It’s time for a new Inviting Writing theme. After a few weeks of sharing the sometimes fraught interactions between restaurant servers and customers, we’re moving on to another kind of relationship: the one you have with your kitchen. Tell us a true, original story that takes place in or has something to do with your kitchen and its role in your life. Is it your laboratory, your sanctuary, your prison, or your playroom? Is it party central or, as in the following essay I wrote to kick things off, off-limits to interlopers?
Send your essays to FoodandThink@gmail.com with “Inviting Writing” in the subject line by Friday, July 15. We’ll read them all and post our favorites on subsequent Mondays. Remember to include your full name and a biographical detail or two (your city and/or profession; a link to your own blog if you’d like that included).
Not In My Kitchen, You Won’t
by Lisa Bramen
Until I learned how to cook, in my 30s, my kitchen was little more to me than an unnecessarily large milk and cereal storage area. In the decade between college and moving in with the man I eventually married, I lived alone and rarely did anything more elaborate in there than boil some pasta. Yet it was still my kitchen and therefore within the boundaries of my cherished personal space.
This period of living alone coincided with an unusually long relationship dry spell. I went on a lot of dates with men I tried really hard to like, but I usually found myself wishing I was at home with a good book instead. I was, to borrow a phrase from Sasha Cagen, deeply single.
In the middle of this romantic Sahara, I met a guy at a party. He was nice. Shared some of my interests. Had a good job. Reasonably cute. He had also just gotten out of a long-term relationship (which he told me about) and seemed frighteningly eager to jump right into the next one. At the party, every time I excused myself to get a drink or use the restroom, within ten minutes he reappeared at my side. I was a little annoyed, but part of me—the part that’s too shy to strike up conversations with strangers—was relieved to have someone to talk to. And always in my head was this little voice telling me to give someone a chance, to not be overly critical.
When he inevitably called to ask me out the following week, I accepted. We went out for sushi and had a perfectly pleasant time. Still no sparks, though. My gut, which was telling me he wasn’t right for me, duked it out with the forced optimism of that voice in my head.
After dinner he suggested we rent a video to watch at his place. I devised a plan of escape in case he made a sexual advance, but it turned out to be much worse: He wanted to cuddle on the couch and watch the video, like an old married couple.
“It’s so nice to snuggle with someone,” he said, putting his arm around my shoulder. It felt like a straightjacket. I had the sense that it didn’t matter much to him whose shoulders were filling his recently vacated embrace. Yet for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to pull away. I knew how to say no when I needed to, but denying affection to someone so obviously in need of it seemed cruel.
When I told my friends about the date, some of them had a different take than I did. Rather than finding his behavior creepy and overbearing, they thought it was a great sign that he was so eager to be in a relationship. I wanted one, too, right? At least he wasn’t the usual L.A. guy who seemed to view monogamy as some quaint relic of behind-the-times Middle America. My friends made it sound like I was Jerry Seinfeld, breaking up with someone for having man hands or eating their peas one at a time.
Deep down I knew they were wrong, and that this was never going to work out, but I let them talk me into giving it one more chance. (It turns out that voice in my head was really the echoes of their bad advice.)
Before our second date, though, he crossed the line. He wanted to cook me dinner—in my kitchen. I’m sure he thought it was romantic, but to me it sounded like as much of an invasion of my privacy as offering to wash my lingerie or organize my closets would have been. I had visions of him showing up with moving boxes and a justice of the peace. If the voice in my head was saying anything, I couldn’t hear it over my gut screaming, “Hell, no!”
I tried to gently persuade him we should go out to a restaurant instead, or at least have dinner at his place. He insisted. “I really don’t feel comfortable having you cook in my kitchen,” I explained. He wouldn’t drop it. He took my reluctance as a sign that I was scared to be in a relationship. I was scared—not of a relationship, but of him.
The second date never happened. I was saving my kitchen for the right guy. And though it took a very long time to find him, I eventually did.