14 June 2011

A perfect meal

Leaving work this evening I was thinking about how I didn’t want to cook dinner. I thought I’d just be lazy and grab some Chinese on the way home, but as it turns out the only Chinese restaurant on the way home is a regular sit-down type of place, not takeout.

I was going to try to find another one, but instead I just made the turn to come home to the apartment complex. I came in, had no idea what to do for dinner; the only meat I have thawed is some chicken I already have plans for (which require a day sitting with a spice rub, which I forgot to do this morning), and I can’t open a can of chickpeas or black beans to do vegetarian because I still haven’t bought a can opener.

I opened the freezer. There’s shrimp in there. Shrimp thaw fast. I got some out and put them in the strainer basket, sprayed warm water on them for a moment, then hopped in the shower. When I got out, I decided I could use up the mushrooms, and the last of that bottle of Chilean chenin blanc I’ve been enjoying, and have it over pasta.

I also took note of the capers and parmesan cheese in the fridge. I shelled the shrimp (Schrodinger ate one of the shells; the rest went into a sack in the freezer marked “seafood scraps for stock”), cut up the mushrooms and the rest of an onion, and time slowed down and I just dropped into the moment. I enjoy cooking a great deal, the smells, the activity, it’s wonderful. But I do like to have someone to cook for. It’s one of the many things I miss.

I used to cook for her a lot, almost every night. Sometimes I’d ruin a meal but, early on, that wasn’t a big deal. I enjoyed cooking for her that much more simply because I was doing it for her.

And gradually, gradually, it started to drop off. I didn’t cook as often. We’d both come home late and neither one of us feel like cooking (just like I didn’t “feel like cooking” tonight, but enjoyed it anyway once I started). I started to feel worse about occasionally flubbing a meal or just not making the right one. Portions became a concern. Mornings would go by and I would forget to set anything out to thaw.

She kept saying we needed to plan meals, and we occasionally succeeded at that, but it was the marital ‘we’ and I’ve never really been good at that kind of thing, so I never got into meal planning. It was one of many ways I felt I disappointed her. She suggested we didn’t even need to really plan every single week, just come up with a general idea—pizza on Thursday, fish on Friday—to at least make things easier. That would be simple enough, but again, we never followed through.

Towards the end it felt like we cooked at best half our meals. I know it was more than that but between leftovers and eating out I probably only cooked two or three dinners a week. It was just one of many things that stopped when the marriage started to fall apart—well, when the falling apart accelerated there in last few months.

When we separated I hadn’t made two of my most consistent and popular dishes (chicken marsala, and gumbo) in months. It seemed like dinner—and every meal on the weekends—was just another problem, not a chance to be creative, to have fun, to do something for my wife. Just another problem. By the end, everything felt like that.

I wasn’t willing to admit it, but I guess she was right: I was miserable. She didn’t make me that way, though (she says otherwise); I think it’s just something I do. I won’t ever acknowledge when I am because I don’t want to burden anyone—and I especially don’t want to burden her when I've already disappointed her by failing to plan for or make dinner.

I managed to have all these thoughts before the shrimp were cooked. Dinner was delicious. I wish I had someone to share it with—but I also wonder if I can ever be as happy sharing it as I am eating it alone. To me, it was fun to make and wonderful to eat (and the half-glass of wine I didn't use to cook went with it very nicely). I want to share those emotions with her. But what happens is that instead of enjoying the process of making it, and enjoying eating it, and enjoying sharing it, I share it, and worry about whether or not it’s good enough. I lose my own enjoyment in my fear of disappointing the person I want to share with.

Of course early in the relationship that wasn’t a problem—I was excited enough by the prospect of having someone to share my life with that I wasn’t nearly so concerned about disappointing her, so if I flubbed a meal or said something stupid, I didn’t fixate on it. But it didn’t take very long, just a few years, for that joy of sharing life to become a burden of trying to make sure everything I did for her was perfect.

She never asked me to be perfect. She didn’t need me to be perfect. But because I could not be perfect, I assumed I was a disappointment, and drifted farther and farther from the goal.