I say it multiple times a day and almost always mean it. But there’s something about cheerily promising “let’s grab a meal sometime!” that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
At Yale, “grabbing a meal” is an entirely different activity from “eating lunch together.” It’s transactional, it’s convenient, it’s noncommittal. There’s an unspoken rule that you spend one hour updating someone on your classes, your extracurriculars and how very busy you are — even though you’re doing great. You can’t just share silence and process each other’s stories. It’s a way to stay relevant in someone’s life without really being invested.
Even the terminology — saying “let’s grab a meal” instead of “let’s eat together” — implies that we’re both so busy, all we can do is synchronize our afternoon calorie-snatching.
And even if “grabbing a meal” is a milder form of networking, I don’t think that it actually generates the best conversations. The dining hall can be overwhelming and overstimulating and swarming with so many people and my heart sinks whenever I walk into a crowded dining hall, wondering how awkwardly I’ll struggle through a conversation with someone I can barely even hear.
Perhaps this is just an indicator that Yale has outgrown its dining halls, and these spaces were never meant to hold so many students. Perhaps it’s a flaw in the acoustics. But the Branford dining hall at 6pm will never be the place where I can be my best self. Even if I was “grabbing a meal” with someone just to make connections, I would be distracted, unfocused and unforgivably awkward.
And for those with allergies and intolerances, eating disorders, weakened immune systems or a dozen other circumstances — “grabbing a meal” in the dining hall, sandwiched between strangers, can be anywhere from uncomfortable to unsafe. It’s true, everybody does have to eat — but the chaos of a crowded dining hall means that not all of us can “grab a meal” as Yalies define it.
Over brunch a few weeks ago, one of my friends pointed out that we don’t become close by getting meals together — we become close because of the circumstances that keep bringing us to the same table. We’re casual and comfortable with each other because we work out together, or take classes together or go to meetings together, and eating together is a time for us to savor shared experiences. You don’t “grab a meal” with your family.
What we really love is sharing a meal with someone because we’re also sharing life with them.
There’s something healing about eating with someone and realizing that we don’t even have to speak. It takes work to “grab a meal,” to be interesting or impressive or at the very least normal. The truth is that we’re all just real human beings who are tired and hungry and messy and weird. And sometimes I just want to eat with my friends, nourish ourselves together, enjoy laughter and kale and feta meatballs and the simple joys of being human.
This isn’t to say that we should exclusively eat with the people we’re already comfortable with — but only that there’s a difference between sustaining yourself, and “grabbing a meal.” And we live in a culture where eating with someone doesn’t mean being human together, it means talking about summer plans and midterms.
Eating is an intimate act, and we’ve devalued it to a task that isn’t valuable for its own sake. We have to combine eating with another activity to make it worth our time.
And I wonder if we’ve done the same thing to each other. People aren’t worth enough for us to actually just sit with them for an hour, just to enjoy their company.
So don’t grab a meal with me. Take me to CVS with you. Let’s buy toothpaste together. Show me a cool leaf you found on Cross Campus. Wander around the cemetery with me. Ask my advice on your Amazon shopping cart. Ask me what I’m scared of, what my middle name is, ask me when was the last time I sang to myself. Bring me into your life. Be vulnerable and unapologetic and imperfect. Be a human being who is lactose intolerant and loves ketchup and cries in the shower.
Don’t get a meal with me — get to know me.
AMELIA DILWORTH is a senior in Branford College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.