leanor Foa Dienstag

Columns


"Eleanor Dienstag is a wonderful, lively writer who understands the mature single woman heart and soul. Few other journalists can evoke the deep and subtle delights of single life with such enthusiasm. Just as important, Eleanor knows how to explore the shadows of loneliness with unerring grace and empathy."
Jon Robert Steinberg, Senior Editor
New Choices




New Choices Magazine

Living Alone Column. I am an expert on over-50 singles. For three and a half years I contributed a monthly column, "Living Alone," to New Choices, a Reader's Digest magazine for men and women over 50. Drawing from personal experience as well as interviews with men and women in every part of the country, I offered an upbeat, positive attitude as well as practical steps and psychological strategies to overcoming negative attitudes, myths and stereotypes about being a single person in a "couples" world.

My point of view is clear—one can have a rich, fulfilling life as a mid-life single. Indeed, if one's head and heart are in the right place—open to new ideas, peoples and experiences—it may well be the best time to be single.

My first column (below), set the tone.


Home Alone For Dinner: How I Solved The Problem

Hello, and welcome to my empty nest. Like many men and women over age 50, I once was married, raised two children and now live alone. To let you in on a little secret, I enjoy my company. Not that I'm anti-social. No one loves a party or dinner with friends more than I do, but I find living alone a rewarding experience.

This column will accent the positive and emphasize strategies for enjoying the life we have, whether we sought it out or unexpectedly found it thrust upon us.

Let's begin with one of the basic—and for some, vexing—aspects of living alone: food. By which I mean cooking and eating at home alone. Especially dinner. Many well-meaning people are intent on telling you what to do. Years ago, for example, I read a column by Craig Claiborne, the venerable New York Times food writer, restaurant critic and lifelong bachelor, laying out the rules. As I remember, they ran something like this: Never eat standing up; never eat on the run; never eat straight out of a can or directly from a pot on the stove. Violation of these rules was made to seem like the depths of self-degradation. Treat yourself like a guest, Claiborne insisted. Set an elegant table. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Make the dinner ritual a treat.

I tried to follow his advice, but it just wasn't me. Today, I realize that rules and regulations created by so-called experts are nonsense. Because, folks, one of the great pleasures of living alone—maybe the greatest—is that you can do whatever you please.

The only expert on how you should live alone is you. The only universal rule is to resist self-destructive habits. That can be a great relief at mealtime. There is no one telling you to sit up or sit down, to use your knife and fork instead of your fingers. There's no one complaining about eating leftovers or how much or how little you eat. There's just you and your true inner self—to whom you should pay close attention—saying, "I feel like having a plate of brussel sprouts for dinner, and the hell with it."

Listening to your inner voice takes time, patience and the courage to try new ways of doing things. Learning to satisfy your own needs is often more difficult for men, who may have been totally dependent on the women in their lives for sustenance. Some never learn to cook; they eat in restaurants or depend on take-out, which can be a nutritional disaster. Some become excellent cooks. Some waste away. Food is life as well as love. It must be dealt with.

Personally, I've worked out my own rituals. Since I spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer, I often eat breakfast and lunch—yes—standing in the kitchen, a newspaper or magazine spread out before me, munching or even spooning out of a jar, container or can. Like Hemingway, who wrote standing up, I revel in my personal style and my non-aching back.

It took me years to solve the dinner-alone problem. I went through a lot of phases: eating a large lunch; working late and avoiding dinner; snacking; relentlessly scheduling dinner dates.

Gradually, a natural routine emerged. First, I noticed myself drifting toward the bedroom to watch the news, dinner plate in hand. Then I found myself regularly shuttling between kitchen and bedroom, leaning against the doorjamb or awkwardly perched on the bed. Finally, while browsing through a catalog, I came upon an elegant wooden bed tray, the kind that sits above your lap and rests on two sturdy side compartments you can tuck a magazine or book into. This tray fairly screamed, "Pamper yourself," and for under $30 it seemed a level of self-indulgence I could definitely afford. That's the answer, I suddenly realized.

Now I look forward to cozy dinners at home, which I share with such informative dinner companions as Tom, Peter and Dan. I toss off my shoes, plump up my pillows, pour myself—yes, Mr. Claiborne—a glass of wine, slide the tray over my lap, lean back and totally relax.

I've found my solution. I hope you've found yours.


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For reprints or inquiries, contact me at:
Telephone: 212-879-1542
E-mail: efoa@usa.net