A few weeks ago I hosted a super informal and unscientific experiment on my Facebook page. I asked my friends, “when you and your partner are out to dinner (without kids) and it comes time for the check, how often does the server ask if this will be on separate checks or all together?”
My answer: every single time.
When my husband and I went on our first date, way back in 2011, he held my hand while we were walking through the Kansas State Fair. I remember everything about it. It was dark outside and the lights were dancing all over the place. It was weirdly cold and rainy for a September evening but we were having the time of our lives. I wore a denim jacket that I wish I still had, he grabbed my hand as we were leaving and kissed me right there in the middle of the flow of foot traffic. Like a movie. The camera swung around and zoomed in on us and everyone else just fell away like they’d never been there in the first place.
No one had ever done that before. I was in my late twenties. By then, people had held my hand, kissed me, told me they had a crush on me, taken me on what they considered to be dates, slept with me… all under the cover of “romantic” secrecy. No one had ever taken me and my fat body to a place where we weren’t alone and treated me as if we were.
By then, I’d become kind of an expert at not letting the world know that I and the person I was with were together. In my mind, for some reason, it felt okay and normal. Maybe I convinced myself that it was better than nothing? (It wasn’t.) I learned to walk a step behind. Avoid eye contact. Never seem too committed. The thing is, it’s easy to trick the whole world into thinking you’re not really with the person you’re with because the social conscious won’t put you together in the first place. You can trade in a lot of social capital for publicly loving a fat woman. I understood it and accepted it without question because I didn’t know that I was worth or could have more.
And then Ryan swoops in. Completely flips the script. He tells me that he loves me when other people can hear. He called me his girlfriend with excitement and ease. He made everyone walk around us when he stopped to kiss me. He made me feel like the only woman who has ever known love. He has no idea that loving a fat woman so the world can see is a political act. It’s never occurred to him that he should be embarrassed. It doesn’t make sense to him. He’s not making a brave or noble stance. He’s just living his life with me the way every other “normal” gets to–in a way that makes sense to him. It’s the world that makes something so ordinary into something revolutionary and that’s bizarre.
We go to dinner and every time, the server asks, “is the check gonna be together or separate?” He happily answers without second thought but something asks, in the back of my mind, “Do all my thin, coupled friends get asked that question? Yeah. Of course they do.” I mean it makes sense. A server doesn’t want to make an assumption that would cause them to make a second trip or have to split the ticket later, right? Obviously. Double checking first is the safe move. I can think of so many reasons about why the server would ask that. It’s nothing personal. Which is why I’ve only secretly wondered it every single time that we have eaten at a restaurant for the past seven years.
Two weeks ago we went to Wichita for an afternoon. We walked into a store that sells glasses so that we could try some on and hopefully purchase them. We walked in together and the salesperson greets Ryan and talks to him for a while. It’s not till he sees that I’m carrying Ryan’s glasses Rx that he even notices that we walked in together and might even know one another. I hand the man both of our Rx’s (written from the same doctor on the same date and with the same last names), we tell him our insurance information–we confirm, twice, that we are on the same plan. After all of this, the salesperson pulls Ryan aside and asks him not subtly, in what I interpret as utter disbelief, if we are married. Actually, he didn’t really ask if we’re married. He sputtered a series of words, “Uh, hey man. Sorry. Is she… are you… um… is… wife???” I am acutely aware that this person is just so flabbergasted at our pairing. Did he just apologize to Ryan for thinking we might be together? Ryan doesn’t notice because Ryan is pure of heart and doesn’t realize that this is the world we’re living in–the world that I live in, anyway. I immediately stop looking at glasses for myself. I won’t give this person my money–and besides, every time I asked the salesperson what he thought of the glasses I was trying on, he made this twisted up face. His disdain for me was so thinly veiled. As we were leaving, he got really excited and animated and said, “Hey don’t forget to review my great services online!” He is so lucky that I don’t remember his name.
After we left, I went and bought my glasses from somewhere else, we decided to go to one of our favorite restaurants. We go here almost every single time that we’re in Wichita. We walked in at about 4:00 pm on a weekday. There wasn’t exactly a rush going on. We walked in and the host said, “I’m sorry, are you two sitting together?” I wouldn’t have even noticed if I wasn’t already extra tender from our encounter at the glasses store but again with the apology for assuming that we’re together when we walked in together?!
After we ate and drank our beers, the server asked if we wanted separate tickets. It was an innocent question that I know that all servers ask everyone but it was the last straw for me and secret tears flooded my eyes and my brain.
When we got home and I talked to Ryan about my perspective on the day, he had no idea. He hadn’t noticed any of what I had. But when I told the story of our day from my perspective, he couldn’t deny any of it. Those things definitely happened. Off-hand I just decided to ask my Facebook friends how often they get asked if their tickets are together or separate. I did this because I was grasping for even basic encouragement–even if it came from something so silly. I knew that when everyone else told me that it happens to them all the time, too, because it’s standard and what kind of a dumb question is that, I’d feel a lot better.
Within half an hour I had about ten answers and at least 8 of them were along the lines of, “LOL I can’t remember the last time that happened! We’ve been together for sooooo long!” That… kind of broke my heart after the day I had. It just confirmed my suspicions that this world can’t fathom my partnership.
One friend who is in a same-sex relationship said they’re always asked because everyone just assumes they’re friends. Another responder has a larger body with a thinner bodied partner and said they’re asked all the time, too.
So, cool. That didn’t feel great.
This isn’t one of those stories that ends with a clean wrap up and a lesson on how to be a better person. It’s just a story that I feel like has a lot of space for learning for everyone but I don’t have the energy to parse out exactly what the lessons are. I just wanted to tell you a story.
I will say that the partner that I have is perfect for me whether the world sees us right away or not.
“We laugh just like yesterday and I kiss you like the day before and I hold you just like ordinary.”