"Excuse me for interrupting your conversation," I heard a woman say.
My friend John and I were enjoying a nice quiet dinner in the theater district. I had been in the middle of a sentence, but now we both turned automatically toward the table to our right, where two people were sitting. They appeared to be in their 30s. The woman had turned her back on her male companion and was looking at me intently.
"What do you think, how would you feel, if someone called you fat?" she asked me, with an alarmingly desperate gleam in her eye.
My friend John and I stared blankly at her for a moment. Her date sat red-faced and open-mouthed behind her. For a second I thought, "Is she referring to my weight?" (Though I was fairly sure that all my worst areas were hidden by the tablecloth.) She herself was thin, with long hair and a lot of makeup.
She indicated her table-mate with a backwards motion of her head. "He just called me fat. I just want to know how you would feel if someone did that." OK, now I got it. We were being pulled into their relationship drama.
The man spoke up. "I can NOT believe you are actually talking to another table right now!"
Ironically, John and I had just come from seeing a different kind of relationship spectacle: the popular off-Broadway play Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage. It's a charming retro-romp with Eve Plumb (who was Jan in the 60's TV show "The Brady Bunch") portraying the cool and confident host of a live romance advice show. Miss Abigail uses humorously out-of-date wisdom from actual vintage dating guidebooks to instruct her "viewers" on the ins and outs of relationships, while encouraging lively interaction between the audience (which at our performance seemed to be mostly couples) and the actors. People in the front row are invited to come up and participate on stage. And now here John and I were, thirty minutes later, being asked to participate--in a considerably less enjoyable way--in this real life couple's relationship difficulty.
"Well..." I began, and then hesitated. I was torn between the desire to get back to my peaceful dinner as soon as possible and the impulse to defend a fellow woman's injured self-esteem. I looked at John for help, but he clearly felt the ball had been hit to me and I should be the one to field it.
"I'd say it kind of depends on the context," I smiled, "but I have to agree that it does not sound all that good to me." I was trying to keep things light, lest someone start throwing things. The waiter had only just delivered my martini and I did not want anything (like flying dishes or breadsticks) disturbing our table.
"He just told me I was fat," the woman went on, getting a little louder, a little more emotional, while indicating her "date" with her thumb. "He tells me to order food and then when I'm eating it, he tells me not to finish, because I'm fat. How would that make you feel? Isn't that a horrible thing to say?"
By now I had my boundaries back in place; I folded my hands together in a rational Miss Abigail-inspired manner. "I definitely think you two need to talk about why he says things like that to you. Tell him, sincerely and calmly, how you feel." I nodded firmly to her to indicate that she should face her partner again. To my surprise and relief, she did.
When we got up to leave the restaurant, we overheard the man saying to the woman in a sarcastic tone of voice, "I know--maybe we should just go somewhere and get married right now. Right this second!"
One couple in the audience of Miss Abigail, who announced they had been married for 45 years, had said that the secret to a successful relationship was "never going to bed angry." All I could think, as John and I picked our way past the arguing couple at the table, was "Man, you two have got a lot of work to do before bedtime."