QUIT: Pretending I’m Ever Going to Learn How to Cook

[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?


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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  • Cordelia’s Mom

    Well, Sweetie, you know there’s a reason restaurants were created, don’t you? And take out? Believe me, if I could afford it, I would eat out every single day, but alas I’m reduced to simply nuking pretty much every meal because now that you and your sisters have flown the coop, I have no need, nor desire, to cook entire meals. I only learned to cook because there were no alternatives in my day – yes, there were restaurants, but they were for special occasions only. And my cooking is very, very basic – the faster, the better.
    I’ve never really thought about whether you could or could not cook – you’re always asked to bring wine and cuppycakes to my get-togethers because I like wine and cuppycakes, and I know you understand that. And heck, I think the last time we offered to bring potato salad to one of your get-togethers, Dad bought it from the deli department at Wegmans.
    Stop fretting over it. You only need to please yourself and your husband.
    PS: But now I’m fretting that everyone will think I failed as a mother because I didn’t give enough of those mandatory cooking lessons. Ah, I feel a post coming on …

    • The other 2 cook quite fine, so clearly it’s nothing to do with you. 🙂

  • JJamie

    Rest assured, nobody will ever say, “Ugh, Kelly brought CUPCAKES again?”

  • So… if Ryan actually likes to cook, HE could be the one simmering and stirring all day 🙂 I personally like cooking so I don’t relate to this exact quit at all… but I could transliterate this entire post to be about “social media” and it would be 100% accurate. With “women” being “online entrepreneurs.” Also, I’m convinced that my in-laws will at some point start referring to us as “Poor James and That Woman.”

    • also, there’s this: How many high-powered, super-successful big-money people actually cook? From what I gather, it’s all Starbucks/take-out, all the time.

      • An excellent point. I’m reading a Dorothy Parker collection currently, and in the intro it talks about how she’d rather have eaten a piece of bacon raw than turn the burner on her stove on for anything.

        Granted, she wasn’t a big-money person, but she was a big-creativity and big-prolificness person, which in my book is just as good.

    • I totally get the transliteration into entrepreneurship; in my case, I’d replace “social media” with “launching constantly” and “always having a million ideas in the works.” And pooh on James’s in-laws if they ever refer to you that way, unless “That Woman” has the word “Amazing” inserted in the middle of it. 🙂

  • Stefan Timm

    Programming. APIs, XML, HTML, CSS. That’s why I went into IT after graduating in computer science. Nothing even closely related to code, just infrastructure. After that, telecommunication. I somehow got back into IT as a product manager and now have to deal with webservices, ERP/CRM systems, SOAP, REST. I have exactly the same feeling about all that Cordelia has about cooking.

    BTW I found out I love cooking just 2 years ago. I hated it before that. My wife likes my cooking so much she wants me to do it every weekend. Now I hate takeout or home delivery and even restaurants have lost their appeal.

    I enjoyed reading the article very much. Now I have to find a way to make a decent living in an area where I don’t feel inadequate because of the things I don’t know and absolutely have no interest in learning.

    • Knowing what you don’t like and deciding you’re ready to change is half the battle. There are always ways to pivot and change course once you accomplish that.

      I’m curious; what made you discover you love cooking? What changed it for you?

      • Stefan Timm

        I guess I used to think about cooking only when I was hungry. Now I plan a bit more in advance: buy the groceries, start with what needs the most time: remove the frozen salmon to let it thaw, start boiling the potatoes. I started using wine (rosé) to make a great wine cream sauce. To sum it up: I found out I can cook something that tastes really good.

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  • kimberly duboise

    I enjoyed and laughed and nodded my head throughout your article, and I love to cook! I get that everyone has things they like and want to pursue. I have two sisters, neither one cooks. I say bravo for knowing what you like and being authentic! I have nominated you for Very Inspiring Blogger Award. see http://www.goo.gl/078JHh and keep on sharing insight and inspiration

    • Aww, thanks so much! I’m honored.