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Coupling

Scene of the crime

Arguments do happen and sometimes in restaurants. But does that mean we have to blacklist the place forever?

Illustration by Kim Rosen

“I will never step foot in the Rosebud Diner again,” my friend says, her lips puckering as if she’s tasted something foul. She wasn’t speaking about the meal, or the service, or anything at fault with the establishment itself. No, the Rosebud was off-limits because it was the scene of the worst fight she ever had with her husband. Despite the years that have passed, it’s still tainted by association.

I’d venture to say most couples have a similar locale, a spot they’ll never visit again because it was the site of an argument, miscommunication, or knockdown, drag-out fight. For me and my husband, it’s Trattoria Pulcinella, a perfectly pleasant and intimate bistro in Cambridge. It’s so intimate, in fact – each table nearly elbow to elbow with its neighbor – that I’m sure our fellow diners picked up on the hostility emanating from our table, wafting over along with the aromas of antipasti and saltimbocca. Even though our argument was years ago, and had nothing to do with the otherwise lovely locale, we’ve never managed to return.

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I took an informal poll among a few other friends and heard similar stories. One won’t go back to the Border Cafe in Cambridge, after an awful fight there with her boyfriend. Another refuses to enter a ubiquitous chain restaurant: With its similar interiors across the country, all remind her of the particular Back Bay location where she got in a row with her husband. A third friend stopped patronizing the Bennigan’s in Framingham (before it closed, that is), the site of a colossal dispute with her partner.

They say sight, smell, and sound are powerful memory triggers. That means the place’s decor, scents, and music just might fire off our synapses and bring the memory of the misunderstanding to the fore – vibrant, immediate, unpleasant. Even the idea of revisiting the scene of the crime, as it were, is evocative enough for discomfort.

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But looking at it logically, discomfort shouldn’t be a justification for outright avoidance, and what’s more, my relationship and those of my friends have clearly survived whatever misunderstanding (or bloodbath) occurred. The issue (hopefully) remains in the past and ideally has long been resolved. And yet we can’t bring ourselves to go back.

Perhaps we stay away because the sheer existence of the place is a testament to the possibility of our own relationships’ nonexistence – the fateful occasion where things could have gone horribly wrong, perhaps even ending the partnership itself.

And then there’s just plain old embarrassment at having publicly displayed the worst versions of ourselves. The place did have witnesses – the poor waiters who had to interrupt our arguing, the bartenders who cautiously refilled our pints as though they were kerosene, the hosts who watched us exit in a huff. No one wants to be remembered as the bickering twosome, or worse, the ones who made a scene.

My husband and I recently started commuting together, and we now pass the banned trattoria on the way home. The first few weeks of our new routine, neither of us mentioned the spot, even though occasionally a silence would permeate the car as we drove by. One evening, stopped at a red light across the street, we both stared at the building and its signage. Quotation marks surrounded “Pulcinella,” as though it were ironic or said in jest.

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My husband followed my gaze back through the intersection. “I was thinking,” he said, “we really should go back there sometime.”

I hesitated, then racked my brain. I couldn’t even remember what our argument had been about. The issue was a relic, and the Italian restaurant was just that – a restaurant.

The light turned green. I turned to look as we passed, noting the twinkling white lights in the window, the patrons laughing over glasses of wine and heaping plates of pasta. I reached out and took my husband’s hand.

“You’re right,” I said. “Let’s try it again.”

Sarah Pascarella is a freelance writer in Somerville. Send comments to coupling@globe.com.

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