Sometimes it is the most ordinary and mundane parts of our lives that end up meaning the most. Frasier re-runs on the sofa with my boyfriend offer incomparable contentment. A glass of wine in the local pub with my mum is a quasi-holy past-time. And the humble mid-week dinner with a dear friend has delivered some of the most ordinary, yet most cherished moments of my adult life.
In my early 20s, fresh-faced and walking a tangled tightrope of terror and excitement at all times, mid-week dinners served several essential purposes. For starters, more often than not, they would provide one of the few good meals I would eat all week, (grocery shopping and cooking seemed like adult things I neither needed nor understood at that point). The restaurant itself was a sanctuary from an overcrowded flat share with people you didn’t particularly want to see. After the minefield of experiencing working life for the first time, a table for two with a trustworthy friend allowed you to relax in a way your damp, Hackney flat share didn’t. And it also allowed you to process; to share what had happened in your day; to understand the politics and bureaucracy and brutality of competitive London life. Of course, we couldn’t really afford the indulgence. My friend Sarah and I met at a prestigious fashion magazine as interns. After long days of intimidating editors, we’d head to an Irish pub in St James and share a plate of bangers and mash. Later on, even with my first proper salary under my belt, money was still a problem. My friend Tash and I would take it in turns to pay for dinner at Pizza Express, both knowing that going out felt potentially life-saving, and we were more than happy to shoulder the extra £15 that month understanding the kindness would be repaid when our fortunes inevitably switched.
Nearly a decade on and I still see those same women for dinner. Sarah and I will still often find a pub and order bangers and mash but we tend to order a meal each these days. Tash and I are still meeting at Pizza Express, with a voucher too. We don’t pick up the bill for each other any more, but I have no doubt we would if we needed too. And they’re not the only ones. A bowl of pasta and a bottle of wine has become a ritualised moment with other old and new friends alike. And whatever has been happening - new jobs, new boyfriends, new flats, break ups, miscarriages, career changes, country swaps - these dinners are little moments of calm, an oasis of familiarity and friendship and comfort when we press pause on the stresses and strains of that day or that week or that month or even that year.
Sitting somewhere in Soho, we’re as nameless and faceless as the hundreds of Londoners rushing around us, but locked in conversation, we see and hear only each other. As we talk, shoulders drop and truths fall out after the first glass. There’s often laughing and other times there’s ranting, and occasionally crying but there’s always some kind of union, some sort of truce, where over a small round table and a £12 main, unspoken thoughts are said aloud and nagging worries are un-snagged on the hushed tones of a concerned friend who in this moment, like every moment, knows exactly what to say.
And now, as my friends and I creep towards our mid-30s and there’s talk of babies and responsibilities and writing books and spending more time with families, weekends are beginning to change. Long Saturday afternoons in the pub that turned into dancing and after parties are speeding in the distant past; lost in the rear view mirror of our responsibility-free 20s. Sunday mornings, once hungover and asleep, are spent seeing nieces or at the gym or working on that side project as the feeling of 'now or never' kicks into gear. And so midweek dinners are even more important. We schedule them in with the rigidity of a doctor’s appointment or an important meeting at work. We need them in the diary and they are unmovable.
A friend recently said to me that a mid-week dinner with a girlfriend was one of the joys of her life. And as she said it, I thought about how such a routine thing was so essential to our happiness. Last Wednesday, Tash and I met for dinner, like we have a million times before. She arrived with tears in her eyes having learned her grandmother had died. I had come back from two weeks on the other side of the world and had news about a job I didn’t get and the unbelievable question a man asked me during the interview process. And just like we have done for years and years, we talked and talked, over a tiny table and a pizza we’d eaten a million times. In the chaos of our weeks and our lives, navigating next steps and changing lives, we pressed paused and leaned on each other, taking comfort in telling our stories and listening to each other’s. It so many ways it was completely unremarkable. And in so many other ways, just as it always is, it was completely extraordinary.
Main image credit: Malte Mueller via Getty Images