On the seventh day, God rested. On the eighth day, he got up and puttered around in his robe, looking for ramen in his cabinets and maybe an egg to add to it, for some protein. On the ninth day, his girlfriend came over and asked for some egg ramen, too.
It was pretty good.
For most of us, a relationship begins with a meal. Somebody asks somebody to eat, and we share this oddly intimate moment together. When we eat together, we inadvertently discover more about one another than we bargained for. There’s a vulnerability. Is it that he doesn’t like garlic, or is he hoping we’ll kiss later? I didn’t even know gluten-free wine was an option. Did she just stick a roll in her purse? Is it nee-swah or nee-swahz? Fuck it, I’m ordering us both steak.
Following that first meal, we get into a routine of date nights, family dinners, and classes on how to properly filet barramundi that seemed like a lot more fun in romantic comedies. Soon, our routine of eating together is habit, something we’ve been told to expect anywhere from once a week to three times a day. Suddenly, the sound of a microwave timer going off or the jaunty tune played by your rice cooker has your stomach growling uncontrollably. When I hear the distinctive springing sound of my own toaster, I have jam and a knife in my hand before my husband can remind me that nobody else in our household likes to wake up with a hot jelly sandwich.
Scientists have a lot to say about this: They want you to know that children who eat with their parents are less likely to be overweight. They want you to know that your expanding potbelly is a sign of marital satisfaction. They want you to believe Beyoncé when she suggests that being drunk in love is a good thing. They want you to think that, along with other relationship tropes like “never go to bed angry” and that learning ballroom dance together as septuagenarians will help to relight that fire, eating together will knit the fabric of your relationship into a confining Spanx-like garment you can only hope to escape with scissors or death.
But what if we weren’t bound to our dinner tables by the tether of our partner’s love or expectation? What if we could make a bomb-ass beef bourguignon and have enough for leftovers? What if Microwave Cooking for One was right all along? What if we’re meant to (at least sometimes) eat alone?
The fact is, eating is personal. While many of us can only dream about being able to have a blasé attitude about the substances that nourish us both mentally and physically, for the most part, we care about what we eat. Sometimes you just want to eat an entire head of lettuce covered in hot sauce and call it dinner. Sometimes, reading a book on one foot in the kitchen while eating a bowl of mixed Cap’n Crunch and Lucky Charms, a creation you may or may not refer to as “Pirate Treasure,” sounds like a damn fine way to end your day. Don’t let anyone take that from you with their requests for vegetables and eye contact.
Americans are getting less sleep. We’re at the office more. Our kids all have hunchbacks from toting around unabridged copies of A la recherché de temps perdu, as per the new common core requirements. Our alone time is limited as it is, and the few opportunities we have to engage in our leisure activities at our own pace dwindle further and further as we make the slow but steady crawl toward the grave. Eating alone lets you reconnect with that weird self you allowed yourself to be before your life got so enmeshed with someone else’s — remember that strange yet noble being who thought of underwear as a suggested item of clothing and wasn’t afraid to have drinks thrown in their face for asserting that Ira Glass is overrated? Enjoying a sandwich in the shower, having meals at restaurants while making a mockery of the New York Times crossword, or simply biting off something and putting it back in the fridge without worrying about it is freeing.
What does privacy look like when your life overlaps with someone else’s, when another person knows the best wash cycle to use on your unmentionables? No matter how in love with your partner you are, there is a part of your animal brain that wants you to be alone, in the woods, naked and screaming and never competing for that last bite of deer carcass. TV and movies have given us the idea that a man or woman eating alone in a restaurant is sad, likely widowed, and just waiting for some Christian Slater or Jennifer Connelly type to sweep in and rescue them with the magic of good hair, meticulously groomed brows, and the promise of never having to eat cold Chef Boyardee out of a plastic wine glass again. But what if our hero is happily chowing down solo on whatever disgusting concoction they like to eat when they know they’re not being judged, be it old cronuts or a gas-station tuna melt?
It can be a delicate subject to broach, but if you want the most sacred of solo activities back, the conversation must be had. To keep your significant other from feeling cast aside, offer them your attention during other activities you’d usually approach solo, like trips to the gym or masturbation. Take back your Me Time. Keep the magic alive by never picking cilantro out of your teeth in front of someone you still theoretically want to have sex with. Live together, die together, but whenever possible, eat alone.