I’m 39 Years Old and Don’t Know How to Cook

“I hope you like tears in your eggs.”

He told me, “Just cook the fat like bacon.”

Me: “How do you cook bacon?”

And what does it mean when you burst into tears making scrambled eggs?

So many questions for one little breakfast.

It seemed so damn simple. I offered to cook my Lover breakfast before he left for yet another week-long work trip. He accepted and so, along with a carton of eggs, I packed a tomato, an onion, and an avocado in a little canvas tote he gave me on a trip we returned from just the night before.

“This could work,” I thought to myself. Those ingredients all sounded like things that I heard people put into their eggs. My oldest daughter orders fresh produce for the house each week, so we had some on hand.

Before I went scrounging, I didn’t know what was in my fridge.

I put my kids on the school bus, got dressed, and drove over to his condo. He needed to leave for the airport by 9:00 am. We only had 90 minutes before he was gone for yet another week.

Loverman travels a lot.

To be honest, I would’ve much preferred that he spend those 90 minutes satisfying a different hunger — not because I was particularly aroused, but because it would’ve been less emotionally dicey than making him breakfast.

I’ll take sex over food any day.

Cooking feels like a foreign language to me — one that I have no interest in learning.

I am a recovering anorexic.

I have gained 20lbs in the past ten months, and I’m still a size 2.

I’m still an “I eat to live. I don’t live to eat” kind-of-girl.

My guy is the opposite. He speaks food fluently. It’s his native tongue — a love language.

He used to be overweight and, several years before I met him as he approached 50 years old, finally hit a personal crisis point which drove him to lose 60lbs. I never knew him fat but I’ve seen the pictures and they are jarring.

I don’t know that man.

The Lover I know looks incredible and I am proud of — and inspired by — his commitment to his physical health. He still relishes food, but only really great, healthy food. He imagines different combinations of flavors and anticipates enjoying upcoming meals. Most importantly, he considers savoring meals together a relationship need.

I’m not sure we could be a worse match in that respect.

I grew up in the ‘meat and potatoes’ Midwest, sitting down to nightly 5 pm dinners like a meatloaf covered in ketchup with green beans from a can. Milk was always served with meals and grilled cheese sandwiches were made with white bread, margarine, and Kraft singles.

When I was 10, the fun of rolling up the canned crescent roll dough wasn’t worth the sigh and eye roll from my mom that would inevitably follow when they came out the wrong shape.

I was never invited to help her in the kitchen anyway and, had I been, I wouldn’t have accepted. I’ve been angry with my mom for as long as I can remember. If she was in the kitchen, I wasn’t going to be there.

She has food issues, too.

She picks at her plate and demures when people take note. To this day, she eats only two things and ensures that people know that when they make the mistake of offering anything else.

“Oh, no. I only eat plain, grilled chicken or salmon.”

She takes pride in her abstinence — and was a perfect role model for a budding anorexic.

In short, my lack of lessons combined with my lack of interest = a grown-ass woman without the most basic of life skills.

So, when I started seeing Loverman regularly and I realized I really liked him, hearing him say, “Enjoying great food together is a relationship need for me,” was a punch in my empty gut.

But then I decided to try anyway because that’s how I roll. I reframed his statement from my brain’s original interpretation — a statement of my deficiency — into a call to action: I need to learn to cook.

And it was at this point that I spontaneously offered to cook him breakfast, not realizing that in doing so, I’d be putting my astounding incompetence on display.

How hard could it be?

Then again, people who are scared of water don’t usually become boat captains.

They probably don’t date them either.

I know nothing about food. I don’t know ingredients or meat cuts. I tend to burn dishes because I try to rush through the process to get it over with. I don’t know what flavors go together. I don’t know how to time dishes to make a meal work.

If I attempt anything beyond the aforementioned Kraft and Wonderbread grilled cheese, I am an utter and complete (although admittedly willful) ignoramus.

Even when I follow the recipe perfectly, the meal still turns out bad.

It’s as if the food knows I hate it.

So when my guy was scurrying around getting ready and said, “cook the fat like bacon” (because he’s a keto guy and into healthy grass-fed animal fats right now) and I replied with, “How do you cook bacon?” his eyes darted up from his task with a look that was part pity, part incredulity, and wholly confused. I could count the number of pieces of bacon I’ve eaten in my life on both hands. The number I’ve cooked? On zero hands. I knew it wasn’t normal. I felt pretty fucking stupid.

Then, after he took time out of prepping for his trip to slowly and patiently explain it to me, and I couldn’t do the next step either because I didn’t even know how to peel an avocado, I felt even more stupid.

And finally, when I overcooked the fucking scrambled eggs that even my 8-year-old can make because I was staring blankly into the spice cabinet trying to figure out WTF would be an appropriate choice after he casually hollered at me to “just be creative” from the living room, I lost my shit right there in the kitchen.

I felt so incompetent. Hopeless. So I had myself a little pity party and cried a sad, little salty river — right into the eggs.

He came over and hugged me. He told me it was okay to fail and that if we didn’t like it, we’d make something else. He helped me figure out the rest — what spices to add and what to put on the side — and we ate the crappy little egg mess I had managed to create together. He said it was fine, not great. I appreciated his honesty.

Then I helped him finish packing and took him to catch his flight. The airport protocol for the previous 18 months had always been to park the car and walk each other to security for a proper send-off.

This time he asked for a curb drop.

I had to force myself not to read anything ominous into that.

Of all the ways that I imagined my food issues interfering with my life, this was not one of them. The problem is that I don’t want to learn how to cook, much in the same way that I don’t want to get up at 5 am every morning. It doesn’t feel good. I’ve always been someone who said that if there were a little pill I could take every day that would meet all of my nutritional needs and avoid food altogether, I probably would.

Except that I’m pretty sure that I am missing out on an important unifying human experience. Food is not just chewing and swallowing — it’s love and community and connection. And I know that changing my relationship with food is beneficial to both myself and my daughters. (For the record, I cook good enough for children, but adults— not so much.) So I have embarked on learning to cook with the same zeal with which I get up at 5 am. I’m not thrilled about it right now, but knowing that my guy needs it in our relationship is a great external motivator since my internal motivation is currently lacking.

And that’s progress, friends. I do want to be someone who enjoys every component of eating and contributing and savoring — just like virtually everyone else I know. The only way to make something a habit and learn is to just do it, whether I want to at this moment or not.

When my Lover makes me meals, the food tastes so damn good. That’s an experience I never really had before I met him. It feels like something to build on. It’s something I’d like to be able to recreate for him and my girls and all the people I love.

I also would like to rid myself of the embarrassment of being a 39-year-old woman who doesn’t know the difference between chopping and dicing.

I know that my ignorance and apathy about food are born of a dysfunctional place, so I will keep trying to learn. It’s important for me in more than one way. This is part of healing from my anorexia. It’s part of becoming the person I want to be. I may never be a master chef, but if I get to the point that I can make some decent scrambled eggs without crying my goddamn eyes out, that will be a good start.

Mama, writer, lover, fighter — I wear my heart on my sleeve because my pants pockets are too small. www.ajkaywriter.com

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