“Are you all set with that?” the bartender asks.
It takes me a second to even register what she means. I look down. There’s a black leather check holder on the bar. Partially obscured by my glass.
“Oh! Oh,” I say. “Sorry. I didn’t even see it.”
My girlfriend Ro looks at me. “You okay with picking that up?” she asks. Ro has already paid her tab. Knows I’m in a weird financial phase of my life, having recently made the leap from a steady management gig to freelancing, writing, and self-employment.
I nod. “Yeah, no problem.” I leave a good tip and scrawl my signature.
“They do it automatically sometimes,” Ro says. “Separate checks.”
I nod. But as we’re walking out of the parking lot, another possibility occurs to me: They saw two women drinking at the bar and eating tapas and didn’t realize we were on a date.
The separate check never happens with my boyfriend CC. They always walk up to him with one single check, dropping it off like an orphaned baby in a basket on his doorstep.
CC comments on it every time, when the waitress approaches him with the server book at the end of the meal.
“That’s sexist,” he says, laughing, sliding his credit card into the holster.
“Maybe,” I say. “But the right move.”
“Unless you want me to pay,” I offer.
“No,” CC says. “I’ve got this.”
I wonder later if they think we’re on a first date. Every date. Since I’m usually way overdressed, and he’s a ball of nervous energy. Every time.
“That’s interesting about you and Ro,” my husband Skyspook says.
“We just look like we’re having a girls’ night out, I guess,” I say. “They never do separate checks for you and me either, come to think of it.”
“I’ve seen also the waitstaff try to pick up on clues as to who to give the check to,” Skyspook says. “Since I usually make eye contact and tend to take the lead in the conversation, they’ll give it to me. Though sometimes when they bring it, they look back and forth for eye contact.”
And it’s true. But even as he says it, one thing is painfully clear to me: They’ve never ever gone ahead and split the check for us.
I can’t remember a time they even asked.
Zebras and Dragon Fruit in the Land of Horses and Apples
I get why servers make that assumption. Most relationships are heterosexual. They’re looking for the commonplace, not the exotic. Horses, not zebras. Apples, not dragon fruit.
And in some ways, it’s handy to have such same sex connections be invisible. For one, it insulates us from bigots who would ruin our meal. Or the guy who’s had one too many and thinks he might just as well try to pick up two bi girls in one go and have an instant threesome back at his place.
But on the other hand? There’s definitely something distressingly unequal about it — that social recognition of a relationship is heaped on me in great abundance, even in the absence of any public displays of affection, provided my date reads male.