Have you ever been in a relationship that was bad from the get-go? Or maybe it only had bad moments in the beginning, but progressively festered until it ended abruptly. Knowing the disappointment and heartache to come, you ignored the inevitable and held on, hoping and praying your boyfriend would eventually get it together, but he never did. So you broke up. You cried. You ate an entire devil’s food cake, drank a magnum of wine while listening to The Carpenters, and then after the headache and nausea subsided, you stalked him for six months and reluctantly moved on. Okay, maybe it was a year instead.
Today at an Upper West Side brunch, I ordered Huevos Rancheros, but my plate was served with a mimosa and an earful. I couldn’t help but listen to the extremely loud and incredibly close unhappy, bickering couple behind our table. Since I have no names, let’s pretend the two involved are Jack and Jill. Their voices sounded like they were in their early twenties, too young to be speaking so seriously.
“The reason I don’t talk about this, is because I don’t want to get into it again with you,” Jack said.
“Well, I think you should ask my permission for stuff like this,” Jill replied. The two girls at the table next to ours were in the same age group, and couldn’t help but giggle as they also listened to the loud-voiced exchange of words.
Jack came back with statistics, ” You know I went to like 47 concerts last year before we started dating.”
It didn’t seem of importance to Jill, “I don’t care how many concerts you went to. That was then and this is now.”
Tables were approximately two feet apart, so this was no place for a private talk. Was this the break-up date? Did Jack treat Jill to a veggie omelet before axing what already seemed like the doomed relationship? Was Jill too controlling? Or perhaps Jack wasn’t willing to compromise and sacrifice some of his boy-like activities of the past for Jill?
Jack spoke to Jill in a condescending tone as if he was saying, “I am not changing who I am for you. Get over it. ” Every unwed woman has indirectly heard those words at one time or another. I couldn’t see Jill’s face through any of this, but I was asking myself how she could continue to eat home fries during a conversation that was surely going to determine her fate with Jack. I had almost lost my appetite while listening to this uncomfortable rant myself. In and out of dead-end relationships like this one for years, I was no stranger to the insecure, frustrated, and defeated feelings that would remain with her well into the next affair.
Eventually, the dialogue lightened and was less about them, and more about Jack and his job as an engineer. Jill sounded disinterested, but may have been distracted instead. They continued to chat lightly, but Jill said little. Although doubtful, maybe Jill was contemplating the move to end it once they finished their meal.
My husband and I paid the check, grabbed our doggy bag and stood up from the tiny table for two. I glanced unobtrusively at the couple before I left. Dirty blonde Jill wore a concerned look on her face. Her eyes were tense and the eggs on her plate were the furthest thing from her mind. She was young, maybe 23 or 24, and knew whatever she had with Jack was just that—had. Jack appeared to be a little older, 26 or 27, and his attitude on the other hand, was nonchalant. He was eating his Eggs Benedict like there was no tomorrow, and didn’t seem preoccupied in the least.
I wanted to shout, “Dump him—there are millions of other jerks to date in New York who don’t attend 47 concerts per year!” Or maybe something more comforting like, “You deserve better. Get out of this thing now, and find someone who appreciates you and your controlling idiosyncrasies.” But I resisted. I looked at Jill, and her pensive eyes never left him. I walked away.
I walked out wondering the outcome of two people in different places in their lives. I felt for Jill. I had been there. I knew Jack. I had dated him–the guy who never would commit or adapt his life to mine. Eventually, I got smart and avoided the Jacks. But it was much later. Jill needed another ten years to figure it out like I did. Hopefully she would get there.
This was entertainment at brunch for some, but was a turning point and a cold sober discussion for two others. It was just another overheard conversation in Manhattan on a Sunday. I was forced to listen to it. If only I could have said something.