My dear friend Philippa invited me to lunch at the Eden Center in Falls Church yesterday. The restaurants there generate some of the best Vietnamese food outside of Vietnam, so we go there somewhat regularly. Yesterday’s trip was not, however, one of our routine pho runs. Philippa’s mom had come to town for Thanksgiving, presenting an opportunity for her to meet my pal’s boyfriend. Philippa and I talk about “Fella” on our podcast all the time, but having him meet her mom was taking the relationship to a whole new level.
I adore Fella. He is smart, funny, thoughtful, engaging, humble, and exceptionally kind. I have yet to have a conversation with him that I didn’t enjoy, and I look forward to opportunities to spend time with him. Oh, and he’s tall, which is important because that’s how my friend rolls.
I feel just as warmly towards Philippa’s mother, whom I jokingly call “Mom.” The two of us bonded deeply in October of 2013, when Philippa was recovering from a double mastectomy. Mom, who’s Vietnamese, is one of the most resourceful, resilient, determined people I’ve ever met. She managed to get her family out of war-torn Vietnam in the 1970’s, but Philippa’s cancer diagnosis left Mom feeling terrified and helpless. I could relate. While Philippa rested, Mom and I talked candidly about our fears, she in heavily accented English that broke from time to time and I with the fluency of someone who knows the language and my friend very well. I knew Mom wasn’t given to emotional outpourings, so the fact that she talked to me about it told me just how scared she was and also that she trusted me. In the two years that have passed, we see each other mainly at family celebrations and other happy occasions. We now delight in chatting about lighthearted things, like my love life, but even when our conversation stays on the surface, that deep bond remains.
So when Philippa handed me an opportunity arose to experience Mom, Fella and outstanding Vietnamese food all at once, I couldn’t pass it up. Because there’s no such thing as a free lunch, however, I understood I was also there as a buffer. Philippa, Fella and Mom all knew that, if need be, I could help avert conversational disaster by swooping in with a well-timed dating story. (We all have our skills.)
At first the conversation lurched forward like a stick shift car in the hands of a novice. Then it took a comical turn as the waiter and Mom tried to get through to each other in broken English even though both speak Vietnamese. But after that, it found the right gear and started humming along. I was glad because, even when you’re just along for the ride, you don’t want the proverbial car to go careening into a utility pole.
Deep down, I had known it would go well because Philippa, Mom and Fella wanted it to, and sometimes that’s all that matters. I was honored to be there, watching Mom and Fella making huge efforts to connect because they both love my friend.
And just so my talents as a buffer wouldn’t be entirely wasted, I decided to give Mom a tour of the two dating apps I’m currently using. After a brief demo, I let her take a swipe at Hinge. Within moments iet became clear to me she’s just as discerning about my potential suitors as she is Philippa’s. In fact, had I not plucked the phone out of her hands, she might still be sitting at that table at the Eden Center, swiping left with abandon.
Watching her cracked me up but it also moved me, because I know my heart’s always in good hands with Mom.