The Long Way Home 1.20.2023

After becoming empty nesters, Becky (the one I call “The Kid.”) and I discovered that having dinner out was easier than making meals for two at home. Living in the Las Vegas valley, southern California, and suburban St. Louis over a couple of decades, we had a full menu of restaurant options. 

Within a few miles drive we could choose from steakhouses, Italian, Mexican, Asian, oyster bars, and even Greek restaurants. Not to mention a range of sports bars and casino buffets. And if you’re ever in the St. Louis area, the prime rib at Andria’s Steakhouse in O’Fallon, IL will spoil you for any other prime rib.

Sitting down in a restaurant allowed us some uninterrupted time to check in with each other, put our dreams on the table to be analyzed together, and try to figure out our roles as parents and grandparents. The Kid didn’t spend hours preparing meals and when we got home there were no dishes to wash.

Often we’d look around the restaurant and try to figure out the stories of the people sharing the dining room with us. Inevitably there’d be a couple, presumably husband and wife, sitting at a table just like us. But they didn’t seem to be putting dreams on the table or even catching up with each other. Instead, they sat without talking, staring into space and looking past each other. They’d speak to their server, generally in monosyllables, but otherwise, it was like they were two introverted single diners placed at a table with a stranger. Even when they got up to leave it was like they didn’t say a word to each other. They just got up at the same time and left.

These solitary couples were older than us, by ten years at least. We felt sorry for them We thought their married life must be a living hell. Why weren’t they talking to each other? We figured that some of them could just be mad at each other. But there were too many of them to fit that excuse.

Now that we are as old as the despondent couples we felt sorry for, we’ve come up with a different explanation. 

The background noise in restaurants combined with the ringing and hearing loss of aging ears makes dinner conversation difficult, even with your spouse. The generally low level of lighting makes reading menus tough without cheaters and a flashlight. 

Now that we live on the North Shore, the dining options aren’t as extensive so we don’t eat out that often. When we do, we try to ignore the background noise and low lighting so we don’t appear to be one of those despondent couples. We don’t lay our dreams on the table much anymore. But we do catch up with each other and ruminate over our parenting and grandparenting roles. 

And if a younger couple happens to be checking up on us, we hope they’ll see that even after five decades of marriage, it is possible to still be connected with your spouse. And that marriage can be something other than a living hell.