December 6, 2009

It began with a decision. Plans for dinner. That seemed easy enough. Then last week I got an email from my friend with a suggestion of three restaurant choices. She wrote, "All menus have been looked at and approved."

She had gone online and checked out the menus ahead of time so that she wouldn't have to struggle with what to order during our dinner.

"I need advance time to ponder," she said. "Otherwise I feel rushed and I make the wrong choice."

Things in New York move quickly and people don't like to waste time. But I don't mind this at all. Wasting time is one of my skills. I'm good at it. Also, when it comes to ordering, I never feel rushed. Especially if it's a new restaurant that I've never been to before. I'll linger over a menu like I'm at a museum in front of a work of art. Examining the nuance, asking questions, mulling it over; sometimes I'll even suggest the waiter or waitress pull up a seat.

They never do. Instead they snap, "Should I give you a few more minutes?"

I hate when that happens. I tend to say, "no" and stall. Or, I'll ask questions I don't really need answers to. Then whoever I'm dining with becomes irritated because they want ordering equity. When one person is ready to eat and is forced to wait for their dining partner to make up their mind, they resent it. The tension hangs in the air. It's very stressful.

Another stressful element of dining is the relationship set-up. One person is the talker and the other person is the eater. Whoever's the talker invariably takes longer to finish their meal. This leaves the eater sitting in front of an empty plate.

For years this has been an issue when I go out to eat with Liza. I'm usually telling a story and at a certain point I see her start to get angry. Why? Because she feels the whole idea is to have dinner together.

"By the time you're ready to eat," she explained, "I have finished all of my food and I'm bored. Also, I'm jealous that you still have food, and I have nothing to do. They might as well bring our meals separately."

To fix this problem, she's worked out a system. She times it and when she feels I've gone on too long and she will be done too soon, she interjects with a topic of her own. The problem with that is, it usually involves a question. Then my talking starts all over again.

People don't like to have time that isn't filled. I once had a boyfriend who, whenever we went out to dinner, would ask for the bill while we were still eating the entrée. He liked to get it "out of the way." This made me uncomfortable. Not only did it rule out coffee and dessert but it made me wonder: what else does he have to do?

He explained that it wasn't that he had somewhere else he had to be, but nothing bothered him more than being finished with a meal, requesting the bill and being forced to wait to give them his money. Was his time that valuable? I guess it was.

Either that, or sitting with me alone at a table was considered: wasting time.

Once I knew that my friend had already reviewed the menu in advance, I felt it was necessary to do the same. Everyone likes to know what they're in for. I went online and checked out the options. Only as soon as I saw what was on offer, I had the same questions I would have on the spot. But at least I was prepared.

Of course, life is unpredictable. When we actually met at the restaurant, the entire menu had changed.