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Inviting Writing: If It's a First Date, It Must Be Sushi

It appears from the lack of responses to our last Inviting Writing theme that none of our readers has had a food-related break-up—or at least was willing to write about it. I'm very happy for you. Well, surely you have all been on dates that involved food, right? So, let's try this again. This mont...

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It appears from the lack of responses to our last Inviting Writing theme that none of our readers has had a food-related break-up—or at least was willing to write about it. I'm very happy for you. Well, surely you have all been on dates that involved food, right? So, let's try this again. This month's theme, in honor of Valentine's Day: dating.

First dates, last dates, romantic dates, funny dates, dates that resulted in marriage proposals, dates that were only memorable for what you ate—as long as it's a true, original personal essay somehow inspired by this invitation, let's hear it. Send your submissions to FoodandThink@gmail.com with “Inviting Writing: Dating” in the subject line by this Friday morning, February 18. We'll read them all and post our favorites on subsequent Mondays (or Tuesday, in the case of a holiday). Remember to include your full name and a biographical detail or two (your city and/or profession; a link to your own blog if you’d like that included).

Now dim the lights, put on a little soft jazz, and I'll get things started.

If It's a First Date, It Must Be Sushi by Lisa Bramen

Between graduating from college, when I broke up with my boyfriend of about 14 months to spend a year in Europe, and meeting my husband almost 10 years later, I went on a lot of dates. A lot. Most of them were first dates. And, for reasons I've never understood, a disproportionate number of them took place at sushi restaurants. I had no idea when I returned from that dreamy year abroad—where I fell in love with, and in, nearly every country I visited—that finding love of a more lasting sort would be so difficult back in Los Angeles. At least I got to eat a lot of nice meals.

The first time I tried sushi was on a first date with the younger brother of my older brother's friend, not long after returning stateside. I had only recently started to eat fish again; my eight-year vegetarianism, having survived the meatropolises of Munich, Prague and Dublin, crumbled somewhere in France. I walked for what seemed like hours in search of a meal sans viande before I finally broke down and ordered a plate of scallops. They were delicious and I didn't die, so I started slowly reintroducing seafood into my diet.

Sushi, on the other hand, was a little daunting—not because it was raw fish, which I got over quickly, or that it was different, because I have always been an adventurous eater. The problem was mechanical: how to eat this stuff. I was clumsy but marginally competent with chopsticks (I later learned that in Japan it is acceptable to eat sushi with your fingers anyway), but the restaurant where my date took me was the type of Americanized joint that served sushi rolls in slices the size of a hockey puck. If you took a bite out of one it would fall apart and the rest would tumble back onto your plate—or, if you weren't careful, onto your nice first-date blouse—in a most ungraceful way. If you tried to cram the whole thing into your mouth, you would be doubly sorry: you would look like a chipmunk and, because there wasn't enough room to chew properly before swallowing, were in real danger of choking on a sticky mass of rice and fish. Either way, not an attractive look.

A few years into my relationship dry spell I decided to try online dating, and the pace of first dates—and occasionally second, but rarely third—quickened substantially. The dating site required an alias, and I chose the name of my favorite hot sauce, Cholula. None of my dates picked up on this hint that I love Mexican food, apparently, because sushi bars continued to be the go-to first date venue. This was fine—by then I had grown to love sushi and figured out how to eat it more gracefully—but it got a little ridiculous when three different men took me to the same trendy sushi bar in Venice within a few months. I wouldn't have been surprised to run into a previous first date with another woman, but it never happened.

For a variety of reasons, these dates never turned into relationships. Either I wasn't interested in them or, in the rare case that I was, they decided they were more into the lesbian who wanted to give dating men a try (OK, this only happened once). Being in first-date mode all the time was exhausting.

Finally, I realized that I was dissatisfied with more than just my love life—I was also unhappy with my career (advertising) and sick of living in L.A. I signed off from online dating, quit my job and moved to New York to study journalism, then took an internship at a small newspaper in rural upstate New York. I assumed my stay there would be brief, and I would return to the city and resume my search for Mr. Right once my career was on track.

Then one of my co-workers at the newspaper invited me to a poker game. Across the table from me was a man whose smile set my heart aglow like E.T.'s. It turned out his favorite hot sauce was Cholula, too (and, you know, we had a couple of other things in common). Five years later we got married, and I still haven't moved back to the city.
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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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