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Yes, It Happens: Eating Alone in College.


Girl eating alone
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Do you remember that scene from Mean Girls? When Lindsey Lohan looks across the cafeteria during lunch and realizes she has nowhere to sit? If you haven’t seen it, let me finish the story: she ends up eating her lunch alone in the bathroom, completing the nightmare of every new student.

But that moment? It’s reality… and in college, it happens to everyone. You’d think that with 15,000 students at your university, you’d never have to sit alone. Or, at least, that you wouldn’t feel so anxious about it. You’re in college! You’re supposed to be an adult now. Calm, cool, and collected.

Despite all of these things, when that dreaded lunch break between classes creeps up, sometimes you can’t help but feel like that poor new high school freshman, gripping your tray of terrible cafeteria food. Ugh.

Eating Alone: Awkward but Manageable

Being an Army brat, I’ve done the “new kid” act about a million times. So I’ve learned a couple of tips about eating alone, how to handle it, and how to make sure it isn’t a regular thing, if it bothers you. Here are my top tips and tricks:

  • Don’t panic. Please, please, for the love of Jake Gyllenhaal, don’t panic! Anxiety will just make you freak out in a public setting, which will destroy any chance you have of sitting with a human being. Plus, you probably won’t even be hungry anymore after all the worrying. Stay calm, whatever you do.
  • If you see someone you even remotely know, sit down! That girl in your Freshman Comp class sitting by herself? She’s probably just as nervous as you are! I know it’s hard going up to a stranger and talking to them, but the feeling you get from a smiling face and a welcoming invitation is worth it. Believe me.
  • If you end up alone, use your time productively. Take this alone time as a good thing! Work on some homework, flip through a magazine, watch some Netflix. It’s very relaxing to just have some “me” time in between classes. Relish in it, even if it seems weird in the beginning.
  • People watch, but don’t creep. I love sitting in a coffee shop and just watching the people walk by. It’s a very soothing experience to just notice the world around you. Make up crazy lives for the people standing in line, but don’t snoop on people’s conversations and things. That’s creepy.
  • If all else fails, fake it till you make it. My first week of college, I saw a guy eating alone in the cafeteria, and I swear he looked like he preferred to eat alone. Like you had to have an invitation just to sit with him. I was so impressed, and I really wanted to embody his sass and confidence. This guy is a great example: If you pretend to be confident and care-free, soon enough, you will actually look and feel that way.

At the end of the day, eating alone isn’t the worst thing in the word, I promise. It may seem like it at the time, but everyone feels awkward at some point in their college career. Heck, I’m STILL there, and knowing me, I’ll stay there. But it’s always nice to know you have a few tricks up your sleeve to help ease one of the many problems you can face being in college.

So pack up your lunch boxes, get your special snack to swap with a potential lunch buddy, and happy eating!

Your thoughts?

Do you like to eat by yourself in college or do you find it awkward? How do you handle it? Do you follow any of these tips? Tell us in the comments section!

Posted on on January 6, 2013 / Filed Under: College Life / Tags: , , ,

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40 Responses to “Yes, It Happens: Eating Alone in College.”

  1. 1
    January 6th, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Thank you for this article! I myself eat alone pretty often in college and even though it really sucked at first, I’ve gotten pretty used to it, I actually kind of prefer it now, but it’s nice to know I’m not completely alone in thinking all these things!

  2. 2
    January 6th, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Love this article. I always tell people I am socially awkard and an introvert so this is great for me thanks. It is nice to be alone sometimes so it isn’t a big deal.

  3. 3
    January 6th, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    I used to feel that way about eating alone in high school, but since there’s no set lunch time, where you almost certainly know people, sitting alone in college has always seemed pretty acceptable to me. I actually prefer sitting alone, and checking my email/facebook/homework/etc in between classes. Just some chillaxing me time.

  4. 4
    January 6th, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    I almost always eat alone and never really thought about it. My prefered place to work is a corner in the libraries cafe, and I work pretty much solid 9am-6pm Monday to Thursday in return for a three day weekend spent being social.

  5. 5
    January 6th, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    I’m a senior in college and still have issues eating alone. We have two main cafateria’s for students, the one that people go to when they are rushing, and the one that actually has the decent food. I’ve always been able to eat alone at the rushing one, because most people do there.
    The third suggestion you gave is my go-to when I have to eat alone at the decent food place. I always have a notebook & textbook with me or my iPad that way I can look like I’m being productive and semi-purposely eating alone.
    The people watching one I do at the school’s cafe all the time, glad I’m not the only one creating stories about people’s lives!

  6. 6
    January 6th, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    lunch break is not that long so you usually have to rush anyway so eating alone is really not that bad. plus our cafeteria food is just delicious so it’s worth it!!

  7. 7
    January 6th, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    This is great! I didn’t like the thought of eating alone when I first got to college, but I’ve gotten used to it. I actually prefer eating alone; I can have my “me time”!

  8. 8
    January 6th, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    I feel as if we’re losing our ability to be alone. You don’t have to be with someone else to be happy or content. Don’t pull out your phone and pretend to be texting, just find the ability to sit on your own and entertain yourself.

  9. 9
    January 6th, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    I sit alone all the time, I actually prefer eating alone most of the time. I don’t get interrupted from my food and I don’t have to make conversation with people I barely know.

  10. 10
    January 6th, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Susan, my thoughts exactly!

  11. 11
    January 6th, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    I actually love to get lunch by myself, you get to just focus on what you eat and if I have a bit more time I find a nice book to read. I treat the 30 minutes as my private time during a hectic day.

  12. 12
    January 6th, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    I love eating alone for lunch! Sometimes I found it more hectic to try to coordinate things with my friends, and with only a half hour between classes, I never had much time to chat anyway. At the beginning of each semester my best friends and I would send out our schedules and coordinate one day when we would all be able to get food together then during the rest of the week is was more impromptu.

  13. 13
    January 6th, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    You make it sound as though eating alone is a bad thing…

  14. 14
    January 6th, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    i used to freak out and text friends i know who goes to my college and see if theyre also on break, if no one’s there i dont eat there and just drive out to eat somewhere haha. NOW, i prefer to eat alone, my actual alone time.

  15. 15
    January 6th, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    Eating alone is not a big deal in college at all! You are on your own schedule and need to do your own thing a lot of the time. Don’t feel like you need to coordinate plans with someone else allll the time (goes for everything, not just going to lunch).

  16. 16
    January 6th, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    I agree with Susan, NC and Marlena. I’d rather eat alone than be stuck with a person I don’t like to eat with. It happened before, when I was with this lunch group and they’d backbite this person when he’s not eating with us, because he’s annoying. I’d join the backbiting, but I realized it’s not very pretty.

    Before, I always wanted to be seen with a group all the time. Now I realized it’s childish behavior. To each his own if you want to eat alone/with a group.

    Oh yeah, when you’re really hungry and you just have to eat, you wouldn’t mind eating alone; you just want your hunger to be solved. On the other hand, I am a loner/introvert but I meet up with friends if I have time, despite the different schedules.

  17. 17
    January 6th, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    Of course eating alone is not a bad thing (and is often preferable to eating with others depending on who they are!). But why is this on a fashion website?

  18. 18
    January 6th, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    I used to eat alone in the dining hall a lot when I still lived in the dorms. It’s really not a huge deal in college. But if you’re self-conscious and might feel weird eating alone for the first time, here are some more tips:
    – take the time to read a book, watch some TV on your laptop, or listen to music while eating
    – eat at less normal meal hours (like after class at 3PM) because there are less people then, and most of them are eating alone, too

  19. 19
    January 6th, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    I have been out of university for years but I travel for work and if I want to eat somewhere nice I don’t care if I am alone – I am used to eating out in restaurants alone. My tips are to bring a magazine (or reading material) and to sit somewhere that is not smack in the middle of the restaurant or cafeteria. People watching is fun and sure you may have anxiety the first few times but after a while it is no big deal.

  20. 20
    January 6th, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    I’m in high school and were you sit in the cafeteria for the first day of school is generally were you sit for the rest of the year. There are no assigned seats but people sit in the same place anyway. Dispite the fact that +300 kids are eating at the same time, I have sat alone on more than one occasion. I normally just pull out a book and read.

  21. 21
    January 6th, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    YAY!! Alaina this is such a good article. AND BY THE WAY hit me up for lunch. You know I’m always down for the walk to eat with you. Miss you, see you soon! :) <3 RT

  22. 22
    January 6th, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    I’ve never understood the big deal with eating alone. Unless it’s my close friends, I’d prefer a book to company. I won’t sit in the dining hall, though, it’s too crowed and there aren’t a lot of single tables, I’ll get “to go” and eat on the nice couches in the student union, or upstairs in our student lounge area on a big, tall stool. Last year, when I started commuting and I had a huge break, i’d just sit with my compautre alone in the corner on a couch and surf, It was awesome.

  23. 23
    January 7th, 2013 at 1:07 am

    I agree with Susan about how we’re losing the ability to be alone. Another take on “How to Be Alone” is in this poetic, short video: The narrator talks about how we are conditioned to be afraid of being alone (like there is something wrong with us if we are), and covers subjects like eating alone and going out alone. :) It’s an inspiring video, I really recommend it. :)

    I used to be self-conscious about eating alone until I met some great people who were quite comfortable with themselves when alone. I feel as though lunch has less pressure to eat with people than dinner does, especially when folks who live on campus gather after a day of classes.

  24. 24
    January 7th, 2013 at 3:44 am

    Perhaps it’s because I’m an only child and have spent most of my life entertaining myself, but I’ve always been okay with being alone. (To clarify: I like to be alone. I do not like to be lonely. Big difference. I think that distinction, or lack thereof, is what frightens a lot of people about being alone.)
    In a group setting, I’m really extroverted, but my natural instinct is to spend time alone, go on walks by myself, etc. If anything, I need to condition myself to stop being so okay with solitude!

  25. 25
    January 7th, 2013 at 4:40 am

    I really liked this post! And ladies, who cares if we’re eating alone? It only matters when we care about what others think. Enjoy your alone time and have fun eating hahaha :)

  26. 26
    January 7th, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Good article! I’m not comfortable with eating alone, but then again I usually pack my lunch and eat in my car before heading off to class. Lol

  27. 27
    January 7th, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    I actually eat alone every day since I eat in a college near my internship (it’s the cheapest place to eat) that it’s not the one I study! I try not to be bothered by it, I usually spend my ‘me’ time texting my friends :)

  28. 28
    January 7th, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    Wait, this is a thing after high school? When I was in college, everyone sat wherever the heck they wanted, most of them frantically cramming and/or praying while doing so. Sitting alone with a book in a long break between classes is great. (Also, get off my lawn!)

  29. 29
    January 7th, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    I love eating alone. I didn’t think being self-conscious about it was a thing haha.

  30. 30
    January 7th, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    Eating alone in high school and college are definitely two different things. In college, I pretty much always sat alone if I had time to go to the cafeteria. It can be really nice to get that time alone. It gives you time to study, work, obviously eat, or just have some time to yourself. It may seem awkward for a bit, but I realized really early on that a lot of people eat by themselves, and that’s completely fine. Find a place you like and go for it.

  31. 31
    January 9th, 2013 at 1:01 am

    I go to a commuter school in NYC – mostly everything I do while on campus I do alone, and that’s totally fine with me! I’ve always been very independent, so sitting alone in the cafeteria to eat a pizza slice doesn’t bother me at all. Especially because a ton of people around me are also eating alone. And in between classes I just sit and listen to my ipod, read, or do homework. It’s a lot different than the stigma of sitting alone in high school! No one truly will judge you for being alone around a college campus.

  32. 32
    January 9th, 2013 at 3:11 am

    In high school it can be daunting eating alone at lunch, but in college it’s totally fine. I don’t know, I see people eat alone all the time, and you don’t have to necessarily eat in the lunchroom. You can eat places around campus if its allowed. Sometimes people’s schedules don’t line up anyway so they’ll eat during class. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, and in college people are usually (and thankfully) pass the lunch room drama.

  33. 33
    January 9th, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    It’s funny, I never considered it strange to eat alone in university or college. In my experience it’s only been people still clinging to high school cliquishness (sp?) that felt any negative feelings toward it, or people who are extremely insecure about themselves and dependent on others to feel secure. I’m not saying it’s a horrible thing to want to eat with other people–there are certainly times when I do, generally when I’m having a bad day–but some people need to acknowledge that a persistent need for human contact at all times of the day might stem from a personal fear or worry they need to face and conquer or at least come to terms with.

  34. 34
    January 10th, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    I never really had a problem with eating alone. Sometimes eating dinner alone sucks, but oh well. During the day I’m lucky if I have time to eat, much less time to worry about whether or not I’m eating alone. My advice: Get over it. You’re in college and probably have a lot more to worry about (like that five page paper you’re probably putting off until the last minute).

  35. 35
    January 11th, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    I like this article especially that last tip I often eat lunch alone because I have different classes now unlike before I had block mates and the first week I was really sad..

  36. 36
    January 25th, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    i like to eat alone in college because i suffer from social anxiety

  37. 37
    August 28th, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    I don’t think I’ll ever feel totally comfortable eating alone because I have Social Anxiety. Its only my 3rd day of college and i haven’t made any connections or friends yet. I am starving right noe and I try to tell myself to do things alone but I just can’t . Today I literally told myself to be brave and walked out of the school on the streets to go to the starbucks that it like a block away, but I couldn’t do it. I walked halfway then I sort of turned around in a different direction. Im afraid to
    walk alone in public AKA outside of my college which is my comfort zone
    My anxiety is eating me alive. I’d be sitting outside the cafeteria right now and all I wanna do is take a peek and see if a few other people are sitting alone and check out what the vibe is like and leave. But I afraid to do that, thinking everyone would think I’m a weirdo.

  38. 38
    September 4th, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    I’m so glad i stumbled upon this article. It’s nice to know that i am not the only one to have this worry. I am a freshmen and i feel a strong urge to eat with people because if i dont i feel that people will think i have no friends. But the article reminds me exactly what’s the problem – it’s my thoughs that are troubling me…other people couldnt care less about you. I hope i can get over with this obsessive thought soon. Thanks a lot for this article!
    Tammy – maybe you can try to listen to music while walking..that could hopefully distract you from your thoughts ( you have to be vigilant to the surroundings too of course)

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