I’ve had the good fortune to spend several major holidays at Walt Disney World with my family. Last week, as I made reservations to spend the winter holidays at the parks again this year, I was reminded of a situation we encountered on Thanksgiving Day 2008.
My three pre-teen daughters, my husband Jeff, and I are dining at the California Grill. They’ve got a special menu of turkey and all the trimmings, hubby and I ordered a nice bottle of wine, and we’ve timed it so that Wishes is starting just as we’re ready for dessert. It’s pretty much a perfect celebratory situation.
We’re enjoying each other’s company and the dining room is filled with other families as pleased as we are. A few tables away from us, is a woman dining alone, seated by the window overlooking the Magic Kingdom. She’s well-dressed, maybe late-30s or early 40s. She’s not reading a book or playing iPhone Scrabble (like I often do when I’m eating alone at a table service restaurant). She’s simply eating her turkey at a moderate pace, enjoying the view of the castle, and chatting pleasantly with the waiter when he comes to refill her water or offer more bread.
On absolutely any other day, I wouldn’t have given this woman a second thought. I’ve been that woman myself many times. I frequently travel to Walt Disney World on my own and often enjoy the peace of a solo meal at a fine restaurant.
If I had seen her a few days earlier, I would have assumed she was a business woman at a convention, or a food blogger, or just someone who likes to travel alone. Again, all perfectly normal situations. If I had seen her a few days earlier, I would have given her mental props for having the self-confidence to experience the best of Walt Disney World rather than hide in her room after her convention watching Stacey’s Top Seven while gorging on giant gummy bears.
But this was Thanksgiving, in my mind one of the most family-oriented holidays. And because it was Thanksgiving, and everyone else in the restaurant was in a family-sized group, I found this woman dining alone to be poignant and sad. I mentioned this to my husband and came up with the idea to invite her to dine with us.
Almost as soon as I said the words, I began to second-guess my instinct. Jeff and I proceeded to talk circles around the topic for the next 20 minutes of our meal. Some of our discussion points included:
- Why the heck would this perfectly normal-looking woman want to eat with some family she doesn’t even know?
- What prejudices are we revealing about ourselves when we assume that dining alone on a holiday means you’re lonely or sad?
- What possible harm could come of simply asking her to join us? The worst that could happen is that she says, “no.”
- No, the worst that could happen is that she starts to feel awkward or self-conscious because she thinks nut-jobs like us have been watching her.
- Would a woman dining alone in a nice restaurant on Thanksgiving be any less sad-seeming if the nice restaurant were somewhere other than Walt Disney World?
- If we asked the woman to join us, would we be teaching our daughters to be caring and kind. Or is the child-factor a big negative because who the heck knows what sort of embarrassing questions they might ask the woman.
- Maybe she’s not even from the USA. Maybe she didn’t know it was Thanksgiving and just happened to book her meal at the California Grill unaware of the holiday.
- Well, she’s eating turkey and speaking to the waiter in perfectly good English, doesn’t that imply she’s American?
- Maybe she’s Canadian. Isn’t their Thanksgiving different?
- We should ask her to join us, it’s the right thing to do.
- We should leave her alone and let her enjoy her peaceful evening.
- Eating alone on a family holiday is depressing.
- She doesn’t look depressed. Maybe she’s thrilled to be rid of some no-good cheating ex-husband who never let her go to Disney World and this a is triumph that she’s savoring.
Um, did I mention that we were talking in circles?
Eventually it got too late in the meal and she had moved onto dessert. We never did end up asking her to join us. But obviously I’m still so conflicted about our non-decision that I continue to think about it more than four years later.
So I’m putting it out there to you wise folks. Would you have asked the Thanksgiving solo-diner to join your family? Help me think it through in the comments below.