Well, in fairness, it didn't really ruin my relationship with my girlfriend. I wouldn't necessarily call it strained, either - more of an awkward, silent standoff where we walk in circles around one another while giving a suspicious stare. I should give a little background as to how a restaurant could spoil Valentine's Day.
I live in Kalamazoo, Michigan, home of Green Bay Packers superstar Greg Jennings, and a city that's a snowballs throw from Lake Michigan. My state is as blue as the sky we never see due to our extended winters, and my idea of having too many conservatives around is seeing one conservative bumper sticker, even if it's surrounded by a dozen Obama ones. My girlfriend, however, is another story.
Though she's liberal, she hails from Springfield, Missouri. Having visited the place, I'd say its cultural influences fall more within the range of eastern Oklahoma or Northwest Arkansas. They have things in Springfield that confuse me, like churches that issue debit cards (where I grew up, we gave the churches money, not the other way around). Despite our different upbringings, there's little to no difference between us other than a few instances of butchering the English language. She says the word "ornery" more than it should be used, and when she tells her dog to get down off the couch, the word "down" has a strong, country twang to it. She also named her dog Whiskey Lee, which I can only assume is a reference to the famed Southern general, but that's a tragedy for another time.
When my girlfriend moved up to Michigan, she gave me a cold glaze of blasphemy when I uttered I had never really heard of Chic-fil-A. Chic-fil-A, evidently, is manna from the heavens for everyone below the Mason-Dixon Line, and considering we have none in the area, she admitted her withdrawals from its graces were chipping away at her soul. After a bit of research we discovered a Chic-fil-A was present in South Bend, Indiana, a little over an hour away. This worked for both of us -- she could fight off her chicken fix while I was able to visit the University of Notre Dame, a football team I support reverently. The compromise worked well for quite some time, until the protest began in South Bend.
Indiana University in South Bend recently reinstated a Chic-fil-A on its campus after a gay rights incident occurred in Pennsylvania. Apparently, a Chic-fil-A franchise had provided food for the Pennsylvania Family Institute, a group that has been at odds with gay rights organizations, to put it politely. While that seems simple on its face, Chic-fil-A's history added gasoline to the blaze. Chic-fil-A is very much a Christian organization - it closes on Sundays and its mission statement is "to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chic-fil-A."
As a Michigan native, this mission statement perplexes. I'm not entirely sure how you can glorify God through chicken, but the only other alternative I can see for such a move is to profit off religion. It would be tough to beat a company that could boast their chicken is the official chicken of the Almighty, though I'll give the company the benefit of the doubt that they're not trying to profit off religious belief -- the alternative would be too depressing.
This news did come as vindication, however. This past summer my girlfriend and I made it down to South Bend and were enjoying a nice lunch at Chic-fil-A when my Yankee senses began to tingle. The cleanliness of the building, the soft Christian music playing in the background, the overly polite employees that say, "My pleasure," whenever you tell them thank you -- all seemed awry and suspect.
"This place - this chicken place is a cult," I told my girlfriend between sips of pop, my eyes darting around wildly. "Everything is too nice around here. Did you see the employees? They were friendly to me."
"What's wrong with that?" she said between bites. "That's Southern hospitality."
"No, this is no good. When I order food from a stranger, they're supposed to be brief and refuse to make eye contact. That's how we do things up here. This is a cult."
I took a lot of guff for that astute observation, but as the news reported, Chic-fil-A is very much a religious themed corporation. I passed this information on to my girlfriend and waited for the cross pressure to take hold. When an individual loves two things very much but those two things collide, which reigns supreme? Would my girlfriend choose her support of gay rights or continue to eat her Jesus-sanctioned chicken? It was a no brainer for me, but I took note of her initial hesitation.
"Come on!' I scolded her. "Don't choose the chicken! I tell you what: if you can write a letter to my relative who is gay, and I know you like him very much, and tell him that you love him to death but his civil rights aren't as tasty as Chic-fil-A's chicken, then I won't bother you about this anymore."
Her silence is still deafening, and I'm wondering whether she'll be outside the gates of my relative's gay marriage when it's finally legalized, a Chic-fil-A sandwich stuffed in her face, tears streaking down her mayonnaise-stained cheeks while she mumbles, "It's a beautiful ceremony!"
So, while the odd standoff continues, perhaps a compromise can be reached: when we eat out, we'll eat meals at Qdoba, where the only worship involves the great taste. We can eat our burritos in silence, staring at one another with eyebrows raised until someone flinches.
Scott Janssen is a recent graduate of Western Michigan University with a Master's in Political Science. Though still looking for a job, he prefers to be called a "professional occupational seeker" rather than "unemployed" for self-confidence reasons. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.