Party of One: An Autistic Primer on Dining Alone

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It’s hard being an autistic lover of fine dining; finding a way to eat out with others is awkward, and eating alone is also awkward.

I’m married with kids, so this mostly moot for me nowadays. Except when it isn’t. 

Business trips, company outings, anything where the agenda spells out “DINNER ON YOUR OWN” — yeah, I’m liable to panic.

I try hovering within the periphery of others making plans to see if I can get roped in by happenstance — that’s OK, because I’m not inviting people myself, I can tag along, use up my reserve of small talk, enjoying a dining experience without resigning to take-out.

But I’m not always that fortunate, and sometimes I end up dining alone.

If you’re on The Life Autistic, then you might enjoy dining out in solitude — I only wish I had your self-assuredness!

But if you don’t enjoy it and can’t always get around it, here’s a few things that help:

Observe. I ate alone at college for my entire first year of college, probably averting that “Freshman 15” just out of the sheer joylessness in dining out — but I watched others, observed behavior, picked up on patterns, people, tucked away some learnings about the human condition. Find a window. Watch. Listen.

Smile. The best revenge against grief is a life well-lived. I took myself out for my birthdays while my fiancée was away; I was hungry, and I wanted to make at least something special of the day. As some kid looked over at me in my lonesome, I clapped back with a smile. In that moment I realized: I can still enjoy this. I can look 100% content if I have to.

—Play on your phone. Everyone else does this when they’re with others anyway. You don’t look as awkward as you think.

—Capture a memory. I’m not a frequent diner-outer-loner anymore, so it’s easier to do this now, to note the noteworthy. Maybe you overhear a great joke, or a server relays a memorable story, or, in my case pictured above, you’re served a steak with a pillar of salt on fire.

Sometimes those memories alone snowball into better ones together.

As I sat in my corner at a conference, I overheard my friends discussing dinner with their work peers, so I glanced their way with a courteous half-smile.

“Oh hey, H2,” they said, motioning me over. “You have GOT TO show these folks that thing you had at III Forks.”

Somehow, the ‘solitary element’ of the amazing loner steak dinner added this aura of intrigue, self-assured flair, and discriminating taste — enough to where, two days later, I went from “party of one” to “party of six” at III Forks because others wanted to enjoy that experience — even with me.

Dining alone can be a lonely affair, but it can be the key to your next great shared experience.

 

 

 

 

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