Emotional Crisis at a Hibachi
This personal essay was originally submitted in October 2020 for the Broke But Moisturized Essay contest.
It had been about about year since I had last went on a date. A proper date, that is (drunken night antics won’t count). I’m talking dinner, movies, a nice, long walk. The typical. I often would scoff at the cheesiness that often accompanied a first date. But truthfully, I was finally at a place where I wanted nothing more than the typicality.
At this time, I was two-and-a-half years out of college, living at my parent’s house, working in Philadelphia, and still contemplating what it was I wanted to do with my life. Was a move to the Big Apple still in the cards? Or would I go for my Master’s? The world was my indecisive oyster. My confidence was also just at a place where I felt “good enough” after experiencing two heartbreaks. A delightful concoction of reflection, therapy, and self-discovery ushered me into this new era. It was around this time I met someone, a co-worker of one of my closest friends.
For the sake of this essay, we will call this boy Ben. Our mutual friend had set us up, and our first encounter was with the three of us over craft beers, where we experienced some chemistry and a mutual love for IPAs. We had been texting for a few days, when he asked me to dinner at a Hibachi. I agreed and we set the date. Ben was perfectly nice, and I was excited to continue to get to know him further and also continue evolving into my best dating-self. And here it was happening, at the Hibachi in my Delaware County - ahem Delco - hometown, the same restaurant I had experienced countless sixth-grade birthday parties at. Never a first date though.
Now, it may appear that I am making fun of the sacred establishment that is Hibachi, and I can wholeheartedly assure I am by no means doing so. I firmly believe that their salads are superior to that of any Michelin Star restaurant and the experience itself is unmatched. A volcano-shaped stack of onions that spews fire? The opportunity to catch shrimp in my mouth? The showmanship and dexterity of the chef? Sign me up.
The day arrived. We found each other at the bar of Hibachi, and were escorted to our grill. As we walked together through a near-empty restaurant, I was excited at the prospect that we would have an entire grill to ourselves. A dream come true.
Then it happened. The one possibility I had not considered was about to occur. We were being seated at the same grill of an entire family I knew - we’ll call them the Jones family. Parents, kids, grandkids - and Ben and me. All at one, cozy dinner.
Allow me to quickly recap the situation: I’m on a first date, which I am about to share with an entire family I grew up with. Anxious yet? I am.
Before I could even change my mind or suggest we instead dine at the bar, I could hear my name being called by Mrs. Jones, followed by, “Now who is this gentleman you’re with?”.
How does one introduce someone you’re on a first date with? A friend? An acquaintance? A test-run as a future life partner? I think I ended up simply introducing him as Ben, no further details required.
As we all sat down and made conversation, Mrs. Jones whipped out her phone, insisting she must take a photo of us, documenting the occasion. “Can I post it on Facebook?” she asked.
Horrified, we both screamed NO in unison. Omigod, we are so connected, I thought. Instead, she texted the photo to me.
Ben and I had made just enough conversation with the family to where it was clear we wanted to converse by ourselves. The usual topics were brought up - work, family, friends. Our chemistry from our first meeting was still tangible. I thought to myself, wow, this is going really well. Then over bites of chicken Teriyaki, Ben began telling me that he never wanted to leave the Philadelphia suburb he grew up and currently lived in. I decided to pry, “Don’t you want to explore another city or state? Philly is so close, too,” I gently said. “Nope, I never want to leave *redacted town*,” he replied.
It all hit me at once - I was at a restaurant in my hometown, surrounded by a family who I grew up with in my hometown, with a guy who never wanted to leave his hometown. This was not the future I envisioned for myself. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to leave the place where you grew up, and I also acknowledge that not everyone has an opportunity to leave for various reasons. It was simply not for me. I knew this wasn’t going to work, despite how funny, kind and charming he was.
My mind continued to spiral over my third glass of white wine. Is this what dating as an adult is going to be like? A series of people who seem compatible, until you discover one flaw? Had I allowed my own delusion to think that one date would lead me to the love of my life? Had my chance at love already passed by, ending in complete and utter heartbreak? Am I the shrimp, and is my love life the grill (God, I’m sounding like Carrie Bradshaw)? An emotional crisis in a Hibachi was not on my life’s to-do list, but here we were. As I downed the last of the Pinot Grigio, I lamented to myself, “What was the point?”. The grandkid sitting across from me began to cry.
Well hindsight is 20/20 as they say. The point is I knew what I wanted. It was the first time in a long time that I had felt in a romantic situation that I was in control of myself, as I was able to gently tell Ben the next day this wasn’t going to work. As for the photo Mrs. Jones took? I absolutely still have it - it’s one of my favorite things to show people. “Want to see a photo my friend's mom took of me on a first date?” always gets a laugh. “A date where I had an emotional breakdown,” - not so much of a giggle.
So, anyone else craving Hibachi right now?