Sunday, March 28, 2010

That Kind of a Girl (from Emily)

The other night, some friends accused me of something I found so insulting that I instantly cried, "I am NOT that kind of a girl!" What had they accused me of? Cooking dinner for a man.

They were both shocked by how defensive I was on the issue, and as I tried to explain why that was a sensitive topic for me, and why I am uncomfortable with cooking dinner for men, they became even more confused. In the end, they criticized me for what they saw as inconsistent behavior, and they insisted that if I was ok with my roommate's brother coming over and fixing our kitchen sink, I was a hypocrite for refusing to cook dinner for a man.

And I, for my part, am still confused by their confusion. It's not like I'm anti cooking with a man on a date, or cooking for family and friends. I just refuse to prepare a meal, by myself, for a man I am on a casual date with, and I'm cautious about doing so with a boyfriend too. And I get really upset when people think I have done that very thing. A few years ago, I invited a guy I'd been on several dates with over to my apartment. I had baked bread earlier in the day, and I offered him some fresh bread and homemade jam. He later bragged to a mutual friend that I had baked bread for him, and she immediately corrected him. "That's my friend you're talking about," she said. She explained that I bake bread all the time and had probably just offered him some of the bread I'd already baked. "She is not that kind of a girl," my friend continued, "and don't you ever say that again." He promised her that if he asked me to bake some bread for him I'd do it in a heart beat. Needless to say, I didn't respond well when he asked.

Why am I so loathe to cooking food specifically for a man on a casual date? Well, I can't really explain it rationally. For some reason I just shudder at the thought of doing so. I picture a man sitting expectantly at the table, waiting for me to bring the food to him, a smug, self-satisfied look on his face. It doesn't help that my father usually did that when I was young, even though my mother worked (and he did not), or that there are a lot of men in my extended family who take the attitude that cooking and cleaning is a woman's job, even if both he and his wife are working equal hours outside the home.

And contrary to what my friends from the other night insisted my aversion to cooking for men must mean, it's not that I'm against people who are in a relationship or who are going on dates doing nice things for each other. I appreciate it when a man opens a door for me, and I love sharing the food that I cook or bake with other people, romantic interests included. If I'm in a relationship and I bake bread, I'll specifically bring some to the guy I'm dating. I'll leave nice notes for him to find, and do other little, spontaneous things. I'll unlock his car door after he's unlocked the passenger door and opened it for me. I'll grab extra napkins for him while we're grabbing food. I'll wear my hair a way I know he likes it, and humor him by playing board games or watching movies I'm not terribly fond of. Honestly, roommates who've seen me in a relationship have always been shocked by how often I'll bake something to share with a boyfriend.

So, maybe the issue here isn't that I'm unusually prickly about cooking for a man. Maybe I'm just prickly about the phrase "cook for him." Maybe it brings up images and emotions that upset me so much that even when I talk with other women who are a lot less likely to cook food with the intention of offering some to a boyfriend I end up sounding more anti it? And I become much more comfortable with the idea of cooking for a man if he first cooks for me. I got very upset when one man interpreted my invitation to a group date where we would all prepare dinner together as me offering to cook dinner for him (your words, Carl, not mine!) But when he later cooked breakfast for me, I felt much more comfortable the next time he thought I was "cooking dinner for him."

But what's really crazy about that last example, is that his idea of me cooking dinner for him was me buying the ingredients, and then him making it along with me. Which brings us back to language - am I against going through the physical act of cooking dinner for a man, or am I against some sort of cultural association I have with that language?


  1. Interesting that you blogged this! I've actually been mulling over similar things--I've always had the same reaction as you to that phrase.

    But, at the same time, I love to cook and bake. And I love to feed people I care about. I bake for my coven and sometimes my coworkers (it's not the type of office where this is limiting, or brings up stereotypes; if it were, I would not do so) and so I wonder? Why do I object to the idea? I think for me it comes down to expectations vs. offers. If I enjoy cooking and baking and offer--fine. If someone expects it from me because I'm a girl? Not so much.

  2. I think that's a really good point about expectations. Maybe I'm just afraid that if I cook food for a man on a date I will reinforce or create the expectation that as a woman I will always do that.

  3. "I'll wear my hair a way I know he likes it, and humor him by playing board games or watching movies I'm not terribly fond of."
    I was on board with you until that. Maybe it's because I'm so stubborn, but that gives me the same sick feeling the idea of cooking for a man gives you. Why should you do your hair differently or do things you aren't fond of for some guy? Or anyone else for that matter?

  4. Another good point - I agree that it's wrong to change your appearance for a man, and I certainly don't do my hair ways that are entirely foreign to me for a man. But on occasion, if I notice that a man likes a particular way I already do my hair, I might choose to wear my hair that way for a special occasion or something.

    As for doing things I'm not fond of, like playing board games or watching movies I don't like, I'm not saying that I'll give up my opinion for him. Just that in the same way I'll ask him to humor me on occasion, I'll humor him on occasion. I think relationships would be pretty selfish if we never humored each other like that. Though it's also a very bad idea to go to the other extreme and pretend to like things you don't, and always do what someone else wants to do instead of what you actually want to do.

    Then again, if I err on the side of anything, it's usually on the side of being too accommodating in relationships, which is why I find it so amusing that there are people who think I'm ridiculous for putting my foot down about cooking dinner for a man.

  5. I really appreciated this post. I have never considered this idea or even the reality of this social issue. I guess that my love of cooking has made me oblivious to the fact that people might be uncomfortable when an unrealistic expectation is placed on them. I have never asked someone to cook for me and I guess that was a great idea. Another tid bit of thought. I have been on dates where I assumed that we would be fixing the meal together and I was told just to sit and wait for the meal to be finished. I have always felt awkward in those situations. I have always attributed that feeling to my desire to cook but maybe it is something deeper. Anyways, great post.

    P.S. In the book, The Five Languages of Love (or something like that. I can't remember if thats the right title.), the Author discourages either partner from requesting the other to make them a meal. The author councils that one should rather say to their partner, "you know that chicken recipe that you make so well? Would you make that again sometime? It tasted divine last time!" What are your thoughts on this approach. I'm not saying that it's right or wrong, but I am asking for your opinion.

  6. I loved this post! I am the exact same way. I like doing nice things for someone I am in a serious relationship with--but I *refuse* too cook/bake for a boy that I have either never gone out with or only gone out with casually. My fiancee's dad told me about when he went to BYU, girls did the same thing: baking brownies for boys they wanted to date. Ugh. I am not that kind of girl either, Emily.

  7. "As for doing things I'm not fond of, like playing board games or watching movies I don't like, I'm not saying that I'll give up my opinion for him. Just that in the same way I'll ask him to humor me on occasion, I'll humor him on occasion."

    I think this is the point that I got from this post. Relationships are a give and take, and I'm okay with making a meal (although your cooking skills obviously far exceed mine, Emily) for my significant other, but recognize that the role I have is to make her happy. Conversely, the role that she has is to make me happy. A healthy relationship will have some give and take; sometimes you are the one serving the other to make them happy, and other times they are the one serving you to make you happy, in which case you need to sit back and let them work. Most of the time the two of you do it simultaneously. It's an unhealthy relationship if you only do things that one partner wants to do, of course. And if one partner is uncomfortable with a particular activity, like cooking "for" their boyfriend, then it is probably not something that their boyfriend should request. I suppose I'm making a distinction here between something being uncomfortable, like cooking for someone in your case, Emily, and something that you simply aren't really that interested in, like playing board games.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.