I grew up in a typical rural fishing town. It was the kind of town where you had to drive half an hour to the nearest grocery store. On Sunday afternoons my family had a tradition of piling into the minivan to drive the 20 minutes to the nearest Chinese buffet. Row after row of steaming food and tubs of jello. I remember looking forward to that afternoon indulgence much the same as a kid looks forward to Christmas.
In my late twenties I made a spontaneous move to New York City to try my hat at something new and exciting. I left my sleepy town to live in the city that never sleeps. Now many years in, I look back and see that living in this city has offered me a lifetime of new experiences. And some of the greatest experiences have been trying the array of authentic food from all walks of the earth. Each culture offering a new sensation of tastes and smells to tantalize the taste buds.
Having lived in the big city for over 8 years, I cannot remember the last time I entered a food buffet. That is until recently when I went back home to visit one of my sisters. With fond memories of Sunday afternoons we decided to go to the local buffet for lunch. As we entered the restaurant I felt a rush of excitement as I hurried to set down my coat and grab a plate from the nearest shiny cart.
I don’t know if any can relate to this but at the buffet I have a system. I wander from cart to cart, piling my plate with tiny samples of any food that catches my eye. Once that plate is full I go back to the table to begin a taste test of my chosen smorgasbord. If I like it I eat it, if the taste is not to my full satisfaction I leave it on the plate to be collected. After all, there is so much food but unfortunately a limited space to fit it all.
After sampling I go back to the rows and see if there is anything I missed. While I survey the last bins, I also pile the plate with bigger portions of the items that passed my first taste test. And so it continues until I can’t fit even one more bite.
But this time was different. I dove in excitedly to the first plate of food much the same as when I was a child, yet as I moved through it I realized something. It just didn’t taste good. Sushi was filled with lettuce to make it appear larger. Luke warm food looked like it would be good but while eating I could not deny that it wasn’t the real thing. None of this food was as good as the authentic meals that I had become used to eating.
Discouraged but still undaunted, I picked through the first plate and went for a second. After all this was an all you could eat buffet right? I realized as I wandered the isles of food, there was not much I really wanted seconds of. The glittering metal and endless piles of food suddenly lost their pull on me. My excitement dulled to a disinterested meander. This food wasn’t real. I mean yes it was edible, but it wasn’t the real thing. It was a poor substitute of quickly thrown together filler. Imitation crab salad begging to fill your stomach cheap and quick.
And as I wandered, my mind also began to wander. A thought struck me. Is this also how it is with our dating culture today? Becoming tantalized with the idea of a whole cyberspace of potential dates. Endless profiles to excite and lure you in. After all aren’t 1 in 5 relationships started that way nowadays? This is the new and improved age. Surfing through people much as you would an online shopping site. Again, it’s like a kid at Christmas. With endless possibilities, who needs to choose just one? After all perhaps something better is just a click away.
Having tried an array of online dating sites, I begin to wonder. Is it possible that this impersonal shopping of human beings is numbing some of us? Swiping people to the left and right to add or reject them from our shopping cart at a quick glance. Stainless steel rows of people doing their best to project a shiny image so that we will want to add them to our “cyber plate”.
But is it real? Is this the best way to satisfy our appetite for love and acceptance? Or is this just filler? What may happen if we continue to make this the norm of our dating culture? Sampling people in order to find the best on the plate, but never getting to the real meat of the matter. Surface food, that in the end bores and leaves us unsatisfied.
The buffet food had looked so good in those first moments but I quickly realized that the taste was not what it appeared. It filled my appetite for a moment, but it wasn’t satisfying or healthy. And in the end, it only resulted in a stomach ache.
So what does real love and respect of another human being look like? In a culture of instantaneous drive through satisfaction could there be a deeper, more fulfilling way of doing things? And once we experience that, it may be hard to go back to the buffet.