Years ago, I was dating a stunningly beautiful woman. We were young, and I was obsessed. I didn’t want to blow things because I felt I was onto something good here. So the early encounters became long, drawn-out evenings of pleasant conversation and a polite hug on parting. After a few weeks of this, I knew I was in love, and I had to take things to the next level. I needed to kiss her. I needed a plan. I had just the ticket.
So I called her from work and insisted we meet that night. We were going to dine at my favorite restaurant. I told her to “trust me this place is special.” It was going to be perfect. In retrospect I may have oversold it. The food was amazing, but the cafe was a small Indian whole in the wall on the other side of town that I had chosen because it would give us lots of time to connect in the car.
I built up the restaurant as we drove. “You’re gonna love it,” I said. “The food is like nothing you have ever eaten, nor will you eat anything as good as this for some time to come.” True words. But I am rambling because I am nervous. She doesn’t seem to notice, but I am hyper-aware of my voice, but I cannot stop. It is as if middle school hormones have overridden the switch between my brain and my mouth.
I impress her with my comprehensive knowledge of weird-sounding things. “You have to have the dosa after you’ve tried the bhel poori. It is a savory snack made of puffed rice, vegetables, and a tangy tamarind sauce and has a crunchy texture that you are going to love,” I ramble on. “is very popular in West Bengal, Orissa, and Bangladesh.” Oh lord, I can’t stop. I sound like an elitist gourmet prig who has been sniffing cacao powder laced with pulverized habaneros.
Finally, we arrive. I have rehearsed a thousand times how I am to tell her that I love her. How I want to spend the rest of my life with her – or at the very least snog her until the blessed cows come home. The words are going round my head as a waiter leads us to our table, and she is saying something about the dreadful décor and irritating lighting. I’m not really listening. That was my first genuine mistake.
“Let’s order,” I blurt out as soon as we are seated. I don’t need the menu. I order far, far more than any two humans should eat especially if they have extracurricular ambitions for later that evening.
My hands are shaking as I rattle off our order. “We will start with Bhel Poori and then move onto Masala Dosa with Coriander Chutney. For the main course we will have Mutton Bunny Chow, Goan Cod Curry, light on the vinegar, Malika Masoor Dal, that’s the red lentils with green mango that I was telling you about. It’s my all-time favorite. And let’s do a side of Aloo Masala Potatoes, and why not? Let’s also have a side of Methi Malai Paneer. You know what, while we are it, let’s have an order of Thalassery-Style Fish Curry; it really is the best.”
The waiter is looking at me like I am a complete idiot, which was totally unfair. I was a gourmet idiot, which, as everyone knows, is very different from and much worse than a total idiot. The waiter offers to move us to a larger table before trudging off. But our table was the romantic two top by the window. Why would we move?
My date, sadly, was neither interested nor impressed by my ordering skills and detailed knowledge of South Asian fare. She wanted to talk about her shopping trip. Had I taken a moment, let alone a breath, perhaps I would have picked up on the warning signs. Even a complete idiot could see that our interests were not aligned.
I couldn’t wait any longer, and began my speech. I did not dare to take a breath. I had to finish, which I did in record time. I wait for the inevitable slap across the face and the “I never want to see you again” cliché. But it doesn’t come. Instead, she tells me she wants to kiss me as she flashes me a sexy smile.
“Let’s get out of here,” she whispers, smiling as she reaches for her coat and accidentally exposes a healthy amount of glorious cleavage.
And then, a dilemma. The food is coming (I can smell it now), and the long-awaited first kiss is calling. What should I do? No contest. I get the check, pay up and head for the door. I don’t wait to take the food home.
We don’t even make it to the car before we find ourselves locked in a tempestuous embrace. It is amazing. Everything I had dreamed about — and trust me, I had dreamed about it — and more. Waiting for the long drive back to my apartment is not an option. In retrospect, I shudder to think about the show patrons parking in the tiny lot viewed through the steamed-up windows of my beaten-up Subaru.
And then it was over. And as we sat there in silence, a nagging thought began to grow in the recesses of my dopamine flooded brain like the slow drip of a water faucet in a bad dream where the drops become reverberating drum beats. Sadly that thought was not “dear lord, what have I done?! She’s not right for me. We have absolutely nothing in common beyond physical attraction.”
No. Instead, all I could think about was the food. “I bet it is ready. But dear lord, she wants to cuddle.” And she is talking about her shopping trip to the mall where she saved over $93, and I blurted out, “No, you spent $284 and lie to yourself how much you saved when in reality, the marketers won and convinced you to buy a bunch of leftovers that no one else would buy, and you probably don’t need. Hungry?”
It was a long silent trip home. The only noise was my rumbling from my stomach.
Looking back, I wonder how different my life might have been had we stayed and finished the meal instead of rushing to the car. Would we have found common ground over dinner and fallen in love for real? I’ll never know as she failed to respond to a single call or text after that fateful night.
Love is the foundation on which humanity should be built. But it can wait until after dinner.