Everyone! There are as many rituals surrounding eating as there are cultures and subcultures around the world. Each one expresses a sense of family, familiarity, religious belief, or community. If you focus on the rituals associated with romance and partnership, you'll find that there are long-standing traditions of meeting people and getting to know them better while taking in a few calories.

Using food as part of a relationship starts with young children having “tea parties” with parents and friends. Not long after, schoolchildren in lunchrooms around the world are trading snacks and treats, sharing meals, and learning the first elements of making friends and puppy love. Recess follows, giving them a chance to run off some of that bonding tension that may have started to build. Soon, these elementary food operations become a bit more sophisticated.

Just a generation or two ago, the place to meet was the local hamburger stand or malt shop. Inside the establishment and in the parking lot, youngsters mingled, flirted, and hung out while eating. Not much has changed, as you'll see if you visit the food court of any mall. Those with enough courage make the first move and sit with their most recent prospect. From there, the adventure begins.

Dining and Dating

Is there any more traditional date than dinner and a movie? Couples at all levels of involvement go to restaurants and snack bars to share meals. These dining moments range from the most casual to the most formal, depending on the occasion. There are so many details to work out in these early encounters. For example:

  • Do we sit side by side or facing each other?

  • What kind of food should I order (the same as my date, or something different)?

  • Who pays?

  • Should I order a cocktail or wine?

  • How can I tell him he has something in the corner of his mouth?

  • If it tastes awful, should I tell the chef or waitperson?

Most kids progress fairly quickly from hamburger-stand dates to that first formal night out. Often, a prom night begins with a trip to a fancy restaurant (after Mom and Dad embarrass you to tears by taking pictures and videos and calling the whole thing “sweet,” “cute,” or “adorable”). The prom night tradition starts years of evenings filled with sexual tension across a plate of appetizers.

When you're going out on a dinner date, always carry breath mints for later!

As a relationship progresses, food takes on added meaning. You feed each other morsels and share tastes from each other's order. You develop favorite haunts. Discovering your partner's eating habits enriches your time together by giving you a common memory and bonding experience. Not long after, many couples progress from worrying about how dinner went to sharing breakfast. At that point, things start changing quickly.

Why Table Manners Are So Important

  • Seating a woman at a dinner table is gentlemanly, noble, and romantic.

  • Guys who eat like Attila the Hun aren't very good dinner dates.

  • Chewing with your mouth open is disgusting and reduces the chances that someone will want to kiss that mouth later.

  • The person across from you may have second thoughts about greater involvement if you can't get through a meal without crumbs, gravy stains, and other miscues showing up on your clothes.

  • Many people find knowing how to order and sample wine sexy.

Newlywed Dining

After dozens of dinners designed to dazzle and entice, couples settle down to live together or marry. In both cases, dining changes. Part of the issue, of course, is wrangling about who cooks and who cleans up, which can be full of land mines. Once meals become part of the routine of daily living, you have to work at keeping the fire burning, so to speak.

Fortunately, many couples that have recently started cohabiting are free to come and go without the encumbrance of young children. That means it's possible to continue dining out as if you're still dating and add in the occasional special dinner at home. Newlyweds are able to take advantage of the full range of places to go and ways to make dining special that we'll talk about in the “where” and “how” parts of this chapter.

When someone cooks for you, bring a gift as a “thank you.” Offer to fix dessert and help with the dishes.

If you're like most couples who are first living together, more than one meal may not even get finished until after you've made a quick trip to the bedroom. Also, late-night snacking presents an opportunity to do something extra nice for your partner. Making a trip to the convenience store for your sweetie, who has a strong craving for a Snickers bar or some ice cream, is a generous, loving display of affection. And, of course, you can make a point of bringing home your lover's favorite junk food, just because.

Family Dining

Are family dinners romantic? Probably not, unless you use some creativity along the way. Invent little games for each other. Play the classic flirting-under-the-table games, like playing footsie while you talk about Little League, lessons, and school stuff. At larger family gatherings, make it a point to share some small “insider” language or message that says, “I'm going to ravish you later, when we get home.”

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