Men of the world, in case you missed the manual, which details all the things you should understand about women, let me give you a refresher on item #503: Food is just as important, if not more important, to [most of] us as love – oh, and we often use one as a substitute for the other. It is just as important to me that we are compatible at the dinner table as we are in the bedroom. At the end of the day, I’m just looking for someone to eat with. If you want to fall in love with me, accept my other love– food. Acknowledge me, acknowledge my odd eating habits. Love me, love my delicate palette. Understand me, understand that I would eat olives with every meal if I could. Really want to find out what makes me tick? Share a meal with me.
Food critic Frank Bruni, in his insightful New York Times article “What They Brought to the Table,” says that dining with others has “given him a special vantage point onto people’s temperaments and tics, especially in regard to eating and food.” He goes on to explain that dining with others has given him more than a culinary knowledge – it has also provided a first-rate education about psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Frank knows what I know. Before I can fall in love with you, I must be able to eat with you.
Jack* and I dated in college. He was that guy for me: The one who inspired journals full of angry, confessional poetry. Our relationship was intense and tumultuous — on and off until it was off for good and I accepted that I would never speak to him again. When he messaged me on Facebook after a decade, I was skeptical about allowing him back into my life, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Ten years can change a person.
Our reunion at a local coffee shop was euphoric. He seemed a changed man, or maybe just a grown one. Gone was the twenty-something punk rocker party boy who subsisted on Jack Daniels, Camel Lights, and bagels. He was an adult with a job and a newly renovated loft. I almost squealed when he ordered a soy latte. I was no longer that love-sick, insecure college girl who considered McDonald’s french fries my “favorite meal.” I was a woman who also drank soy lattes. Perfect! We mooned and drooled over our dairy-free drinks and filled each other in on our lives over refills. Our coffee date went on for five hours. By the end of it, Jack and I decided we wanted to get to know each other again – like seriously know each other. I was thinking this thing might be on for realuntil our first dinner date.
“Let’s go to Olive Garden in Times Square,” he suggested.
“Shut up! You’re hilarious,” I laughed.
“You don’t like Olive Garden?” he asked disappointed.
“No. Do you? For real?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “I love Olive Garden. McDonald’s is a close second.”
“McDonald’s?” I said. “Gross!”
“But I thought their french fries were your favorite?”
“Yeah. When I was 18! That was a long time ago,” I cringed. “I guess I’m kind of picky about where I eat now … I try to eat healthy.”
I thought he got my not-so-subtle message.
“So meet me at Olive Garden at 8?” he asked.
“Umm … OK … sure.”
I can compromise, I thought.
When I arrived at Olive Garden, he neglected to tell me that eight of his closest dude friends would be joining us.
What? Did he think we were back in college, the last time group dates were still acceptable?
“Hope you don’t mind that my friends came,” Jack said. “They’re like family to me and I want them to meet you.”
“When you’re here, you’re family,” I quoted, resigned to my awkward dinner fate.
“Is something wrong with you?” he asked.
“Yeah. I’m starving and my blood sugar is crashing,” I snapped. “When that happens, I turn into a total bitch.”
“Oh my god! Me too!” Jack exclaimed, high-fiving me. “We have so much in common.”
His friends all stared at me as I stared at the menu for a really long time wondering what I was actually willing to eat, how far I waswilling to compromise for this guy.
“Soup, salad with no onions, dressing on the side, and breadsticks without the breadsticks, as in NO breadsticks,” I told the waiter dressed in khakis and smock with faux, Italian flair.
“You’re not hungry?” Jack looked at me confused.
“No, I’m starving. I’m just can’t really eat stuff with wheat in it, it makes me feel like crap,” I explained.
He took a huge bite of his pasta and continued to talk about WWE wrestling with the guys, ignoring me. I stared at the vinyl-checkered tablecloth, pushing around the wilted lettuce on my plate while the tattooed, burping army of dudes on my “group date” finished their shrimp, lobster, and pork-stuffed-breaded-three cheese-encrusted ravioli.
My stomach sank. I remembered why we had broken up a decade earlier. This was not going to work. Jack really hadn’t changed at all. But I had.
I knew what needed to happen next. I excused myself from dinner, throwing down $20, and telling Jack I would call him tomorrow. I left Olive Garden and took myself out to my favorite hole-in-the wall Italian place where I feasted on fresh tomato, basil, and mozzarella, meat balls without the spaghetti, and a side of olives.
* Name has been changed.