On my list of things to do before I turn 30 was a holiday on my own. A social experiment if you will, to see what it would all feel like. So I decided on a holiday in Venice to celebrate 30 years of me.
But as a girl travelling on her own, I felt incredibly nervous about sitting down in a restaurant to eat. I worried that I’d be observed, pitied or judged for being alone; on the first day of my trip, my fear was so crippling that I only dared eating takeout. But I started feeling pretty silly about it soon because it was defeating the purpose of me coming here.
So I decided to drink a glass of courage (=wine) put on a dress, do my hair and go on a date with myself.
I found a place, and ordered Venetian classics – a starter, a main, a side and a dessert all to myself. I also ordered half a bottle of wine. And it was perfectly fine. Nobody was asking, observing or judging. I figured that I was being worried for no reason and that it was all in my head. What a relief!
With renewed confidence, I went out a second time. And of course, when you think you’ve got life all worked out, it reminds you that you haven’t. Maybe it was because I speak the same language and it allows for familiarity, maybe it’s because I look young or maybe it was because I am just so darn approachable; whatever the reason, the waiter took my order and asked: “How come a beautiful young signorina like you is travelling and eating alone?”
So my biggest fear came true after all. How should I respond to this?
The truth is that I’m turning 30 and I wanted to, you know, go on a holiday with myself, do that eat pray love sort of thing. But this is very personal and I didn’t want to share it with this guy.
I briefly entertained the thought of pretending to be on business. But I didn’t want to lie and hide, because I wasn’t doing anything wrong.
I also resisted my natural urge to respond with sarcasm, or an equally degrading counter question, like “how come a man in what appears to be in his 40s is still waiting tables?”. I figured I’m bigger than that.
Instead of all this, I simply said “Because that’s how life turned out.” And left it all up to his interpretation.
His face filled with pity. He lightly patted me on the back, shook his head and walked off with my order.
My biggest fear came true, and it was exactly how it had played out in my head – almost like in the movies.
I wondered; would he have asked me if I was a young man? Would he have asked me if I wasn’t “beautiful”, clearly worthy of company in his eyes?
As I was contemplating, I walked into the bathroom and was brought back to reality by panicked knocks from the inside of the stall. Clearly, someone got stuck in the toilet.
I started offering my help in different languages and a tiny voice responded in English that she’s Scottish. I talked her through different unlocking manoeuvres, calmed her down with a few jokes and together we got the door open eventually. She was grateful and relieved as we said goodbye.
I walked back to my table and paid the waiter no further attention. For some reason, the toilet incident helped me snap out of it right away.
Criticism, however painful to your ego, is important to consider when it is meant to help you grow. But this was not that sort of criticism. In fact, this whole interaction was not about me at all.
Maya Angelou once said that when dealing with haters, remember that “You’re not in it”. I never really understood what she meant, but it finally clicked. The question, the pat on the back, the head shaking – these were not a reflection of me, but a reflection of his character. If he hadn’t targeted me, he’d have asked someone else something equally stupid later that day. He just had to let it out somewhere. I know this to be true because he later made some diet remarks when a lady ordered her dessert. So do as Taylor Swift says – haters gonna hate and it’s best to shake it off.
So I watched my little bathroom pal run back to her family and tell them all about what happened. Instead of feeling upset about the waiter, I started feeling pride because my heroic toilet stall actions helped reunite this lovely Scottish family.
Most importantly, I felt pride because I knew that her smile and gratitude were the real reflection of who I am.