Photo by VirtualEm
My wife is a rarity.
She grew up in farm country, a place where “meat and potatoes” accurately describes families’ nightly eating habits. And yet, my wife finds meat generally unappetizing (potatoes she can deal with). When we became vegetarians early in our marriage, I was motivated by the unethical treatment of animals on American factory farms, but she was probably equally motivated by her taste buds.
We later abandoned our vegetarianism during our years serving as Peace Corps volunteers in the South Pacific, and I started noticing a trend. My wife could tolerate eating meat…when it didn’t seem particularly meat-like. Chunks of chicken breast in pasta? Fine. Fried chicken on a bone? Pass. Bacon in an omelette? Cool. Roasted pig on a spit? Nope. As best I can tell, she’s been avoiding any semblance of blood, fat and bone for decades now. Morningstar products were basically invented for this woman.
And this would explain why she prefers basically all meat well done. We recently listened to a fantastic podcast from The Moth where Adam Gopnick described how he and his wife overcame years of arguments about “well done” vs. “rare” (“Rare Romance, Well-Done Marriage” is definitely worth a listen: funny, honest and insightful). We found ourselves nodding throughout, partly because we could remember those moments when our dietary preferences caused conflict.
One such moment occurred just a couple weeks back. We were celebrating a friend’s birthday in Milwaukee and went seeking lunch a little bit later than anticipated. Traffic had been awful, brunch had been postponed and everyone found themselves completely famished at 2:30 p.m. We arrived at the pub and ordered just in time: the kitchen was closing in 5 minutes. I ordered biscuits and gravy because I was in a brunchy mood, and Amber ordered a cheeseburger medium well done. All was well with the world. Beer was being drunk, and food was being cooked. But. Then the food arrived.
My bride’s burger was apparently not well done. I say “apparently” because I was judging solely based upon her disgusted facial expressions. After all, we were eating in a dimly lit bar, Amber was on the other side of the table, and I don’t find pink hamburgers all that unusual. Regardless, my wife stated, “I cannot eat this.” Since the kitchen was closed and sending food back was not possible, I only had a few options:
1) I could magnanimously offer to switch meals with my lovely wife.
2) I could cling to the biscuits and gravy (which looked really good, by the way), asking questions like, “Are you sure, hon? I hate for you to not eat. Maybe you could get past it?”
3) I could magnanimously offer to switch meals in between huge bites of my food, allowing me to seem kind without being completely self-sacrificial.
Once everyone else at the table looked my direction, option number two was pretty much out of the question. They would have thought I was a jerk…and they would have known I was a jerky husband that writes a marriage blog. Not a good combination. So I basically had to choose between genuine altruism or a hybrid approach of altruism and self-interest. Naturally, I started taking big bites of biscuits and gravy. In between gulps, I would say things like, “Just a couple bites, and then we can totally switch.”
This is not necessarily a moment I’m proud of, mind you. I would love to portray myself as a nice guy who would happily sacrifice for his spouse. But I typically settle for “just sacrificial enough to seem nice to my wife and others.” I find the minimum bar, and I exceed it by a hair.
The President of my alma mater had been married over 50 years and often joked that he was still waiting for that moment when he looked for his wife in photographs instead of looking for himself. Well, me too. People are naturally selfish, I suppose. But I still believe that lifelong relationship can gradually change you. Maybe you can find yourself a little more willing to trade meals or cancel your appointments or look out for your partner first. After all, I gave her the biscuits and gravy eventually, right?
Unfortunately, both the cheeseburger and biscuits and gravy were pretty underwhelming. Per usual, I was clinging to something I did not really want or need. My wife may be a rarity, but I’m pretty typical sometimes.
- Cliff (aka The Husband)