Food 1COPING AS A COUPLE IN THE NEW DYSTOPIAN ERA

The inevitable knock on the door at four o’clock tells me it’s almost time to start dinner. I’ve wasted another afternoon reviewing news briefings, epidemic numbers, and scanning social media. This global crisis is a PTSD trigger, putting me into freeze mode. I find myself on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop. What else can go wrong?

To ease the risk of contagion, my husband has now quit his post-retirement part-time job. This puts us together 24/7. Retirement brought new challenges to our marriage, but as two very independent introverts, we each had our own personal interests to keep us busy without getting into each other’s face too often. Now, without those external escapes, life has shifted again.

Meal planning is one of those changes.

As the chief cook and bottle-washer, the daily task of meal-planning falls on my shoulders. I enjoy cooking, so I’m not complaining. It’s just that in the pre-pandemic era, his work-days and the occasional restaurant meal provided delicious mental breaks. Now that restaurants are shuttered, and he’s no longer working, my options are limited. Yes, we can still order in; but this is another exposure risk that I’m not willing to take at the moment.

I grew up in a home where food meant happiness. My Mennonite mother and Russian grandmothers always served a massive table spread with everything from home-made sausages and cheeses, home-grown fruits and vegetables, to home-baked breads and cakes. An agricultural lifestyle demanded five meals a day to satisfy the huge appetites of the hard-working men who toiled from sunrise to sunset, planting and harvesting in the fields, taking care of the livestock, repairing equipment, and building barns.

It would horrify my female ancestors to see today’s puny dinner of pasta and salad. I’m sure they’d say that I was setting the stage for my man to find another woman. A man needs to eat and eat well. They preached that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. If you want a good man, you need to show him you can cook. If you want him happy, you must feed him well.

I learned the joy of cooking from this hardy stock, and I did my best to pass it to my kids. 

My first husband appreciated my talents, as he was raised in the same background. Although I made sure he never wanted for a good meal, my talent in the kitchen didn’t keep the marriage together. Maybe I wasn’t as good a cook as I thought. I say that with a grain of salt, as I know for a fact that his second wife was not nearly as skilled as I.

After writing this, I’ll throw some salt over my shoulder in the hope it gets rid of any bad luck. Oops. Not a Christian thing to do, I guess. But, old traditions die hard.

It wasn’t until after I married my city-boy second husband that I realized we were clashing on more than one level. I should have clued in when he insisted on teaching me how to load the dishwasher or bragged about his steak grilling skills. 

I rolled my eyes then. After spending two-thirds of my life around livestock, I saw all meat as a necessary protein, but definitely not as a culinary adventure. A good cook incorporates meat into a dish, or at least surrounds a perfectly prepared piece with an artistic array of color and textures. A lazy meal of steak and potatoes was something anyone could make. Just potatoes and salad on the side? How boring.

I didn’t realize that many who grow up in urban areas don’t understand the agricultural way of life. Doesn’t everyone know gardening and basic cooking techniques? Apparently not.

Without bragging about my background, I showed him what I could do by pulling out all the stops in the kitchen. He seemed puzzled and almost dismissive of my efforts. When he insisted on dinner at a nice restaurant, I tried to push away the hurt caused by what I saw as his lack of appreciation. Cooking was a demonstration of my devotion, and in my thinking he was devaluing my love. It was years later that I realized his expression of love was giving me a break from what he saw as drudgery. Evidently he didn’t grow up in a home where food meant love.

Somehow, we muddled through those years. I succumbed to his weekly restaurant treats, and he learned to appreciate my cooking.

By our tenth anniversary, I suffered a health crisis, and cooking became secondary to my survival. I lost the joy of what once gave me incredible pleasure. Meals became simplified out of necessity as I no longer had the energy to cook. My husband grilled more often, and I learned to be thankful for his version of a good, home-cooked meal. 

But I still yearned to see my table spread by the work of my own hands.

In the past few years, I’ve resurrected some of my old skills. At first, we invited a few friends over for dinner and a movie. Their appreciation reminded me how making someone else happy also makes me happy. It’s part of the old saying that in giving, we receive more. 

Now, in this new era where we worry about illness, I’m searching for new recipes to show my love more. To be successful, I need to devote more time to the creative task of cooking. It’s a matter of shifting priorities. Instead of staring at the screen reading news briefings and scaring myself with death counts, maybe I can shift my focus and devote an extra hour to creating cuisine that inspires both of us. Every relationship needs continual nourishment, and the kitchen is the perfect place to start. Maybe the new series I’m writing will take a little longer to finish, but in the end, the result will just as sweet.

The Bible says “better a serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred. (Proverbs 15:17) In other words, it doesn’t matter what you put on the table, as long as your motive is pure. Show love with what you have through a generous spirit.

What recipe are you using to build the love in your marriage during this challenging time?

Post a comment. I’d love to hear your ideas.