[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end. I call these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]
I have a confession to make:
I have the cooking abilities of a confirmed bachelor.
I can make omelets, pasta and grilled cheese without a recipe or measuring utensils, and they always turn out fairly decent. I can heat up soup and assemble wraps and make salads out of whatever I currently have on hand.
But I have zero interest in learning how to do anything more complicated. And I’m finally realizing that maybe that’s just a part of who I am, like the fact that I have zero interest in the video games my husband insists he can get me into or having the child my biological clock is apparently not set to tell me to want.
I, myself, am perfectly fine with this state of things. I never feel deprived or frustrated because I only know how to procure food through ordering, assembling, reheating or letting my husband make it. I never feel like my life is missing something because I can’t bake a chicken or create a reduction (whatever that is).
Yet I still have this lingering sense of shame/guilt/insecurity that’s kept me from officially acknowledging, once and for all, that I will never learn to cook, and the only reason for this is the fact that I simply don’t wanna.
But at the age of 32 and with no other excuses to lean on, it’s time to finally admit it anyway.
I Could Have If I’d Wanted To, But I’ve Never Wanted To, So I Haven’t
I’ve no doubt I’d be adequate if I set myself to learning to cook. I’d never be a “pinch of this, dash of that” chef, but I’d be able to follow a recipe sturdily enough that the end product would resemble the dish it was meant to be. I can perform a marathon two-day baking extravaganza each year at Christmas time, thanks to a family tradition that instilled this ability in me when I was too young to have discovered I didn’t really care about making things from scratch.
But apart from said baking extravaganza, the only time I ever get out my measuring cups and ingredients is when 1) we’re heading to a family function where we’ve been assigned to bring dessert; 2) it’s my husband’s birthday and I owe him the requisite batch of birthday peanut butter cookies; or 3) we found a gingerbread pancake mix at Trader Joe’s and I impulse-purchased it because it sounded yummy, before I fully registered it meant I’d have to don my rarely used apron to turn this mix into actual pancakes.
If I am ever assigned to bring a dish to a family function that isn’t a baked good, I will head to the nearest Wegman’s and buy something from the fresh cafe, and I will put it in one of my own containers and pawn it off as my own. And I won’t feel the shame over this that I probably ought to be feeling.
But what I do feel some secret shame over, in spite of my better intelligence and my usual “who cares what people think” mindset, is the fact that I never will be assigned to bring anything other than a baked good — or, as is more often the case lately, a few bottles of pop or containers for leftovers, which clearly communicates my family’s faith in my talents in the kitchen.
I don’t like the fact that my younger sisters were able to whip together a gourmet meal for the last Mother’s/Father’s Day, from appetizers to entree, and all I contributed was a bottle of wine and some gourmet cupcakes from a bakery I had a Groupon for. (They didn’t seem to mind, and the wine and cupcakes were both reviewed well, but somehow it felt like less of a labor of love to unpack a few things from shopping bags instead of stirring and mixing and simmering for a whole afternoon.)
I don’t like the thought that my in-laws (who I still feel I need to impress somehow, after 6 years of marriage and no indication they don’t like me) might be “poor thing”ing me in their minds because they feel I lack a basic ability anyone out of college ought to have. I especially don’t like the thought that they might be “poor thing”ing my husband because he’s married to a wife with sitcom-level cooking skills which requires him to do all the cooking. (He doesn’t mind our arrangement. I don’t mind either. Except in these rare instances when my conscience wrestles with imaginary things my in-laws may or may not have ever thought about me.)
This is insane. It is not the ’50s, and in every other scenario, I couldn’t give a rat’s patootie about the fact that I don’t know how to cook. So what gives?
I’ve done quite a bit of pondering over this lately, and I’ve come to realize the lingering angst I have over my inability to cook comes down to the fact that cooking is one of those fundamental things “everyone” is supposed to know how to do, like swimming or riding a bike or driving a car. It’s not like knitting or driving shift, which I can’t do either but have never felt inadequate over, because those skills are more like electives in the school of life. Cooking, however, is typically considered core curriculum.
When you tell someone — especially a female someone — that at the age of 32, you don’t know how to cook, it’s hard not to feel like a slow bloomer they feel sorry for. And when they eagerly offer to bring you up to speed by giving you lessons or beginner’s cookbooks and you politely decline because “actually, I’m OK,” it’s hard not to feel like they think you’re a weirdo — like you what you really just said was, “Actually, I prefer to wear the tinfoil on my head rather than using it to line an oven rack because that way it keeps the aliens from reading my thoughts.”
It’s not the fact that I can’t cook that bugs me the most; it’s the fact that I feel like I ought to be able to. Like I’m somehow inadequate because I can’t and lazy because I don’t want to.
And therein lies the ultimate Quit behind this Quit: the idea that grownups (and, let’s keep 100, women especially) in this day and age still “ought” to have mastered certain things in order to be considered successful, fully developed grownups (slash-women). The notion that everyone has to fulfill the same sequence of core courses, when in reality life is more about designing your own degree by pursuing whichever courses you like — and by having the freedom to decide for yourself what you consider “core” versus “elective.”
You Do You However You Want To
I’ve been stringing this Quit along for years under the assumption that one day, I’d finally man up and learn to cook like a proper adult already. I’ve bookmarked recipes on Pinterest under board titles like “Things I Will Make Once I Learn My Lazy Self to Cook,” when the more proper title would be “Things I’d Like Other People to Make for Me Because I Have Other Things I’d Rather Be Doing.”
Because the honest truth is, I want to learn to cook the same way I want to learn to speak another language or become an American Ninja Warrior — theoretically. The same way I wanted to read Infinite Jest, one of my first official Quits, when I realized there was a difference between things you wanted to be able to say you had done and things you actually wanted to do.
The simple reality is that, in today’s Googly world, we all have the ability to learn to do an astounding array of things just by watching a few YouTube videos. I could learn to make my own clothes or make my own detergent or make a chicken cordon bleu. And I would probably feel a certain measure of pride in having any of those abilities.
But when it comes down to actually doing any of the work necessary to acquire these abilities, there will always be 101 other things I would much rather use my time and my energy for.
Because in today’s always-on, always-more, mile-a-minute world, there is no way any of us can be or do all the things we think we ought to be or do. Choices have to be made. You have to allocate your precious time and energy to those things that give you the most personal ROI — and allow you to give the most ROI to the world around you. (Tweet!)
For me, cooking ain’t ever gonna make that cut.
And I’m ready to finally own that and stop feeling inadequate because of it.
What thing(s) do you feel you ought to know how to do, but you secretly have zero interest in learning?
Image: Mike Licht / Flickr
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