She’s like a psychological Sun Tsu of domestic warfare. I probably never stood a snowball’s chance in hell in this particular conflict, and I never even saw it coming
And yet, I rode arrogantly into the ambush like a hopeful Browns fan named Custer with a belly full of beer right before the first quarter of a game against the Lakota in Little Big Horn Stadium. Mixed and confusing metaphor, I know. That’s not the point. Send help… and a chef.
“She just sits there with an unsettling grin on her pretty little face, munching away and doling out compliments between contented bites.”
It started, as most of my problems do, with way too much hubris on my part. I recently began working from home and setting my own deadlines, and I was feeling a little heady. My girlfriend was busy with her real job, so I felt compelled to offer to help out by making dinner for us. Initially, it kind of came from a good place.
Except that it really didn’t, or, if it did, it didn’t stay there very long. At any rate, there was definitely some unspoken “I have time to do this now and you don’t” pride involved when I confidently decreed, “You know what? I’ll just take over cooking dinner from now on!” You heard me. And I didn’t stop there.
“In fact,” I boasted with completely unwarranted confidence and a dash (wait, that’s a cooking word, right?) of superiority, “I’ll just do all of the grocery shopping as well.” And then, just for good measure (another cooking word! [kinda]), “I’ll be sure to do most of the cleaning around the house too.” Go big or go home, right?
In my defense, a little of this was actually rooted in guilt. I’d left behind my insufficient but steady previous paycheck to pursue a professional interest with a much less guaranteed income, and I’d left her (once again) to play the role of the responsible adult in a relationship where there really ought to be two. She’s a saint, and I’m… “challenging”, to say the least.
That wasn’t all, though. In typical “me” style, I did it at the worst possible time. She’s coming up on her slowest time of year financially, and we just signed a lease together on a more expensive apartment. So, as you can see, the best and most practical way to ease the guilt of the financial burden I’d placed on us was to make a number of insane claims about the cooking.
You’re a smart one, so you probably already guessed that I can’t cook. What you may not know is that I don’t even know what good food is because I have only a vague sense of what anything tastes like. I’m taste-disabled. So, I have the ability to feed myself, sure, but that’s because I have the pallet of a billy goat.
My girlfriend, on the other hand, likes certain foods. She’s not picky at all, but she has food and taste preferences. You know, like a normal person. Her determination process for whether or not she enjoys consuming something is a bit more sophisticated than my standard litmus of “will it immediately make me actively wretch?”
It only makes sense, then, that I can’t be the one who cooks for the two of us all the time, right? I think, in the back of my tiny, tiny mind, that I may have been banking on this. Surely, she couldn’t stand to let this continue for too long. Then, she would re-assume kitchen duty, and I would be released with her undying appreciation for having given it a good try.
That little plan is starting to look like an epic failure. In hindsight, I can see the warning signs that have existed for a long while. Most obviously, she has always completely over-complimented every dish I have ever made. I’m no dolt (I can’t back up that claim); I understand how positive reinforcement works. I also have an insatiable ego, though, and a burning desire for her approval. If she told me I looked good walking down the sidewalk, I’d be out doing laps around the block right now.
She didn’t stop there, though. Over the years, she’s also sneaked in opportunities to point out how similar our tastes in food are (a completely bogus claim, since I could easily mistake an ashtray for a bowl of shaved coconut in a blind taste test) and how much more creative I am than her. She paints, draws, and plays musical instruments; I’m tone deaf and barely recognize that colors other than gray and brown exist.
Surely reality has to intervene at some point, though, right? Well, it hasn’t yet. Her resolve is monumentally impressive. She just sits there with an unsettling grin on her pretty little face, munching away and doling out compliments between contented bites.
I did try to make her some decent dinners. I’m not failing intentionally; I just know that I have no idea what I am doing. Two days ago, for instance, I made her some fish in a white sauce over some rice (we’re pescatarians). Doesn’t sound terrible, right? The problem is that I accidentally added WAY too much paprika to the white sauce. I don’t know how much the recipe called for, but I know it wasn’t supposed to be measurable in raw tonnes.
My “white sauce” was a vibrant pink. She scarfed it down. Then, with an eerily suspicious smile, she went back to the stove and refilled her bowl with the last drops of the ruined sauce. She’s some sort of masochistic evil genius!
After the meal, she drove her point home. She kept insisting that I send her the link for the recipe until I finally did, and then she claimed that she was saving it so that I could regularly make it for us and so I could make it when company visited from out of town. She never cooks for visitors; we always eat out when someone is in town. And now she was suggesting that I subject other people to this completely accidental dish which, remember, was nothing like the actual recipe she saved. Has she no conscience?!
I tried again the second night. Using what odds and ends I could scrape up in the refrigerator, I pieced together some fish and vegetable skewers that I intended to toss on the grill outside. When it started raining, I thought perhaps she’d let me off the hook. No chance. She simply busied herself with work while I unpacked the ingredients and set up shop in the kitchen.
It was food, and it was nutritious, but I’m not sure anyone would call it good. I want to help out, and I want her to be happy, but I’m also morbidly curious how far she’ll take it. So, aside from what I assume are the traditional skewer ingredients — tomatoes, peppers, onions — I also throw in some slightly under-ripe avocado and some cucumber.
“These are really good!” she chirps, tearing into the skewers before even acknowledging the potatoes and the asparagus that I know for sure she likes. “You added some stuff that I wouldn’t have thought to add…”
Aha! Now she’ll have to admit that I have no idea what I’m doing, and she’ll be forced to ban me from the kitchen. I’ll go back to just doing dishes and taking out the trash. It will be glorious!
“Like the cucumber and the avocado,” she continued with a slightly pensive tone, “I’ve never had either of them cooked…”
Success! I was pretty sure she’d previously told me that she didn’t even particularly care for cucumber (although she would willingly eat it if it was included in something), and I knew she generally paid close attention to how ripe her avocados were. This would curb the kitchen power imbalance for sure.
“I like them better this way!” she exclaimed sweetly. What in the name of all that is holy is going on?! Will she stop at nothing to keep me in the kitchen?
I don’t know how long she’ll be willing to keep up the charade or how much suffering she’s willing to accept to be free of cooking, but I do know that she’s outwitted me so completely that I have no hope of escape now until she releases me. I’m trapped in a oubliette of whisks and food processors.
If you’re reading this, have some sympathy, do what you can to intervene. Send recipes, send the FDA, send a better boyfriend. There are only 10 hours left until dinner, and I have neither ingredients nor knowledge. Maybe I’ll try a pasta dish.
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