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Gabriela’s Double Dog Dare

Gabriela Leskur | Thursday, September 19, 2013

Approach strangers and ask to sit with them.

Sit alone for one meal each day.

The dining hall can be a scary place. Where do you sit? Who do you sit with? When do you go? How do you coordinate with friends’ schedules? These are important questions people ask every time they walk toward the hallowed halls of  dining.

For one meal each day, I let all these questions fall to wayside. 

No worries accompanied me on my bike ride to North or South. I knew it did not matter when I went or where I sat because I was sitting alone-or sometimes, I was sitting with strangers.

Why would I do such a thing?

Because you dared me to.

Following in suit with Barney Stinson (pun intended) I took every dare to heart–challenges accepted.

“Can I sit with you?”

Gasp. Yes, I was that person: the person that goes up to strangers and asks to sit with them.

Throughout the course of the week, I approached strangers sitting alone or in groups and asked to join them in their apple-slice munching.

The experience was eye-opening.

Revelation: People do not like to be approached by strangers. 

Perhaps this is a good thing, a reinforcement of what our mothers have been teaching us since childhood: “Don’t talk to strangers.” 

In theory, this attitude is safe and practical. But in Notre Dame dining halls, is there really a reason to feel hostile toward strangers? Every friend is at first a stranger.

The looks on people’s faces were priceless, a mixture of confusion, shock, and distrust. Naturally-a stranger approaching you and asking to eat with you could only mean one thing: they’re really weird.

In this case that was true: I am weird. But I am a weird individual who is nonetheless worth getting to know. In fact, I’m actually kind of cool in my oddity. And just because I am approaching you for an unexpected blind friendship date doesn’t mean I’m a creep.

Most people were very standoffish at first. I could see a look of skepticism in their eyes as they hesitantly said yes.

The first few minutes were painfully awkward most of the time.

Eventually I explained to these people that I work for the Observer and accepting a dare to sit down with strangers. Their attitude immediately changed towards me.

Once I had a logical reason for approaching them, they really opened up to me, all reservations washed away, and I ended up having some great conversations.

I have to pause though and wonder why my explanation was necessary to their acceptance of me.

During Frosh-O, the golden days of awkwardness, it was completely acceptable to sit down with random people at the dining hall. In fact, that is how I made some good friends-being completely open to every new person you encountered, seeing them as potential friends first and foremost.

After eating a meal with some wonderful strangers this past week, I wonder if perhaps we should encourage that Frosh-O mentality, seeing strangers who approach us as not only as weirdos, but as friends.

Revelation: People sitting alone like to sit alone.

It was refreshing, sitting alone with the newspaper in my hand.

As three Socratic dialogues sat in my book bag and I sat in the dining hall, for the first time in a long time, I was able to peacefully read or observe my surroundings.

A common misconception is that people sitting at the dining hall don’t want to be sitting alone. Most solitary diners will tell you this is not true.

As I ate one meal alone every day this past week, I really began to enjoy the time to myself.

Notre Dame is a busy place. From roommates to classes to clubs, you can go an entire day without a moment to yourself. For many solitary diners, a quick meal at the dining hall is their time to recuperate.

 At first, I felt as if everyone was staring at my beloved baked Alfredo, pepperoni, sausage, and broccoli pasta and me.  Cue the extreme paranoia due to sleep deprivation. 

Once I got over the worry of what people thought of me, I began to revel in my isolation. Other people’s conversations served as white noise to my thoughts as I started to get in the groove.

 I would alternate between newspapers everyday, reading at least one article from every section of the paper and every newsource–some provided outside the dining hall and others accessible by my handy dandy little iPhone. 

As if being a PLS major didn’t give me enough insight into all the random and pertinent obscurities of the human mind, the cornucopia of news sources-from CNN to the Observer to Buzzfeed-gave new perspectives. I learned about finance and Syria and Miley Cyrus and SMC soccer. What a wonderful world! I feel like now I can fudge my way in a conversation with my business friends-thank you, New York Times-and with my 10 year old cousin-thank you, Celebrity gossip Selena Gomez update.

When I finished with my reading, I would just sit and eat and think until my stomach started revolting against my overconsumption of pasta and cheese.

I noticed the well-executed dance that individuals go through as they almost slip on their way to putting away their tray.

I noticed the orchestrated clapping when said person failed in their attempt not to drop their tray.

I noticed the girls who went to get a second helping of fro-yo-right on.

I noticed how many friends who came up to me and offered I sit with them.

I noticed plenty of wonderful things that I usually overlook.

At the end of these dares, I have come to a few conclusions:

1) People who ask to sit with me might just be looking for a friend. From now on, if some lonely or lost individual asks to eat with me, I will say yes if I can.

2) Sitting alone is a type of meditation. It’s a time to remove myself from Notre Dame and instead, spend some time catching up with myself and catching up with the world outside South Bend.

3) Both of these dares, I will willingly undertake again.

Contact Gabriela Leskur at [email protected]