Yahoo’s Humiliating Headline on Solo Dining

Maybe it’s not solo diners who should feel self-conscious.

Posted Jan 22, 2010

In the latest example of what I absolutely adore about writing this Living Single blog, readers are showing that dopey headline-writers will get called out for their singlism and related acts of obliviousness. The latest headline, humiliating to the person who wrote it, is this one from Yahoo:

How Not to Feel Humiliated When Dining Alone.

The headline is an example of "when did you stop beating your wife" journalism. As Psyngle pointed out when she sent me the link, the story simply assumes that dining solo is humiliating, then goes on to offer tips on how to cope to those supposedly poor humiliated solo diners.

Christine sent me the link, too, with this astute observation: Where are the articles about making it through an entire dinner with a boring or awkward date?

Jerome is another Living Single reader who sent me the link, and also went through the comments (currently numbering 1,164) and picked out some favorites:

  • Oh gods..Humilated for eating alone?? For frack's sake, get over it all ready. You meet great people, if you want, or can have peace and quiet, and don't have to worry about girlfriends saying "you are eating THAT?????!!!! or wait on a person who is a slow eater.
  • My gods. being alone is the best.thing.ever.
  • I can go anywhere alone and I love it. The thrill and euphoria from knowing that I can do anything alone, like dinner, movies, bars/clubs, road trips, etc. I can remember a time when I was afraid to do those things by myself. It's all about your state of mind. Anyone who might feel humiliated for eating alone is thinking to hard about their own insecurities and it feels as if people are staring or that they know things about them, but they really don't.

On the basis of scientific research, I can say to the person who posted that last comment - you are on to something!

Two of the earliest posts I wrote for this blog were about my research on dining solo, and some other relevant work on whether other people are really noticing you as much as you think they are.

In the first of the two posts, I described the methodology for the research my colleagues and I did. The brief version is that we took pictures of men and women of different ages as they were dining out, and then used Photoshop so that the same person with the same facial expression and posture sometimes appeared to be dining solo, and other times seemed to be with a same-sex peer, an opposite-sex peer, two other people, or three other people.

Then, in the second of the two posts, I described the results of showing all of those pictures to lots of other people and asking them what they thought of the various diners, solo and otherwise. Please do read this second post if you are interested. There, along with the results summary, I also include verbatim quotes from people about their impressions of the diners. Note that my colleagues and I did not ask only about impressions of the solo diners; we also asked for impressions of the people dining as a couple or a pair or in groups. Reading the observers' reactions may inspire you to think twice about what others are thinking about when you are out with your partner!

There was something else interesting about the Yahoo article in addition to its silly heading. Lots of the suggestions continued the theme of presumed humiliation, and advised the solo diner to hide. Hide behind a book. Hide behind your Blackberry. Hide at the bar. As the first commenter (quoted above) said, "get over it already"!

The first time I taught a course on Singles in Society, I asked the students to go out to lunch or dinner on their own. I wasn't sure at first how they would react. Well, they took over the assignment. My suggestion of "lunch or dinner," they declared, was too wimpy. Every one of them vowed to go to dinner alone. Some purposefully chose a fancy restaurant. (One, who was especially looking forward to the experience of going to one of those country inn kinds of places, with several different dining rooms, was greeted by someone who tried to seat her in a room by herself!)

Other students resolved NOT to do what the Yahoo story advised. They purposefully did NOT bring anything to read. They refused to be seated at the bar. They did not bring gadgets to hide behind. They couldn't wait to get back to class and share their experiences. (Actually, they didn't wait. By the time of the next class, most of them had already sought out other class members to trade stories.)

Personally, I have nothing against bringing books or anything else with you when you dine solo. Do what YOU want - that's the whole point. My students' point was that you don't have to have a crutch or a place to hide when you dine on your own. You can do just fine without any of that. As for those people such as the writer of that pathetic headline or the sad story accompanying it: They need you. When they see you dining on your own without hiding or exuding phony exuberance or pretending to be a sports fan when you hate sports, you will be their inspiration. Next time, maybe they will head out with genuine confidence. Perhaps they will even join readers such as Jerome, Christine, and Psyngle (thanks, all!) in sending me links to stories like the Yahoo one and making fun of them.