When it comes to Valentine’s Day, I’m the last man on Earth you’d ask for romantic advice.
What could some grizzled OK Boomer possibly know about young love?
Betty and I have been married almost 35 years. I snore. She doesn’t. Sometimes I leave my socks on the bathroom floor. Is that romantic? Not very.
One Valentine’s Day, I took her on impulse to see “Manchester by the Sea,” which I stupidly thought was a love story. It wasn’t. That one was a total disaster. She hasn’t forgotten.
A friend told me about his Valentine’s Day failure: He forgot to make reservations.
They stood in line at one restaurant for an hour, then gave up and stood in line at another place for an hour. They never got a table.
“I could see the joy just draining from her face,” he said.
Where did you end up? Denny’s?
He forgot. But he remembers the look on her face.
You’re better off clicking on all that Valentine’s Day clickbait, to score a table at the hot restaurant, the one with the view, the one with the buzz.
The problem is that on Valentine’s Day, it’s a cattle call. Everybody’s stressed. Crowded and miserable, and that prix fixe tenderloin kept in the purgatory of a warmer won’t set young hearts aflutter.
I did come up with a romantic idea. At least I thought it was romantic. Sadly, my sons thought it too strange.
Invite the young woman to your apartment. Serve her a glass of prosecco. Give her a red rose. Not a dozen, just one nice rose.
Put on music that she likes. Not what you like. Lead her gently to a chair in the kitchen. Ask her to close her eyes and keep them closed, but don’t insist. This isn’t “50 Shades of Grey.” It’s Valentine’s Day.
Now cook for her: pasta carbonara.
There are two rules: Don’t ever add cream. And don’t talk about yourself.
Talk about her. Talk to her, and don’t talk about you. Ask about her dreams, her problems, her goals. Listen to her, really listen and talk about things you’d like to do together.
As you listen, saute bacon, butter and minced shallots. Just before the pasta is done, pour some pasta water and chicken stock into the pan. Add peas. Grind in plenty of pepper. Simmer and reduce.
Drain the pasta into a bowl. Add egg yolks and mix them. They’ll cook in the heat of the pasta. Add fresh green onion and lots of grated Parmigiana-Reggiano, pour the pan sauce over the pasta. Toss it together.
If you’re lucky, when she opens her eyes, she’ll smile at you.
What’s not romantic about the scent of sauteed bacon and shallots?
Plate the dish, grate on some more cheese. A good red wine, and fine chocolate for dessert. Keep listening to her. She’ll tell you some things if you listen.
Isn’t that romantic?
“No dad,” one of my 20-something guys said. “That’s weird.”
Yeah. I’m weird. Forget it. What do I know about romance?
My problem with trendy Valentine’s Day restaurants is that I’m not interested in buzz. I foolishly select restaurants for the food. I like some of the places the foodies write about – Carrie Nahabedian can cook for me any time – but mostly, I’m just a diner guy.
That’s where I’m sitting right now, at a diner, having some superb fish chowder and writing this column.
There’s an old couple at one table, a really old couple, in their mid-80s. They don’t talk much. He cuts her food. She leans over and says something. His shoulders shake as he laughs. She playfully puts a roll on his plate as if it were some treasure.
A young couple sits to my left. They’re neat and clean, but they don’t look like money. He’s wearing a T-shirt and light jacket in this February cold. She’s got on a thin blouse. They look tired.
They don’t look like those couples in clickbait photos of glamorous Valentine’s Day nightclub dates, those young masters of the universe about to conquer the hedge fund and the world.
He has beat-up hands, as if he works construction or in a tire shop. They talk about their kids, but I don’t want to hear. He leans forward and puts one of those big broken hands of his on hers. She smiles and says one word: “Honey.”
I look away. It’s not my place to see. It belongs to them. So, I head outside for air.
That old couple in their 80s comes out. She walks on ahead to their car. But the old man, a chunky guy, stops and I ask how long they’ve been married.
“Married? We’re not married,” he said. “We were married 28 years, kids, everything. But we got divorced. It was bad. Hell. We really didn’t like each other.”
“But then she got in an accident and broke her neck in two places. And I wanted to help her. I mean, I love her. We hang out now. We’re good friends now.”
You hang out a lot?
“All the time,” he said. “We’re close. It was that broken neck. I had to help. We got close again.”
They drove off and I called Betty about dinner.
“What do you want?” she asked.
I’m cooking. I’m cooking pasta carbonara, I said.
But first I have to pick up some prosecco.
“Honey,” she said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.