“Hey, want to go to lunch?”
Innocent enough question. Better yet, a friendly invitation to a fellow coworker. And while harmless to many, few questions strike more anxiety into my soul than this one. (“Will you please disrobe for the next part of the physical?” and “How do you feel about being trapped in a room with a bunch of clowns?” probably round out my top three.) But the lunch question is the ultimate stress-inducer for those who find comfort by being in control. I’m not worried about the type of food — I like everything. I’m not worried about its sanitation grade — in fact, lower grades usually makes for more delicious food. No, I’m worried about only one thing: the price.
Case in point. A few months ago, I was invited to lunch with a few coworkers. We’d recently been teamed up for a project so I figured it’d be weird to be the odd man out as we discussed said project offsite. That and I’d declined so many times in the last month that I didn’t want them to think I had some weird skin condition that’d warrant a verse about me in “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by Crash Test Dummies. So I reluctantly accepted.
This is probably a good time to say that I’m not anti-social. I promise. I just really like having control of my money. Believe me? Cool.
Back to my tale. As we were walking to the unknown-to-me destination, one of my coworkers mentioned how awesome the sausage pizza was at this place. A PIZZERIA! Perfect. My budget can handle a few slices of pizza! With a newfound skip in my step, I dispatched all of my money concerns from my anxious brain. Maybe this tagging along for lunch thing ain’t that bad after all. Or not.
The first sign of trouble was visible before I even stepped through the doors. A well-designed logo. “Wood-fired” prominently displayed on the window. Oh well, I can always just spring for a single slice. We walked in and were seated by a hipster hostess. Indie music playing. A cardstock menu with the sparcity of items and excessive white space that screams “$$$$” on Yelp. The kind of place that doesn’t know the word “slice.” What have I done?!
I played it cool on the outside. But deep down inside, the I-told-you-so’s were screaming at me. Resigned to the fact that I was actually really hungry and this was an unfortunate and rare ocassion, I settled for one of the cheaper personal pie options, water, and no freaking way on the appetizers. While my coworkers ordered drinks and appetizers, I started plotting out how I’d justify this to Joanna. Later… I can deal with that later.
I joined in the conversation as we waited 30 or so minutes for our food. And then it came. It was good. I’m not sure if it was the taste or the guilt, but I didn’t leave a trace. That pie was gone. And then I started realizing I had overhyped all of this. Sure, it was more than I’d normally spend, but it’s just a few bucks. Whatever.
“So are you guys cool with just splitting the check four ways?”
“Oh HEEEECCCCKKKK no!” I screamed… inside my head. Because I would never say that out loud.
Everyone nodded. And just like that, I saw my cheapest-meal-but-still-not-cheap meal become far less cheap. But what was I going to do? Object? Make a scene? Not worth the coworker fallout. So I handed over my plastic and subsidized my peers’ expensive tastes. Even worse, it’s not like they were taking advantage of me. This is just the way they ALWAYS did lunch. Almost.every.day. How?! Well, I mean I understand the mechanics of going to lunch every day, but how did they justify the costs? And not worry about splitting the totals? Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to cover a meal or tab of a friend/family member. And I love a good meal as much as anyone. But that’s once a month AT MOST. Every work day?!
So the next time you unassumingly ask, “Hey, want to go to lunch?”, you’ll understand why I get all awkward and search for an excuse like “Oh no, I’m cool. I’m just going to eat the rest of this apple core from this morning.”