Is This a Sustainable Relationship?

I started dating someone recently.  A nice guy, very intelligent, kind, with a penchant for baked goods and peanut butter with chocolate.  Our first official date was dinner.  Since he agreed to sushi I thought he liked it, but at the restaurant he demonstrated some discomfort with the menu, only ordered a very generic maki roll and when we were done was quick to suggest a bakery around the corner with exceptional black and white cookies.   Okay, I’ll say it, I’m a foodie – one of those people who obsessively loves good food.  I’m adventurous – not only in what I eat, but what I cook.  I love fresh foods and only consume processed boxed foods when absolutely necessary.   And I love trying new things.  As a foodie, I like to share my food, I think eating should be an experience as much as it is a function necessary for life.

Yet despite his apparent disinterest in food, I agreed to a second date with Ari and he agreed to an Ethiopian restaurant.  During dinner he took a few sips of the honey wine scooped up a little doro wett with the injera and made delightful conversation.  So I was utterly torn.  Do I continue this budding relationship?  Here was a great guy in a lot of ways, but without any interest in one of my greatest passions – food.  So there were a few more dates.  But, seeing the contents of his refrigerator for the first time again almost had me running out the door.  Slices of processed turkey, mustard, moldy strawberries and milk way past its expiration date it.  In his cupboard he had packets of some sort of “meals”-in-a-bag (just add water!) double-stuffed Oreos and powdered drink mix.
So began the challenge of finding something that we both liked to eat.  One evening I brought over a bottle of Israeli wine, a nice crusty bread, a variety of cheeses and some white anchovies.   I spread some Brie on slices of bread, sautéed some leeks and laid the oily plump anchovies on top.  Delicious, but Ari said it scared him.  So it got me thinking.  Could I really have a relationship with someone who was not just ambivalent, but actually fearful of the things I loved?

I hadn’t thrown a dinner party in quite a while and my CSA box promised to be plentiful that week.  I was also motivated by a recent Slate article that poo-pooed the concept of the CSA.  (The author apparently doesn’t know the joys of having friends around your table for a meal of seasonal farm-fresh food.)  So I spread the word and planned my Moroccan inspired menu.  The day of the dinner party I spent blissfully in my kitchen.  I slowly simmered a robust lamb stock (later adding quince and the choice bits of lamb for a tagine), baked fish in a tomato coriander sauce, tossed grated carrots in lemon juice, minced garlic and cumin, marinated beets in white wine vinegar and a dash of sugar.  I even ground up some celery and apples for a fresh gazpacho as a pallet cleanser after my guests snacked on blue potato latkes smeared with pearsauce (you know like applesauce but made with pears) as an appetizer as we sipped warm spiced apple cider with rum.

The dinner was wildly successful.  The food was some of the best I think I had ever served despite the near disaster with the Moroccan flatbread (I had forgotten to bake it earlier that day, but a wonderful friend offered a hand even though the guests had already assembled).  Ari showed up early so I put him to work slicing oranges and tossing them with julienned red onions.  He was a good sport and was charming and affectionate towards me in front of my friends he was meeting for the first time.  During dinner he even said he liked the lamb and asked for seconds, but he was also the first one to leave that evening.   As much as I may like him, I’m just not so sure this is such a good fit.  I had thought that a foodie and a non-foodie could make things work, but now I’m not so convinced.

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21 Responses to “Is This a Sustainable Relationship?”

  1. Michael Greenberg Says:

    I had a similar situation, but one which may be food for thought (sorry!) for the JCarrot crowd.

    I’m a completely non-practicing Jew and a foodie with an unabiding love of pork. My former girlfriend was also a non-practicing Jew and a foodie with an unabiding fear of pork. She didn’t keep kosher — she was adventurous, even, eating snails at dim sum and French bistros, mussels and clams and shrimp, etc. — but pork was a bete noire for her.

    She was a great sport about my porkiness: I’d pick the char siu out of the turnip cake for her, taste dumplings for pork, and tell her beforehand that the clam chowder surely has pork in it. She even gave me a copy of Ruhlman & Polcyn’s Charcuterie!

    But I found it frustrating. We couldn’t share some things, and she would get occasionally get defensive. (Granted, I provoked her…) It’s not the reason we broke up, but it didn’t help.

    Is that heartless? Is it any more heartless than the way you feel about Ari, who seems pretty game for someone who’s afraid of leeks and anchovies, and who keeps powdered drink mix in his if-you-can-call-it-a pantry?

  2. Schlomo Says:

    I’ve learned, as a foodie (and a dating advice columnist), that I can’t demand the same level of dedication to food out of potential mate. I’m a vegan, and I’ve decided that I’m aiming for vegetarian in a partner, since I’m decently certain I could die alone before I find another compatible nice Jewish vegan boy.

    But, from personal experience, people can be lured in: my last boyfriend insisted on having an omnivore diet complete with ravioli from a can and hot dogs. But, I realized that if I made foods that closely resembled the foods he loved (tacos with TVP, sandwiches with soya-based lunch ‘meats’) he might start to see that other food was palatable, and besides that good for the planet and individual. He became a vegan within about six months. Maybe you should stick it out and see!

  3. rejewvenator Says:

    Two bits of advice, the first from my uncle, who is wise in the ways of love.

    There are only three qualities that you need to look out for in a mate. Everything else works itself out, except these three things. Make sure that you partner:

    a) doesn’t have a temper
    b) isn’t selfish
    c) doesn’t need to be right

    And bit two – it sounds to me like, if anything, you are being a bit selfish, or needing to be right about your food choices. Why must your partner affirm those choices? Can’t he simply tolerate them and appreciate your food along with you eccentricities?

    If Ari is a good man, who respects himself, you, and the world around him, and if you enjoy each other’s company, and feel attracted each other, then check the list above. If he still qualifies, go cook him a great meal, and be sensitive to the fact that he may not love anchovies as much as you do, but he will certainly love you more than you love anchovies.

  4. Leah Koenig Says:

    Great post!

    While I think rejewvenator is being a little harsh (I don’t think you’re being selfish here – just protecting yourself against hurt/disappointment), I do think r has a point.

    Ari likely grew up under different circumstances than you did, and perhaps hasn’t been exposed to the same food experiences you had growing up, or over the last few years that have helped develop your foodie palate. You can’t fault someone for not liking the same foods you do. You *can* fault them for not being willing to try new things, if that’s a value you feel strongly about. It can take time and multiple exposures for someone’s palate to “develop” – so if Ari is willing and you feel like he’s worth keeping around for other reasons, then you might see this as a fun and very rewarding challenge.

    Remember – even two die-hard foodies might disagree about what tastes good (e.g. one likes sushi and the other hates fish, but adores sweetbreads and other organ meats, or something weird like that!). What matters is an openness to try new things and the ability to communicate honestly about likes/dislikes on his side, and patience and a willingness to share yourself and the things you love on your side.

    Good luck!

    :) L

  5. Naomi Says:

    I have been in the relationship you describe – but with even more food restrictions – for 5 years. My boyfriend doesn’t eat pasta, rice, or eggs – he doesn’t like smoked salmon, fried onion, or avocado. He won’t try sushi, doesn’t eat/drink soup, and won’t eat puddings.

    But for 5 years we’ve muddled along, and found plenty of common ground. Mexican food (EVERYONE likes flavoured meat and a bit of fresh vegetables), roast meat and potatoes (Shabbat is never a problem), corn on the cob, brownies, homemade pizza (make your own topping), BBQs, waffles. There is a middle ground, and I agree with R above – dealbreakers should be made of more than how someone’s parents fed them (one Xmas lunch, his mum “cooked” leftover KFC).

    I am passionate about food, and my partner supports me in every possible way – he just doesn’t have the same taste as me. I am happy, and we haven’t fought about food for years. Maybe you can have the same with Ari.

  6. Marion Siegel Says:

    It is a difficult problem, and I do sympathize with wanting to decide this before you get involved and get hurt. Rejewvenator’ uncle offered good advice. I can only offer personal experience. I would describe myself as a foodie and a completely non-practicing Jew.. I love making steamed clams and was developing a great soft-shelled crab recipe. Then I met a guy who was totally not a foodie and kept kosher in his home. But he was interesting, amusing and generally a wonderful guy. I had long conversations with friends on if he was worth giving up my clams. It took a long time but we did eventually find a common ground and got married. Today, we maintain a kosher home (yes, I gave up my clams) He has learned about couscous, and spinach pie and home-made soups and Moroccan spiced lamb. I have learned how to keep Kosher and make food that is healthy and tastes good. Outside of the house, we do not keep Kosher. Do we still have disagreements on food? Yes, humor helps.

    Good Luck!!

  7. yonkeltron Says:

    If you are worried he doesn’t share your passion, maybe he’s worried that you don’t share his! Do you even know what he is *really* passionate about? Sharing, as defined within the context of an emotional relationship, is not unidirectional…

  8. Ben Says:

    It’s tough bring a Jewish foodie. We are a rare, but slowly growing breed. When I first started dating my wife I was in a similar situation. Her refrigerator had milk almost past it’s prime, shriveled strawberries, a frozen box of spinach just in case she needed a vegetable. She also said she disliked onions – onions! Since I felt she was worth the time and effort, I started a slow and steady campaign of food introduction.

    All weird or forbidden ingredients had to be hidden in preparation. I introduced anchovies as part of a sauce, she enjoyed the sauce, so then I revealed the ingredients of the dish, which got her to taste an anchovy on it’s own. While she didn’t fall in love with it, it was instantly taken off the forbidden list. Now, she even orders grilled anchovies from restaurants, but it took time to get there.

    Like everything else in a relationship, go slow, and be creative – it’s fun. I think what a person eats can be indicative to their personality.
    However, if there’s no flexibility, no willingness to try anything new at the dinner table – I’d bet they feel the same way about the rest of their life as well.

  9. Ruthie Says:

    Yes, it’s a sustainable relationship! You keep making him try new foods, but he likes you so much that he does it. That is a very good sign! He really likes you!

    Go for it.

  10. Asher ben Avraham Says:

    Regarding the fridge: can you say BACHELOR? But seriously, SERIOUSLY. It sounds like you’re looking for excuses not to be in a relationship. Maybe you should look at *your feelings* in terms of what it means to have a long-term, sustainable relationship instead of examining the contents of his pantry for portents of doom. Maybe he’s just never been exposed to “exotic” food. In fact, most people aren’t. I think foodies are considered snobbish in part because we often have tastes that travel widely and once we’ve seen paradise, we don’t want to go back. But I was once a country boy who knew little of fancy food… I remember not so long ago when roma tomatoes were the fancy thing to get, and then along came the heirlooms.

  11. The Shmethicist Says:

    As an advice columnist, a 28 year pescetarian in an 18 year relationship with a sausage lover, and an all around yenta, you know I have to stick in my two cents.

    One of the secrets of making a relationship last for the long haul is that you have to grow together, or else you grow apart.

    Does that mean you have to teach him to love the foods you love? Not necessarily. (It could if he wanted to learn, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Just like if he were an expert on NASCAR, you learning the various records of every driver on the circuit wouldn’t be necessary, unless through some freakish coincidence you actually wanted to do that).

    What it does mean is that you have to find some common ways to grow together. Maybe you should spend an afternoon at an art gallery. Or go see a great foreign film then discuss it during a walk in the park, instead of always dating over meals. Cause honey, you’ve got a lot invested in food. And if you have decided to make it a bar for him (or any potential date) to meet or exceed, you may not be headed into the relationship the best way.

    Is it possible to find someone who adores having you cook/select great restaurants? Yup. And if that’s what you’re looking for, drop Ari and post a new personal ad now. But if you’re looking to be more than the food maven, well, stop obsessing about what a food maven you are.

  12. Mia Rut Says:

    Thanks for the thoughts and the many stories. Like any relationship there is, of course, many more layers than what I shared above (or would care to share on a blog!) Although I do think different pallets alone would not be reason enough to abandon an otherwise happy relationship, Ari’s frequent use of the the word “fear” when discussing food is cause for pause.

    But he has been quite a good sport in most of this (even this blog post). For a guy who grew up keeping kosher he quite was quite willing to taste his first cheeseburger with me (although for the record he stopped keeping kosher before meeting me) and now craves them.

    And I do want to find the things he likes. I’m also happy to cook some of his favorite foods (he his mom makes a killer tongue cooked in pickling spices that I would be more than happy to acquire the recipe for).

    At the end of the day we must both be into the relationship. Perhaps Asher is right and I’m finding excuses to not become fully emotionally invested. Perhaps Ari’s “fear” of my cooking is really fear of commitment. Either way, I do want to be with someone who wants to be with me – even in my kitchen.

  13. Alix Says:

    I love this post. Many years ago, I made a friend (who is still a close friend) who made it clear he was interested in more than just friendship. He ate no ethnic food whatsoever. I was a vegetarian, he kept kosher, so his restaurant of choice would be a kosher fleishig one so he could eat meat, and I could eat nothing. He called Chinese food “slop on a plate.” He could maybe *maybe* name three vegetables that he liked. Given that I had recently moved to New York, and loved ethnic food of all sorts (and didn’t keep kosher) I thought if we dated we’d constantly battle over where to eat. I couldn’t envision the relationship for other reasons as well, but the food thing was a big one. Even now, when I visit New York and see him, we have a tough time agreeing where to eat since he likes almost nothing.
    Meanwhile, I always assumed I would marry a vegetarian. Guess what, my husband of two-plus years tried being a veggie some years ago and realized it just wasn’t for him. He is as carnivorous as they come. I have bended on my no-meat-in-the-house rules (he has his separate skillet and dishes, and anything goes on the grill) but what’s key in making it work is that he loves good vegetarian food as well. Many meat-eaters can’t be happy unless there’s a hunk of flesh on their plate, and he is definitely not like that. He also loves ethnic food of all varieties, just like I do, so choosing a restaurant is never a problem. We have enough in common food-wise that it works.
    As for you and Ari, I do think it could be a red flag, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be one. Unlike some of the other commenters, I refuse to judge and say that you are finding reasons to prevent you from finding love. I will say that my husband is nothing like who I thought I *should* marry or be with. And yet it really works. So who knows?

  14. Fern Says:

    As someone happily married to a who shares few of my interests/hobbies, I highly recommend overlooking Ari’s lack of foodie-ness. Look for someone who treats you and others nicely, who is responsible, who you enjoy spending time with, and who has the same core values as you do. Everything else is unimportant.

    My husband collects vintage guitars and basses, is an amazing musician and a Beatles encyclopedia. I can’t carry a tune and the only things I know about guitars or the Beatles I learned from him. Likewise, I love photography and reading and gardening. My husband’s only interest in those three things is because they interest me. My idea of a great Sunday afternoon involves waking up early, tending to my plants and then spending the afternoon browsing through a used book store. That’s my husband’s idea of hell. He’d rather scour Craigslist for guitars that are undervalued. We are incredibly happy together.

    Need I say more?

    Okay, I have more to say. I might even go so far as to say that it is better to marry someone with different interests than you. If you were both foodies, there might be competition between the two of you as to who is the “better foodie” or who should decide what gourmet dish to serve at some important dinner party. But this way, you’ll always be the expert when it comes to food, and you’ll always get your way when creating dinner party menus.

  15. Rabbi Shmuel Says:

    Fern – you and your husband should come hang with us – I use to take my wife to concerts and even when I would introduce her to the players (e.g Eric Clapton, George Harrison) she really wasn’t all that interested! – I sit on Sundays playing the old 1927 Martin archtop and she just enjoys listening – I love working in the garden and she just enjoys cooking and eating the fresh produce – so you can find common ground without your significant other becoming a clone!

  16. Yvo Says:

    Hello there, I saw a link from Culinate and here I am, adding my own 2 cents. I am not Jewish nor is my boyfriend, but I don’t think that matters (I skimmed very briefly some of the comments and that seems to be part of the site’s focus, I guess?). I’ve been with him for just over 5 years. I was developing my foodie-ness when we met, but I’ve always loved food, been obsessive about food. I grew up in a very food-based household (parents both cook well, I started cooking at a young age, birthdays celebrated with bday person’s choice of meal, which I thought was totally normal but apparently other households chose activities versus foods), show your love via food kind of deal. I am now a full fledged obsessed about all things food kind of person.
    My boyfriend, on the other hand, grew up eating pizza and fast food. Someone above said something about everyone loving Mexican – meet my boyfriend, who doesn’t care for it (Taco Bell?). He would be happy eating McDonald’s every night. Pizza. Whatever. He eats boxed macaroni & cheese – I once made stove top macaroni & cheese for him, from scratch, with quality ingredients, and he still prefers the boxed stuff. He doesn’t have a pantry, not even containing what you said above, maybe a few boxes of Easy Mac *shudder*. BUT. When we first met, I was surprised at how many things I ate that he wouldn’t. All things that never occurred to me someone would balk at the thought of eating. Certain meats, fishes (he claims to not eat any seafood), all this delicious food that was behind a locked door for him. He didn’t grow up the way I did, embracing food. Dinner was an after thought in his household.

    Over the course of 5 years, I’m extremely proud to say, he has opened that door bit by bit. He’s still not a foodie, and doubtful ever will be, since food is still more of an afterthought to his skinny self, but he is willing to try most things. After this long together, the idea is if I’m eating it, it must be because it tastes good, so he will try almost anything (exceptions are if it’s particularly ugly, or smells bad, but I’m not really into most food that smells horrible). I would have even said a year ago that he won’t eat it if it’s ingredient-wise something that he doesn’t think he’ll like or that sounds … strange (intestines, chicken feet), but in the past 2 months alone I’ve seen him, unprompted by me!!!, put various food items in his mouth to try. I am impressed constantly by his ever-growing willingness to reach out and try new food items. He was a bit difficult in the beginning, but because food wasn’t important to him, and it WAS important to ME (who IS important to HIM), I feel he’s purposely tried to open his mind up a bit. I’m sure my um, somewhat aggressive personality (“Just try it. Please. Just try two bites, if you don’t like it, I won’t make this anymore. I promise. JUST. TRY. IT.”) had something to do with it, but lately, it’s been of his own volition, and that’s something I really, really appreciate.
    Oh, and keeping food network on almost constantly helped a bit too ;)
    Hope this helps – if you like him, and he seems open, then it’s workable! (At least he didn’t completely refuse to eat anything on the table at your wonderful Moroccan themed feast!)

    PS I should note, however, that at this point in life, were we to break up, I know now that I would not date anyone with food restrictions next. Is that confusing? I’m a total omnivore, and someone who’s not the least bit willing to explore food with me is a deal breaker. Vegans, vegetarians, super picky people need not apply.

  17. Yvo Says:

    Fern – while I agree there’s no need to share all hobbies or interests, I think her concern is based on his total aversion to certain foodstuffs that she likes and perhaps his unwillingness to explore food a bit. It’s very difficult to overcome a meal sharing issue like this if one person is stubborn or, say, has dietary restrictions. I’ve heard tales of vegetarians and omnivores having wonderful lives together, but sometimes, especially at such an early stage in a relationship, she has to decide if she wants to forge ahead or not…

  18. Nom nom nom Says:

    I don’t have the slightest clue as to why you two can’t budding soul mates can’t prosper. (I suspect an underlying problem, you excuse-maker you). You clearly are stressing something that shouldn’t be a priority. Maybe he doesn’t like to eat in front of you? As a girl, you should be familiar with this one. Or, maybe he’s intimidated by your omnipotent food knowledge? What did you say you made at the DP (dinner party, not death camp), Curried goat testicles? Perhaps you should’ve been more considerate of your high-brow food inept mate. Something along the lines of deep fried fill-in-the-blank. Anwa*, you need to reassess your assessment.

    *Anyway. Say it, it’s fun. ANWAAAA.

  19. Jill Says:

    I say, give Ari a chance. If he is willing to learn about and try new foods, you might be the perfect teacher. If, on the other hand, he shows no interest and won’t even try new foods, forget it. You will only end up frustrated and angry.

  20. Judith Says:

    Are you familiar with the Myers Briggs personality test based on Carl Jung’s work? According to it, people take in information in large part either through their senses or through their intuition. Serious foodies are usually sensors. Maybe Ari is an intuit? It’s just as valid a way of being as sensing.

    The good news is right around middle age, many of us get bored with what comes easily and naturally to us and we strive to develop the opposite gift. So there’s hope for Ari! If not now, then maybe when he hits 40 or 50. And maybe he can help you explore the world more intuitively.

    Sounds like a sweet guy. All the best to you both.

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