How to tell when it's over


I GOT DUMPED for the first time in a small Italian restaurant in lower Manhattan, where she summoned me with the cryptic message: "We have to talk."

A few minutes after the eggplant parmigiana arrived at our table, she suddenly put down her fork.

"It's all over between us," she said quietly.

"What are you trying to say?" I asked.

"We're through," she said. "You and I are history."

"Listen," I said, "if there's something on your mind, just spit it out."

"I don't want to go out with you any more," she said. "We're finished."

"God, I hate when you act so mysterious!" I said. "Get to the point, will you?"

The woman was trying to tell me something, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what it was. All this double-talk and gobbledegook of hers was driving me crazy.

Then about 20 minutes later, just as the dessert cart rumbled away and I took my first bite of an absolutely delicious cannoli, it hit me: My God! This woman was ending our relationship!

She was saying that it was all over between us! That we were through! That she didn't want to go out with me anymore!

Why she couldn't have said all that in the first place was beyond me.

Anyway, as I walked slowly back to my apartment that night, with a steady rain falling on the darkened streets and a tugboat sounding mournfully in the distance, one thought consumed me above all others: Wasn't $22.95 a little steep for eggplant parmigiana?

I mean, you could understand if it were the veal piccata or the house specialty, that seafood dish with the lobster and shrimp and everything.

But 23 bucks for eggplant? I'm sorry, that's highway robbery. You might as well wear a ski mask and wave a gun in front of your customers if you're charging prices like that.

I bring up this ugly incident after all these years not because the price of eggplant has shot through the roof (it hasn't), but because of the recent proliferation of books and TV talk shows centered on one common theme: How to tell if your relationship has gone sour.

Here are one man's warning signs:

* She calls you Ken when your name is Kevin.

* When you gently remind her of that fact, she snarls: "Ken, Kevin . . . what's the big deal? Boy, isn't it just like you to nitpick!"

* She says, "We never do anything anymore" and quickly adds, "Not that that's such a bad thing."

* She begs out of dates by explaining that "'MacGyver' is on tonight."

* When you call, she barks into the phone that the police have telephone monitoring equipment "to stop this sort of harassment."

* When you call back, she squeezes her nose with her fingers and says in a disembodied voice: "We're sorry, the number you have reached is not in service at this time . . ."

* Finally she says "we have to talk" and picks a pricey restaurant before you can blurt out: "Bob's Big Boy, 7:30."

* She begins the conversation at the restaurant by saying: "I'll start with the jumbo shrimp cocktail."

* She continues the conversation by saying: "They have a terrific imported wine list here."

* Midway through the entree, she says: "Ken, it's not you, it's me."

* Quickly she adds: "No, come to think of it, it's you."

* For the next 10 minutes, she proceeds to tick off your many failings, chief among them "this hang-up you have about names."

* If you raise your voice even slightly to defend yourself, she hisses: "For God's sake, Ken, let's not have a scene here!"

* She says she hasn't "grown" in the relationship, even though between her appetizer, eggplant parmigiana, side order of pasta and half a loaf of bread, you'd swear she was growing right before your eyes.

* She says the two of you "can still be friends, although friends don't necessarily have to see each other, right?"

* When the dessert cart rumbles by, she sings out: "Diet, schmiet. How's the strawberry cheesecake tonight, Vito?"

* She says "I've found someone else" and you notice she's holding hands with the busboy.

* When the check arrives, she gives you a firm handshake and says "Have a nice life, Ken" before sprinting for the exit.

"Kevin!" you yell. "The name's Kevin!"

Not that it does any good at this point.

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