Noticing some strange social dynamics at Upper Dining

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By Miriam Hammer

After walking up the stairs, you casually peak to your left—across the open gap (and Picasso-inspired cubist photo installation)—to the salad bar, hoping to find a familiar face. Not recognizing anybody you know, you casually hand the dining services employee your ID to swipe, grab some silverware and head in. Still not bumping into a friend or classmate, you slowly take your time selecting your lunch: perusing the hot meal bar, walking around the salad station a couple of times and maybe ordering some chicken from the grill. Still nobody.

Then, the moment of truth—you take a deep breath of confidence as you cross the tile floor into the carpeted and dimly lit seating area of Upper Dining Hall. You look around the massive space, overflowing with students, and your stomach sinks as you realize that there is nobody there that you know. You are going to have to sit alone.

Of course, this scenario does not apply to everyone. Every day I come across students happily and confidently enjoying a meal alone at Upper. Nonetheless—and I hope that it is not only me that feels this way—there is no ignoring that there’s something about the Upper-Dining-dynamic that makes it hard for one to sit down and eat a meal alone. What is it about Upper that makes me so self-conscious when I do not have a friend to sit with?

I do not feel this way downstairs in Reamer. I am more than content to pop into Dutch Hollow and order a quesadilla from Dawn, head to O3 to get a salad from Yvonne and Suzette or pick up an avocado roll from Nikki at the sushi bar and eat my food at a table alone. I feel completely fine going to West in the mornings for breakfast, ordering an omelet from Matt and sitting by myself as I look out the windows towards the Nott. I am even comfortable eating alone at Rathskellar, which I have been doing a lot more now that it has been renovated. Yet there is something about Upper Dining that makes me feel very insecure when I try to go enjoy a meal by myself. I dread going there alone and seldom do, always hoping that I am going to bump into a friend once I get there. And if I do not find a friend and end up sitting by myself, I feel compelled to pull out my laptop or even open a notebook to look like I am studying, for fear of just looking like I’m not preoccupied.

I know that this insecurity does not torment everybody. I can say that I am envious of the people who have enough confidence—or maybe it’s the ability to simply not care—to sit by themselves in Upper. I commend those brave souls and hope that one day within the next year I will have the courage to do so myself. Meanwhile, however, I will only attempt to enjoy Upper’s mediocre-tasting food with a friend.

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