Most people automatically take pity when they see a table of two is seating only one person. By default, this is deemed as a sad scenario because it seems as if the person is lonely and don't have anyone to fill the empty seat on the other side of the table.
Though this may be true, they fail to consider that some people (especially introverts) don't necessarily need anyone in that empty seat.
Crazy, right? "What?! People and friends are amazing," an extrovert might say. But for an introvert, there is a kind of beautiful serenity that comes from the experience of eating alone.
This, of course, doesn't mean that introverts are always alone. We do have friends and family we enjoy spending time with, they just don't happen to be with us on our lunch break. And as much as we love them, we can survive a meal without them.
If you feel bad for me, don't. Inviting me to your table out of pity does nothing for me nor you. I know you'd rather talk about personal problems with your friends instead of making small talk with me. I know getting to know me is pissing you off because I only (want to) provide a one-word answer in between bites. Honestly, I am content with the company of my ham and cheese panini, so you can save yourself the trouble because I will literally contribute nothing to your table except for an extra plate.
I have run into many awkward social situations while eating because people who vaguely know me have the mindset that I am in need of a friend. It really isn't necessary, although I do appreciate the gesture.
So why does it make me extremely uncomfortable to spend my lunchtime talking to people I barely know? From an introvert's perspective, here are some reasons why I would rather eat alone:
1. People literally exhaust me.
I know it's harsh, but an introvert is a person who feels more energized when spending time alone, meaning that spending time with people is tiring for us.
It's not personal, introverts are just accustomed to a life of activities that don't usually involve another person. Leisures such as reading a book, listening to music, and walking in the park are enough to keep us satisfied and energized.
2. I get to actually enjoy what I'm eating.
I like to take my time with my food when I eat because it allows me to appreciate a well-cooked meal while adequately satisfying my hunger. When I'm eating with another person, they like to ask me questions ... after I take a massive bite. As a result, we find ourselves in an awkward silence as they wait for me to finish chewing.
It happens every time. I spend less time eating and more time talking when sharing my lunchtime with another person, and that's not something I enjoy doing when I'm hungry.
It's hard for others to understand that on those rare days a cafeteria meal will actually coordinate with my cravings, I'd rather savor the flavors than think of conversation topics in between bites.
3. My table doesn't need an explanation for my departure.
I spend most days in the comforts of my quiet room, only exiting to get something to eat. After I finish my meal, I return back to my sanctuary so I may continue basking in my aloneness.
However, it gets harder to return to that sanctuary when I'm in the middle of a social situation, which is usually silent and awkward 95 percent of the time. Whenever this happens, I am always found playing with my food, waiting for everyone else to finish.
I'm impatiently waiting to go home so I can balance out the amount of social interaction I just had by avoiding all people for the next six months. Plus, it's hard to come off as polite when leaving the table in the middle of a conversation because apparently "I'm full" isn't a valid excuse.
4. Mealtime is a time for me to recharge, both physically and mentally.
I usually have my meals in between or after the stress of a long day composed of classes, studying and/or work. Sometimes I need a 20-minute break to eat some comfort food while simultaneously clearing my head, but as an introvert, I find that a social situation is as exasperating as the aforementioned stressors.
Eating a meal is my time to reenergize, both physically and mentally. It's a time I enjoy spending by myself. Don't get me wrong, I am generally open to meeting new people and making friends in social situations I choose to partake in. However, I'm just not in the mood to make friends in the middle of devouring a mouthwatering pasta dish.
But just because I usually prefer to eat alone, doesn't mean I always do. Introvert or not, everyone needs people who generally make their life more enjoyable. I do participate in fulfilling and delicious lunch and dinner dates with people who understand the perfect balance of conversation and comfortable silence.
However, I can only share this kind of meal experience with those who are closest to me, my family and friends. And someday, you can be my friend too, as long as you don't ask me anything when my mouth is full.