I dated a man who couldn't read the menu because he was illiterate

M. Brown

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**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events that I have experienced firsthand; used with permission.

I once dated a man who was 34 years old and throughout the course of our relationship, I discovered that he could not read a single word.

As a fairly well-educated daughter of British parents who delighted in proper grammar, experiencing someone who could not read was totally foreign to me. Not only that — but for someone to be in their mid 30's and still not have learned how to read was truly astonishing to me.

I remember when we went to a restaurant to eat and I asked him why we always had to come to this particular restaurant every single time we ate out.

Even though he was holding the menu in front of him he looked up at me and said, exasperatedly, “Because I don’t know how to read and I know what I like here. I always order the same thing because I can’t read this stupid menu!

He slapped the menu on the table in an apparent signal of defeat. The jig was up, I guess. The truth was out.

I assumed he was holding the menu all this time to pretend he could comprehend the words he was looking at…?

I was shocked. But he didn’t want to discuss the issue further.

Nonetheless, I continued seeing him. But the illiteracy issue wasn't the only problem. He had many other emotional and mental issues and the relationship did not last longer than several months.

What really struck me though, was how this man was able to survive all that time without ever knowing how to read.

Apparently, he kept his world very small and very familiar. He stayed in the same area of town, went to the same shops to buy things, went to the same restaurants — especially when he took a new woman out on a date, and basically never left his tiny little corner of the world — his comfort zone.

It took until that moment at the restaurant for me to even know that he couldn’t read and I had been seeing him for a couple of months.

Looking back, it’s quite sad that this man never took it upon himself to learn how to read, and instead, he simply stayed in the same place. It seemed to me as though there was a whole world he was missing out on if he could just try to learn or ask somebody to teach him. But he had no interest in that. He was happy living his life the way it was, staying in a small community, and traveling within the same circles.

According to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 50 percent of U.S. adults can’t read a book written at an eighth-grade level.

I can’t imagine what kind of childhood my short-lived boyfriend must have had to never learn how to read but I do know he was embarrassed by it because he didn’t like the subject to be brought up. If we could have discussed it further I would have asked more questions but the relationship was over pretty quickly.

I still wonder if this man ever did start learning to read.

Imagine going out on a date in your thirties and not being able to read the menu? It’s hard for me to imagine, but apparently, there are millions of Americans who cannot read. This entire experience reminded me of just one more thing I possess that can easily be taken for granted.

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