Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Thursday, Feb. 22
The Indiana Daily Student

opinion

OPINION: Being alone doesn’t always equal feeling lonely

opdining-illo

A few years ago, I walked into Panera and placed my order. Classic grilled cheese. After I paid and filled my plastic cup with water, I walked further into the café to find a seat. Most were taken by families with kids running around or students with laptops, but I managed to find a table by the window. As I sat down, I noticed that at the table next to me, there was an older man with an IU cap eating his soup alone.  

The chair in front of him was empty; he wasn’t saving the seat. He was genuinely eating all alone. As this fact settled in, I began to feel really sad. Why was he eating alone? Was he lonely? Was he sad? Did he want someone to keep him company? 

Of course, I wasn’t going to go sit in the chair across from him and start making conversation. Maybe he wanted to be alone and eat his soup. Maybe he needed a break from the world and had to think. However sorry I felt for him, it would’ve been weird to approach him. 

This wasn’t the first time I’d felt sad when I noticed someone eating alone. And it definitely wasn’t the last either. I don’t like seeing people eat alone. I automatically assume they’re lonely and need someone to be there for them. All of a sudden, I want to talk to a stranger and keep them company while they eat. No one should have to eat alone, I think. 

For some reason, eating with other people is the norm. Society has evolved to the point where most people eat with others and do almost every activity together. They're never alone. If we need to get lunch before a class, we'd rather ask around to see if someone will come with us –– often out of fear of being alone. In most cases, we want company, someone to talk to.  

[Related: OPINION: Yes, I see you. No, I don't want to talk]

But is it possible we just don’t want to appear lonely?  

For me, it’s not that I’m afraid of being judged if I go out and eat alone. I just don’t like being alone very much. I don’t want to be left alone with my thoughts because I might overthink. “Did they not want to go with me because they don’t like me? Maybe they have better places to be.” 

Maybe I don’t like seeing people eat alone because I subconsciously think they’re sad. Maybe they asked someone to keep them company, but they weren’t available. Even if I have no idea who this person is, I still feel bad when I see them alone.  

Maybe they do want to be alone after all; maybe they want a break from the world. If they do, understandable. But a part of me always feels sorry for them in a way –– I just hate seeing anyone alone. 

Yet I think it’s important to realize seeing someone doing something alone, whether that be eating or reading, doesn’t always mean they’re lonely.  

For me, it’s easy to feel pressured to have to be around other people when I see everyone else around me accompanied by a friend almost all the time. So many people are always around someone else, and that may make people think we always need someone with us to feel better about ourselves.  

But that’s not true. We can enjoy being alone — not everyone needs to be constantly surrounded by friends to be happy. And we shouldn’t be afraid to eat alone if that’s what we want to do. We don’t have to do what everyone else does.  

[Related: COLUMN: Socializing in the college world]

Ultimately, I don’t think I'll ever not get sad if I see someone eating alone, but I'll bear in mind that maybe they prefer it that way. Maybe they’re not really lonely after all.  

Isabella Vesperini (she/her) is a sophomore majoring in journalism and minoring in Italian. 

Get stories like this in your inbox
Subscribe