Eating From Other People’s Plates

Sooner or later you’ve got to stop looking around at the food you didn’t order and eat your own damn dinner. Hunger is a serious condition, and while fantasizing about great food might get you to salivate, it doesn’t actually fill your stomach. Similarly, picking off the plates of other’s entrees may seem like a good way to eat exactly what you want, but overall, it won’t be a complete meal and you’re more likely to end up dissatisfied. This doesn’t mean to suggest that one should be passive, though. By all means, if the entree you’ve selected is not to your satisfaction, send it back. However, when you do eventually get a great dinner that you want, stop looking around at the plates of others. Although their entrees may look very delicious, that doesn’t mean yours isn’t equally delicious.

If this hasn’t completely made itself clear to you, consider the following scenario.

I know a gal who has been driving herself absolutely crazy trying to figure out whether or not she should tie the knot with a long-time boyfriend. They’ve been dating 5 years; that’s half a decade. At this point in her life, it would be almost a guaranteed waste of time to start over with someone new (whenever it is she found that person). Though it goes without saying that dating someone long term does not mean that you should—or that it’s even a good idea—to marry that person, she seems pretty certain that he’s the one. So what’s the problem? According to her, she regularly finds herself reminiscing about old lovers, and at times, becomes “disturbingly” nostalgic about a past single-life ridden with carefree partying and ephemeral love without commitment. Upon hearing this, I asked her if she thought there was something wrong with her relationship now.

“No, it’s fine,” she said, “I’m really happy with [boyfriend]. It’s just that when I have these thoughts about casual dating, and casual sex…I’m just afraid I’m going to miss that. But it’s more than that. Sometimes I play out these fantasies and I end up chatting with people—over the internet or whatever—about the past and even flirting with them…”

“Well, fantasy is a normal thing, but I think you have to ask yourself: ‘To what end is this fantasy really going?’ and ‘Am I willing to risk what I have now to pursue what often turns out to be temporary and empty pleasure?'”

“I understand what you’re saying,” she replied, “…but I keep getting distracted and it’s messing my head up and making me think I don’t want to be with [boyfriend]. Even though I know he’s the best guy for me, when I follow the fantasies in my head, I feel like it’s making me hold back on committing to him fully. It’s like, somewhere in my mind, I imagine I might have a chance to make the fantasies come true…you know?”

“If you KNOW he’s the best guy for you, and the fantasies only have a CHANCE of coming true, it sounds like you’re cheating yourself. That’s a bad bet, and honestly, please keep your ass home if I ever call for gambling partners in Vegas…”

In a similar scenario, a young woman I know is married to a man in Europe where she lives with him and their 4-year old daughter. The daughter is gorgeous, her husband has a great government job, and she gets to travel all over Europe. Not bad for anyone I’d say. So, naturally I was a bit put-off when she confessed to having fantasies about leaving her husband and young child, further revealing that she had also cheated on him with some flame she met in Spain.

“I just think I got married too young,” she said, “I’m still young, I want to be free and being a wife is boring…I don’t think I was ready to be a mom. I married [husband] because he was the best looking guy and he was nice to me. I was afraid I would be alone because I was getting old and ugly…”

“So that’s why you cheated on your husband, to feel ‘free’?” I shot back.

“Yea I mean, the sex was great. The guy is really good in bed…”

“So now that you got to do what you wanted, do you feel better?”

“No…”

“Why not?”

“I dunno…”

Of course the idea of eating from your own plate doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships—those examples are just the easiest to follow. In a time of internet and hyper-connectivity, we lack no example with which to compare ourselves, and no shortage of people with whom to connect. The two scenarios I offered could have easily been about a person’s job, school, or even something as mundane as a retail purchase.

I think it’s quite easy for people to imagine how giving up a meaningful relationship for an amazing one-night stand can end up bad. There’s probably no greater feeling than fulfilling a fantasy, but whether or not that feeling can last is a bigger challenge. More often than not, once the fantasy is fulfilled, it’s useless—and so is the person you slept with. When the pleasure is over and the passion is gone, undoubtably one’s thoughts would immediately turn to the one person that really matters: the one you left.

Many of these scenarios, where we entertain fantasies that prevent us from committing to a good thing at hand, are a lot like junk food. Having to choose between amazing relatively delicious plate of healthy food we know is the better bet, the lure of junk food can entice us to give up something good for temporary bliss. In this case, the exciting power of guaranteed satisfaction derived from a concentrated punch of salt and sugar  can be enough to distract us from making the better choice. In truth, the benefits of making one good choice might not be as obvious as the bliss offered by flighty fantasies—but in the long run, that one solid investment can pay off big time with endless dividends.

When I was young and at the dinner table, whenever I would eat too much of everything, my grandmother would tell me, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach”.

Sometimes we want for more than we really need, and what we really need gets lost in the mix. Fantasies are a normal part of life. Yet, being able to sift through them in order to understand their true value—that’s about being a smart investor and a good treasure hunter.

Trying to eat from too many plates is just going to make you sick, and when dessert finally does come around, you won’t have any room for it; and what’s dinner without dessert anyway? No dinner at all my friends; No dinner at all.

Matthew Rosario

American / Writer / Musician