Do you really get to know anyone over dinner?
I’m sure it’s terribly impolite of me to suggest, but I just don’t believe you make (“real”) friends over dinner. Not even many dinners. Not even lots and lots of dinners. If that’s all you do, if there’s no conflict, no challenges, no team work, nothing to do but eat and talk and maybe chop onions. Maybe I’m wrong.
Are relationships only built on challenges or tough times or at least getting through something together? I’ll never forget the green card interview with my wife when the official asked, “So, hmm, these passports. Wow, did you go to all of these countries together?”
We had. We had just returned from a trip around (much of) the world. I don’t exactly remember how many countries we visited. We went through hell on that trip. A (so-called) toilet in Malawi was a hole in the ground, maybe a foot wide, very deep, and if you dared look down (not recommended) you could see cockroaches and I-don’t-want-to-know what else crawling around below. Like some cave dwelling in an Indiana Jones movie, but this being your, uh, toilet. Yeah, not pretty. If you have to live through that with someone, you can live through most things.
Maybe I shouldn’t call them friends. Maybe that’s the issue. Maybe they’re just “acquaintances” and we call it a day. People you see now and again, you don’t really know much about, and you eat together with on occasion usually in restaurants. I suppose dinner could lead to other things: travel together, outings, adventures, projects or maybe even work relationships. That could lead to something more than just dinner.
What’s my hangup with just dinner? What’s wrong with it? Nothing, I suppose, but I think I’d rather just skip it and get straight to a hike or a weekend away. My wife is very good at that. She’ll invite a couple away for a weekend and I think, “But we barely know them … ” but her thinking is just that, “Exactly, this is how we’re going to get to to know them.” Who knows what we ate, but I remember putting on chains together, in the dark, on the side of the road, bleeding and freezing hands and then you get to know someone a little bit more.
Experiences bring out different sides of a person that dinner does not. I can easily be a bag of beige sand for dinner and no one would notice or care. I could feign fatigue or just eat my dinner and be unsocial. I suppose I shouldn’t go out in the first place! Maybe this is why dinner at my parents was always such a popular place growing up: we usually made tacos and it’s a lot of work. Everyone had a job: dicing tomatoes, shredding cheese, warming tortillas, etc. You sat next to someone and shredded lettuce and did something together.
I think the bus ride from Laos to Vietnam was something like 23 hours. There were toilets (clean!) in the middle aisle of the bus that someone was transporting. We stuffed napkins in our ears to dampen the endless roar of the engine (and people). It was slow bus torture and I wouldn’t trade it for 27 dinners at Chez Panisse. Only my wife and I (well, and Max and Irene, who we still see to this day) experienced that together and we’ll never forget it. Even if we wanted to.