I remember my first encounter with the phenomenon of the solo-eater predator.
It was October. With the poor foresight of a freshman still accustomed to the daily school schedule, I had shrewdly chosen an 8:25 a.m. Spanish class. I had finally disentangled myself from the holy sanctity of a down comforter, bolted from the twilight zone of early morning Old Campus and reached the beaconing haven of Commons for the only thing that motivated me to get out of bed and ready for class: oatmeal.
My second teeming cup of coffee and early morning mental haze had all but disappeared when she swooped out of nowhere. She was — as most solo-eater predators are — only a casual acquaintance.
“Oooh, you look so lonely sitting here!” she said. “Are you ok?”
Her face beamed with a mild but genuine neighborly concern. “I was going to run and get something before class, but … ” she trailed off, checking her watch and evaluating her many pressing time constraints. “But I could push that off ‘til later if you wanted me to stay for five, since it looks like you’re almost done!”
“Um, go ahead, I’m just reading the paper,” I said, perplexed and uncomfortable.
“You sure? It’s not a problem if you want company!” she charitably informed me, positively beaming at the early-riser camaraderie between us. I confirmed I was fine alone. I was glad to see her go and happy to be left back in the peace of my preferred morning company — the New York Times.
I cast off the incident as a slightly odd but entirely singular exchange. But less than a month later a predator struck again.
“Where are your roommates?” he asked. “On their way?”
“Nope, just had a couple minutes before class.” I said as I looked up from a book, still distracted by the chapter I should have finished the night before.
And it kept happening. Again and again. Every month or so, I would discover more of the breed — in all shapes and sizes — people I liked, knew only peripherally and once even a TA. These tactless invasions implied that I was both unwillingly alone and that the magnanimous presence of the solo-eater predator would somehow alleviate the burden of my wretched solitude.
Don’t get me wrong — I love social eating. There is nothing like Sunday brunch with my friends. We brief each other about all the ridiculous things we shouldn’t have done the night before, but did. We complain about all the work we should do, but don’t. We linger over a fourth mug of green ginger tea until the dining hall ladies finally shoo us out.
But I also love the paralleled indulgence of procrastinating my 30 assigned pages of poli-sci for a pleasure-reading book and a greasy grilled cheese. I love prefacing my day with a 20-minute hiatus from the “Yale bubble” via the inky columns of the World section.
So if you see me in a dining hall, shrouded in miserly isolation and hiding my face in shame behind the folds of the morning paper, stop by and say hi if you want — but don’t think you’re doing me any favors.
I respect people who take the time to make every single meal into a social endeavor. But that’s not for me. I am not perfecting a mysterious, lone-wolf image. I am not pensive or lonely, moping or depressed. I am eating oatmeal.
Amelia Earnest is a junior in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.