wash. But everyone at the table nods over their coffee and candy bars — after all, any of them would have done the same.
The electromagnetic field of monomesaphobia has repulsed them from something they wanted to do. Who knows, maybe a crafts show or a county fair or a ballgame, whatever it was, they couldn’t walk up to it and step in, just themselves. And although there are times when I prefer the company of friends and family — like going to comedy films, for instance, and poker games and at the holidays — other times solitude is richer.
Like when I snag that down-front theater seat left over from the adjoining family of three. And as the sidelights dim and the feature engulfs me, I can afford to be engulfed by what’s in front of me, in a way that no one can who is not truly alone with the unfolding story, utterly unburdened by care for (or from) others nearby in the darkened real world.
I’ve gone on week-long vacations alone, to places where there was no television, rare internet, not even a local paper. And while there I’ve walked alone and swam alone and met a few people and learned a lot. And for a little while, at least, I could feel like a wild horse with a free head to turn any way I chose and go there.
The solo venture is not without its rewards. And it seems to me that some of those, at least, can be gotten in no other way.