There, written across the glistening edges of his transparent cup, read the words “Make My Beverage, Woman”. The condensation raining down around the black marker seemed to sweat the emotions of some lost memory that this guy, for some reason, felt necessary to subliminally advertise to a room full of mostly disinterested, self involved coffee drinkers. Maybe that’s what was going on, or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe he knew the girl behind the counter and decided to pay homage to that inside joke they’d raised from the dead every other week just to feel closer. Or, maybe he was just a jerk.
Still, as it happens, it was just the kind of peculiar thing that prompted me to wonder about his love life, his past relationships, and the same ‘ol record he’d been playing over the past few partners that almost completely destroyed his life. I mean, with a message like that, it’s hard to imagine he was a real hit with the ladies (insert tasteless pun about a physically abusive boyfriend) Too much?
But the incident got me thinking about a conversation I had with the woman I’m seeing now. Love has been kind, finding me not long after the ending of one of my most significant relationships. And yet, there was something different about this new relationship and I told her so—unlike the romances before, this one was different. This one wasn’t McDonald’s.
Let me explain that last part in the same way that I did to her:
You see, each of us seems to follow a pattern with each of our romantic partners. The pattern itself—typically unhealthy—is a hard habit to break from simply because we’re often drawn to the same kind of people, which then bring about similar events. In my case, I tend to give a lot. This attracts a kind of emotionally immature partner whose volatility and passionate nature excites me. The truly destructive capacity of this partner eludes me, as their emotional immaturity tends to be obscured by their ambitious pursuit of some creative venture that attracted me in the first place (I love industrious and creative women who can focus on a bigger picture).
Anyway. What later unfolds is a pattern where the emotional vacuum of my partner becomes stronger and then expands to create an insatiable neediness—an emotional black hole, if you will. When this happens, the exchange of give and take begins to tilt and an uneven flow ensues. It soon becomes that the exchange supplies them with more benefit and effort on my part and they become content with sitting back and letting me take care of everything: their fears, their social life, their finances, and anything else that might allow them to measure my commitment to our love. Once comfortable, it’s not long before they begin to find things wrong with everything I do, and suddenly, I can’t please them and no matter what I do I end up being the bad guy. Naturally this leads to a contempt within me that surely cannot be hidden forever, only later to rear it’s ugly head in a climactic self-fulfilling prophecy which results in the conclusion that I never loved them, etc.
So, that’s my McDonald’s.
And before this woman, before this relationship, McDonald’s owned me. All that salt, sugar, and fatty love—the pinnacle of tasty orgasmic ecstasy—whose most admirable quality becomes the high you get while consuming it, is all I ever knew. But in the end, it’s the aftermath that really kills you. All that love coursing through your veins hardens you from the inside and attacks your living, beating heart. And isn’t that why we love McDonald’s? It’s the passionate danger of never knowing just when we might keel over in the heat binging on love. When we’re young, we just live for the rush, for the sake of instant satisfaction. It’s only when we get older, still hanging out in that local sports bar because we rode in the fast lane for too long, stretching out that line of one-night-stands, that we realize we’ve missed something better—something healthier.
Like choosing a healthier diet, choosing to engage in healthier relationships doesn’t come so easy. There’s a bit of conscious effort involved. It’s not that the alternative to McDonald’s is “bad”, or any less valuable, it’s just less apparent to us in the moment. As a kid, your parents would preach to you about the merits of drinking milk, about how it was good for you and would help you grow up big and strong. You’d roll your eyes and groan—mostly in response to obeying your parents, but partly because milk wasn’t nearly as exciting as McDonald’s. This was about the time when your mom would launch into this prerecorded textbook monologue about the importance of drinking milk and the likelihood that your bones would transform that calcium into the Adamantium used to fortify Wolverine’s skeleton. But it didn’t matter. No amount of preaching would ever convince you, because no one goes from cocaine to sugar without a fight. There’s just no comparison. Cocaine is a near religious experience; sugar, by comparison, is the equivalent of lighting a Fourth of July sparkler in the rain.
The point is, you didn’t hate milk or apples, they just never seemed to promise the insanely satisfying certainty of McDonald’s. McDonald’s is a sure thing. Their slogan says it all: you’re gonna love it. The satisfaction and long term benefits of drinking milk and eating fruits and vegetables is a lot more subtle. While the value of a more balanced diet certainly exists, it’s hard to appreciate after spending the majority of your entire life in a sodium and aspartame coma.
A lifetime binge of McDonald’s makes good nutrition hard to appreciate. Despite how great that hummus and carrot combo tastes, it’s hard to recognize without forcing yourself to eat it for a while. It’s the same with choosing healthier relationships; if you want to break the vicious cycle of unhealthy lovers, you’ve got to force yourself to withstand something else.
In the end, no matter how hard you’ve partied with McDonald’s, eventually, you grow up and your needs become a lot more apparent. The true value of the food you eat and relationships you keep becomes suddenly illuminated. After one too many tummy aches, you graduate from freeze dried meat patties and start understanding that there’s more than one way to eat without having to spike your insulin levels and put yourself at risk for diabetes every time you’re hungry. Likewise, our experiences of heartache mature, curate, and begin turning on little light bulbs we never knew existed before, but always needed.