Valentine’s Day is upon us again.

It’s easy to let this holiday, and the consumerist frenzy surrounding it, make us feel life is a choice—a choice between the tundra of solitude and the pastures of romance.

And Americans are prepared to spend dollars—$19 billion of them on this Valentine’s Day alone—to make sure it turns out in our favor.

On this special day, TIME asked Jerry Hsu, 33 year old California native and founder of the photo blog Table For One, for his thoughts on solitude in America.

“I often eat out alone,” he told TIME, “I found myself wondering about other people dining by themselves and what their thoughts and lives were like. It made me really contemplate the connotations of eating alone and the stigma people have about being by themselves.”

He decided to explore the issue with photography. Snapped with a cellphone (mostly by himself but also by friends) at chain restaurants, cafes and public plazas, the photos on Table for One are presented with no comments or captions, in order to let the audience form its own opinion.

Hsu says he gets a lot of positive reactions, but “most people find it sad and depressing. I think those knee jerk reactions say more about an individual’s relationship to the subject matter. Apparently, eating out alone is excruciating to some people! Just being with yourself sometimes is important and these photos cause you to evaluate your own feelings and perceptions about solitude.”

Jerry Hsu is founder of the blog Table for One

Myles Little is an Associate Photo Editor for TIME

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