Peloton Instructor Emma Lovewell on Learning to Date Yourself

I started dating myself, and I have to be honest, at first it wasn’t easy. Taking myself out wasn’t exactly scary, but it was definitely awkward. We are so busy all the time, so scheduled and constantly connected, that being alone in a restaurant came as a bit of a shock. When I started taking myself out for dinner, I had thoughts about things I had never considered…What do I do with my hands? Do I just stare at the wall? Will people think I’m a freak if I sit here quietly and just do nothing? Resisting the lure of the phone was hard; it’s such an easy out! But I wanted to be present, to enjoy the gift that is being able to go out for dinner and eat such wonderful things. I wanted to appreciate every single smell and subtle flavor, I wanted these evenings alone to be a gift to myself. Now, every Monday night I have a standing date with myself (and a big bowl of noodles). I’ve roamed the city eating up soba noodles, dan dan noodles, miso ramen, brothless ramen, wonton noodle soup, dumpling soup, tofu salads, pickled vegetables…ALL of the wonderful, beautiful food. While the food is the highlight, it’s not the sole purpose of these outings. This is doing something for me and taking the time to fully appreciate and savor something I love.

The Japanese restaurant I’m taking myself to tonight is on a quiet side street in an otherwise ultra-busy Midtown Manhattan. I cross over the busy avenue onto the street that’s graced with brownstones and quiet little restaurants. There is a short set of stairs leading down from the street, and when I enter the restaurant I step into a bundle of activity. Waiters scurry around carrying big steaming bowls of deliciousness. The restaurant is full of couples and groups of friends sharing conversation and noodles. I tell the hostess I’d like a table for one. She leads me to a table in the corner. The red decor gives the place a cozy feeling—like I’ve stumbled into a secret den for noodle lovers. She smiles and hands me a menu. “Just you?” I nod. “Yes, just me.” She grabs the second set of cutlery off the table and scurries off to her next task.

I dive into the menu as I would a new book. I read about how they prepare the pork broth in some sort of special pot for hours and hours. I learn that “round blade noodles fineness #26” are a preferred noodle to use here, because it fits in so well with the pork broth and the chashu—or slow-roasted pork belly. In my head, I am drooling. I have no shame when it comes to noodles. While I am a ride-or-die noodle fan, the rest of the menu holds my attention too. Edamame, shishito peppers, three kinds of hirata buns—chicken, pork, and veggie—and sake cocktails. I decide on the classic ramen (fineness #26 for the win) and start with the ohitashi—seasonal chilled veggies in dashi dressing. After I order there’s always a bit of awkwardness for me. It is almost laughable how difficult it is to know what to do with yourself when you’re alone. At first, I always revert back to checking my phone, even though I tell myself to just be. Just sit! I use the time to scroll through my emails, answering some and making notes about things I’ll need to take care of later. I put my phone down on the table and have to force myself not to pick it up again. Smartphones are such a default—such an easy way to distract yourself from aloneness.

instant noodle soup in a white bowl on a yellow background top view

Courtesy Tatiana Lieto

The ohitashi arrives—it’s practically a work of art. Carrots, daikon, broccoli, peppers, and cauliflower all cut into perfectly proportionate shapes. There is nothing basic about this. They are as colorful as a kaleidoscope, presented in a mason jar, which I gently pour onto my plate. They are tender and flavorful—the dashi dressing adding a crazy amount of flavor, but not overpowering the simplicity. They are so pretty, I am almost sad I’m alone just because it would be nice to share the loveliest vegetables I have ever seen with Dave. I tell myself I’ll have to bring him the next time we are in the city. The ramen arrives next, the flavor of the broth practically detectable from the steam rising off of it. The bowl in front of me might as well be a bowl of pure joy. Give me a bowl of noodle soup and I’m basically a kid on Christmas morning. A bowl of noodles has the power to relax me, excite me, nourish me, and make me feel like the world is just the most wonderful place and it is just good to be alive. I dig in with my chopsticks, going straight for the noodles. They are a perfect texture, a hint of a bite but not al dente…and definitely not too soft. The noodles carry the flavor of the broth along with them, rich and meaty with the ideal level of saltiness. The chashu practically melts in my mouth like some kind of magical not quite liquid gold. I taste it all, feel it all, and am appreciative for the hands in the kitchen that crafted these noodles, created the stock, roasted the pork so well. I eat slowly and deliberately, finally shedding the self-consciousness of being alone, because now I am grateful that there is nothing else for me to do but marvel at all of the beauty inside of this bowl.

Time alone for just you and something you love is an incredible gift to give yourself (even if it’s a hard gift to accept at first). Have you allowed yourself time to truly be alone? Just you, no smartphone, nothing but you and your five senses. It’s so incredibly easy to be distracted, to not enjoy experiences fully because life is constantly flying at us. We don’t have time to smell the roses, much less the bone broth that’s simmered for sixteen long hours. But carving out time each week, even if it’s just a super quick activity at first—to savor a perfect cappuccino, to walk in the woods, to order a single glass of pinot noir at a wine bar, to see a movie, to browse in a bookstore without being rushed…this is some of the greatest love you can show yourself.

Ballantine Books Live Learn Love Well: Lessons from a Life of Progress Not Perfection

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Ballantine Books Live Learn Love Well: Lessons from a Life of Progress Not Perfection

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The term “self-love” is thrown around a lot, but how many of us really put it into practice in a consistent way? What would it be like to put these concepts into action by purposefully loving, treating, and dating yourself? We spend so much time caring for others and navigating the day-to-day demands of life that we don’t often take a moment to give ourselves props for a job well done. Self-love means knowing your value, and something starts to shift inside when we acknowledge that value. We revel in our self-worth, understand our strengths, and become aware of how much we’re capable of. When you love yourself the energy you put out into the world sparkles and shines. Loving yourself is like having your own stash of secret treasure. You walk through life knowing you’re worthy of the wonderful things that come your way. While I had loved myself and treated myself consistently for a long time, it never occurred to me to take myself out on dates. But something started to shift in me after I added noodle dates to my self-care routine. I shed the anxiety about being alone; I didn’t care if I was essentially staring at a wall. The simple kindness of taking myself out overshadowed all that, and all that was left for me to do was eat and enjoy. That’s the real power of self-love, it puts you in the right frame of mind to enjoy what’s right in front of you. Love yourself, treat yourself, date yourself…and get ready to relish all the goodness and joy you bring into your own life.

ramen noodle

From the book Live Learn Love Well: Lessons From a Life of Progress Not Perfection by Emma Lovewell. Copyright © 2023 by Emma Lovewell. Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

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