can’t even decide what to title this post

I almost always begin with my hands in the air. It’s not that I’m throwing them up in defeat, but rather, it’s my way of beginning an explanation while all my clever ideas tussle to come unstuck. My palms almost cupping imaginary, albeit wide set, breasts, do a little jig. It’s my charade of indecision, pantomiming my way through the zodiac to Libra’s weighty scales. “What? It’s who I am,” I finally say. 

A backstory break: When Phil’s family last visited us in Austin, I was the buzzkill du jour. We had Norma at the helm, manning the home front and home fries, and we were ready set go on the restaurant scene. That is, as soon as we chose a restaurant. At that point, you could actually hear the buzz. It was killed along with any excitement due to my dieting. It’s no fun to gorge when there’s a pill at the table asking for lettuce cups in lieu of a bun. This wouldn’t be purdy.

I take absolute delight, and spend far too much time, in nominating a restaurant. There are a gazillion-seven (actual number) factors that feed into the eat-here equation.

I consider the people with whom we’ll be eating. “They have enough of that food in New York.” No staid chophouses, shadowy lounges, or rather-not rathskellers for dinner with the laws, or in general, anyone in the senior set.

Evaluate the people at whom you’ll be gaping. The clientele, if you will. Deliberate on the budget, atmosphere/lighting/music/furnishings, whether or not the venue accommodates special requests or us super special people, is there parking, do they take reservations, assess the service, cleanliness, food, and most important (to moi), let’s talk menu.

My mood of the moment usually weighs heavily over my prioritization process. Fat day? Sushi bar. Flirty? The cross-legged outdoor lounge with the artisan cocktails. Poor? The BBQ pit at the GAS STATION where they feature “Meat TV.” Foodie foot forward, and I’m reading up on menus like you, well, read about.

The particular week of his family’s visit I was in hardcore health mode, allotting myself many a WW point for wine (I was, after all, dining with the in-laws). And if I was going to feast on some food favorites, they’d better be worth the cellulite. I’m not about to fritter points away on a sub-par slab of cold rubber bread. No. No. I want to smell that yeasty steaming basket ten minutes before it arrives. Flavored butter, you say? A thousand times yes.

Phil came up with some tried and true suggestions, insisting I not spend the day making a decision. The process couldn’t be rushed; I had to weigh everything. Literally and figuratively. Libra scales meet Weight Watchers scales. Whatever the place, it became clear that I should order the flounder and wear my flip-flops. After downloading .pdf files of wine lists and menus, after assessing if their sides were inventive enough, I went ahead and lobbied for Congress.

off balanced beauty

Newly opened and favorably reviewed, Congress sated my needs across the board. Black truffle pommes frites, blue crab and corn fritters, and the words fundido and gastrique put a glimmer in my eye and a bounce in my (soon to be) misstep.

There seemed to be three options within the Congress realm. There was “Second Bar + Kitchen,” “Congress Bar,” and also straight up “Congress” all within the same building, different chefs, same owner. So upon arrival, when the hostess asked where we’d be dining, I blinked my eyes, tilted my head, and looked up at Phil. I felt my eyebrows raise and my eyes widen, my mouth spread into a smile, as if they were each waiting, as they do time and time again, for his answer. I looked to him as if he were the directionless dipstick.

What the fickle is wrong with me? Seriously.

How did I not have an answer, and why was I turning to Phil for one? I felt mute, as if (once again, for those of you paying attention) my words couldn’t keep up with my thoughts. Only this time, I didn’t even have the thoughts. I needed time and a breath to sort it out. But everyone was waiting for me to say something right then. I feared I’d rush into wrong, and we’d all sit and drink our waters and unfold napkins, then we’d realize we were in the wrong place, and we’d leave, and the poor waiter would have to wipe away rings of water, clean and change and arrange unnecessarily. There might be a longer wait. I didn’t know what to do. I felt as if I’d just awoken to a nameless goateed man: panicked and naked.

Yeah, and it gets worse.

I’d like to believe I asked a question or two, or maybe even requested to see the different menus. But that’s a tall tale I can’t hero. I’m afraid to report that all that came out of me was a finger. It wasn’t Tall Man, but Pointer. And with one short flick and finger, we ended up at Second Bar + Kitchen.

Thankfully theirs was the menu I’d studied earlier. Though “study” isn’t really a fair verb. It was the menu I’d gotten to know in a casual small talk way. We’d covered the basics, that there were pizzas, a burger, soups and salad, small plates, large plates, and pork belly. What else is there?

After I’d already fanned away my “ladies first” turn, once everyone had ordered, it was up to me. A hush came over the crowd. It was my turn to place my order with the waitress, and man, did I take command of that menu. I ordered with the confidence of Phil Connors. “Any questions about the menu?” Ha! I laugh in your face.

Only, no. There wasn’t laughing, not even in the general direction of her face. No. What there was, was another casual and confused mess of me. “So,” I ask her, “What on the menu would you say is your most healthy dish?” <Insert image of Phil hammering a nail into his forehead>

I had all day to decide. WTF? What is behind my indecisiveness? And is it something you can outgrow? Or is it something that can improve but will almost always be lacking due to the way I’m wired?

I do know that impatience about my uncertainty only exacerbates the issue. This is, in fact, part of my learning disability. Without the limit of time, if asked a question, I will often answer it thoughtfully and if possible correctly. But if asked the same question with a time-limit, I will rush for the answer and get it dead wrong. No one wins. So, be kind to the fence-sitters and occasionally throw us a bone. Maybe it’ll knock us into balance.

Side note: That would be Phil Connors from Groundhog Day, possibly one of the greatest comedies ever.



    1. Stephanie,
      While this post is already a few days old and you may not look, I felt the need to comment. I was a little disheartened but not at all surprised by people’s responses to ‘gain perspective’. In response to the above commenter’s remark, and coming from a place of absolutely no judgment, your behavior, or thought processes, do smack of OCD. You might not need medication, and it may not be so bad that you’re completely unable to function, but it does seem to be a little bit of obsessive behavior. This is just my humble, non-professional opinion from someone who suffers from it. The Times recently published an article on “misophonia”, which has to do with people’s seemingly out of proportion reaction to certain noises and sounds. Half of the comments on the article said, “Wow, it sounds like you’re describing me”, and the other half said, “Get over it and gain some perspective.” Indeed, for years I’ve had people tell me to stop “obsessing”, to just get over it. Perspective? Took (and passed) a bar exam 2 weeks after ID’ing my dad’s dead body… so the fact that I can still get so bent out of shape over seemingly insignificant things is indicative of an issue of ‘obsessing’.

      Again, this is not at all coming from a place of judgment. Rather than thinking that you have a character flaw, or lack perspective, maybe just think that this is how your brain is wired and you need to learn to work with it….

  1. So, you werent too sure where you were sitting and couldnt decide what to order… Is that really such a big deal?

    One word, relax.

    You sound like you were going to have a panic attack.

    1. Author

      Okay, I might have gone overboard in my description of a quickly passing panic, true. It wasn’t such a big deal. It wasn’t close to panic attack territory. I’ve actually, thankfully, never experienced one of those. What it was, though, was a realization, an isolated incident that really demonstrates a behavior of mine that could use some modification. Why when we’re single can we be superstars, capable of doing anything and everything, including taking out the garbage and disposing of bugs, but when we’re in a long term relationship we take a pass, and we learn to play the incompetent card? This isn’t just women, mind you. Men do it too. We assign ourselves roles in our relationships and rarely think about recasting.

  2. Jesus Christ. It’s FOOD. I cannot believe you stress over this sh*t when you live through a husband with severe heart issues and dealt with twins in the ICU. Perspective. I’d wonder what the underlying issues are that lead to the ‘pressure’ of picking the right restaurant. F*ck it. If I chose a place no one liked, I’d say they either ordered the wrong thing or could visit the drive through on the way home. You do not have to stage everything perfectly for everyone, all the time. It’s exhausting to read I could only imagine how exhausting it is to live (or live with).

  3. I have been reading your blog for way longer than I can recall. This is my first criticism. While I have in the past enjoyed your writing, recently [in the last 6-ish months or so] it’s been falling flat. You don’t seem to have the same gusto, vigor as you used to. Seems a bit forced. Mayhaps you need a vacay?

  4. Oh, I know exactly how you feel. I had a gastric bypass 4 years ago and know that panic feeling going to an unknown restaurant!

    It’s not what I won’t eat but what will make me sick if I eat it. I don’t do fried anything except an egg with pam. Bread gobs up in my pouch(what we call our little stomach after surgery) so no sandwich. But most of the time I order something like that without the bread. Never eat over 5 grams of sugar. Only drink water, not allowed carbonated beverages. We are supposed to eat at least 65 grams of protein a day, then if I have room a few bites of veggies or salad.

    If I know I’ve going somewhere that doesn’t have many choices for me, I’ll get a salad but make sure I load up on my protein prior. I eat 6 small meals a day. Now for me a small meal may be 2 cheese sticks, 3 crackers and a few grapes.

    Yes, my life changed with this surgery. Would I do it again? Damn right I would. I have gotten over the food and sweet cravings, lost 120 lbs, do all my own yardwork (before the paramedics would have had to pick me up off the lawn) and feel great.

    Congrats on your weight loss! I was always a weight watchers failure which is why I went with the surgery.

  5. I agree that this is exhausting. To be honest, it almost sounds as though you are not well, emotionally.

    Is this over-the-top perfectionistic anxiety some sort of coping mechanism for feeling out of control in other facets of your life (because surely, as a rational human being, you must realize that your reaction regarding not knowing where to sit is frankly neurotic). Or is this some sort of stress-induced hysteria that has resulted from always walking around on eggshells in terms of Phil (trying to please him to avoid an “incident,” and so forth)?

    In one sense I’d like to agree that you “need a vacation,” but I fear you’d be stressed and frazzled like this whether at home or on a vacation. I’m really not trying to be harsh here, but if this post is an accurate refleciton of you emotional state, what might be more helpful is to set up an appointment with a psychiatrist.

  6. I know how you feel and frankly, I’m concerned that those who took the time to tell you to get “perspective” and that you are “neurotic” or “obsessive” in fact took the time to inform you in an unhelpful, mean way. Really? That just smacks of hypocracy.

    This post struck me as an excuse to get some writing practice that just happened to coincide with a night out which revolved heavily (in your mind) on the food. Your description, as always, was wonderful; I like that that is part of your style. Your style (of writing mostly, although other things as well) is why I have read your books and continue to read your blog. I find it interesting that you could take a small, perhaps even insignificant moment and make it into this post. I don’t think that’s obsessive. Rather, I think that is one of the things a writer should do: illuminate small moments and give them new life, depth or meaning. I think you did that here for your readers and for yourself.

    P.S. Congrats on keeping to Weight Watchers!

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