So you want to know what’s going through our heads when we invite you over for a home-cooked dinner?
The honest answer? Panic. Sheer, utter, ice-cold panic!
I know this may seem hard to believe given our entrenched social mores for traditional gender roles, but when we’re only feeding ourselves, we eat takeout or cereal for dinner, too. And sure, we may also do some cooking for ourselves, but we’re certainly not pulling out the linens and polishing our silver for it. Cooking for one is utilitarian: We’re getting the job of nourishment done.
But for you, however, it’s a totally different story.
"...We had at least three monumental freak-out moments prior to your arrival on our doorstep."
If we’re cooking for you, it’s way beyond mere momentary sustenance. We’re letting you into our homes, into ourselves, and we want you to be duly impressed. It may not be politically correct to say this, but if we’re cooking for you, we’re auditioning for the role of wife, and we’re hoping this performance gets us cast in the part.
We may make it look completely effortless, but trust this: We had at least three monumental freak-out moments prior to your arrival on our doorstep.
Allow me to recount for you the minutes of the first time I cooked for my now-boyfriend during what was our second date, and you’ll see exactly what I mean:
I get home from work, and FRANTIC CLEANING COMMENCES. All dirty laundry is removed from my floor and tucked safely in my laundry bin (where, admittedly, it should have been in the first place). Papers and mail are shoved into drawers. Countertops are wiped down with disinfectant.
I shower and shave my legs, cuz… yeah. Not that I INTEND to sleep with him, but, y’know, shit happens.
I pull out my failsafe cookbook: Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. If you don’t own this, go buy it immediately. It has relatively idiot-proof recipes for most basic meals. And tonight’s menu is Chicken Marsala, which I’ve chosen for three reasons: 1. I’ve made it before so I know I can make it; 2. I have the ingredients on hand; and 3. It takes 30 minutes.
Turns out my chicken broth, integral to the recipe, expired two months ago. Well, FUCK! Trek to the grocery store and be late to dinner at my own house, or risk cooking with expired ingredients? It doesn’t smell funny, so I proceed as planned and silently pray that we don’t end the night via barfing.
And I don’t have mushrooms or green onions either. So much for the No. 2 reason to make Chicken Marsala!!! Who the hell is in charge around here?!
It’s decidedly vegetable-free and partially expired, but I get the Chicken Marsala mixture on the stove and start it simmering. I take the opportunity to make my tried-and-true spinach salad, which is a bag of spinach, some feta cheese crumbles, dried cranberries and raspberry-walnut vinaigrette dressing tossed together.
HOLYFUCKINGSHITASSTHATISHOT! Mental note: Stand outside of the range of the bubbling stove because that shit will burn you.
I pop a loaf of Harris Teeter’s take-and-bake French bread into the oven, which automatically makes the meal feel professional. Now, everything just has to finish cooking. My work here is done, and I can relax.
Should I have planned appetizers, or a dessert? Oh well, too late now.
If this guy is put off by the fact that I don’t have appetizers and a dessert, then he’s clearly an asshole who doesn’t deserve me anyway!
Please let him not be an asshole.
One minute until he gets here.
OH MY GOD HE’S NOT COMING.
My phone rings. He’s outside, and not sure which door is mine. I breathe a sigh of relief that my frantic cleaning, shaved legs and broth-burned forearms weren’t all for naught. I open my door, show him upstairs and give him a quick tour of my place.
FUCK, THE BREAD! It’s only supposed to bake for 8 minutes! It’s a dark brown and a little crisp, but not totally inedible. I decide to serve it anyway.
I’ve set the table and served the food, pulling out a jar of peachberry jelly from a farmer’s market to be spread upon the bread.
The rim of the peachberry jelly jar is moldy. Oh please let him not have noticed that. I hop out of my seat and in one swift motion wipe the offending mold off with a paper towel.
"You can learn from this moment, men: Be helpful, even if it’s something small."
So, for those keeping track: Expired chicken broth. Burned bread. Moldy jelly. I look like a real winner here. I imagine the wife casting director: Don’t call us – we’ll call you.
The rest of the meal is eaten without fanfare. It tastes fine – no repercussions from the expired broth or moldy jelly yet – and he seems to be enjoying it. Thank heaven for small miracles.
: He clears the table, which I find sweet. You can learn from this moment, men: Be helpful, even if it’s something small. The night moves to the couch, where we sit with our drinks to continue talking.
: Aaaaand he’s unhooking my bra. My slapdash meal has not hindered his virility, nor his interest in me. SUCCESS!
Looking back on that night, a few things to note:
- No one got sick from anything I made, and he didn’t notice the mold on the jar.
- He did, however, notice my shoes in a sloppy pile on the floor near the door. Guess I missed a spot in my cleaning. Oops.
And honestly, the other thing he didn’t notice was how stressful the whole night really was for me! Every part of it was so precariously held together that one false move could have ruined everything. I lucked out that he was fairly punctual; had he been any later, the chicken would have been all dried out. And I’m also lucky that though the clock was ticking on the chicken broth, it apparently can last for a while after its expiration date. In cooking and in relationships, it seems, timing is everything.
So guys, even if the meal is a little haphazard, if she’s cooking for you, it’s not happening by accident. She likes you. She wants to impress you. And she’s probably teetering on the edge of freaking out about it.
Be nice, and clear the table afterward.