Submitted Date 06/11/2019

The insides of her stomach churned from the right to the left, up and down, with waves of stomach acid coating the lining of her belly and moving upwards towards her throat. The nasty anxiety coated heartburn, like trying to swallow a giant razor-edged pill.

She did not want to scope the entire room she was in because she was afraid eye contact would cause the wave of acid inside of her to crash yet another wave that was strong enough to break through her skin. She felt as if the sweat on her palms were only a mirror of the wet sickness she felt in her stomach.

"I shouldn't be this concerned", she thought over and over again. "It's fine. You're fine."

And really, she felt overdramatic and too self-aware amidst a crowd of people who did not know her name or her, who she was or why she was there. She was just there. That was all. She did not have an explanation. Did she need one? What about all the other people alone in this restaurant? She didn't know. She didn't know who was alone because she still wouldn't allow herself to really examine the surrounding that she picked out to date herself.

The first date with yourself is always awkward. At least, that's what she wanted to believe. Well, she thought it would be OK. She's dated herself before. With early morning trips to the malls, and aimlessly walking around the streets downtown. With sunset beach walks and late night takeout or drive-thru food. She's gone to cafes before to stare at her laptop, a book, or a phone, and write until her hand would cramp. Hell, she's even sat on a bench by the beach to write alone. Why was this date so painful?

She was convinced the waiter spewed pity towards her with every word and every check-up on her. And this was only the beginning. She felt the pity lasers beam into her chest with every time the lady would refill her glass of water, what will it be like when the food comes out, when she comes over to ask her how the food is, or "everything OK?" She didn't want to deal with it, but leaving now would not be possible. And anyway, it would be admitting defeat.

As she sat there waiting for her sad plate of pasta, not really knowing what to do with her hands or her eyes, or how to sit on her chair comfortably beside the tables of couples and families around her, she played over every 'self-date' that she ever went on and realized how every time she took herself out was only to distract herself from herself.

Shopping alone was an excuse to buy things she didn't need and not worry about how she worried about money for the past few weeks or the self-hatred she felt for her body. It was just her and a bunch of clothes and a fitting room of silence or music. Café dates were never spent alone with her thoughts, but just with reading or writing for hours. Even if she wrote in her journal about her life or feelings, it still felt like a distraction from…well, feeling. She projected it on paper or on the constant changing of clothes in the small, cramped fitting room. Long walks were spent preoccupied with looking into every little shop or bakery. Long drives were the same. She had never done this.

She had never sat down at a table and looked at the empty seat across from her that was filled with the ghost of all her emotions, shadows into a perfect figure resemblance of herself. She never sat there in silence to get to know herself or ask questions. She didn't know what to ask or say. There was no conversation to build up upon. And even then, she was more distracted by her surroundings to pay attention to herself. It was a belly flop of a date. It was going so bad. She had already decided to never date herself like this again.

It was so hard to take herself out and be focused on the failing relationship she had with herself when there were people around her laughing, flirting, smiling. She didn't love herself enough to be OK with herself in the silence that bubbled around her wooden table for two. She could only think of now wanting the food to come out faster so it could serve as a different kind of distraction from herself.

And amidst the sea of tables sat someone just like her; alone. At a table that looked better lit and warmer than hers. He had a big plate of pasta in front of him and a whole bottle of wine for one. He smiled at the waiters who passed by with their large platters of foods and chatted up some that didn't seem as busy. He even laughed sometimes. It's what she imagined she would look like or feel like. Enjoying a fine three-course meal alone and confident. Not needing to be on a date where she'd need to order the 'safest' and blandest thing on the menu that would make her 1. not bloated and 2. not look messy eating it. She already had the luxury of picking the dinner spot on her own, why did she still feel starred down by imaginary eyes all around her and self-conscious?

All this time she thought she had made progress on being alone. She's always felt alone. She's felt comfortable alone when taking herself out alone. Then, she realized that 'dating yourself' or loving and accepting yourself, taking yourself out, is not implying distracting yourself…from yourself, but being OK with yourself. Or getting to know yourself. Getting to know the girl that was made up of the shadows of her thoughts and emotions, sitting across from herself. She wondered if she'd ever been like the man sitting alone at a restaurant but looking the least alone amongst everyone else.

And she promised herself she'd keep trying until she did.

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