Zanny Merullo Steffgen
Marriage Advice from Restaurant Guests
August was a big month for me. In the midst of the world’s turmoil, I got married and promoted. Although it’s strange and difficult to celebrate personal joys during a pandemic and the other sufferings of my country and world, the reality is that people are suffering around the world at all times. I myself have had a tough couple of years leading up to these accomplishments. I’ve decided that I should do what I can to help the people around me, and then quiet the internal guilt voice and accept the gifts of this life while they are here.
Due to the fact that my husband and I are stuck in the mountains of the US, far from my family in Massachusetts and even farther from his family in Germany, our marriage was a quick trip to the courthouse. Our families skyped in from their homes, and we signed the papers and exchanged rings outside on a beautiful day. From there we headed to the river where we read our vows privately, snacked on cheese and cold cuts, watched trout come and go, and took a nap. Knowing that I have chosen to attach myself to one person for the rest of my time on Earth brings me great happiness and peace of mind. Maybe because the person I chose is someone who gives me full support and complete freedom, lots of love, tons of laughs, and the secure knowledge that I will never lead a boring life.
Meanwhile, at work I was given good news, too. After losing my bartending job due to COVID closure, I eventually found my way to a little bistro in a charming house in town. There, I found satisfying restaurant work in an establishment I could be proud of, surrounded by coworkers who made me feel, for the first time in my life, that my work ethic was not taken advantage of. I started off bartending, serving, expo-ing, bussing, picking up shifts as often as possible and learning as much as I could. Within a little over a month, the assistant general manager put in his two weeks, and the general manager turned to me, “You’re up, Zanzibar.”
My new job consists of phone calls, menu printing, hosting, and wine service. While I sometimes miss the anonymity of bartending, when I could put my head down and pound out martinis and old fashioneds all night long, I really enjoy my new position. My lack of service duties means I am free to walk around and talk to guests, stop by tables, mention the weather or joke about this or that. It is my job to make guests feel special. What they may not know is that my interactions with them are not only for the benefit of the business, but for my own personal benefit as well.
Since becoming promoted, which coincided exactly with my marriage, I’ve taken to asking restaurant guests for marriage advice. Although I am confident I have a strong, happy marriage, and that I will figure my way through this relationship for the rest of my days, I like to seek the wisdom and anecdotes of others in the hopes that I may gain greater perspective. Many couples of all ages come to celebrate their anniversaries with us. Now that I know what it means to fully commit to someone, I greatly appreciate these milestones. Once I see a note on the reservation that a couple is celebrating an anniversary, I congratulate them and try to find them the nicest, most romantic table in the place. Once I get through my little speech, “Would either of you like to see a full vegetarian menu tonight? Can I get you bottled still, bottled sparkling, or Telluride tap?” as I am leading the guests to their table, I often say “I just got married, actually. Do you have any marriage advice for me?”
This serves the dual purpose of causing the guests to reflect on their marriage and feel noticed, while also giving me something to think about. Since I’ve been compiling these answers for a few weeks now, I thought I would leave some of them here in the hopes these comments will spark some reflection, or even elicit more advice! Bring it on!
“Don’t do it!” One man who was celebrating his 40th anniversary told me as I brought the couple to an outdoor table under twinkling lights. His wife laughed and playfully slapped him on the arm. She turned to me, “Laughter is important.”
“Don’t fight about the little things, they’re not worth it.” One man celebrating his 20th told me as he and his wife were taking a seat outside. “Can I get you bottled still, bottled sparkling, Telluride tap?” I asked, even though his response was echoing through my mind. This was a lesson I’d learned during lockdown, when the little fights that we’d never bothered to have suddenly bubbled to the surface. Everything from who will do the dishes tonight to how he pulls the key out of the car became a source of contention! None of it was worth the few moments of bickering, but when spending all our time together in a small apartment, I guess some of that was inevitable.
“Have fun!” A young woman told me who was celebrating her 10th anniversary, despite the fact that she looked younger than me. If I hadn’t already met the laughing couple celebrating their 40th, I may have questioned how long the fun lasts. Every time my husband hides behind the door or under the sink when I come home and pops out to scare me, or turns the shower cold when I’m washing my hair, I pretend to be mad, but am actually hoping he’ll never stop.
“Be flexible!” One woman told me with a knowing look, then added, “And yes, you will always be right.” The man didn’t even roll his eyes. He was well trained. While the flexibility comment is spot-on (I’ve already had to roll with the punches quite a bit, as it happens when you bring together two travelers from two different parts of the world in order to share one lifetime), I realized immediately I didn’t want to be the kind of wife who is “always right.” I had always cringed when women friends of mine talked down to their boyfriends in public, or made a comment to belittle them in front of others. Part of my idea of marriage is mutual respect, the understanding that we are two imperfect human beings who are doing our best to be better to each other, ourselves, and the world every day.