Eating lonely: a life update

Madison Dong
5 min readSep 5, 2019


Am I supposed to write a summary here that will convince you to read further? This is a post about handling loneliness. It’s also about food. Here are some more random words. Pretend they are enticing. Enjoy.

Hey. Interning in Washington, DC has been one of the most interesting periods of my life, not only because the work is fun, but also because I spend most of my time alone. My close friends are all off in other places. I occasionally meet up with a friend-of-a-friend or people from online groups/apps, but I wouldn’t call it a busy social life, especially compared to college.

While this has been a challenge to make new friends, it’s most importantly been an exercise in solitude — learning to be comfortable with it and the emotions it brings. I make time to work out, read, and see museums, but also just to think and reflect. Something I’ve started to do is eat at restaurants by myself.

I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the entire experience: reading reviews online, choosing a book to read on the bus, walking in the door and wondering if they think I’m a loser (plot twist: I am). Once there, I take a seat and soak in the noise of other people’s conversations.

I would join the chatter, but who would I be talking to?

It’s okay though. I marvel at others’ awkwardness on first dates or comfort while catching up with friends. Their minds are at work, coming up with questions and responses, and here I am, observing and noticing that my brain is completely relaxed. At peace.

I always study the menu carefully. I don’t have to compromise with anyone else’s preferences, but struggle with choosing just one thing to eat, because I can’t split two dishes with anyone. Sometimes I can’t choose, so I get one dish for dining in and another for home, because nobody can judge me, and I like food.

I order, take out a book, and read. This is my favorite part, especially if I scored a window seat. I don’t banter with anyone to pass the time — an inaction so new that I almost have to cover my mouth from telling lame stories and jokes as it usually does. This time belongs to me, and only me.

When the food comes, I put everything away, and dig in.

It’s during the first bite that my meditative mindset cracks a bit.

These noodles gave me an upset tummy. Worth.

I start wanting some company. I start wanting to widen my eyes at someone and collectively groan about how good this food is. I start thinking about my friends and what they’re doing without me at that moment — are they eating, too, in our apartment? Together, seated around our used IKEA dinner table? Did they cook, order in, go out? I might compose a text or two asking what they’re up to, but my thumbs don’t push send, partly because I want to cherish this time alone, partly because I don’t want to be a bother.

I think about my family, my friends, my crushes, my exes, and what I would say to them if they were sitting across from me. Sometimes I smile to myself. Sometimes I tear up a bit. If you passed me while doing this, you might think I’m a bit crazy.

The check comes. I tip well. I don’t have to calculate any Venmo charges.

On the bus ride home, rocking back and forth with each stop, my head either clears or becomes even more muddled. Sometimes a stranger harrasses me and I respectfully smile and nod while painfully wishing I could swap them out for a familiar face. It’s fine. I reach my temporary home, immediately change into pajamas, and starfish on the bed. There’s nobody to say good night to — only frustratingly simple but impossible thoughts of how odd existence is, how meaningless but lovely things can be, and how hard it can be to find and feel purpose. On some days, these thoughts excite me, and on others, they empty me out.

Regardless, the next day, I wake up, go to work, and stay a little later than necessary, because nobody is waiting for me at home. While packing up, I open up a new tab on my computer and search for my next dining conquest, to do this all over again.

I received an offer to extend my internship to December. I was afraid, wondering if I could really go another four months like this, especially as the friends I made this summer returned to school. At the same time, I would feel the same emotions if I did return home, even if to a lesser extent. No matter where I am or who I’ve hung out with, I get that same pang of loneliness in bed at night, that endless wondering of why I’m here and what my purpose is. As nihilistic as this sounds, that emotion is inevitable. My thoughts are only fully understood by myself, my dreams make sense only in my own subconscious, my life belongs only to me. So won’t I be lonely no matter what?

I accepted the offer, mostly because I‘m beyond excited for the work. But outside of professional life, in a sadistic way, maybe I enjoy feeling so alone. Maybe I want the challenge of taming these emotions, this discomfort and fear of solitude. Maybe I just believe this whole thing is going to make me stronger, more independent, more understanding of who I am in an elemental sense. In some ways, it already has, but in others, it’s left me marred.

I don’t know, but I may as well see it through.

Since making that decision, there haven’t been regrets — but yes, I’ve felt extra anxious, kind of depressed, and increasingly distanced from the people I love. I keep wondering if they’ll forget about me. I’m paranoid and afraid they already are.

But I’ll keep at it, keep going out to eat, keep wishing my loved ones were here, keep finding new friends here and there (as temporary they may be), keep growing my roots in this city, keep doing whatever, keep trying to enjoy where I am and what the current moment has to offer.

After all, that’s all any of us are here to do.

Anyway — if you’re in DC, or know someone in DC, let me know. Maybe we can get food together.

the meals that informed this post

  • Tryst: ube latte and a slice of pie
  • Cafe Rinconcito: pupusa platter
  • Bul: army stew
  • Donburi: pork katsu curry
  • Friendship Cafe: green tea and a couple macarons
  • Daikaya: cacio e pepe udon
  • KoChix: soy garlic chicken combo and 3 mandu (the staff gave me an extra :’) )
  • I’m Eddie Cano: spaghetti and meatballs
  • Sichuan Pavilion: dan dan noodles
  • Dumplings and Beyond: hot and sour soup, scallion pancakes, zhajiangmian (I was very hungry and relieved for chinese food)
  • Bistro Bohem: gnocchi with sauerkraut and bacon, potato pancakes
  • Pie Sisters: chicken pot pie, ham and cheese quiche
  • Halal Guys: lamb with rice ooooh yes.