I try to be a gentleman. It is not always easy – but I try. So at the restaurant, I let her order first.
“I’ll have the two egg omelet with tomatoes, broccoli and cheese…” she said before vanishing behind her menu.
The waitress’s pencil hovered over the order pad as my wife mulled over her array of choices.
“Do you put peppers in your omelets?”
“Only if you order them.”
The menu came down, revealing a mild look of disbelief.
“I will make a note – no peppers,” the waitress assured her.
“Please, because peppers are gross. I can’t even stand the smell of them.”
“And for your side, which would you prefer: toast, muffin or pancakes?”
“What kind of muffins do you have?”
“I’ll go with that.”
I admit it – both my wife and I are fussy eaters. There are things we love and things we hate so intensily that we cannot stand even being around them – but now it was my turn to order.
“A three egg omelet: with onions…”
My wife stopped me there.
“I’ll have onions too,” she said.
I gave the waitress a moment, “and peppers…”
What happened next was almost magical. Like a ballet of blackbirds or fish darting in perfect synchronicity – without visible cue, the waitress swiveled in my wife’s direction.
“Oh, could I get peanut butter too?” she asked.
“In a little cup on the side?”
The pencil recorded her latest desire.
“May I continue?” I asked. Perhaps I came off a little perturbed because the looks I got told me that.
There is a rhythm to ordering in a restaurant which includes mild interruptions. I should know this. Etiquette is just another skill that I have yet to master, or perhaps it is the skill of showing annoyance without actually showing annoyance.
(I can’t even wrap my mind around that one).
“Sausage, tomatoes and go light on the cheese,” I said, “and I’ll have wheat toast.”
“What kind of bread: white or wheat?”
“Wheat,” I told her as politely as I could.
It is only after she left that I realized being too polite is far more offensive than being too perturbed.
This delicate balance of knowing just what to say and just what to do frustrates me. I have no idea how my wife navigates the tangled and twisted avenues of social signals while I crash and burn at every turn. I find that women do this better than men and be it nature or nurture, I am clueless as to why.
So I tried to crack the code.
I know how much she hates onions, so I asked her why she ordered them.
“Because you did,” she said, “and since we are going to be in the same car all day, it is the only way I could stand being around you.”
“And the peanut butter?”
She knows how much I hate peanut butter. It is not an allergy or anything like that but the scent of it drives me crazy – just as much as the scent of peppers bothers her.
After a long pause, heavy with meaning, none of which I could decipher, my wife simply said, “Watch.”
Sure enough when the waitress returned with our food, she zipped the top off a plastic container of peanut butter and plucked it down right next to my omelet.
I was stunned.
“How did she know?” I asked.
My wife just shook her head.