I go out to brunch alone. I do not text friends to come along. When I first moved to Atlanta in 2013, I started searching out new places each weekend and ate by myself. I hadn’t really known brunch before this move—brunch was not taken as seriously in Omaha, Nebraska. I brunch at bars, make only minimal conversation with the bartenders, and rarely drink. Often, it’s older men also eating alone who talk to me. They are usually drinking.
Brunch is a culture separate from breakfast. Whereas we frequently eat breakfast alone, brunch is an event of gathering. We come together for brunch out of a sense of being together with others. Breakfast itself feels more meditative, more inclined toward solo reflection. But there is something alarming about the solo brunch-goer. We shatter the decorum of brunch.
Introverts like me experience balance through alone time, an uptick in mood and an increase in energy. But only to a point. After a while, there’s a loss in that aloneness. I feel the grief of something I haven’t had, yet. If I do not leave to be among others, I might miss some crucial event, miss meeting some person potentially vital to my life. I have to be around others, even if I’m not with others. As with other activities I do alone (I go to movies alone frequently), the act of eating brunch solo is one of self-care, in a way. To brunch alone is to get lost in anonymity, even if my isolation is on display.
There is something in the murmuring of strangers I find comfort in. Even if I can’t discern them talking about their loved ones or the drinks they enjoyed the night before, the din wraps around me. It makes me aware of myself more. I order eggs, potatoes, and soy sausage, always adding salt, pepper, and hot sauce to the eggs. There is often routine to this meal. I hardly ever stray, no matter where I find myself. I prefer dive bars and rustic spots over too-formal eateries. I eat many meals alone, but there’s something here that feels different. Perhaps it’s in that imagined community of brunch. Even if it is a mirage, we feel it. There is belonging there.
In a fast-paced, ever-connected world, being alone—without a phone screen or a another distraction—is a radical act. Bring garishly alone in public makes me feel exposed, and I have to question what I’m doing out when I am out by myself. There’s something in the act that is rebellion. I feel as though I’m saying, I am comfortable as a man alone in public, untethered. I know who the lone man is to some. I embrace the peace of being out in a loud world, a peace that comes from the act even as I feel vulnerable. I am okay eating these vegetarian country-fried biscuits and gravy alone. I am a man in public without someone. I wrestle with that aloneness as I embrace it. I fear becoming the lonely old man in public, partly out of my own loneliness, but also due to what society tells us about men out alone. The lone old man is sad, and we are afraid of that sadness, but also of what sadness might breed in us. We see ourselves there, even as we fear them and distance ourselves.
To eat brunch alone is to embrace the comfort of being immersed and present and the comfort of isolation. I like eating alone because it allows me to test myself out in the world despite my impulses. There is the danger of introversion: a desire for aloneness that threatens to make the introvert actually alone. To eat brunch alone, for me, is to seek comfort in a radical way, to eschew the impulse for solitude.