Earlier this week, CNN reported on a new social networking site called Invite for a Bite. The concept is to match women with platonic lunch or dinner partners so that we can avoid the shame and loneliness of eating alone. Except, some of us love eating alone. My preference is to bring along a book or an iPhone's worth of Instapapered articles, but even when eavesdropping is the only entertainment on offer, I still consider eating alone to be one of life's greatest pleasures (topped only by solitary cinema visits).
I realise the site is kindly intended: after listening to an item on Woman's Hour about female travellers who hated eating alone, site founder Cressida Howard set out to make it possible for two or more women to grab a bite together anywhere in the world. There's no fee to join, and if Radio 4 is to be believed, it fills a need. But it might be more helpful to stop stigmatising women who spend time on their own in the first place. One of the women CNN interviewed said she skips meals on business trips if her colleagues aren't around, while another said she feels like people see her as "either a woman out to pick up men or a sad, lonely spinster" when she goes into a bar or restaurant on her own.
I'm sure these women will welcome IFAB, but I'd rather see a website that challenges sexist stereotypes than one that suggests the way to combat them is to never eat alone while female. This seems like a step backwards, buying into the old-fashioned idea that it's not decent for women to eat alone, and suggesting that we can't communicate with a waiter unless there are two of us. In addition to its retrograde outlook, it's also blithely heteronormative: male/female lunches aren't allowed because of the possibility of users turning a meal-matching service into a dating site (do you want to tell Howard that gay people exist, or shall I?). And it encourages the idea that all-female gatherings are automatically safer than mixed groups, which isn't necessarily the case. I can see the logic of meeting up with another woman when travelling to remote places where women's rights are questionable and dining alone could be dicey – it's a practical solution in an imperfect world – but it seems unnecessarily cautious back home.
Worst of all for an introvert like me, the site promotes the idea that hanging out with a random stranger (or several) is fun. It's not that I'm against making friends, but compulsory small talk is torturous. And I've been cornered by enough strangers in cafes, shops and on public transport to get an idea of how the British public thinks. I harbour no illusions that my spiritual soulmate is just a bon mot away. Although Invite for a Bite's FAQ section claims that its meet-ups are "like going to a party where everyone wants to talk to you", with no screening process, there's no way to weed out the socially awkward among us. And if you've ever met up with someone you know from the internet and discovered they were nothing like they seemed on screen, you'll know that it's incredibly difficult to gauge compatibility via a computer. Spending time with someone with whom you have little in common can feel far more alienating than being alone.
In The New York Times last weekend, psychologist Sherry Turkle argued that constantly checking Facebook, Twitter and email in order to stay connected is actually making us more lonely. Joining a site to make lunch dates feels like the real-world equivalent. Surely it's more tragic to spend time with someone just because you can't face being alone than to chew a caesar salad on your lonesome? The editor of the New York Observer, Elizabeth Spiers, seems to think so, writing on her Tumblr this week: "Maybe I'm just a weirdo, but I love eating alone in restaurants. (Preferably at the bar, preferably with a good book.) I guess I haven't internalized the horrible social stigma of doing so."
I guess I haven't either. I'd rather not start now.
• Follow Comment is free on Twitter @commentisfree
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012