Eat Your Heart Out

For our second date, Jake suggested brunch at a small plates restaurant in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C. This didn’t sit well.

The concept of shared, tiny restaurant food has always given me intense anxiety. In a past life, I was a malnourished Romanian child who never got enough orphanage gruel.

I just don’t understand the pleasure in constantly shuffling hot skillets the circumference of tennis balls around a table, making sure everyone’s had a bite, eating my three grains of paella with a sewing needle. And yet—at some point several years ago—someone thought it would be a good idea to split a croquette nine ways, and here we are today.

Jake picked the place—one of his favorites—so I couldn’t say no. Still, I was worried—haunted by ghosts of date meals past.

In my early 20s I briefly dated a guy who was a real Suze Orman, which is my polite way of saying cheap as hell. On our fourth date he offered to make me one of my favorites for dinner, blueberry pancakes. In retrospect, we had a lot of dates centered around free activities—candle-making kit for two, anyone?—but I also had never had a boyfriend. I would have eaten a plate of bird seed and played hopscotch.

Unfortunately, the evening took a real turn when I excused myself to use the bathroom. Suze Jr. was in the kitchen, but as I went to shut the door, he ran in and grabbed a measuring cup sitting on top of the toilet tank. “Sorry, needed this!”

To this day, I can’t tell you why there was a measuring cup in this man’s bathroom. I also can’t tell you why I went ahead and ate the pancakes. I left hungry, yet full of shit.

A couple of years later I began online dating. Love, despite what J. Lo said, does cost a thing. More specifically, $34 a month.

Just a few days into my search, I started talking to Trevor, a 24-year-old, 6-foot-tall Minnesotan. The universe provides. There were a few red flags, including a strong affinity for German board games, but, six feet tall. After a few messages back and forth, he suggested we grab dinner at an Irish pub.

There were five inches of snow on the ground the night of our date, which is to say, D.C. was shut down. Still, I made the trek in the name of love. I walked in and saw Trevor waiting for me in all of his Midwest glory, throwing up a little in my mouth. Had I known it was the most I would eat that night, I would have paced myself.

After making uncomfortable small talk about his future Senate campaign and other things of which I cared nothing about, it was time to order. I let Trevor go first, still deciding myself between the shepherd’s pie and the fish and chips.

“I’ll just have the cup of soup.”

I looked up, stunned. Soup? A cup of soup? Not even a bowl, but a cup? I had to regroup, and I had to do it quickly. I couldn’t work my way through a slab of fried cod while this dude sipped a thimble-full of stew.

“The same, please.”

Once our “food” arrived, I began eating as slowly as possible, lest the meal be over in 40 seconds. I looked like Beth from Little Women during her second bout of scarlet fever, foaming at the mouth as a drop of broth touched her chapped lips.

This was some bullshit.

Never fully recovered from such incidents, I was weary of this brunch with Jake. I was just so tired of being hungry. But I convinced myself times had changed. This was one of Jake’s favorite restaurants; he knew how it all worked. We were going to be up to our ass in small plates, and dammit, I was going to be full.

That Saturday I walked into the upscale, Mediterranean restaurant in Capitol Hill and found him waiting for me at a cozy table against one of the exposed brick walls. He was wearing a gold class ring—something that will haunt me until the day I die—but that could be fixed at a later date. Perhaps we could broach the subject after our second round of Blood Marys.

“Can I get you started with something to drink?” our waiter asked.

“Just water,” Jake said, smiling at the server.

Dear God, it’s happening again. I looked over at a table of women, thoroughly enjoying their bottomless mimosas. Bitches.

“Water for me too.”

I stared at Jake’s stupid onyx ring, ready to rip it off his finger. Wracked with post-traumatic soup disorder, I took a deep breath.

“What are you getting for brunch?”

He tapped his fingers on the menu, debating for a moment. “I think the eggs.”

“Do you know if these are small plates?”

Jake shook his head. “No, I’m pretty sure they’re full-size portions.”

I felt an overwhelming burst of rage. These absolutely are not full-size portions, Jake, because we are at a small plates restaurant—your supposed “favorite.” Additionally, the “full-size” egg dish you’re about to order is $6, which is possibly the price of brunch in Appalachia but not in the nation’s capital.

“Huh. OK, um, I guess I’ll get the French toast.”

Everything was going to be OK. Our dishes would come, Jake would see—with the aid of a magnifying glass—the error of his ways, and we would order more food. The waiter returned and took our order, shooting us a look reserved for assholes who order $13 worth of small plates and a pitcher of tap water.

Our food arrived 10 minutes later, swimming on a pair of silver dollars.

“Wow,” Jake mumbled sheepishly, “I guess these are small plates.”

I laughed nervously, cutting into my crouton. All was right with the world; we were getting more food.

Except we didn’t. Jake finished his egg—singular—not even offering to share because his hands were too large to work the safety pins we were given in lieu of traditional knives. He washed it all down with a cup of water, got the check and spent the next hour chatting about his childhood. I don’t remember much of the conversation, as I was searching my purse for smelling salts and unwrapped mints.

Half an hour later we hugged goodbye. Jake walked to his car and I went down the metro escalator. Once he was out of sight, I went back up the metro escalator and walked to the nearest Wendy’s. I ordered two junior bacon cheeseburgers, a medium fry and a frosty.

It came on a tray and I didn’t share it with a soul.

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