February 14. A crowded restaurant in Naples with steaming bowls of pasta and checkered tablecloths, discarded swordfish bones, receding hairlines, and an annoying guitar ensemble playing the Italian moccasin and gingham iteration of a Mariachi band.
I was hurried onto a table in the corner and watched the families scramble over each other to plate themselves. Lots and lots of tables for two. A flower vendor carrying roses weaved around the tables, offering his catch. He reached and looked at me almost apologetically, patting me on the shoulder since I didn’t have anyone. There was no offer to buy one. He was in the process of summoning his dinner, and I was a lost cause, undeserving of a rose. It really pissed me off, and I’m still not over it.
This opinion-clogged age forgets that Valentine's Day celebrates love just as much as romance. That love shouldn’t be restricted to outdated “Mr. and Mrs.” bathrobe ornaments. Love can be between a person and a great dish. It can be dining solo with the confidence of a great dress, a moment of security in a versatile blazer, or simply sitting in clothes that make you feel your best.
It is a statement of otherness and empowerment. Dressing comfortably and dining solo is much less stressful than dealing with reservations and date outfits. Especially on this day.
Put simply, dining alone is hot. Even on this daunting day designed for couples, one can enjoy a meal and look fabulous alone at a restaurant. The gimmicky cards and candlelit smiles can make us feel adored, but not everybody wants a boozy night of open-collar linen shirts, strapless dresses and wandering hands.
There’s something punk about eating alone on Valentine's Day. All the facts are on the table: no sharing shenanigans, no dietaries, one hand reaches the check, and no awkward interactions with a bartender you once matched with on Hinge. You see the workings of the restaurant and the world of faces and mouths, and there’s no occupied seat in front of you that blocks the view. Everyone working on the day is there too, so dining alone is never really being alone.
It’s not a day of measuring self-worth, or an exclusionary dinner service that requires someone at the other end of a noodle. It is not a day that you have to share with a partner or otherwise be reclined on the couch in some pyjamas, generating Bridget Jones’ energy with a goblet of Claret.
A table for one is as easy as picking a place, ordering and eating. Conversation is optional, you can dress as striking or relaxed as you’d like, and there’s usually one seat at the bar that is left adrift. A nice shirt is simple and somewhat boring, but who is there to judge? It need not be expensive or riddled with a monogram. Just ironed and preferably unstained. The crisp white shirt is unflashy but retains the sweet scent of history. It is unbounded by relationship status and proposes an attitude of composure, one that leads to rolled sleeves and a full stomach, one that doesn’t dampen pillows.
The mealy-mouthed couples may look cute together. But a strong stride and a silk and lace slip looks better when you enter the restaurant alone. A denim pant and a kitten heel and a book in a Bottega Veneta Hop large leather bag may not need a partner to hold your hand. A Chanel mini-flap bag is fun for a date, but if you’re dining alone, why not go big?
What we wear is the skin we choose for ourselves. It does not need to be shared. At dinner alone, you can adorn the quirky Prada brogues under a flowing Marni poplin midi skirt. The florals swarming across the dress as the brogues are decorated with a similar spread of perforations. The idea is that one can take risks when dining alone, and can have just as much fun as the rest of the guests.
Solitude and style. Sometimes these make for the best match. Or at least a fit that can challenge the saccharine couples and their share plates.