My husband and I have a very good relationship with the exception of food. I want to make dinner for him. He says I am a good cook and he enjoys my cooking, he just doesn’t happen to be “in the mood” for whatever I happen to have prepared that day.
I have begged him for menu suggestions, he says “Anything is fine,” so I give three or four suggestions none of which interest him. I’ll ask him what he wants and stand there for an hour until he notices I’m still there and asks me if I’ve figured out dinner yet. It has gotten to the point where he says, “Thoughts on dinner?” and I respond, “No. I have no thoughts,” because I am so tired of being shot down.
Last night I made a special soup that I haven’t made in a while. He wanders into the kitchen and says, “That sounds really good, maybe with a sandwich. Maybe a grilled cheese?” I was excited that he actually made a suggestion, but then I discovered that the kids had finished off the bread so I brought him his soup and asked if a quesadilla would be an acceptable substitute for grilled cheese (I would have been happy to make the bread if I had discovered it was gone earlier). He said, “I can’t eat soup without a sandwich. Oh well, don’t worry about it,” and he went to bed without even tasting the soup. He wasn’t mad or anything, just acted like it didn’t matter.
I cried for an hour. I don’t want to play this game anymore. What do I do?
How awful you must feel as meal after meal is rejected. You are hurt and frustrated. If we are going to be of help to you, we encourage you to read our answer when you are alone, not pressed for time, and when you are in a calm and reflective mood. You see, we would like to suggest that you might be missing the forest for the trees and encourage you to reframe the situation. This will not be simple and for these reasons we urge you not to read further until our previously named conditions are met.
Welcome back! We are going to take you at your word that you and your husband have a very good relationship. If this wasn’t so, our answer would be coming from a different place.
But just to make sure we cover your question in its entirety, let us note that universally, men seek from their wives, both food and physical companionship. In the Lord’s language, one root word, comprising the letters zayin-nun, allude to both food and physical intimacy. Many men find food served by their beloved wife to be a completely more exhilarating experience than food served by the finest restaurant. On dinner dates, I have learned that when the waiter departs after bringing a dish from which the diners are to help themselves, most men hope their female date will do the pouring or the serving. It just heightens the delightful tension. Interestingly enough, in traditional Japanese culture, the Geisha, a sort of idealized ultimate super-woman would be seen as exemplifying the ultimate in both food and feminine companionship although the intimate dimension was seldom emphasized or even spoken of as that would be crude.
Why do we even raise this? Because your question is so food-centric, and since ancient Hebrew wisdom tells of how both appetites tend to go together, we would be remiss in not mentioning it. We were a little struck by this sentence you used, “He said, “I can’t eat soup without a sandwich. Oh well, don’t worry about it,” and he went to bed…” You stayed behind crying. Needless to say, we’d have preferred to have read, “He said, “I can’t eat soup without a sandwich. Oh well, don’t worry about it,” and WE went to bed…” Are there many nights when HE goes to bed rather than WE do? We do hope not. That would suggest we need a wider discussion of what may be going on
But if your marriage is indeed strong, your relationship is loving and respectful, and this is the issue that is causing a problem, then we are going to question some of your language.
You see, Andrea, you wrote that after the soup/quesadilla debacle your husband, “wasn’t mad or anything, just acted like it didn’t matter,” and went to bed. What if he wasn’t ‘acting like it didn’t matter,’ but it actually didn’t matter! For many of us food provides physical, spiritual, emotional and sensual pleasure. We get pleasure from different textures, colors and flavors. (Can you tell where most Lapins fall in this debate?) It is hard for us to believe that there are people in the world for whom food is…well, just food. They can take it or leave it.
My (Susan’s) father was one of these people. He would have been happy to have spaghetti with ketchup (no cheese, no fancy sauce, no side-dish) every other night and a plain brisket on the alternate evening. That too would be covered in ketchup at the table. Had my mother spent hours in the kitchen whipping up a delectable concoction, he would have pushed it around his plate and waited for plain spaghetti the next night. (Hmmm – note to daughter #1 whose teenage son’s eating habits are monotonous—maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.) My mother was a decent cook but not an inspired one, so she made somewhat varied suppers for herself, my sister and me, but happily regularly reheated spaghetti or brisket for my father.
My husband on the other hand (Susan here again) truly appreciates my cooking. No matter how delicious a Shabbat bakery challah is, he rejoices in my homemade ones. He notices and savors the food I cook. Our daughters and I love trying new recipes and experimenting with flavors and, fortunately, many of our sons-in-law tend to the “foodie” side as well.
Your husband just may be more like my father. In Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages (if you haven’t read it, you should*) he says that people have different ways of seeking love and giving love. Sometimes, we try to give our loved ones what we want rather than what they need. For example, imagine that you love receiving flowers. They brighten up your day with their color, aroma and beauty. So, when your friend’s husband asks you what he can do to bring joy to his wife, you tell him, “Bring her flowers!” But your friend, while appreciative of the gesture, really wants her husband to put down his electronics and go for an evening walk with her. Time he spends with her is what she values. If he gives her flowers, he is unconsciously telling her that he doesn’t really know her and what she craves. Your advice would be misguided and possibly harmful.
You are demanding that your husband make food his ‘love language.’ You want to cook for him and watch him appreciate the results. But that isn’t his area of satisfaction. Stop and think what he truly lights up about in your ‘very good relationship.’ Would he rather you spend less time in the kitchen and more time discussing the events of the day? Would he prefer that you express appreciation for the ways he helps around the house? What would make him happy? Food may be fuel for his body but no more than that. He truly doesn’t care what you make and will eat or not eat depending on his level of hunger, not the particular meal.
By all means, cook for your own pleasure and enjoy a varied menu with your children. But don’t go to bed (alone) crying because you are imagining that the man you married is rejecting and spurning you when he truly isn’t.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
|Rabbi Lapin’s Recommended Hebrew/English Bible|
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