When the dark days came the first time, I stopped cooking.
I was nearly 30, I had four very young children, and a husband who was battling demons that nearly took him out of the picture entirely. Chicken casserole gave way to frozen chicken nuggets. Spaghetti dinners turned into SpaghettiOs. The Chinese delivery person predicted my order before I placed it. I knew that my family needed more, but I had no more to give. Preservatives, sugar, fat. Uncomplicated flavors. In the midst of my own depression, I turned to that which was easy, that which was convenient. These became my mode of survival. Foods that filled me up quickly, but left me hungry again far too soon.
It wasn’t a conscious decision. I didn’t wake up one morning and announce to my family that I was going to stop cooking. It just gradually happened, without fanfare, without anyone really noticing. If someone had already gone to the trouble of making and packaging different foods, why did I need to bother making them?
Eventually, I took to saying that I didn’t really like cooking very much. But even that was taking the easy way out. The truth was, I didn’t like the circumstances that led me the place where I didn’t want to cook. I didn’t like feeling lonely, I didn’t like feeling separated.
Those same feelings that led me to stop cooking, led me to stop engaging with my first husband in any meaningful way. It was easier to just find the things that were easy about our relationship and ignore the parts that required work. Things were fine, but they weren’t filling.
None of that could be sustained.
When the dark days came again, I started cooking.
At first, I didn’t want to. I told Rich that I didn’t like to cook, that I wasn’t good at it. But rather than turning to pre-made, processed foods, he cooked for me. He made me soups because he know that was food that gave me comfort.
As time passed, I started cooking with him. At first, I would only chop up the vegetables that we would be using in the meal. Later, I started making the potatoes or rice that we’d serve with the main dish. Then I made sauces, appetizers, desserts. It became that I looked forward to our time together in the kitchen.
I found myself looking for recipes that gave a new take on favorite ingredients. I looked for new spices or vinegars to add interesting flavors to the same tired foods that I had been used to eating. New combinations, new ingredients, new techniques.
The same way that laziness in cooking was evident in the laziness in my former marriage, the new found zeal for cooking led me to work harder in my new marriage. When our marriage struggles, we don’t hide it under a veneer of “fine,” we take a look at what is hurting us and address it. Sometimes it isn’t great, like the avocado vinaigrette we tried to make, but if we don’t try, we can’t know what works for us. We can fall into predictable patterns that feel safe and easy, but ultimately lead to emptiness.
When we talk about our next house, we often talk about what we want in the kitchen. We dream about ample counter space, a huge pantry, an extra large range. We imagine the meals that we will cook together – full of complex flavors, vibrant colors, quality ingredients.
We want that for our marriage as well. Conversations that are don’t shy away from the complex questions. Living out dreams that are vibrant and alive. Treating one another with care because we recognize both the value of the other person, and our own value.
We will cook and we will love in a way that is fresh, not frozen.
(This post originally appeared at A Deeper Story. I’m slowly moving some of those posts back over here, now that ADS has shut down.)