Agreeing to disagree may be the key to relationships

“I’ll have a red wine,” she said.

“And I’ll have a white wine,” he said.

The varietals had long ago been established between us. Usually sentences like that have far too little information to be helpful. What kind of red or white wine? Most restaurants have more than one. But when it comes to regular customers a little sometimes goes a long way.

A mixed green salad and a Caesar always followed. The entrees could be chicken or fish or meat, it really just depended. What was certain was that it wasn’t going to be two of the same dishes.

In the world of relationships it’s not that everybody agrees on everything, but that space is made to disagree. If he doesn’t like red wine or she doesn’t like white, that doesn’t make either of them wrong, just different.

The hardest question to answer in a bar is, “What’s good?” I stand in front of thousands of choices. Every bottle behind me represents what someone somewhere thinks is good. That’s why someone invented it, makes it, bottles it, markets it and, consequently, why we buy it and sell it. It doesn’t really matter that you don’t like Chartreuse or buttery-oaky chardonnay; we are going to carry it because someone, and often many more than just someone, does.

Choice is what makes the restaurant world go around. Choice is also why a restaurant is a great place for a date. Everybody can get what he or she wants, whether its shared or not — they get to share the experience. And after all, that is what counts most, isn’t it?

Later that night I headed down the bar in the couple’s general direction to attend to a few orders when I caught a snippet of their conversation.

“We don’t even like the same wine!” one said to the other. Who it was didn’t really matter.

Suddenly I found something else to do, two steps in the other direction. Being there is important in the bar business, but so is knowing when to not be.

It was a silly fight, but then again, so many romantic fights are silly. But silly can suddenly turn to serious and that is what happened here. One minute it’s playful teasing and the next minute it’s hurt feelings and goodbyes.

Happy couples enjoy being together. But sooner or later a couple is going to disagree. And that is what makes or breaks couples. In the arena of relationships it’s not how we get along that matters most but how we fight. Do we fight fair? Do we act respectfully? Do we listen? Do we learn? If it’s “no” to any of these questions, pretty soon we won’t have to worry about the “we” at all.

Eventually I saw that couple again — separately. A favorite restaurant in a small town can be a real problem when you are trying not to run into someone.

Other dates with other people followed. She came in with a guy in a backward baseball cap, who liked the same wine as she did, but wanted separate checks and spent the entire night watching the ballgame. He came in, too, once with a woman in a too-short skirt but who also liked white wine. The most expensive, which was the only description given. And quite a bit of it, too.

After a while they each came in just by themselves, on nights carefully arranged to avoid each other. Ironically, two people trying to avoid each other will often run into each other. The universe is funny that way.

At first they sat at opposite ends of the bar. He and his Caesar and she and her mixed greens. I don’t know how it happened because I was in the back getting coffee. But when I returned they were sitting together and talking.

Can I buy you two a glass of wine? I asked.

“Let’s split one,” she offered.

An uncomfortable silence followed.

“I can get you a half of two different wines?” I offered.

They both nodded.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• A therapist once told me, “Don’t sweat the small stuff — and it’s all small stuff.”

• Restaurants don’t just provide food and drink; they provide people with a choice. And sometimes that is all we really need.

• You say po-tay-toe, I say po-tah-toe. So what?

• A good bartender knows there are different ways to help.