For the past few years, I’ve had two default options I could turn to when I wanted to cry: (1) watching Sarah McLachlan’s ASPCA commercial about animal cruelty and (2) thinking about the plot to Liane Moriarty’s novel What Alice Forgot. (After suffering a head injury, Alice can’t remember the past decade of her life or how she and her husband, who she’s in love with, have come to be on the brink of divorce.)

This week I came across a third thing that brought me to tears–upon reading it and in trying to describe it later to David. It was a set of guidelines for socially isolated older adults looking to increase enjoyment at mealtimes. It included tips like starting an eating club, dining by a window, and giving a table a special touch by adding a decorative vase.

The guidelines struck me in a few places. First, in my grief for others–the many seniors out there in the world whose loneliness seemed palpable to me in the moment. And then again in memories of my own college lunches–when I’d buy food at the campus center and take it back to my house to eat alone. There were many groups dining on campus–lots of people I knew–but they seemed to belong to each other and not to me.

I also ate breakfast alone in college. I did this at the campus center. A fraternity guy who was in some of my economics classes was often there at the same time eating by himself. I enjoyed watching him discretely because he was handsome in a cartoonish way with big eyes and a broad mouth. We ate nearby each other many times but I never spoke to him–in the cafeteria or in class.

The third place the mealtime advice for older adults struck me was the present. In the longing I feel for close friendships (beyond my marriage). I’ve made some progress since college, but establishing friendships and feeling a sense of belonging are still things I struggle with. And things I hope to improve. Because I enjoy being alone but I want to stave off loneliness–especially as I age.

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