The Cafe of Love

Lindsay Gibson reminds us to be careful when we make our menu selection from the Café of Love.

Many people can be on their best behavior early in a relationship, only to disappoint later when a deeper connection is desired. Some people present themselves so well we become emotionally ensnared in the relationship before we realize what they’re missing.

Good partners come from conscious choices. In the Café of Love, do we look at the menu prior to our emotional investment in order to avoid painful disillusionment later on? Or do we walk in the door and tell the server to bring us whatever he feels like? Sometimes, when we’re really hungry, we just can’t stand the suspense of waiting to see what will come out of the kitchen. We not only let our waiter decide, we pay in advance, fat tip included, then eagerly hope we’ll get something we like.

We can afford to be selective only when we are already emotionally well fed. When we’re famished, any restaurant is a welcome sight. We’re not too picky as long as it has a nice façade and parking near the door. We don’t think to check the menu.

But the real problem is not what’s on the menu. The deeper problem is that we’re not interested in reading the menu. We sit down at the table already starving. We latch onto the other person immediately, needing him before we even know him. If we already need someone we don’t really know, the potential for disappointment is huge.

While the answer to the problem seems obvious—take time to read the menu and get to know the person—it doesn’t seem to work that way. We like to fall in love first and ask questions later. We tend to rationalize inconsiderate behavior and only put two and two together down the road. Of course, by then we are probably in deep and thinking this is the only place left on earth to eat. Then we are in for a long, painful process of leaving someone who turned out not to want the same level of love that we did.

Here’s the main question: how can we tell up front if it isn’t going to work before we offer someone our heart on a silver platter? How can we tell when people are too self-centered for an intimate relationship before we can’t stand to lose them? The even deeper question is why do we give them our heart before we know they can be trusted with it?

The evidence is there. We’re just too hungry to look for it. As with packaged food, the ingredients of potential partners are listed in their micro-behaviors—how they treat you when they think you’re not looking. In grocery stores, a product’s location will tell you whether it’s nourishing or packaged beyond all recognition. It’s the same with seductive people. Being appealing doesn’t mean it’s good for you. You might end up with a candy bar instead of a meal.

Emotional Hunger Makes Us Less Selective

Self-Care Ensures You Make the Right Choices

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Bad partners, like nonnutritive foods, look so irresistible because we are emotionally starved. We let ourselves get too hungry by going unnurtured too long. Then, like an emaciated castaway, everything starts to look like food. Eye contact, flirting, or other signs of interest are quickly interpreted as hors d’oeuvres promising a full-fledged banquet. We don’t stop to ask ourselves whether the banquet is actually real, and we certainly aren’t rude enough to ask if these hors d’oeuvres might be all we ever get. Right around the time when we hope to be digging into our relational entrée, the potential partner pulls back or starts causing fights. Is there any way to see this coming?

Yes, but only if we want to see it coming. Our emotional hunger makes us cling to the mirage of safety and commitment long before anything is really there. We are afraid to ask for the menu for fear there won’t be any entrees coming—which would feel disastrous because we’ve decided this is the person who will finally fill us up.

Many potential partners function quite well in the hors d’oeuvre stage. Their initial attentiveness takes the edge off our hunger enough so that we can start getting choosy about the rest of the meal. After we’ve had a snack, we start to notice spots on the silverware or the fact that the waiter keeps bringing us stale food. But as long as you’re terribly hungry, you’ll make excuses for the inexcusable.

Starvation will not make you a food critic; it just makes you enthusiastic about substandard fare. Before you can be discerning about potential partners, you have to make sure that you care enough about how your heart feels not to allow the person to repeatedly let you down.

Once you care about yourself and are capable of feeding yourself with friendships, interests, and activities, junk food won’t look so hot. You’ll hold out for high-quality nourishment with a nice presentation.

When you feel lit up inside and protective of your inner light, only considerate, equally engaged people with a good sense of humor will spark your appetite. You’ll look past the powdered sugar and ask, did their behavior consider my feelings? You’ll curb romantic fantasies until you see if they are as into you as you are into them. You’ll notice if their wit is nutritionally dense or self-serving and dry.

As with good food, selecting quality relationships requires an experienced palate. If you make the distinction between how things taste versus how they make you feel later, empty calories will lose their pull. In the Café of Love, you’ll start choosing people who offer nutritional density, satiety, and feelings of strength and energy.

Like food, some people are sustaining, and some people are strictly for fun. Your job is to discover which is which, read the labels, and make sure you’re not too hungry before you go shopping.

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