Shortly after my husband and I started dating during our first year of college, he invited me to join him for Easter dinner at his great-aunt’s house. Just a little family dinner, he said – not a big deal.
As the son of an Italian-American family, his idea of “a little family dinner” turned out to be somewhat different from mine. There were lots of people to meet, constant animated conversation, noise and activity of all kinds, and mountains of food. And towards the end of the evening, there was the unforgettable moment when family matriarch Great-Aunt Lou pulled the two of us aside and said, “Listen. I have something very important to tell you. Love is not sex. It’s something different. The sex may be terrific. But love is above all that. Don’t forget.”
We didn’t forget, or stop blushing for a good several hours afterward. Still, I was warmly hugged and invited back, and by the time we left – our arms full of leftovers – I couldn’t decide if it had been a decidedly awkward introduction to the family, or an absolutely perfect one.
I still don’t know, to be honest. But I do know that it was the start of our first phase of “family dinners” together. That was the getting-to-know-you phase, when we planned to meet up at the dining hall regularly and sometimes escaped campus for a walk into town and dinner at a cafe. There were few rules then. Dinner was sometimes an open pizza box between us on a dorm bed while we watched a movie at 10 p.m. And as our relationship grew, there were more family dinners with Aunt Lou, or at my parents’ house, or his.
There have been other phases of dinner together since then. There were the early days of marriage, when we established our division of labor (I cook, he cleans up) and started to set a regular dinnertime and eat meals at the table more often. Then there were the new-parent days, when we pulled bouncy seats and high chairs close to us while we ate, and learned to shift our timing to accommodate “dinner-bath-book-bed” for our toddlers.
Now our eldest child is sixteen, and while we still eat dinner together almost every night, teenage schedules have a way of shaking things up. Lately there have been more evenings when dinnertime rolls around, and it’s just my husband and me. I’m reminded that we’re passing through another phase together, and sooner than I think, “family dinner” is going to once again look a lot more like it did in our early days together. We may not go all the way back to pizza in bed, but then again, you never know.
Family dinner grows, changes, and adapts just the same way our relationships do – and it’s a connection we can share from our first dates all the way through our lives. Here are some resources to help you make mealtimes a cornerstone of your relationship, no matter what stage you’re at:
Oh, and of course, if you’re hoping to do a slightly better job with the “sex talk” than Great-Aunt Lou did, we’ve got that covered, too – along with some general advice on inviting your child’s love interest to family dinner. After all, a new phase for you means a next chapter for them, too.
If you’re looking for a simple, yet special, meal this month, try this spiced-up twist on roast chicken!
Enjoy a movie night with these family-friendly romantic flicks.
Dinner and a Movie: Valentine’s Day
Focus the conversation on just the two of you with these relationship-boosting questions.
2023 The Family Dinner Project