jeudi 9 juin 2011

Dinner for one

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I had a Proustian moment recently when Denise talked about watching the films Reality Bites and Singles on her exquisite blog and I found myself transported back to the early nineties, the times of Friends and Frasier, watching ER and Northern Exposure secretly when I should have been asleep, of wearing Kickers shoes and having permed hair. During the unending summer holidays I would spend afternoons at friends' houses or invite them over to mine and probably spent most time with C. who lived just down the road from the school. She had Asian eyes and very long hair, often worn back in a plait but sometimes loose and crimped. I generally turned up at her house late morning to watch the tennis from Wimbledon and later we walked up to the nearest town to grab a bite from an exotically named place called the Deli. Sometimes though we rented films from the local store and watched them at my house, one of which was Singles. C's mother had warned us against seeing it but I was still keen, especially knowing how much her mother disliked me for being rude whenever I asked for another drink at dinnertime. C. found it stupid, I loved it and ended watching most of it by myself. I dreamed of living in a complex with people like that who you could always hang out with or ask for advice, of being able to dry my laundry in the courtyard and meet guys at rock concerts or at the newstand.

16 years later, I put the DVD into my computer and could remember almost everything, as if time had stood still; Nancy's earrings, the garage door opener, the salad Bridget Fonda makes for herself and her sneezes, Cliff installing the car stereo. I also started thinking about the single life which I've now been living for a year and a half. At the beginning of every new English course, I normally invite my students to ask me questions and dread the almost inevitable "Are you married?" and "Do you have children?". I register their looks or surprise or disappointment and wonder why I let this bother me. Do I look so old that everyone assumes I must have a family? Is there really no other way to live? Do my male colleagues get asked the same things? Being single then is still considered a little desperate or to be pitied as I was reminded one day over lunch with my brother and his wife who pointed out that I shouldn't lose any time settling down since I was almost thirty then argued that I was still too young to know what I wanted when I replied that I didn't want to have a family.

Apart from one long relationship, all my others were short lived so I have often been single. Sometimes I used to worry about being alone, wondering if I should try online dating or imagining how I would meet The One on the journey to work, sitting next to each other at the latest Woody Allen film or reaching for the same volume of French literature in the library. Yet solitude has always been a part of who I am; I grew up almost as an only child since my other half siblings lived elsewhere or had already moved out, I was a loner at school and as I've said before, I need time both with and away from others. A student of mine described how she went from her parents' house straight into her marriage and couldn't imagine spending even one night without her family and looked horrified when I told her about my four days alone in Venice. In the shared flat in Charlottenburg, I dreamed of escaping to my own place amidst all the noise and chaos of my flatmate and her boyfriend but had an image in in my mind of a lonely person spending night after night eating a spaghetti dinner and watching a movie. Wouldn't I miss that interaction and wouldn't living on my own make me more aware of what was missing in my life? Almost a year later, I know neither of those things to be true; I have plenty of friends to spend time with and cook for. Even if I often watch DVDs alone, there's something deeply satisfying about preparing myself good food, not having to care about other people's tastes as I sit in my kitchen savouring the special moment that dinner represents for me. I wouldn't want you to think that my life is perfect; I still have plenty of meltdown moments, wondering which direction to take for the future and getting nervous if everything goes too well. Sometimes I miss cooking for others on a regular basis, of having someone to share things with but I wouldn't want to just be in a relationship in order not to be alone either and know there's nothing sad or pathetic about dinner for one.

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My flat, seen from the neighbour's balcony. The kitchen is on the left, the bathroom in the middle and the bedroom on the right.

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In Volkspark Friedrichshain

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Haus der Statistik, still there awaiting demolition

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This sounds a total contradiction but I rarely make one portion meals or desserts, preferring to freeze the leftovers or share with my friends and students. Last week, I finally took the plunge and made Kim Boyce's Olive Oil cake with chocolate chips and fresh rosemary from her book Good to the Grain. All through measuring out the ingredients and mixing, I was sceptical about whether this would be the cake for me. But it truly is as amazing as everyone says and I urge you to try it for yourselves before the hot weather makes it impossible to switch on the oven. I'd even go so far as to say it was one of the best cakes I've ever tasted.

Olive Oil Cake (from Good to the Grain, Luisa posted the recipe here a while back)

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17 commentaires:

  1. We are a bit alike. Like you I don't really feel the need to have my own family and get bummed when people ask if I want children. I am quite a lonely person, although I have a boyfriend. I grew up alone (I have a sister whom I don't see anymore and who was never very present) and had no friends...

    Stay the way you are! Your world is lovely.

    Nice pictures and a promising olive oil cake!



  2. When you know what's right for you then there's no need to apologize for your choices, to anyone.

    It's nice that you've found some balance in your single life. There's nothing wrong with dinner for one Emily. Being with someone just so that you're not alone is what's actually pathetic.

  3. Goodness, 30 is so young! The world still looms huge before you.
    Good for you to dismiss any natterings to the contrary. I get the "so sad you never had children" remark a lot. No, I say, not sad at all. I never wanted them, don't like the idea and prefer dogs to children ....ssssooo there!
    Friends, great food, interesting job... sounds like a full rich life to me.

  4. No kids here, either. It's interesting how some people find the choice so incomprehensible. None of my close friends have them, either. We often feel badly for people who do because their lives are no longer their own. Great photos. Thank you for posting.

  5. I like you just the way you are. There are so many ways to live and you are one of the lucky few that realizes this is so. I don't know if this is a good thing, but my husband tells me about conversations he has with his single friends about how they are also questioned about marriage and children. They don't like it very much. Yes, I am married, but I enjoy my alone time. I enjoy solo travel. Some people describe being bored when they are alone. This I do not understand. Be curious, carry a book, never get bored.

  6. @Rosa - Hey that's amazing how much we have in common and then with your family coming from Derbyshire! Growing up, you always think nobody else is like you or has the same feelings but that's not true. I love your rock 'n roll attitude!
    @Magda - Well we don't have much time to do everything we want to so it makes sense to try and find things that make us happy or for for us and I'm in no hurry to change things. Thanks for those inspiring words.
    @Deana - Before I turned 30, it seemed terribly old but now I feel it's young and there's so much left to discover. I like the fact that people live differently, some with kids, some alone but hate it when others say to me that one day I'll wake up and realise I need a family. How do they know?
    @AM - Sometimes I feel bad talking about how I don't want a family because people who do seem to think I'm criticising them or you come across as a monster but I feel better reading your comment, knowing I'm not the only one out there.
    @Denise - Being married doesn't mean you can't be free, it's just another form of commitment and I think that's great and that you still go your own way. You always inspire me with your posts and comments and that helps when I doubt myself. Also I think I'm going to have the last sentence as my official motto from now on.

  7. A great post and photos. I like the view of your apartment. Dinner for one is okay, I am married, yet I travel on my own, have time to myself, basically my own agenda. I don't have to call my friends everyday, and I avoid crowd scenes. I enjoy getting together, and having a good party every so often. Alone time is important to me.

  8. Hi, my Berlin correspondent!
    I was going to say that you don't have to ever apologise for wanting to be yourself, or for not conforming to other people's worldviews (especially people who may be secretly jealous that they're not as free as you are...) - but I see many others have got in first!
    One never knows what may happen in life, how much we choose and how much randomness just happens to us (speaking for myself, anyway) - but your life sounds lovely to me and you have a knack for enjoying the beauty in things. Your blog is part of that - and I love it.
    Abbie x

  9. I'm rather surprised at the kids' reactions in this day and age. It certainly shouldn't bother you. You have such a life full of interests, travel and friends.
    I have a daughter in her early 50's who's never been married. She's worked hard all her life on her business and loves to travel. I don't think she minds about not having kids, but I know she has her moments of unhappiness; but don't we all?

  10. @Abbie - I'm very flattered that you consider me as that but thanks! Your comment brought tears to my eyes and I feel so touched by what you say that I can't find the right words to respond. Only that meeting you here was one of the best things for me and I'm so glad to have you as friend. I'll stop now before I become embarrassingly sentimental.
    @Barbara - I'm happy with the kind of life I choose and know it's right for me so it's probably the conservative sexism that annoys me more. Your daughter is such a great example for me and I love hearing about her achievements.
    @Lecia - You always say the nicest things - thank you so much.

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  12. Oh, god, oh, god... to think that I only find the time to read this. I related to every single thing you said in your post. I'm single too. Yes, I have a few years before turning thirty (but very few, that is..) but I can feel people judging me, or at least feeling sorry for me - not to mention my family. It's really hard to make people understand your life choices. In my case, I can sense that my grandmother is wondering why it is that I'm not married, with kids, living in a nice house that I saved for. And I know she disapproves of my constantly renewed travels plans. But that's just the way it is. I have had relationships, some functional, some that didn't make any sense. In both cases, I always went back to my life as a single woman. Yes, there are days when I feel alone. But most of the time I feel fine. I have a lot to do, many friends, and appreciate the freedom involved by me lifestyle. I chose to live this way, and it also happened to me in the sense that I didn't meet the right person for me. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won't. In the meantime, I wanna tell people to please let me keep my peace of mind. So, all in all, thanks for this post. We're not abnormal for god sake, just SINGLE. Yeah!

  13. Tu fais toujours d'aussi jolies photos ! Et j'aime te lire ... C'est vrai que l'on voudrait toujours ce que l'on a pas ... QUand je rentre le soir et que la maison s'agite en tous sens, je voudrais parfois être seule ... Mes copines, souvent des célibataires heureuses de l'être, voudraient quand même pouvoir préparer un pot au feu pour 4 le soir ... alors que je voudrais prendre un bouquin avec une bricole dans le réfrigérateur au lieu de faire la cuisine pour tout le monde ... en fait, la vie est ainsi faite, on a besoin de rêver de changement, même si tout va bien. C'ets plutôt une bonne chose, non ? ;o)
    Bises et bonne journée

  14. Bon, rien a rajouter a ce que viens de dire Helene - pareil pour moi.
    Sois toi meme - les gens trouveront toujours a critiquer de toutes facons. Et je vais de ce pas jeter un coup d'oeil a ce gateau prometteur.

  15. Sorry for taking so long to reply to you all and thanks so much for the lovely comments!
    @Pia - Hope you're well (the foot too) and that everything went fine with your move. You always inspire me with your attitude. I think many people who aren't available envy us sometimes so that's why we get criticised but there's no recipe for a happy life, it's what works best for you. Good luck with everything, stay asyou are and fingers crossed there's a bit of time for reading.
    @Hélène - J'aime beaucoup ta nouvelle photo de profil - très jolie! Je crois qu'on a toujours envie de ce'on a pas et ce qui compte, c'est d'aimer les bonnes choses, avoir de amis sympas. Je comprends parfaitement ce que tu dis, même si je n'ai pas de famille et je n'arrêterai surtout pas de rêver - merci!
    @Gracienne - Merci pour l'encouragement. Je trouve qu'il est beaucoup plus facile d'être moi-même maintenant que je n'ai plus 20 ans. Le perfectionnisme me dégoûte plutôt.