About a week ago, I had a completely unexpected moment of social anxiety. George and I had taken a trip to Baltimore to see his daughter and were back home for a day before heading out to do the big round of Christmas vay-cay visiting we do every year. We went out to get some dinner since neither of us were dying to cook during that one day of relative peace and relaxation, and a lack of desire to cook doesn’t change the fact that a girl’s gotta eat. The local bar and grill we went to was pretty busy in the dining room, so we took two seats at the bar and figured we’d just have our dinners there. As we were staring down the beginning of the holiday festivities and I knew we were headed toward some championship eating, I ordered a cup of soup and a salad. Because I live in America, even the salads are huge.
With me so far? Good.
Before I go a step further, you have to understand one thing about me: I am a relentless half-serving eater. When George and I go out to eat, I almost always end up taking at least half my food home, thanks to the fact that restaurants serve outlandishly large dinner portions. It usually doesn’t matter what I get; I mentally cut my serving in half and plan for an extravagant breakfast. George has been with me for eight years and knows this as well as he knows anything else about me. In fact, he often says he wishes he could do the same, but he is a gold-star member of the Clean Plate Club and that is so ingrained in the fiber of his being that he would need an intervention to help him put the fork down before his plate was empty. (Honey, I love you, but you know it’s true.)
Anyway. We were sitting at the bar and I was powering through the mentally allotted half of my ginormous salad, and we were exhausted from driving and laundry and packing for another trip so even though we weren’t quite “done” in restaurant body language (still picking at food, napkins on laps instead of the table, not leaning back in finished contentment), we were ready to go as soon as possible. George called the bartender over, said we’d like the check and asked for a box for me. This is where things got weird. The bartender visibly bristled and said, “Oh, I don’t know, I think she can work her way through her salad.” Then he turned to me and said, “Are you ready for a box? Or do you want a few more minutes? How about I keep an eye on you and see if you need anything?” Remember, I was tired from traveling and was facing more time on the road. I was sort of checked out from making three tons of cookies for our families. It took me a moment before I realized…he’s mad. He thinks George is some kind of control freak monitoring my food, and he’s defending me and my right to finish my dinner. Which is sweet and all, but George is no more a control freak than I am a member of the Latvian Olympic Bobsled team.
What upsets me most is that I spent a few minutes debating what to do. I thought…if I finish my salad, it will look like I did so in spite of George and will give the bartender some kind of misguided sense of heroism. And it will reinforce the idea that I need “help” in managing my eating decisions, my relationship, even the sort of lifestyle I lead. I wanted the bartender to understand that I am an independent woman who made her own decisions, damn it! Which was why I would…finish the salad he gave me permission to finish, despite the fact that my boyfriend of eight years knows my habits? Grooooan. Conversely, if I didn’t finish my salad, I argued to myself, this guy’s going to think that George is some kind of mean-spirited weirdo who tells me what I can and cannot eat, and so would also, probably, tell me how to dress and who to talk to, though for George, leftovers are status quo and finishing my salad would almost seem defiant, like, “I’ll show you to ask for a box for me!” Double-grooooan. I didn’t know which perception I wanted to please, or which to counter and how, because I also didn’t want to seem overly explanatory and apologetic. That would have made things even more awkward. For me, at least. The sad thing is, I waded through all sorts of stress and mental backflippery in working through some entirely invented man-battle over my dietary turf, before I got to the point where I thought…wait a second…what do I want to do with my food?
And so for the past week I’ve been turning this over and over in my head. I’m not mad at the bartender, because his heart was in the right place even if he completely misunderstood the situation. I’m certainly not mad at George, because he knows me and my habits and was simply trying to take care of everything that needed to be taken care of, in one swoop. No, really, I’m mad at myself. I let myself get completely wrapped up in worrying about what other people may (or may not) have thought about my lifestyle, and my food choices, and what my food choices said about me. In all that worrying, I put myself dead last. For all the posturing that there ain’t nobody who’s the boss of me, I dwelled so heavily on what other people expected of me that I almost lost sight of what I wanted. And if I get lost in other people’s expectations for something so trivial as leftovers, how often do I do the same in my everyday life? When does it end?