Maybe it’s my personality or the fact that I’m the youngest child. Maybe it’s my gender or years of social training. Perhaps it’s a little of each. Whatever the reason, the reality is I have a really hard time asking for what I want.
This may sound surprising to friends and family—or to anyone who reads this blog regularly—who know that I’m sharp-tongued, sassy, and outspoken. I may seem like a firebrand who’s not afraid to stick one hand on my hip and demand something when necessary, but the truth of the matter is…I don’t even like calling to place an order for delivery. I hate asking the guy in the produce section if he’s got fresher parsley because what’s on display looks like it’s nursing a hangover. I’ll walk a mile to the subway with my luggage instead of asking for a ride. I never challenge the check out lady if I think she’s accidentally double charged me. I don’t send food back at restaurants—no matter how little it resembles what I ordered. I try to let bad parsley, bad food, and clerical errors roll off me. And I hate inconveniencing people.
Sometimes this feels like a virtue—I may be sassy, but I’m not a jerk, and I don’t insist that everything goes my way. But sometimes, I let things slide that I know shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter if my sundae comes with vanilla ice cream instead of chocolate. But it does matter that I have trouble asking for time off from work when I am wrung out. I should be able do that.
The other day, Anthony and I were at Whole Foods buying the ingredients for meatballs. We needed ground pork and ground beef (we don’t use veal because we can’t afford the good stuff). The ground beef looked amazing—freshly ground from the happiest cows down the road. But we didn’t see any ground pork. When we asked about it, the white-coated woman behind the counter obligingly pointed a rubber-gloved hand toward the hotdogs and bacon and said, “It’s over in that case.”
Anyone who cares about meat knows that “it’s in the case” is the kiss of the death for whatever meal you were planning. Dragging our feet, we went to investigate the offerings. It’s Whole Foods…how bad can it be?
The answer is bad—very bad. Ground who-knows-when, lying limply on black Styrofoam, wrapped in plastic, the meat looked like it was more than half fat. UGH. We both knew without speaking that there was no way we could make meatballs with this. I turn to Anthony and say, “There’s another store up the street. Do you want to try there?” He looks at me skeptically and says, “No. I want to see if they have anything else.” I know my husband, and I know what that means. I look at him pleadingly and say, “This is clearly all they have! Can we just make meatballs with beef?!” “No.” He responds flatly. “They’ll be way too tough and the flavor will be off.”
We go back to the butcher counter and inquire about other options, and the butcher tells us (slightly less obligingly this time) that the ground pork in the case is all they have. I haul Anthony a few feet away to re-group. “Let’s just go to the other store,” I beg, “it’s no big deal. Or we can try to use this stuff and see how it turns out.” Anthony looks at me like I am crazy, “I am just going to ask her if she will grind one of the cuts of pork at the counter for us.”
When Anthony points to a beautiful pork butt and asks the butcher to grind it fresh for us, she sighs, shoots him an annoyed look, and says it’ll be a while and we’ll have to wait. I tug on his sleeve and tell him to forget it. But he just nods stoically, and says we’re happy to hang around. I, on the other hand, have already started fidgeting with everything and anything in the area, suddenly becoming extremely interested in the nutrition facts of whatever is on display next to the butcher counter. Anything to ease the discomfort! Begrudgingly, the woman takes the pork butt and walks to the back. The line of customers that has formed behind us has tripled and I can just feel the heat of the their silent, seething hatred focused on the back of my head. I am DYING! I am so mortified I just want to melt into the floor.
But the woman returns more quickly that I expected, and by the time she hands the package of perfect meat to us, she’s smiling again. Perhaps she had a change of heart mid-grind, deciding that she respected this young couple that is clearly as passionate about meat as she is. (At least that’s what I’m telling myself.)
We went home and made delicious meatballs with our gorgeous ground meats. No one died of embarrassment (although it got dicey there for a minute.). No one called me a terrible human being, even if the other customers we thinking it. No one was hurt—except maybe the pig. As we ate dinner that night, I knew that if I had been alone at the store we would have had tough meatballs, fatty meatballs, or no meatballs at all. In the grand scheme of things, this little moment at the meat counter is pretty insignificant, but it’s a good lesson for all those other times in my life when I desperately need to be more assertive.
It’s an important reminder that it’s not wrong to politely—but firmly—ask for what I need. And to stand my ground in the face of annoyance, irritated looks, heavy sighs, guilt trips, or excuses from other people.
I wonder how many more relaxing weekends away I could have this year if I could work up the courage to ask for a half day on Friday every once in a while. I wonder how many meals would be improved if I would start asking for greener parsley, better meat, or fresher milk. I wonder if my relationships would shift ever so slightly for the better. I wonder if I’d be a little more confident or a little happier.
I hope so.
Here’s the recipe for those incredible meatballs. Go out and buy the best ingredients you can find—or ask for—and enjoy!