Life Lessons from an L.A. Lunch

Over a soggy LA lunch one Friday—the city doesn’t have drainage sewers on its streets, so even a modest midday downpour soaked our socks as we tried to make it to the sidewalk—three friends identified three lessons we vowed to (try to) live by.

Don’t Stye Guy

In S6E1 of Sex and the City, Carrie has an exciting, high-stakes date coming up with a guy she really likes — Jack Berger. She preemptively purchases six outfits, fantasizes about a happy future, and generally puts her emotional eggs in the Berger basket.

In the midst of the reverie, she gets asked out by another guy she knows; of course, she’s going to say no. Her Berger date crowds out all other prospects on the romantic horizon.

Her friends object: go out with the other guy! Hedge a little; don’t over-invest in something so new. There’s clear coffee shop consensus, so Carrie accepts.

But the date with Guy 2 sucks: he has a stye in his eye that he’s self-conscious about, a bird lands on his head, and he falls over after squirting balsamic vinegar into the aforementioned stye.

He’s nervous, and overcome: what for Carrie is dating diversification is for him a major investment.

Poor Stye Guy :/

Until recently, we hadn’t internalized the lesson that the show seems to be teaching: don’t go on a fallback date — it’s not fair to the other person, and it won’t really do anything for you.

We had constantly stye-guyed: planning dates while already seeing people we were excited about, or keeping our expectations low for professional or creative pursuits by actively heating the pans on our back burners.

But a transformative podcast interview with Esther Perel spurred a 180, reiterated over our wet brunch. Stye Guy-ing just means we’re not letting ourselves be vulnerable about things we really like.

If you’re into something, get invested! Sure, there might be disappointment if it doesn’t work out — but, in life, investing in an emotional hedge fund is a losing proposition.

Don’t Einstein

The Stye Guy conversation got me telling a related story. When I was kid, I really wanted an iguana. I’d seen books about them in the elementary school library — they were smart, sociable creatures that didn’t shed or bite. The perfect pet for a kid allergic to cats, to dogs, and to too actively caring for another living thing.

My Dad and I went to the pet store, and bee-lined for the iguanas. But then the Petco employee starting issuing warnings: you know, iguanas get quite big. Sure, they’re small now; but, soon, they’re gonna need a bigger tank.

He made the case that a starter lizard might be a smarter move: a small, very-easy-to-care-for lizard that never got too big (or too interesting).

Actual Iguanas are Super Cool

I got the less risky lizard, named him Einstein, and promptly returned him to the pet store within the week.

I didn’t want a little lizard: I wanted an iguana. A sinking feeling of settling had haunted me the whole time Einstein crawled around his tiny tank in my bedroom.

I never got the iguana, but since then I’ve tried not to settle when my vision for what I wanted was clear. I don’t get the more affordable merino sweater when I really want the cashmere; I don’t go on the trip to Montreal when I really want to be in Paris.

That was lesson 2: Be smart, don’t Einstein. If you know what you want, go for it — don’t settle for the easier, less risky second-best version of your goal.

Go for the Sandwich

This rapid-fire life lesson lunch was happening at a Los Angeles cafe which, the last time I’d eaten there, had been a major disappointment.

I’d gotten a bagel with lox — my every-brunch essential — but it had been terrible. In New York, the salmon special will be fantastic wherever you go; in Los Angeles, the bagel was a store-bought Lender’s.

Lender’s Bagels: Not New York’s Finest

This time, I leaned into California cuisine, ordering a seared salmon sandwich with a side salad. It was fantastic. Even though my usual favorite meal is bagel-based, I had to learn the lesson to make contextual decisions.

Understand the situation you’re in and the options available, and make a choice that makes sense in those constraints. Good choices can be context-dependent — though you usually like bagels, sometimes you have to go for the sandwich.

What a lunch, with a full menu of life lessons:

  • Don’t Stye Guy: Be vulnerable — don’t diversify when you’re emotionally investing
  • Don’t Einstein: Don’t settle — know yourself and go for what you want
  • Go for the Sandwich: Understand when decisions are context-dependent, and choose the best option given the circumstances

And, LA, here’s a lesson: install drainage sewers on your streets.