When I met my husband 12 years ago, I was a wee thing. A child. I’d had a string of completely insignificant relationships with random boys, but I was always just “one of those girls.” I didn’t really date. Partially my mother scarred me for life, implying that I would become knocked up and poor if I ever let a boy see my boobs, and partially I just never really liked it. I felt painfully awkward going on first, second, third, fourth– all dates. (I once insisted in sleeping in all of my clothes at a guys house. Like in his bed, in jeans, with my socks on. I turn crimson every time I think about it. Girls, listen up, sex is not that big of a deal. Don’t be a whore, but for Christ’s sake, please don’t shack up in a guys bedroom in all of your clothes and disappear through the fire escape after he’s asleep. You can’t recover from that. He’ll never call.)
When I met the husband, it was instantly different. I didn’t want to date him, I wanted to be his other half. I wanted to skip over all the awkward dating (we did), the boobie gazing (we didn’t), and arrive at the comfortable, compatible, for always stuff. I’d found my person. BOOM. Let’s move on.
Part of our courtship was fueled by an newly awakened desire to take care of another person. I wanted to make him happy. It was like a tortured, romantic fulfilling of Maslow’s hierarchy. I wanted to feed him, shelter him, clothe him. I wanted him to be happy and carefree and I would do all sorts of very loving, very out of character things to ensure those things were true. The biggest thing I did was cook.
I cooked things out of cookbooks. There were courses and sauces. I made dinner almost every night. After I was 21, there was wine. We got into a rhythm. I was the dinner maker, the grocery shopper, the planner. And that was that.
But here’s the thing… As it turns out, I really don’t like dinner. I don’t like making dinner. I think, more accurately, I don’t like to have any responsibilities after 6pm. Having a child was a real kick in the dick in this area. They need all sorts of things at all hours of the day and night. So Aut kind of puts me at my quota. By the time I commute home after a full day of work, orient myself in my house, and put all my shit away, I basically want to do the ABSOLUTE minimum between that moment and when I get into bed. Even if that means eating questionable cottage cheese over the sink and calling it dinner. My priorities are different now than they were over a decade ago.
When the husband is gone or busy, I get almost giddy. I think about the complete zero dinner I’m going to have and I’m set free. Calorically, it’s also a boon. If I don’t have to waste calories on proteins and health carbs (eye roll), I can use them all on a bottle of wine or sixteen pieces of chocolate. I can also just eat three spoonfuls of almond butter and go read for the rest of the night. Fuck. Yeah.
The bigger challenge is that I’ve started to feel anger towards dinner. Dinner mocks me and steals my time. When the husband says something like, “so, what do you think we should eat this week,” I get a little rage-y.
NOTHING. I want to eat NOTHING. I want to open the fridge and fine random treasures and eat them indiscriminately over six hours. A piece of cheese. A few nuts. A bite of something that’s been in the fridge since… who knows. I don’t want to be tied to a single, well balanced plate, for GOD SAKE. As for that child of ours, he can take a page out of American Childhood and have a bowl of cereal and some disappointment.
But that’s not how grownups apparently act. We have to meal plan. We have to shop. We have to prep things. We have to eat dinner. We have to feed our children. Ugh.
This is actually the number one thing I fantasize about when I think about my impending mental breakdown and my move to a ramshackle cottage on the outskirts of Reno. Sure, I’ll be living in squalor and painted as one of those disgusting women who left her child out of selfishness, but I will eat the shit out of nothing every. single. night. I’ll probably never go to the grocery store again. It will be magical. In it’s own sad way.
But this is actually a story about marriage. About how the precedents we set (even subconsciously) at the beginning of our relationships start to define our roles and our interactions. And even though nothing is set in stone, it’s hard work to accept the ways you’ve changed, harder still to accept the ways in which your partner has changed, and even harder still to break these cycles and find new normals. My husband doesn’t (by any stretch of the imagination) expect me to cook dinner, but the scheduling, rituals, and ingrained habits that have to change if I decide to write dinner out of my life are bigger than not cooking any more. There would have to be a shift in responsibility, a reallocating of duties and expectations. And that is really difficult to do in a marriage.
And dinner is a small thing. When I think back at the girl I was then and the boy he was, our paradigms were defined by such narrow experience of the world. Our belief systems have changed, our goals have changed, and at every step we’ve had to reassess, acknowledge, and make decisions about our relationship and our dynamic. It’s hard work. Necessary, but hard.
Twelve years ago, dinner was my language. In all the years since, I’ve found new ways to show my husband that I want to take care of him. (Or maybe I haven’t. You’d have to ask him. I could have also just become one of those drag wives.) And his languages have changed too. Frankly, he used to agree with me a lot more. But we make a choice, like all married couples, to keep trying to translate these languages into insights about where we are in life, what we need, and where we are floundering. Sometimes we figure it out. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we eat dinner. And sometimes we don’t. And like all things, it’s a compromise.
Some nights it’s a big kid meal, and other nights it’s two beers and an untold number of cookies.
Note: our child gets fed. So calm down.