“Eat alone, take yourself on dates, sleep alone. In the midst of this you will learn about yourself. You will grow, you will figure out what inspires you, you will curate your own dreams, your own beliefs, your own stunning clarity.”–Bianca Sparacino
“Kia ora, thank you for calling Chateau Tongariro, how may I assist you?” asked the kind woman on the other end of the line. Her kiwi accent was thick, but friendly. “Kia ora” (key-or-rah) is a polite greeting for “hello” and “thank you” in Māori culture. It can also be used as a form of acknowledgement and is widely used throughout New Zealand. I learned this at a Māori cultural performance and Hangi feast at the Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua.
“Hi there, I um, have a reservation at 5:30 p.m. for dinner and would love to push it to 7:00 p.m.,” I said. I found myself nervously explaining the reason for the change even though I knew it wasn’t important to share. “I’m sorry, I just finished the Tongariro Crossing Hike and didn’t realize it would take eight hours. Is this possible? If not, it’s totally fine, really.”
“Certainly, let’s see here,” she replied. Fuck. I was hoping this wouldn’t work in my favor. I really just wanted to order room service and avoid the embarrassment of eating alone in an elegant dining room, but this was a big fear that I felt inspired to conquer. I mean, seriously, I just completed one of the most challenging and terrifying hikes of my life—right through an active volcano and a descent down one of the steepest cliffs I’ve ever trekked, or well, more like a plunge forward, zigzags and frequent fumbles. I think some people call it “backcountry gravy”. Regardless, I can eat a damn steak solo.
“Oh, just one this evening?” she asked.
Yep, pity party of one. “Yes, just me,” I said. As the words released from my lips, I noticed my voice change from pretty confident to pathetically insecure to girl, I think it’s time to reevaluate your life choices.
“Great, I have changed your reservation to 7:00 p.m. Hope you are enjoying your stay with us and we will see you this evening.”
I was nervous. I’ve gone out for casual drinks and bar bites in total solitude several times—in New Zealand, New York, even in Los Angeles, a city where the word “judgmental” is an understatement and flying solo means you’re weird as fuck, friendless or being stood up by a Tinder date—but never a full-on steak dinner. I ordered a glass of red wine prior to my reservation and headed downstairs towards the Ruapehu Room, the Chateau’s signature restaurant.
The hostess walked me to my table for one—positioned extraordinarily well—at the center of the dining room sandwiched by a loud-mouthed party of six and a four top. Not in a cozy corner or off to the side. No, I was the focal point. I wanted to conquer my fear and the Universe delivered, like really, truly delivered. I nuzzled my body into the Provasi-inspired dining chair upholstered in a classic red and mustard yellow stripe fabric and ordered a second glass of liquid courage. The hotel was built in the 1920s and had kept the era’s interior aesthetic, but it reminded me of a scene from The Beauty and the Beast. I sipped my 17-dollar glass of Cabernet in the glimmer of sparkling chandeliers and immediately grabbed hold of my phone. True safety. I’ll just pretend I’m texting.
“Do you have any questions about the menu or are you ready to order?” asked the server.
“Hi, um, yes I think so,” I replied. “I mean no, no questions, I’m ready to order.” Wait, oh my God, my phone is still on the lock screen. Shit. How long has she been standing there? I hope she didn’t notice. I just sent like five make-believe text messages to my mom.
“I’ll have the silver fern beef tenderloin with confit potatoes, cauliflower puree and the braised beef cheek, please.” If I was going to dine in a renowned establishment unaccompanied, I was going to savor the best fare on the menu.
“Good choice,” she said with a gentle smile.
While awaiting my fancy feast I set down my phone and began the art of people watching. The middle-aged couple to my right was nibbling on artisan breads with balsamic reduction and a delightful herb butter. Alongside them was a much older English pair. Their silver hair glistered beneath the lighting as they shared long waves of laughter and sipped on bubbling champagne. Then of course, there was the energetic party of six engaging in clamorous conversation. They were extremely animated, speaking with their hands like jubilant children. I could smell the aroma of mint chimichurri smothered atop the lamb shoulder at the table.
The server returned with my meal and placed it in front of me as my eyes widened. “Oh, this is a lot bigger than I had anticipated,” I said with a shameful smile and flustering laugh. In that moment it felt like every human in my peripheral was staring at me. And for someone who struggles with body dysmorphia, this was an incredibly unpleasant feeling.
“It’s definitely a lot of food, but you will love it. It’s one of the chef’s specialties,” she said. “Can I get you anything else?”
“Another glass of wine would be lovely, thank you.”
I started to consume my meal, looking around to see if anyone was watching me. Perhaps, making bets on whether or not I’d clean the plate, if I had a date on the way, or if I was indeed, lonely. But instead of focusing on these foolish stories I was developing in my head, I took a breath, smiled, and found myself becoming more relaxed. The tenderloin was perfectly prepared to an exquisite medium rare. Slight hints of red whirled into the cauliflower puree like watercolors bleeding into one another on paper as I cut into the meat. It was so good I almost forgot I was eating alone.
I wanted to share this particular story because while lacking a dining companion I learned two things: no one fucking cares, and no one is looking at you. There was a time when I told myself I would never go to a bar or dine alone. Ever. I had this idea that as soon as I found my seat the entire restaurant would stare me down as if I had walked in completely nude. Eventually — while living in New York — I decided to make my way to a local bar and quickly became self-conscious. I depended on Instagram for an hour as I kept my head low and scarfed down my dressing-less salad because I was too embarrassed to order anything else. I hoped that no one was gawping at my solo pity party, but believe me when I tell you: no one actually cares you’re dining alone. Since then, I have thoroughly enjoyed taking myself out and have done this often.
Maybe it’s the fact that I am getting older and giving less fucks, but there is nothing better than me in front of a plate of grub—by myself—where no one can steal my sweet potato fries.
The elegant dinner, however, was something completely different. I was traveling alone for the first time and staying in a hotel packed like sardines with people more than twice my age. I felt out of place, like the elephant in the room. It took a lot of courage for me to follow through and conquer this fear, but when dessert came, my tummy was full and the evening concluded, I felt empowered.
With so many social stereotypes it can be difficult to feel comfortable alone in public. We deem those around us are judging, making assumptions because there is something abnormal about a person enjoying a meal on their own, on purpose. And when it comes to women, we can become a magnet for unwarranted attention. Truth is, people are so engrossed in their own little worlds that it takes a glass plate to hit the ground for people to look up and notice their surroundings.
Dining alone in a restaurant—whether fancy or not—is a magical time to check in with yourself. It’s an opportunity to get to know yourself, to uncover things you may have been too distracted to acknowledge. It’s an opportunity to have a beautiful conversation with a stranger or order a new dish. Replace your phone with a good novel or write in a notebook. Practice gratitude, relish in your independence, and for the love of the Universe, treat yourself to dessert.
After spending a month traveling throughout New Zealand on my own, I reflected on how my many experiences — including this one —that led to immense emotional and physical growth. I learned a great deal about myself, overcame a handful of fears, and discovered the true meaning of being comfortable in my own skin. It’s important to note that Of the Flesh is not solely about the BDSM subculture. It’s about being unapologetically ourselves. It’s about everything that makes us human, the things that make us wonderfully unique, the things that may scare us. It’s about genuine conversations and themes we may feel ashamed to speak upon. It’s for those seeking a platform to be inspired, understood, and most importantly, loved. I hope you know you are loved.