Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you I develop irrational hatreds of things. The fall of my senior year of high school my hatred (which, side note, is still with me to this day, so at least I’m consistent?) was Taylor Swift. But the peeve du jour is now a phrase bandied about a lot: “Let’s get a meal.”
I know I’m not the first to hear that phrase, and I can’t imagine I’m the first to take pause and wonder whether I’ve just been invited somewhere or subtly insulted. On the face of it, it’s great that so many people want to socialize with so many other people, and it’s so great that there’s a culture where people just casually eat with one another. Plus, I’ve just been invited somewhere! New friends! Winning.
But take a second to read the subtext of the phrase. Does the person (for greater ease, let’s assume it’s a she) inviting me to some ambiguous meal have my phone number? If the answer is no, and we didn’t exchange numbers, then tell me — how exactly are we going to go about arranging said meal? The offer to get a meal then seems utterly superficial, more about the image of extending an offer than deriving any actual pleasure out of my company.
Something about the exclusively public settings in which this phrase is uttered makes me disbelieve it. Let’s say this person does have my phone number. But if she really does want to get a meal with me, then why hasn’t she just texted me that same question? Logistically speaking, isn’t a text conversation or (gasp) a phone call easier? We’re back to the impression from the first scenario — that this offer is more for the show of it than for any other purpose. It serves as a placation, not as a real invitation.
But I’ll give my mysterious inviter the most genuine motives: Let’s say she sincerely does want to get a meal with me; let’s say she follows through and we grab lunch or some other meal. Then why does the phrase still rankle me?
I think it’s because of the slightly self-satisfied way in which I’ve heard it said so many times. Telling someone that the two of you ought to get a “meal” with no use-by date implies that the person asking is too busy to commit to any actual place or time. Every time I hear that phrase I feel like I’ve just been told, “Let me find room in my GCal for you.” And sure, it’s nice that she wants to find room in her GCal, but I can’t help but think that the offer is more about reminding me of the busy life she leads than anything else.
If the desire to get a meal is real, at best this genuine offer still reduces me to another item on the to-do list of a Yalie’s life: Rather than being a sociable break between Errand A and Errand B, I feel like I’m being scheduled in as Errand C.
This isn’t to say that I don’t ever want to socialize or share meals with people; I’m not an antisocial crank. And maybe I’m simply reading too much into every aspect of this casual phrase. But I also don’t think it would hurt for people to try to rephrase the offer in a way that seems less flippant and more sincere. What if, the next time my fake interlocutor found herself in the same situation, she specified a bit?
Something about “Are you free for lunch this week? I’d love to chat,” feels so much more compelling than “Let’s get a meal.” The simple introduction of some specific meal makes me feel like it is actually the lunch she’s after, rather than a chance to network or remind me of her constant preoccupation. Suddenly, this is a treat again, rather than a chore.
So my two cents to those of you out there who invite new acquaintances or old friends to ambiguous meals is this: Keep doing what you’re doing. Make new friends and keep the old, etc. etc. But if the real aim is to forge new connections, then make sure someone as cynical as me would believe you. Suggest a specific meal; offer a way to follow up on it (like, for starters, your phone number); and please, do us all a favor and try not to sound like you’re doing us a favor. Let lunch be lunch, and maybe we can both actually enjoy it.
Victoria Hall-Palerm is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .