Supposedly, I’ve always been a picky eater. Whatever was put in front of me was never good enough. My mother would cook dinner for the family daily, in preparation for my dad’s arrival from work. He would walk in the door in his suit, and then stop, drop his bag, and clap his hands for his three girls to come running. And so we did, one after the other. He’d lift each one of us up, kiss our cheeks, swing us around with glee, and then kiss my mother on the cheek hello. I might be filling in some of the blanks with some Brady Bunch episodes, but since we were kinda like the Jewish Brady Bunch (and I was Jan), I think it’s okay.
Dinner was always fish or meat, a starch, a vegetable, and an Israeli salad (iceberg lettuce that in my memory was always wilted, cut up tomatoes, and cucumbers with the peel still on them). Twice a week, we had peas. I hated peas. But it probably wasn’t their fault. I didn’t like anything that landed on my plate. I’m still not sure if I was rebelling against the assumption that I was supposed to accept whatever was put in front of me, or whether it’s because I questioned everything (still do) that came easily. Maybe it’s because I am the middle child who isn’t content with what she gets. My sisters’ plates always looked brighter and more plentiful. So with one hand cradling my head, telegraphing my disappointment to my mother, the fingers on my other hand would crush each pea flat on my plate, relishing the satisfaction I’d get seeing their green guts squish out. I got sent to my room for what I did to those peas.
Cut to thirty years later. I can eat whatever I want! Mom’s not dishing out what I should eat (when I’m not with her). I can peruse the menu and with enthusiasm order whatever it is I’m in the mood for. And yet, when the food arrives, I instantly wilt like the lettuce from the Israeli salad. My friends, past boyfriends, find it amusing, if not irritating, but I don’t find it funny at all. It’s frustrating. I don’t do it on purpose. I just can’t help but look at the dish I get critically. It’s too cold, too small, or not the right blend of ingredients.
Some questions come to mind, right? What would you do? Do you passive aggressively make a face so that the waiter can see? Or are you the type of person who pretends to like it, and not make a fuss? Or, do you kindly flag the poor busboy who happens to be nearby pouring your water, and tell him that no, this dish won’t do?
The last time I did this was with my coworkers at a nice steakhouse when a vendor took us all out for lunch. It wasn’t my fault that my dish came last. But was it my fault that my steak sandwich was cold, the bread floppy? I made both guys sitting next to me (poor chaps) taste it, to prove my point. They agreed, but they were just being nice. The assh*le sitting across from me, who I secretly adore because he always calls me on my shit, promptly said: “Cougel, the day you figure out how to order off a menu is the day you’ll find your next partner.”
Silence at the table, followed by uncomfortable laughter. But I wasn’t offended. He had a point. I high-fived him (and knocked over my wine).
Is it true? Are our eating habits and tastes linked to our romantic ones? And if so, can we help it, or is it ingrained in us?
I can pretend to like what I get. I can pretend not to care whether the thing I’ve selected and invested in is beneath my expectations. But then I’d be pretending. And I’m really bad at that. Maybe it’s my expectations that I need to change (another thing ass*hole friend mentioned above said to me).
I don’t have an answer yet. I still eat what I want, although I complain about it less, and pick my battles. But when I do like something, I love it, and scream it from the rooftops. At least when I find a guy that suits my tastes, I won’t be looking around for the waiter, or for anyone. I’ll love it, he’ll see it on my face, and he’ll know.