Long Reads

I Take a Hot Bath Every Single Night—Here’s Why

Zen and the art of stewing.

by:
May 17, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


“It doesn’t matter that he has the biggest smile you’ve ever seen—if he smells like fennel and walks like fennel and you hate fennel, red flag.”

My friend Irene is giving me a pep talk at my favorite bar after work. I’ve just broken off a long-distance relationship and need support. I feel empty inside; not sad, necessarily, just empty. Like I’d become so used to carrying around a big heaviness in my stomach all the time, and what’s left now is a gaping hole. It’s a new sensation.

According to Irene, I did the right thing. Her food metaphor makes me laugh, but her point is that we as people ignore red flags all the time, especially for those we love. But paying attention is an important part of taking care of ourselves.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Anyone who thinks heaven is not hot water behind a locked door has forgotten what it means to live.” ― Lucy Frank, Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling I am living in a 99 year old row house with the original claw foot tub. I keep it clean but a lot of the porcelain has worn off over the past centuries and sitting in it holds no appeal. My solace and pleasure is listening to music. I have an enormous cd collection. When I was going through difficult times, I stopped listening to music. Sometimes it seems when times are hard we stop doing things that give us solace and pleasure. As I began to get back on keel, I started listening to music again. Ah! Your bathing ritual sounds healing and restorative. Don't stop. Cheers! <3”
— Whiteantlers
Comment

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about that a lot: taking care of myself. What it means, and how to do it. It started when I left work early one night to see Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway. It’s my favorite musical in the world and, for me, one of the most honest, thoughtful contemporary representations of depression and anxiety.

The next day, I took myself out to lunch at a nearby Japanese restaurant—less because I was hungry, and more for a chance to step into the sun. The light felt good on my face.

And, most importantly, I started taking baths again.

When I first moved into my current apartment, I had a knot in my neck. I was utterly out of shape, and my bones and muscles ached from carrying a decade’s worth of heavy cardboard boxes 20 blocks. It didn’t help that I’d just started a new job and barely had time to make myself dinner, let alone unwind after work (i.e., snuggling with my dog in front of the television, big plate of risotto in hand).

The bathtub in this brand-new apartment building was the deepest I’d ever seen in New York City. Perfect for long hot soaks. As if I needed another push to take a bath every night, I didn’t own a shower curtain. It took me four months to buy one, which meant I "had to" take a bath for 120 days straight.

What began as a situation born of necessity (the need to not smell like dirty socks at work) turned into a restorative reprieve from long days at the office. I looked forward to coming home to hot water, a glass of wine, and my thoughts.

Suddenly, the knot in my neck loosened; my muscles stopped aching.

But then I started to feel guilty about it. Was I wasting time? Was I wasting water? I’d bring my computer into the bathroom and set it on a stool a few feet away from the tub so I could watch TV and bathe at the same time.

Surely nothing that feels this good is without negatives, I thought. Right?

Curious to know if anyone else out there felt the great comfort I’d found in baths, I started grilling my friends on the internet. I got every kind of answer, from people who light candles and put on music to those who read books and listen to podcasts and talk to God. One person even told me they sometimes like to eat their dinner in the water. Strangers reached out and walked me through their rituals: epsom salts, coconut oils, oatmeal soaks.

I quickly realized that my bath habit wasn’t that strange; if anything, it was the norm. Even more, knowing that so many other people in the world were taking time out of their nights for themselves made me feel somehow less alone in my indulgence.

But like most of my newfound “good” habits, of course, my nightly ritual petered out.

One night, I found myself skipping my bath so I’d have time to call my mom before she went to bed. At some point, I bought a shower curtain. Another evening, I jumped into the shower before bolting out the door to meet a friend for drinks. Before I knew it, I was taking showers again, and eventually forgot entirely about the long, slow baths that had helped me through those stressful nights.

It took another setback (my breakup) for me to seek out some semblance of that old relief. Before I realized what I was doing, I found myself walking to my bathtub, turning on the faucet, and holding my hand under the water until it turned scalding. I plugged the drain and let it fill. It was like muscle memory, my body feeding itself what it needed.

In Dear Evan Hansen, there’s an important line at the end of the show. Evan is writing a letter to himself, a daily assignment from his therapist to help him through his depression:

Dear Evan Hansen,
Today is going to be a good day. And here’s why: Because today? Today at least you’re you, and that’s enough.

There’s great relief in finding yourself suddenly alone and realizing not only that you’ve somehow survived your solitude, but that you may have even found solace in it, as well. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The one way to ever truly know that you’re okay is if you’re able to be alone and happy alone.

In many ways, my nightly hot baths—the ones I took when I first moved in, and the slower, more meditative ones I take now—center me and make me feel in control of my life for a change. Like writing a letter to oneself, taking a bath is a clear, deliberate action I can do every day, to ease my mind and calm my heart, and to set the tone for the next morning.

My baths have also given me the headspace to recognize the difference between this breakup and past ones, and that the gaping hole I’d been feeling all these weeks wasn’t a gaping hole at all: It was relief.

Contrary to popular belief, bath bombs don't have to break the bank. My nightly habit comes out to about 78 cents a night. Photo by Eric Kim

A close friend recently gifted me bath bombs, little orbs made of baking soda, soap, and essential oils. When you toss them into hot water, they effervesce, producing a surge of natural pigment and emanating a floral scent.

My nighttime ritual has since turned into a colorful fantasy: pinks, teals, ceruleans, and vermilions. I can choose my own color adventure based on my mood for the night. Angry? Chile-pepper red. Sad? Melancholic indigo. Calm and collected and blank? Vanilla-sugar white. Each is a manifestation of my emotions, an acknowledgement of them rather than an avoidance.

There’s great relief in finding yourself suddenly alone and realizing not only that you’ve somehow survived your solitude, but that you may have even found solace in it, as well.

With each bath I take, I’m leaning into any and all feelings of distress or joy I may be experiencing in the moment, with intention.

At the bar, Irene raises her martini glass to cheers my newfound singledom, shouting for all to hear: “YOUR CACHET IS ONLY RISING."

Everyone is looking at us now. I laugh and nod, pay for my drink, and head home for another long, hot soak.

Do you take baths? How often? Let us know in the comments below.

Solo Dinners That Taste Better in the Tub

Join the Conversation

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sherry E
    Sherry E
  • Whiteantlers
    Whiteantlers
  • Joanie922
    Joanie922
  • Marissa Lopez Ansani
    Marissa Lopez Ansani
  • Nancy Wall
    Nancy Wall
Comment
Eric Kim is a Senior Editor at Food52, where his weekly solo dining column, Table for One, runs every Friday morning. Formerly the Digital Manager at Food Network, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.

25 Comments

Sherry E. June 9, 2019
oh my just just what I needed this morning. truly serendipity that brought me to food52 this morning when not been here in forever and to this posting- thank you for this you dear person for writing it hope to read more of your thoughts...
 
Sherry E. June 9, 2019
whoops for got to say or ask, recommendations for bath oils or "bombs"?
 
Whiteantlers May 21, 2019
I hope you enjoy the Kneipp package. Aromatherapy at it's best; however the company does not allow a sender to enclose a gift card. : (

Happy soaking! -WA-
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 21, 2019
Thank you so much, friend. x
 
Joanie922 May 20, 2019
I love your articles. I live alone and fantasize about having a foot claw tub again. I remember my most relaxing times were when I would climb into tub with vine, candles and music. Because I have world's smallest shower, I have to relax in an area I carved out for self with comfy chair, hurricane candle holder filed with fairy lights, tea lights on window sill, tea and a good read or my journal. Carving out a special place and time for oneself is crucial. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a horrible event to remind a person how important self-care is.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 21, 2019
Aw, thank you. This is so poignant and true: "Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a horrible event to remind a person how important self-care is." Drawing a bath as we speak, sigh.
 
Sherry E. June 9, 2019
self care easier said than done...love hearing your creating it
 
Marissa L. May 20, 2019
I love the ritual of bathing, the way the water makes a rumbling, thunderous sort of sound. The proliferation of bubbles and rich aroma of essential oils. I can tell you that as a caregiver for my 96y/o dementia-afflicted grandfather, this is my one escapee. It's unbelievably restful and rejuvenating. So much so that my husband has "seen the light" and has his own stash of oils for his nightly baths. Our home is small, our bathtub humble, but the effects are luscious and and vital to us both.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 20, 2019
You're amazing for what you do; so glad you're taking care of yourself in the process.
 
Nancy W. May 19, 2019
Thank you for this post. I got divorced two years ago, and this really resonated with me. I don't have a bathtub in my apartment, but I have learned that a Le Cruset oval stock pot is the perfect size for a foot bath.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 19, 2019
I'm so glad, Nancy. Thanks for sharing. And I love that you use your stock pot for foot baths.
 
Merrill S. June 12, 2019
I thought I was the only one! :)
 
Jean B. May 19, 2019
Oh how I love a long hot bath. I’m paraphrasing but I think it was something said by Barbara Bush how there is nothing a long hot bath doesn’t make better. I’m in the process of house hunting to my dismay many master baths no longer have tubs only showers a deal breaker for me I will keep looking for that illusive first floor master bedroom bath with a great tub combo it is out there somewhere.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 19, 2019
Don't give up! Hope you find it, Jean (that's my mom's name).
 
Lisa J. May 18, 2019
Eric thank you for this beautiful touching piece! it's so nice to know there are people like me out there who love to take baths! I'm a life-long lover of bathing (but also take showers for the same reason we all do, little time) but used bathing to sooth my soul through two years of grief after the death of both parents in the span of 1 year. The tub was the only place I felt like myself. The tub can hold our tears and fears, our thoughts and our dreams and there is nothing I know of that mimics the primal comfort of our watery beginnings. Thank you for opening up the conversations surrounding this beautiful comfort we are often too busy to embrace.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 19, 2019
Lisa, thank you so much for sharing. I'm sorry for your loss. You're right; there is something about the water that reminds me of the past and in that offers great comfort. May baths continue to soothe your soul, too.
 
Sherry E. June 9, 2019
beautiful thank you for sharing...
 
Whiteantlers May 17, 2019
What an absolutely wonderful way to care for yourself, Eric. Do you know this quote? “Anyone who thinks heaven is not hot water behind a locked door has forgotten what it means to live.”
― Lucy Frank, Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling

I am living in a 99 year old row house with the original claw foot tub. I keep it clean but a lot of the porcelain has worn off over the past centuries and sitting in it holds no appeal. My solace and pleasure is listening to music. I have an enormous cd collection. When I was going through difficult times, I stopped listening to music. Sometimes it seems when times are hard we stop doing things that give us solace and pleasure. As I began to get back on keel, I started listening to music again. Ah!

Your bathing ritual sounds healing and restorative. Don't stop. Cheers! <3
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 19, 2019
WA- I do not know that quote! But I love it.

Too true: "Sometimes it seems when times are hard we stop doing things that give us solace and pleasure." I wonder why that is?
 
Maeve May 17, 2019
Wonderful post! I love my hot baths - when I can remember to take one. Sadly, I never get to enjoy them alone - my kitten loves to hang out with me - walking around the tub, swiping at bubbles, patting my head to please move so she can get around. I think one of the great aspects of "taking a tub" is that we can indeed create and environment - lighting, scent, water temp, add-ins (bathbomb, oils, etc.), music or audio book or nothing. Hope you keep it up!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 19, 2019
I like that: It is a micro-environment we're creating (and controlling) just for ourselves. Thanks for reading, Maeve.
 
Dana E. May 20, 2019
Maeve - my cat loves to hang out by the bathtub too! No matter how many I take, she is fascinated every time. Her eyes get so wide, she always leans over and looks in the water, then looks at me as if to say, "mom, why are you voluntarily sitting in water?!" lol. And agreed about the joy of creating our environment. My ritual is candles, tea or wine, a magazine, and music. Lovely post Eric!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 20, 2019
That's so cute, Dana. Love both your cats.
 
Irene Y. May 17, 2019
I am CRYING. But also I am smiling and my heart is breaking open into a million pieces for a million reasons. Thank you for sharing about your baths, and especially about your bath bombs (TIL), but more honestly thank you for sharing about heartbreak, and feeling defeat, and finding the little joys in life that help prop us back up. <3
 
Author Comment
Eric K. May 19, 2019
There's nothing like soaking in hot pink water to make you feel like a princess.