Before dating Simon, I despised cooking. No, that’s not entirely true. I was known to go through phases of devoted baking. But I hated preparing dinner, for myself or for anyone else. I always knew a time would come when I would either no longer have someone else who would do the cooking (thanks Mum), or I would get sick of rice with cheese and the frozen meals section of the supermarket. In preparation for that time, I would occasionally buy myself an inspiring recipe book. I would then read through the pages, starting out with an excited determination to become the next Julia Child and gradually sinking into a state of overwhelmed despair. The recipe book would join the others on the shelf, and I would put the idea of being a brilliant cook on a shelf in my mind, until the next colourful recipe book came along.
When I met Simon, we were just friends for a very long time, and I didn’t think I’d ever have a shot at being his gal, so all those pressures of trying to be impressive and a desirable partner weren’t a bother. I know, I know, we should all just be ourselves anyway, but who doesn’t like to present their best self when trying to lure in a potential match? Simon got to know the real me from the beginning, once getting past the walls I use to keep most of the world out of the ‘real’ me space inside. So he knew going in to this that I am not a cook. He declared his enjoyment of cooking, and I thought that was brilliant – my ‘dream guy’, if you can have such a thing without becoming one of those List Girls I dislike, would come with mad culinary skills and want to keep me out of the kitchen. He would cook, I would clean, and we’d live in a world of wedded bliss. As I said, dream guy…
Simon is a good cook, I’ll give him that. Though the first meal he cooked me, I couldn’t eat, and felt so awful about it. I’m not a big fishy fish eater, and it was one of those late night, let’s cook whatever is in the cupboard moments. What was in the cupboard was a tin of salmon and some rice noodles. In went the salmon, some frozen veggies and the rice noodles. Rice noodles didn’t go in for long enough, the salmon was overpoweringly fishy, and my first and final mouthful went into a piece of paper towel. Since then, all meals have been great, and he is a master at cooking spaghetti and pasta sauce, so we’ve eaten that. A lot. Which is great, because I love pasta.
As the idea of us living together grew, we started discussing the division of duties. I’m not going to be stuck with all the jobs, thought I, the powerful feminist. I’d been doing the housework at his house on weekends for a couple of months already, as I like a clean house and he’s not always that fussed about it. And I figured it was my way of contributing to the household, as he wouldn’t let me chip in for bills/rent even though I lived here about a third of the week.
I began to get a bit nervous about having to cook. I knew once I didn’t live with my mother, I would be the woman of the house and would have to shoulder some of the cooking burden. The original plan of him cooking and me cleaning had gone out the window when he got into law school – working full time and studying full time equals nights dedicated to learning, not sustenance. After I met his mother, the nerves got worse. I love Jane, and she’s been really welcoming. But she’s got things so under control in the house, it’s quite intimidating. She’s an amazing cook, and a creative one as well. I’ve eaten the meals she’s sent home to Simon while he was living alone, and the things she’s cooked when we’re at her house. As much as Simon says he doesn’t mind whether I can cook or not, I know he’s been raised on that food and that attitude that the woman cooks and provides for her family that way. Unlike my family (a giant shamozzle of divorce and weirdness), his is very traditional – his dad is an executive and has worked his butt off to provide a solid life for his family, Jane is a teacher who has created and maintains a lovely home, and they’ve been together forever (well, near enough). Which is beautiful and I greatly admire that, and would hope the same for my life (with differences, of course, but a long term, stable relationship would be lovely).
However, coming from my life, it’s quite daunting. The feeling is all of my own creation, as Simon loves me for who I am and tells me he doesn’t want me to be anything like that, we’ll create our own lives and ways of doing things. His mum would love for me to step into her shoes though, and mentions things along those lines when I’m around there – in the loveliest way, of course, but still, you know the hope is there. I’ve praised her cooking a number of times, so when it was my birthday recently, she got me a present. As I was opening it, she was fussing, saying she wasn’t sure I was going to like it. I did the stock line assuring her I was sure I’d love it. The wrapping coming off, I saw it was some kind of books. I gave an anticipatory ‘oo’, and she cried ‘Oh, don’t get too excited, you might not like them – I know you’re a feminist!’. Puzzled, I opened the rest of the wrapping to unveil a couple of recipe books. Amazing recipe books (1000 best recipes from the Australian Women’s Weekly – the recipe bible, in my opinion, and an easy recipes book). I was suitably grateful and excited, and Malcolm, Simon’s dad turned to Jane and said ‘See, what on earth were you worried about? Feminists need to eat too!’. Which really tickled me, and it keeps going through my mind as I learn to cook decent meals for me and my man.
I’m learning slowly that keeping a nice house and cooking good food for a family (of 2) doesn’t automatically push me back into the 1950s. Feminism is all about having choices, as my mum reminds me when I have an identity crisis (they happen about once a week at the moment – it takes me a bit to get used to changes). The problem with being barefoot in the kitchen back in the day was that it was all that was allowed for women. You got married, your outdoor life was done and you served your husband. Which is a lovely thing, but not when it’s not acknowledged as equally as important as the man heading off to work on the train. Now, we can ‘have it all’, which generally translates to ‘doing it all’, but that’s a topic for another post.
For now, I keep reminding myself that I’m not degrading myself by looking after my boyfriend. I’m choosing to do it, as it’s a way for me to show my love. I’ve never been particularly good at verbalising my feelings – they’re too intense and words don’t do them justice (says the writer – a horrible situation to be in), so I show my love. And seeing the look on Simon’s face when he comes home to a cooked meal, one that tastes so good he goes back for seconds (nailed a cottage pie yesterday!), makes me so ridiculously happy I start to reevaluate my thoughts on those 1950s housewives. It’s nice to be able to provide something for the man I love, whether it be part of my pay check going towards the household expenses, or a hot meal. He cares for me too, and does things around the house on weekends when he’s not studying. Even his studying is his part of looking after us and our future. I wouldn’t say I’m quite reconciled to this whole housewife vs feminism deal yet, but I’m learning.