A young man and woman sit at a sunny kitchen counter in sleep T-shirts, eating breakfast. He looks at her, laughing, and she giggles back, takes a spoonful—then tosses the spoon back into the bowl to break out in a belly laugh. This scene, from an episode of Master of None called “Mornings,” lasts exactly five seconds and is the most stomach-punchingly romantic thing I have ever seen on screen. I have watched it at least twenty times. When I reopened Master of None to find it again for this piece, the show was paused there: I’d gone back after I finished the season finale to watch it yet again, probably on a loop.
It was the easy intimacy of this scene that felled me. It features Dev Shah (Aziz Ansari) and his new girlfriend Rachel (Noel Wells), and comes amid a pastiche of new-relationship morning scenes. I am a connoisseur of rom-coms, but no grand flowery gesture could rival this inside joke over breakfast in crappy clothes, and all the connection and quiet pleasure that implied.
The scene is set up by a pretty perfect romantic sequence, the two of them joking and playing: He asks her to tuck him into bed before she leaves for work and she pounces, fake-suffocating him; they brush their teeth side-by-side and debate the right way to squeeze out the toothpaste. But it wasn’t until the breakfast-laugh that I got a very real stomachache, it conjured up such painful sweetness and longing. The scene brought to mind some of my own most tender intimacies: cereal at a boyfriend’s counter while he put on his suit for work, the quick kiss in the shower a half-hour before. Making eggs on toast for a fling in a state of high infatuation. Early-morning coffee as a new partner and I walked my dog together in the park. Long lazy brunch with a man I was dating, down the street from his apartment, me in his flannel shirt in that old, terrifically satisfying symbol of staking a claim.
Dinner, with its wine and its candlelight, has forever had the lock on romance. But to me, it’s breakfast, no contest. Dinner is prelude and promise, insinuation and flirtation, potential. But breakfast is reality in its best light. Breakfast is everything that’s come before: it’s spooning in bed, it’s morning sex with morning breath. Breakfast is wearing your partner’s old, ratty shirt. Breakfast is an inside joke. Breakfast is not having to explain. Breakfast is no pretense. Breakfast is sleep in your eyes and a knot in your hair. Breakfast is knowing each other’s rhythms and particularities. Breakfast is being a person, not a protagonist.