Ask Dish: Answers to Your Stray Questions

Ask Dish: Answers to Your Stray Questions

. 31 min read

From the sublime to the ridiculous, I get a lot of random questions. I answer some of them here. Got a stray question? Submit it using this link.

"Hi Dish! I really appreciated reading the responses to the most recent Ask Dish about finding friends to do things with on week ends when you are solo. Follow-up on that. Can you give more detail about the “wonderful, cool men” you said you met while dating but ended up as friends with. Had you had sex with them at that point? How does it work in terms of who pays, etc? Is it really tension-free? Have you ever had a situation where one of the guys you become friends with in this way comes back and says he is in love with you, and can’t be friends any more? I see your point about how they are the most obvious pool of people available to do things with, but I’ve never done this. Thanks. I love The Crush Letter! Cheers, Tricia"

[Here are the relevant portions of my previous Ask Dish response - to bring all my Readers up-to-speed:]

[I IGNORED the advice that a lot of dating coaches give that you shouldn’t waste your time becoming friends with people you meet on dating apps with whom you aren’t a romantic match. “Focus on the search for your match", they say. I don’t think their advice is targeted to people at our stage, who can find it difficult to find friends to do things with. So, on a few occasions, when I’ve met men with whom there wasn’t a romantic match but we seemed to have the same interests, I asked them if they’d consider a friendship. If you consider who is in the potential pool of people available on week end nights to do things with (so very small), you pretty quickly get to a place where you see that essentially they’re an obvious source, if not the most obvious source, of company. You usually have a sense at that point of whether they were good company and how they like to spend their time. Over the last five years, I’ve made four cool, wonderful male friends this way — with most, I have casual, periodic get-togethers, playing golf or tennis or going out for a drink, dinner or movie. One has become a closer friend … Interestingly, the friendships have endured as/when either of us has found a romantic partner.

Pro tip: For me, in order for this to really work without drama, it has to be super clear that it‘s a “straight-up friendship” because I don’t want to get ‘hung up’ on a friends-with-benefits or other situationship, which would derail my openness for a committed, exclusive romantic partner. If you want a script, here’s a text I’ve sent:

“If you would consider a platonic friendship I would be up for {checking out a restaurant, etc, [based on whatever that particular guy and I had in common, note that I purposely give a specific suggestion of the kind of thing I’d be interested in]}.“ If they say they would be open to it, then before we make a plan I send a text that looks something like this (only the first time): “Sure, I’d love to. Not to be presumptuous and with apologies if this is unnecessary, since we’re just going to be platonic friends I am still actively out dating, etc. If we’re on the same page then sure, I’d love to check out ___ on Friday.”]


Dear Tricia:

No, no, no, no. I hadn’t had sex with them. Although to be honest there is one in particular who I would have really wanted to but he turned me down, which can dull an urge pretty effectively (even if a little crush lingers). I’m talking here about men who I’d just met, had maybe one or two initial meetings with at that point, where we hadn’t had sex because, remember, the romantic feelings weren’t there for one or the other (or both) of us. That’s the reason we (collectively) were in this predicament; someone (at least one of us) didn’t have sexual feelings. This probably wouldn’t work for me with men who I’d had sex with. That’s a whole other thing. I don’t think there is anything wrong with mixing sex and friendship (just like I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sex on the first date) (conceptually or morally, in both cases), but it’s rife with the potential for misunderstanding or heartache or both. So it could ruin the friendship and you might end up without that person in your life entirely. So you just have to assess the risk/reward there on a case-by-case basis.

But to give some perspective: most men I meet in a romantic context I do not want to be friends with. Don’t have the time or inclination to put the effort in. It’s rare. Just like most people I meet generally I do not want to be friends with. In my first round of online dating I lived in Boston and probably went on 30-35 initial dates all-told over a few years. I only pro-actively wanted to be friends with one of those guys. (Another just slipped in as a friend under the radar somehow.) So it is not typical, most people I am happy to wish well … Where I live now I have two friends I met through online dating, out of two guys I went on dates with, but I got a lot pickier (and better) at sifting through who I wanted to go out with. I sometimes wonder whether - when they get girlfriends - they won’t need my friendship, so maybe these are riskier friends to, sort of, rely on? But with any new friendship, there’s risk. It’s not like we all don’t get reshuffled a bit when a close friend starts a new relationship - I have certainly been through this with girlfriends - so we’ll just see.

Moving on to your next question. In one way or another generally we split the costs (and effort - as in, as with any other friendship we tend to trade off who initiates/makes the reservation, etc). In terms of paying my preference is that we switch off paying, so if he picked up dinner (tickets, golf, etc) last time, I pick it up the next. I don’t keep track and I’m not a stickler, but what is important to me is that my male friends don’t feel like I am assuming that they will pay for me.

Yes, it’s tension-free. Or, if there were somebody where it was tense, I probably would bow out of that friendship. Most of these get-togethers are casual. Or somebody has to go to a gala and is not dating anyone so they need a stand-in. They become an additional friend, added to the friend mix; not an instant bff I see two nights a week.

No, none of the men I’ve become friends with in this way have come back to me and said they‘ve fallen in love with me and we couldn’t be “just friends“ any more. But it has happened, in my life. And friendship is such a wonderful way for a romance to begin because, in my experience, they have less volatility - you’re not falling in love with your fantasy vision of somebody (which is all you have, really, if you just met somebody, since regardless of how you feel, you don’t really know them yet). So the friendship-to-romance relationships don’t start with a fantasy that then gets dashed. So they’re more honest and real from the jump. You actually know the person. Some trust has developed so the sex, from the start, is more real and caring and fun and less performative, for instance. Just as the whole romantic relationship is from the start. You’re (or at least I am) much more willing to make myself vulnerable, and instead of wondering whether I am emotionally safe (and searching for red or yellow flags, perhaps misreading some signals, about whether I am , in fact, safe) I am focusing all my energy on the thrill that is diving deeper into getting to know somebody more physically and emotionally. The framework of the friendship feels peaceful and sturdy, allowing me to feel more carefree and to fall more freely.

Best of luck with making new friends, and dating. Let us know how you do, Tricia!

XOX, Dish

“Dear Dish:

Can you write about how to find friends who want to go out on the weekend for dinner, concerts, theater, etc., and aren’t driven by finding a romantic partner? That’s where I feel like I am right now, but my few single friends are women looking for men who are more interested in the “party“ scene than I am. Going to places where they are likely to meet available men who are looking. I’m newly single and in my 50’s. Thoughts?”

-XO, Nancy

Dear Nancy:

I have lived through this scenario, and I feel like I’m *mostly*on the other side. It wasn’t easy, and it felt lonely and isolating. I absolutely enjoy nights in with my dog and a book or movie, but I don’t want to do that every week end night and I want to feel like I have people who want to spend time with me. I want options. Invites, and to feel like I don’t always have to do all the outreach. And, there are movies I want to see or restaurants I want to check out, and I’d rather do that with somebody.

None of the steps I outline below were easy for me to do. I have felt socially at ease and surrounded by friends virtually my entire life, so it was a shock. A SHOCK. to find myself lonely and at a loss for company for the first time in my life in my 40’s when my late husband passed away. What was most disorienting was to realize that my closest friends were — understandably — because of the demands of their lives (spouses and children) — mostly not free on week end nights (when I needed company the most).

Anyway, here’s what I did, and I hope that some of it is relevant to you, by way of example if nothing else, to be incorporated into your life in your own way:

  • I admitted to a wide circle of friends (wider than I would ordinarily be comfortable with because I tend towards a stiff upper lip and discretion) that the week ends were the very hardest periods for me. It felt really embarrassing (though it shouldn’t have) and vulnerable, and was really tough for me to do. I told them that I often felt frozen at my desk at work on Friday nights, not wanting to go home because I looked out over the week end and had very few social plans. I told them that even having one thing on my calendar — as little as meeting a friend for a spin class, coffee or walk — might be my only social interaction for an entire week end, and could turn a whole week end around. Once I made my friends aware, it was a switch flicked on for them. You see, because I am warm and friendly, most people assumed I was all set. It never occurred to them that because I dropped out of the couple’s world, I had no social world, because they are in a couple’s world and they just couldn’t imagine my life, and that I, Dish, would have nothing to do. A number of them stopped assuming that somebody else had me covered and started checking in - “Did I already have a plan for watching the Super Bowl?“ “Mike and I are just staying in so I can try a new recipe, want to come over and hang, cook and eat with us?” “We’re about to order pizza for us and the kids, did I want to come over?“ “A bunch of families on our block are doing a barbecue on the beach almost every Sunday night, do you want to be added to the email list?“ A lot of these invitations were not for dinner out at a restaurant, or going out to a movie, etc., as you say that you are looking for, but they meant the world to me and alleviated the biggest pain point.
  • I asked friends if they knew friends to fix me up with as friends — and not necessarily just women friends — anyone they enjoyed (this is key) who might be similarly situated, and looking for somebody to grab a meal or go to a movie with on the week ends.
  • I IGNORED the advice that a lot of dating coaches give that you shouldn’t waste your time becoming friends with people you meet on dating apps with whom you aren’t a romantic match. Focus on the search for your match, they say. If I met men with whom there wasn’t a romantic match but we seemed to have the same interests in how to spend time, I told them I’d be up for being friends if they every wanted to go to a movie, etc., I figured that they’re essentially in the same boat I am, and it can take a while to find a match. Over the last five years, I’ve made four male friends this way — with most, I have casual, periodic get-togethers, playing golf or tennis, or going out for a drink, dinner or a movie. One has become as emotionally close and as cherished to me as any of my closest female friends. I ask almost all of them for dating advice occasionally. (“Remember that dress I wore …. Was that a good date dress?”) Interestingly, the friendships have endured even when they (or I) have ended up in romantic relationships. Maybe they morphed from a Saturday night movie to week-day coffee or drink, but that’s fine. They’ve made my life feel fuller. (Pro tip: For me in order for this to really work without drama, it had to be super clear that it was a “straight-up friendship” and wasn’t going to include sex because I didn’t want one or the other of us to get ‘hung up’ on a friends-with-benefits or other situationship. ”Sure, I’d love to check out new restaurants with you as friends. Given we’re just going to be platonic (and not to be presumptuous), I am going to be actively dating others. If all that’s okay with you, then sure, I’d love to go to Harry’s Bar on Friday.”
  • I had a late Saturday afternoon impromptu back-up plan. Since I play golf and tennis, on late Saturday afternoons when I didn’t have a plan I would schedule lessons, or just go to the driving range or putting green and practice. Just being there around 4:00 or 5:00, I almost always ran into somebody going in to grab a drink as they were coming off the courts or course who asked me to join them.
  • I picked up another very social hobby: backgammon. And when I attended lectures, author talks or social events of any sort, I made a point of scanning the room to seek out people who appeared to be there solo.
  • What I wished I’d done (and still might): create a group text. Keep it small and select (maybe 6-8 people), but essentially ask anyone I met from the above channels if they wanted to be added to a group text of friends curated by me, who are similarly situated. Something where anyone in the group could send around a text to say “Anyone want to grab a drink …. I have an extra ticket for … Anyone want to see this movie … ?” And because they all knew me, they’d be comfortable doing something with anyone in the group.

We asked Crush Readers to weigh in on this question too, and here’s what they had to say in response:

  • "What single friends? I’m the only person I know who is divorced, and my married friends aren’t inviting me to get together on weekends."
  • "As an unattached person wanting to do stuff with people, I don’t limit myself to other singles. One of my best friends I made in the last year is engaged. We never do things with him, tho. All of my new friends who are not looking for love rapaciously (oh, poor word choice) I found organically, meeting at an event, or through an interest group. Frankly, what has worked is doing a shit ton of things."
  • "People suggest meetup groups? I’ve been asking friends to connect me to their single friends - so instead of being asked for a blind date set up, it’s a blind friend date set up."
  • "I over-schedule myself to protect against a lonely free night, which is not great either. If I do have a rare empty night, I usually try to lose myself inside a story (book or TV/movie or Baldur’s Gate 3). Sometimes I just cry with my Blåhaj."
  • "I’m an extrovert. I’ll always choose the company of others to being alone. It’s hard to push myself out the door to do things by myself. I almost need an accountability friend like with exercise. Someone to encourage and check in to make sure I’m making progress on getting out on my own and living, not waiting."

Have you ever had the experience of having a friend to do things with on Saturday nights while you were single and then you — or that friend — find a romantic partner? How did that play out?

  • "Omg this is the horror scenario. This is probably why I have tried to have many friends of this sort. Already any one of them may not be available every time I want to do something, coupled with my pathological inability to ask for what I need, it helps to have many choices. But the fear is definitely there. I think this idea of one (or maybe two) constant BFFs, your crew, is a book/tv driven fantasy. Everyone has their own lives to get back to."

Dear Dish:

I have a new girlfriend “Kate.” We have been dating about three months. She is fabulous, and I’m very excited. This is the first Christmas we’ll go through together, obviously. I should say Christmas “season” because we are spending the holiday itself with our separate, respective children (she will be in New York City and I’ll be in Florida). (We are both in our sixties, by the way.) We agreed to pick a night before she leaves town to celebrate Christmas together, and then we will be spending New Year’s Eve together. I was hoping that you could give me some suggestions? Some things about her: she is chic, a “nester” and into cooking and entertaining; she loves eating out at stylish places; Paris is her favorite place; she is more into meaningful things (gestures, experiences, etc.) then material things and she loves rom coms, fiction, needlepoint and doing things with her girlfriends.


New Squeeze

Dear New Squeeze:

She sounds fabulous, lucky you! And how caring of you to give her first holiday gift so much thought. I get why you are asking, because this initial dating period is tricky for gift-giving of all sorts, and the holidays are already loaded for so many. I think the most helpful thing I could do might be to share some of the gifts I’ve appreciated the most during the early dating period (whether holidays, Valentine’s or birthday). This is going to be more of an “approach to gift giving” than a list of specific suggestions because, as you’ll see, I believe that the best gift we can give each other is to take good care of each other. (If a list is helpful, though, I wrote about the ’For Her’ Gift Guide from Erin Gates last week.)

I know you wouldn’t do this, New Squeeze, but I have to start with a warning about the worst gift I got from a new boyfriend. An elaborate pair of “eye of god” dangly, woven, 3” rhombus-shaped earrings in purple and blue. He had picked them up from the holiday crafts fair taking place in his hotel lobby in L.A. as he checked out. (He was, ummm, a cool tech dude. (I shuddered just writing that. And breathed a deep, sympathetic sigh for my former self who found that appealing for three months.)) “I thought they were so neat,” he said when I opened them. You have never seen me in person, New Squeeze, but he had. Or so I had thought. Those earrings may have been perfect for a fortune teller working a bazaar in Bangladesh. Evidently he had not noticed my tailored style (my winter uniform was a fitted navy cashmere turtleneck with a pair of milky pearl studs). The biggest issue for me, though, was not that he hadn’t “seen“ me. It was that I never wanted to be seen in those ear ornaments. I would have to wear them out, in public, when we went out together. (I really mean “if” we went out together again, actually. Since I couldn’t, and we didn’t.)

The key take-away? Don’t buy her large rhombus-shaped earrings from a crafts fair that you happen to be walking by on your way home from L.A., New Squeeze.

Because you said that she’s chic, I’ll start with an actual, specific suggestion. At a lunch with a few chic girlfriends last week everybody agreed that the book they were hoping to get this holiday was Carolyn Bessette Kennedy: A Life In Fashion. I don’t think you could go wrong with that, especially if you were to include a note about how you love how stylish she is (extra points for remembering her in a specific outfit and how you felt wowed when you saw her in it).

A gift that makes her feel cared for would be a strong move. One of my favorite early dating gifts was from “Harry.” I lived in a three-story loft in a converted stone church that needed frequent handyman visits, but my long-time handyman had been battling cancer and consequently, I had a host of overdue projects piled up: the rail on my front porch was loose, I had pulled all the batteries out of my fire alarms after the “low battery” beep woke me up at 4am one morning (the hanging wires resembled jelly fish from below, he once noted), a corner of my den was dark because replacing the light bulbs required an extra-long 20’ ladder and etc., etc. On Christmas Eve I opened Harry’s card (tucked into the cookbook that the chef from one of our favorite restaurants had just published, which was nice touch) and it said, “I have hired my handyman to spend the first week end in January in your beautiful home to take care of all the projects you are stacking up waiting for your handyman to get back on his feet.” It was a bonkers gift.

Another nice one I think you should know about was “Paul’s,“ especially since you said Kate is into experiences. It was a quiet, “off-season” week end in Maine, where he had spent summers growing up. We had not taken a trip together yet, so a number of things made it work really well. It was someplace meaningful to him, so I got to know him better through his stories about what happened where. Because he knew it well, he made reservations at places he thought we would particularly enjoy, and he could act as tour guide and maestro, which made me feel spoiled. Also, what’s more romantic than bundling up in warm clothes and holding hands while walking down an empty beach? And a week end is the perfect length of time for a first trip with somebody, and a trip within driving distance that didn’t require catching a flight or train made it even more relaxed.

And finally, this last example is probably for when you are further along in the relationship, but it’s so good that I have to share it. The second winter that I was dating “Steven” he and I were both coming off particularly difficult, chaotic periods in our respective families (that included multiple hospital emergencies). Year end was also crunch time at work for both of us. Over dinner one night Steven said “Dish, why don’t we give each other the gift of taking each other off of our respective ‘to do’ lists this Christmas? We could do something like agree to give each other a book?” One night after dinner the following week we drove out to one of the best bookstores in the Boston are, The Concord Bookshop, to pick out books for each other. We were complete goofballs (as I am) and made it fun, sneaking around corners and hiding in aisles, acting like we didn’t want the other to guess which book we were considering. I distinctly remember spending a lot of time in the “Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance & Dark Arts” aisle to throw him off my scent. We wrapped the books up and presented them to each other as if we were presenting royal offerings. We had fun and it was easy. And any time you can have fun with your partner, and make it easy, it’s good.

Steven’s idea raises a larger point for me around the holidays, which is that it is a busy, stressful period for a lot of people for so many reasons. Not adding to somebody’s stress, or even relieving it, overlooking unintended stress-driven footfalls by our loved ones and being appreciative of the time and effort people make for you - these are all gifts.

Before we go, I would be remiss if I didn’t share the advice of my favorite online dating coach @ALittleNudgeeven though I vehemently reject a particular suggestion she makes, because she is A DATING EXPERT. (And I am not. I am just a too-experienced dater, unfortunately.) (Here is a link if you can’t read the text below.)

I agree with her larger points about our partners respecting what we have actually told them (”nothing”), not expecting our partners to mind read and setting each other up for success. But, in the balance of practical versus romantic, the suggestion of providing a list leans much too heavily on the practical side for me. Particularly for a new love. It puts the pressure and stress on the gift receiver - to come up with a list of things that she wants, that she thinks are actually appropriate to ask of a new lover. (Stressful!) It feels materialistic, and reduces the gift giver’s role to that of chore-runner, and the resulting exchange into something resembling a yankee swap. Plus, wouldn’t that be dull?

If a new partner asked me for a list, for the reasons set forth above, here’s how I’d respond. I’d acknowledge the love and desire to please that such a request represents and, I think I’d respectfully say something like “You are very thoughtful, thank you. How would you feel if we came up with some things we could do together? Or for each other? Like I’lll plan, orchestrate and pay for a low-key week end away in the next six months, and you’ll do the same? Or, I’ll spend a Saturday helping you get your new Sonos stereo system set up, and you’ll spend one helping me trim my bamboo?” But I would never, ever (ever!) provide a list of actual material items.

But A Little Nudge’s approach does raise another possible suggestion if you still feel lost, which is to just say to Kate “It’s our first Christmas together and I want it to be special, so do you want to talk about what we want to do about gifts?”

And remember that the examples I provide above from past new squeezes are “high points,” but really, none of us are this good all the time. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Do you two have a favorite restaurant? Make a reservation there for your Christmas date night and let her know you’ve taken care of that. Send her a text the morning of telling her how much you’re looking forward to seeing her. If she’s game, maybe even steal some ideas from my sexting guide Tell Me More: Dish’s Ode to Sexting. Put extra effort into pulling yourself together. And over dinner, tell her how much you’ve loved spending these first three months with her, how lucky you are to have found her. How much you’re looking forward to your future adventures together. Everything after that is icing, New Squeeze. That’s what she really wants. To know she has found a caring partner who cherishes her.

Along those lines, here is artist @joce_cova’s Gift Guide.

Dear Dish:

I am throwing a holiday dinner party for eight, and there is no way to avoid inviting one of my closest girlfriends. The problem? She is dating somebody new and although this will be my first time meeting him, other mutual friends have told me that he is pretentious and a dominating conversationalist and a bore. He has a high-powered career. I’m already stressed over this because I don’t want him to ruin my party and the girlfriend involved is very sensitive. Help.

Thanks Dish!

Hostess Dread

Dear Holiday Dread:

I would greet him warmly and with an open mind (he is a close friend’s new romantic partner and you owe her that). I would want to make him feel super welcome because it is best to get these bff-adjacent relationships off on the right foot! I would tell him, because it would be true, that I have heard so much about him (a specific detail would be nice here, like “and that you are the person to get tips from on the best places to go fly fishing”) and that I seated him next to me so that we would have a chance to chat. I think the very best thing we can all do when meeting somebody new — especially somebody who is important to somebody important to us — is to ignore any rumors we’ve heard (jealousy drives a lot of snarkiness, as we all know) and adopt an attitude of genuine curiosity. And optimism.

And then, just relax, be yourself and host as you otherwise would. Since you‘ll be sitting next to him, if it does turn out that he is trying to dominate the conversation around the table, you will have some shot at damage control by diverting him into a tete-a-tete (an opportunity to pick up the fly fishing tips). And surely, if he is relatively new to her and entirely new to you and presumably to most of your other guests, he will be on his best, most charming behavior in an effort to impress your close friend. My guess is that he will be more fun than you imagine. Good luck, I’m sure your party will be festive!

Dear Dish:

I noticed over drinks with a close girlfriend “Janet” that she has started to grow an ever-so-slight mustache. She is blonde, and so you can only see it when the lighting is coming from a certain angle (sideways). I would bet she just can’t see it because she would be looking at herself in the mirror straight on. She cares a lot about her appearance. The thing is, she has two very close sisters who live nearby so I keep assuming that she must know because that is precisely what sisters do, right? Tell you the things nobody else wants to, or has the guts to, and that you definitely don’t want to hear but need to know. Please advise.

And thanks so much for The CRUSH Letter! My husband and I are excited about spending some time this winter watching the erotic films in the new column from Christian Pan on steamy classic films.

Happy holidays, Dish!

It’s a Hairy Situation

Dear Hairy Sitch:

I just posed this question by text to five separate close girlfriends, asking them: “Would you want me to tell you?” Here’s what they said: “Absolutely!” “Definitely, without hesitation.” “Fuck yes.” (Two of them.) And then one (the most assertive among us, it should be acknowledged) said: “IF YOU DIDN’T I WOULD FUCKING FRIEND FIRE YOU.”

So, yeah, totally awkward. But you’ve got to step up. When it comes to women and mustaches, is there such a thing as “ever-so-slight?” I think not. You must assume that Janet’s sisters haven’t been sitting at a bar with her in just the right lateral lighting.

I think the question is how to tell her. I would have amazon send you whatever you use to address your own facial hair. (I use a combination of this peach fuzz facial hair remover and this tweezer.) Then, the next time you see her (and I’d make a point of seeing her soon because, hello! Holiday parties) after she (and you) have finished a drink,  start with “This is awkward, Janet, but since I would want you to tell me if I were in your shoes, I have to tell you something.” And then I would say, “You may not realize this because it is only noticeable in certain lighting and at certain angles, but you have some facial hair.” And then I would say, “A friend had recommended these products to me a couple of years ago, so I got them for you because I love you. But of course I love you regardless, so if it is not a big deal for you let’s pretend this never happened.”

A few summers ago on Nantucket I was meeting up with three girlfriends to kick off the season. After the first round of Paloma’s one of the women grabbed the very items I linked to above from her bag and gave each of us a set. “Ladies,” she said, “I got to the island a little earlier than everyone else so I need to tell you that Sally (she did the waxing and electrolysis at the salon we all used) did not come back this summer. They haven’t gotten a replacement yet, and so I am taking matters into my own hands. As long as I was getting these for myself, I figured you’d all need them too. I mean, we are at that age.”

What none of us ever figured out was whether she had actually spotted some upper lip hair on one of us and just determined that this was the best way to handle the situation, or what. I will say is this, though. We all ran home to our best-lit mirror, her gifts in hand, and took a very, very close look.

Whether you are a sister by blood or by choice, this is what you signed up for. But time is of the essence here.

And thank you for being a subscriber! I am very excited about watching the erotic films in Christian Pan’s column PrimeCrush & Chill: Steamy Classics Worth an Re-watch, too! We will be unrolling that column, as well as his column on classic erotic books starting in January. Oh how I love these types of winter sports! 

Next week I will be answering a question from “New Squeeze,” who wrote in to ask about what to give Kate, the new girlfriend of a few months who he is really excited about but the gift-giving is causing some anxiety. Understandably, since that first holiday season is a lot.

From what to say to your V.S.O. (“Very Significant Other”) about her ubiquitous sweat pants to hosting around all those food restrictions, read Dish’s past answers here.

Dear Dish:

They added a 20% “fair wage service fee” to our restaurant bill tonight, and the waiter explained that the fee was shared by every restaurant worker. So how much do you tip on top of the 20% fee?

Dear Disoriented:

Short answer: No additional tip is required on top of the service fee. On most restaurant receipts you could cross out the service fee and substitute your own amount in as a tip, as you did but if you're not leaving it in cash then it likely doesn't all go to your server so I'm not sure you accomplished your goal. (Maybe you did?) I pay the service. If I like the service I tip on top of the service fee - an extra 5% if it's good (less if it's pretty good, more if it's great but 5% is my standard addition for good service). The extra above the service fee I leave in cash so that I know that it goes straight into my server's pocket. I support the growing use of a service fee – it allows the restaurant to pay a fair wage to all of its employees, including dishwashers, etc.

Longer answer: I am invested in a couple of independent chef-owned restaurants and I was also a short-order cook and waitress at a diner in high school, so I am not unbiased. I have a tiny bit of insight into how hard everyone works, how hard it is to retain staff and how hard it is to run a successful restaurant. Selfishly, I want good, creative, independent chef-owned restaurants in my neighborhood, and those are the restaurants I want to try when I travel. So I'm going to do my part to make them successful. Or to at least stay fully staffed.

I know that we are all overwhelmed with tipping right now, as service people across-the-board that never got tips before expect them now. I am as confused as anyone else about whether and how much to tip my physical therapist, or guy handing me a donut from behind the counter. The one area I feel like I have a handle on is tipping at a restaurant where I am being served.

And here's where I think it's at. Twenty percent used to be the standard tip at restaurants; I think it's now 25%. If there is a 20% service fee, you are expected to pay that, and if the service is good and you are a generous person (I know you are), you might volunteer a cash tip on top of that to get to a 25% total. Tips have gone up like food prices, temperatures and the length of skirts at my local golf club.

Remember, food is love. Happy eating!

Dear Dish:

I have one child and I find it so insulting when solo friends with dogs act like their pets are as important as my child? (And why is it always dog people, and not cat, horse or carrier pigeon “parents” who do this?) Can I say something to them?

No you can’t.

And oh my god. Why do you care? It’s not like there are a set of finite rights and privileges that will attach to these people if they get “dog parent” status. Nobody is literally comparing themselves to you, or minimizing your huge, selfless sacrifice, love and commitment toward your child by suggesting that they are devoted to their dog. I think people understand that taking on the role of being a parent to children is a much, much heavier lift.

So, it’s not about you.

But I do think they are trying to communicate the important role their dog plays in their lives, emotionally as well as physically and financially. Which has not been universally recognized (though that is beginning to change). For instance, grief at the death of a dog has not been roundly seen as a big a loss as it feels to many of us. The grief is real. Consider that dogs can be near constant companions for many of us, and are a source of boundless love.

As a dog owner I can say for myself that if I talk about my dog I am not thinking about your child, or attempting to equate them. I am not explicitly or implicitly comparing my responsibilities to yours, or my joy in their company to yours. (Although, is your child the one who was throwing the melted M&M’s at your face for the 3.5 hour duration of my flight to New York? Not joyful for you!) I am talking about the amount of space my dog takes up in my heart — and my day, for that matter — and it’s a lot more than, say, my plants. Or even my friends. And since my family does not generally live with me, on a day-to-day basis my dogs take up more space than even they do.

Does a cat, horse or carrier pigeon follow on your heels from the moment you wake to the moment you drop, all the while looking up at you with adoring eyes? When they do I am certain those folks may start being called “parents” too.

Dear Dish:

I find my V.S.O.* really hot but she wears sweatpants and a t-shirt every night. Even on our prescribed at-home “date nights.” Can I surprise her with the gift of some sexy lingerie?

Don’t Like Drab

*Very Significant Other. Dear Reader, V.S.O. Is a thing now.

Dear Drab:

No, you can’t.

I once had a new boyfriend who came back from a trip to New Orleans and surprised me with “something special for me.” A Hello Kitty animal print catsuit from Trashy Diva in the French Quarter.

I use “once” purposely here. And I like animal print *and* lingerie. But at this stage in life, we should all know when we’re really buying a gift for ourselves but pretending it is actually for the recipient. I had a problem with this on two fronts. One, it was jumping the gun since it was an intimate thing that he couldn’t have known whether I would like yet and two, he was 50+ and didn’t know the basics of gift giving. He probably bought his ex-wife a waffle iron for Christmas because he likes waffles.

Just in case you, dearest Drab, don’t know either (I’m sure you do!), here’s an example: let’s say *you* have a birthday coming up and she inquires about what you want. You can ask her if she’d be up for dressing up like a pussy cat. Or whatever. It’s fair to ask. If she agrees, you’ll treat it like what it is — an act of love for you. A fun and adventurous one that you hope she’ll enjoy as well, but that’s a gift for you.

Unless your partner has coyly slipped you the number of their favorite salesperson at Agent Provocateur, it’s a bad idea to buy lingerie for someone else cold and out-of-the-blue. Period. There are important elements of consent and empowerment, but also the reality that most people our age have a decided view on what best displays our assets. That little Trashy Diva number, for instance, works best for smaller-chested women.

Another long-term boyfriend knew I liked the tight grasp of a corset. When he gently asked I pointed him in the direction of Agent Provacateur's Raphaela Corset and it worked out deliciously all the way around.

Here's hoping you have a birthday soon, Drab.



Dear Dish:

I love having friends over but so many guests have so many food restrictions! It makes it so difficult to host and takes all the fun out of it. How do you deal?

Constricted in the Kitchen

Dear Constricted:

Hosting these days can feel like a plateful. I surveyed friends who are frequent hosts for you, and they shared many ways to deal with the prevalence of food restrictions. These thoughtful hosts shared everything from soliciting all food allergies in the invitation and altering the menu accordingly (easier done with smaller dinner parties), to serving a vast cornucopia of options so that absolutely everybody has something. Some select a menu that sidesteps the most common allergies on the assumption that if somebody’s restriction is a rare one they have figured out their own strategy (like eating in advance), while others serve what they want to serve but keep a number of “totally safe” plates of “off menu” items in the kitchen, just in case.

My friend Diana and I hosted a dinner party for 10 recently and went in the opposite direction. We wanted to attempt an ambitious menu of recipes from a private cooking class we had taken with Marc Vetri, a highly acclaimed chef and restaurant owner in Philadelphia. The slow-roasted lamb from his Rustic Italian Food cookbook was the only straightforward (and least rich) of the menu items. To address the food restriction conundrum we decided to attach our full menu to the invitation, which we attempted to word with humility and humor:

“Diana and Dish cordially invite you to join us

In our attempt at the undoubtedly ambitious Marc Vetri menu attached.

We’d be so grateful if you agreed to be a tester.”

The not-so-subtle suggestion we hoped to convey between the lines was: Here’s what we are serving. It’s a lot of work. It’s ambitious and we’re doing it ourselves, so this is all we are going to be able to do. If it looks like there’s something on here you can eat, please join. We stopped short of saying “No substitutions.”

Most everyone we invited came. Everyone who came ate everything. It was a very fun night. Try it!



Dear Dish:

Did you watch Fleischman Is In Trouble? What’d you think?

Time Crunched In Atlanta

Dear Crunched,

Totally get it. There’s a reason it hasn’t been featured in our
DEVOUR column, which I co-edit with Lisa Ellex and in which we recommend the shit we love. It was a grueling slog to get to the last episode of Fleischman. The acting was good, and the storyline was important (in short, a midlife marriage falls apart and our sympathies shift, shockingly, from one partner to the other as our perspective changes from the husband’s to the wife’s). I slogged through it. But long-winded overly-analytical midlife relationship dramas are my favorite form of self-flagellation. Maybe that’s your thing too but if not, since you don’t publish The Crush Letter and so don’t have to be on the continual prowl for entertainment for PrimeCrush Readers to devour, I’m not sure you would want to watch it.



If you love me as much as I love you (and I really do love you!), then please help me grow by forwarding this {love} Letter to a friend! And I'd love to have you join us on instagram, facebook & twitter.

The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter curated by Dish Stanley on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?


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