In some nonexistent, made-for-Netflix reboot of The Newlywed Game, if asked to identify what my fiancé feels is my #1 shortcoming, a few answers would immediately come to mind.
My strict cereal policy (which bans anything outside of Crispix, Chex, Cheerios or other select khaki-colored brands because I can’t be trusted around chemically engineered fruit flavors) would be a likely contender – along with my irrepressible knack for vaulting out of bed every other night at the sound of a revving motorcycle engine, convinced that the apocalypse or some national security incident is unfolding outside.
Depending on the day, other flaws (e.g., general stubbornness, worrying about everything in the day-to-day act of living there is to worry about, unleashing misguided tantrums when too many hours have passed between meal times) might earn the top spot.
But I can say with almost complete certainty that my biggest failure as his chosen partner is that I rarely want to go out for Chinese food.
With the country’s 239th birthday upon us, let’s the count some of our uniquely American blessings.
- We never ever have to make the impossible decision between ice tea, green tea or lemonade.
- In the U.S.A., even candy can be reincarnated.
- Rather than use the metric system, our fast food brands innovate with their own magic meat math.
- Thanks to the #Internet, we have the freedom of choice to go out and buy these and other commercial food items, or make them in the comfort of our own kitchens (with less fluorescent light, arguably better music and a pants/bra-optional policy.)
There are plenty of meals and tastes I’ll never fully be able to recreate at home: the salty/slick mouthfeel of Olive Garden breadsticks, the gooeyness of Eleven City’s patty melt, the palpable guilt of the Cheesecake Factory’s chocolate peanut putter cookie dough cheesecake. But Chipotle, despite being surrounded by a halo of ethical good food vibes, can easily be imitated by a commoner.
You know when people ask you what flavor of ice cream they should bring back home from the grocery store, or what you want for your birthday this year? Are you one of those people who has the emotional flexibility to answer these (a.k.a, life’s big questions) with, “I don’t care, surprise me!”
It’s not that I’m as anti-surprise as certain people. Maybe it’s a slight bias towards control freakism, or maybe it’s just that I know what I like. Why let someone “surprise” you with strawberry or another unfortunate flavor when chocolate peanut butter is readily available?
A part of me wishes I could be more carefree, less concerned about retaining a degree of authority over situations. But then again – if we’re rationalizing behaviors here – being decisive can be just as helpful to those asking the questions.
I learned my lesson one birthday a few years back (when I urged a certain someone to “surprise me” and was later presented a pretty, but pretty impractical, ceramic teapot): specificity is the real spice of life. In the years since, with this particular person, I’ve taken a more direct approach to answering questions big and small. And that is how you wind up with a life full of DVDs, immersion blenders and one engagement ring that were precisely what you wanted.
At exactly this moment, your body probably needs:
a) Something warm
b) Something green
c) Something bourbon
d) All of the above
You need something green because over the past 48 hours you’ve inhaled a (fully deserved) gluttonous share of things that were gooey, molten, buffalo-sauced, refried, deep fried, chocolate-dipped, iced, carbonated, crunchy, covered in neon orange film and/or Ruffles.
You need something warm because it’s that time of year when, after getting a little too confident that you’d braved the worst of winter, February happens.
February: when you’re forced to pull out your all function/no form snow boots and reacquaint yourself with the ankle soreness said boots cause after one little breakfast outing. The month when true love is tested, not by the appropriateness of Valentine’s Day gifts, but by your significant other’s ability to accept your appearance, despite your lumberjack boots and unwaveringly monochromatic wardrobe.
You need bourbon because you’re only human.
Chicago, like most major metropolises east and west of it, offers a promising array of ethnic food purveyors to accommodate most whims.
There is the requisite Chinatown (recently raided by none other than the FBI), Little Italy, Greektown. There are easily reachable neighborhoods off the pink and blue L lines for when a carnitas craving hits hard. There’s plenty of Thai and Thai fusion and an excellent Vietnamese chain. If you venture to the right corners, you’ll find a decent Jewish deli and inconceivable options for Indian cuisine. There are, of course, the gluttonous Brazilian steakhouses and sushi dens tucked into inconspicuous split levels. You won’t be hard-pressed to find a few Ethiopian options.
If you’ve read through this list and are feeling disorientated and slightly offended by the absence of Cuban food, I get it.
Being in a multi-year relationship, you start to lose touch with the whole concept of dating. Especially if you’re living together, so much of the mating etiquette that surrounds the first few months of courtship melt away. You start feeling no shame in rolling around the apartment in oversized sweatpants and ratty band t-shirts; there’s no judgment passed or expectations unmet when (after too much pizza, wine and a few Tums) you’re passed out in the fetal position, above the covers.
To casually date now, as a twenty-something, in a time of not just Facebook and Twitter but also Tinder, Ello, and Cuddlr, appears tedious, traumatic and only palatable with Valium in arm’s reach.
But when your first few dates with a potential piece of relationship material happen within the context of college, expectations (for better or for worse) are relaxed. Life is more casual: no one is expected to have an exceptionally clean, well-curated apartment; money and jobs are faraway priorities. Showing up to a rendezvous in more than jeans and a t-shirt is a big deal. Cooking a meal for someone else? Monumental.
The fact of the matter is, it’s warm enough to still be summer and close enough to pumpkin spice everything season to almost be fall, which means everyone is either going back to school or getting married. Everyone.
Let’s talk about how, even three years removed, it still feels unsettling to not be buying new plastic tubs and filling them up with sweaters I know I’ll never wear, and to not be making sure that my Swingers movie poster is still sturdy enough to endure another semester of sticky tack and humid dorm room walls.
Or maybe you’d like to sit on my couch with me, open a bottle of wine or (let’s be honest) skip straight to the bourbon and real talk about how another person is engaged, another acquaintance is sharing a Facebook album of finger rock shots and another 5-10 people are pretty positive that they’ll be in the midst of their own betrothal by Valentine’s Day 2015.
If you do decide to come over for ranting, raving and all around commiserating, I’ll probably make a batch of this pasta. And, for a moment, the nostalgia of dining hall nachos and the gleam of what’s-her-face’s princess cut will affect us not at all. Continue reading