In which hideous crimes are defended, justified and even encouraged.
Surprisingly or not at all surprisingly, there are a number of occasions when to further a courtship you might choose to cook very badly or refuse to cook at all.1
Perhaps you don’t much like to cook and know that the only way you will ever want to cook is if you are never required to.2 This is no reason to not be able to cook, but it is certainly easier to plead that you want to bring the wine yet again if everyone believes that they too prefer for you to bring the wine. Then once in a bluish moon, you can cook something for your friends, offer it to them in silent thanks and, taking Camille as your model, appear to have been half-devastated by your effort.
Or perhaps you cook poorly because you are unhappy, feel cooking is expected of you and think that if you cook very badly someone else might take over the task. Unlikely. More likely they will continue to take bare sustenance from your table while proclaiming loudly to all that you are a terrible cook. This might be a good time to switch your tactic from Cooking Badly to Not Cooking.
In stark contrast to these whiny, selfish reasons, you might instead cook badly in order to heighten the dramatic impact when you do eventually cook something very delicious. Barely evil and reasonably manipulative. Make others believe you cannot cook simply by not cooking very often, and then only for people who are unlikely to rave about it to others, who appreciate it quietly and who respect your right to toy with others on this point. Or cook very badly once or twice for a few particularly loud people, preferably some of those insufferable amateur cooks. They never forget and will tease you ad nauseam in front of everyone important about your poor culinary skills. Don’t defend yourself but rather look a little sheepish as though you have been revealed in a forgivable shortcoming. There is no need to be a bad cook. No reason to cut off your options. No reason to guard your inability to cook as you might your integrity when cooking skills, unlike a lack of integrity, can be so easily hidden from public view.3
However you do it, hold off revealing your cooking skills until the moment is ripe. Wait until the one whose attention you seek has long relinquished any hope of being fed by you, has accepted that you are intoxicating and irresistible for other reasons and has become lazy and entrenched in their judgment of your qualities. Wait patiently until they are confident that you have no conversation with anything in the kitchen.4 Allow a world to come into being which does not include you making any meals. It will take more than six days.5 Then, when your opponent, your target, your mouse, your love, your soul is absolutely sure of you and sure they adore you and have forgotten entirely that you do not cook or at least not very well; when they have taken to complimenting your offerings of toast and sliced fruit, admiring your ability to find the best restaurants and your skill at ordering from menus, this is exactly the moment to spontaneously and effortlessly cook something which feeds the soul with scent alone before it even begins to seduce and satiate first the mouth, then the stomach and, finally, the self itself. Nothing worthy of the Cordon Bleu, nor even Tante Marie’s, but magnificent nonetheless. The equivalent of a bias-cut and barely there silk velvet dress that falls to the floor.6 No pleats, no ruffles, no buttons or zippers, no interesting seaming techniques. And no elaborate undergarments beneath. None at all. Just what’s required, but manifest as the surreal. The dramatic impact of an at once casual and opulent offering. The effect on the unsuspecting victim can be very rewarding. “You can cook!” their eyes and perhaps their lips as well exclaim. You demure as though you had not noticed. The very same quality discovered earlier on might have been taken for granted as something you do as a matter of course, valueless, standard and barely considered. Now it is a jewel in the crown.
Who ever thinks to continue courtship so far past courtship’s apparent end?
By the way, you are not done. You risk falling into the trap of becoming the default cook in a household or friendship now that your talents have been exposed. Unless cooking is like breathing to you—in which case it is very surprising to find you here—do not succumb. Do not allow cooking to become On Request, much less De Rigeur.7 No need to get uppity about it. Simply don’t rise to the occasion. Return to your former self. Allow them to sink, however ungently, back into that unknowing bliss, forgetting all, thinking perhaps that the meal was but a dream. Then, cook again. Confused, distracted, unable to fathom this angel of erratic mercy, and yours to do with as you will.
Naturally, and I hardly need to mention it since it generally happens on its own, you should absolutely cook badly or not at all as a means of courtship in the same way you should stand and fight for topics of strategic, if seemingly tiny importance: To make a point, and to show what kind of response the beloved can expect when they behave horridly. No good pretending to be tolerant and indeed to tolerate those things which you know will not fly over the long haul.8
It is not so hardened a thing to do. Just because people have to eat does not mean the food must come from your hands. Cook hideously the moment anyone behaves badly toward you in the context of cooking, or in any context at all. They cannot believe that they can misuse you and still expect you to feed them, even if you had intended to moments earlier. Training. That’s what it is, and it is not unlike what you do with a puppy or a child. It is no good to discuss things with them. They must see the repercussions of their actions. Throwing tantrums and positing ultimatums won’t work. People and dogs, it would seem, change their behavior only when they believe such a change will be nicer for them in the end. Sometimes you teach this by showing them that life is nicer or less nice not in the end but right away.
Cook inedible meals, or simply nothing at all for persons who are monstrous. And don’t pout.
Of course if they are very very bad, and you no doubt have your own image of what this is, not only should you not-cook, but you should not be there at all.9
Why would you not cook at all as a means of courtship? Not cook, even when it is common knowledge that you know how to cook and how to cook well?
For the very same reason you might not polish someone else’s shoes or clean their room for them even though you are perfectly capable of doing such things.
There are those people who believe cooking is a menial chore. Who find it extremely difficult for reasons which are not entirely their fault to have respect for anyone who spends time cooking. These people are difficult because they are often quite attractive in a few very straightforward ways. But there is something odd about them. They do not recognize communication in this form. They are instead impressed by someone who is too busy to cook or who prefers to mindlessly and without appreciation for the art consumed spend a great deal of money in restaurants. I don’t understand them myself, but I do know you must not cook for them if you are determined to court them. At least not at first. You can still make headway into their hearts via food by arranging for meals that are and appear to be effortless, preferably ordered from some outside source, but which you know to be the stuff that feeds the spirit and soothes the mind at the same time it fills the belly. They will claim and exclaim often and in your company that they care nothing for food, that they would as soon have a bowl of cereal as a marvelous meal. But after you have fed them you will notice they have been fed. Enjoy them, revel in their dumb contentedness. Don’t mention it to them or they will scrape it off themselves just to make a point.
It is tempting to ask, If you have to go so far around the block in order to feed someone so that they are fed, why would you be courting them? Good question. Sometimes people need to be drawn toward something slowly and unbeknownst to themselves. They may not be evil people, but rather people who have forgotten the world was not created for them to exploit. Enjoying the world in such a benign way as eating well seems wrong to them. But that does not mean they cannot be fed and warmed and that perhaps one day they will calm down and stop breaking things. Meanwhile, do not cook for them because they will then be forced to look down upon you as one of those earthbound creatures it is their burden and birthright to exploit.
You also want to be sure to not cook in the event that you are feeling put upon by cooking. Never mind how your other may perceive the situation. For yourself it is beyond important to not do things which make you feel misused or which you resent doing, whether or not anyone actually requested you do it. This is true in every room of the house and at all the off-site locations as well. Surest seeds of strong, weed-like bitterness that is only uprooted traumatically. Don’t plant them. Be aware of what you are not thrilled to do, be supremely honest with yourself about why you are doing anything you don’t really want to be doing, and unless there is someone else whose well-being in actuality depends upon your doing the hateful thing,10 stop it. Stop stop stop. No one will notice, unless they notice your mood has improved. Whether or not anyone notices, courtship will be served. Get out or stay out of the kitchen if it makes you unpleasant to be there. You will cook badly if you are unhappy or resentful so no one will be sorry to see you stop. Oh, they might complain at first as people will, initially annoyed at having to figure out a new solution to feeding themselves besides taking advantage of your sense of duty. But that temper will pass.
It is not impossible that one day you might wander back into the kitchen and cook something spontaneously for others or for yourself, the shrouds of oppression having fallen from the kitchen and again it is a playground, a sanctuary, a theater, even perhaps one of those holy places where affection and regard and those deep and nameless emotions take form and are expressed. Not-cooking having run its course.
Then, and only then, can you re-consider using cooking as a means of courtship. A language returned to you, a restored means of communication. How nice for you. Many people never regain this tongue once it has been torn from them through abuse or misuse.
Not cooking might be a very advanced and enlightened means of courtship. One which others might not always understand, thinking perhaps that you are contrary or ungenerous. In some cases others might believe you are instead plain crazy and possibly stupid or incompetent. You know better, and if it becomes a point of contention you might try the most wily of all devices: Tell the truth. No one will believe you, you may impress with your imagination, and later when you are found out, no crimes will have been committed and therefore there will be none to regret.
1 This is not about simply not cooking tonight. This is not about how to order out effectively, nor how to make reservations in fine restaurants. Neither is this about inadvertently cooking badly when you are sincerely trying to cook. That of course is tremendously charming and counts wholly as Cooking as Courtship. This chapter is about not cooking and cooking badly, intentionally and to some purpose, though never maliciously. No, it is not a pretty subject, and everyone keeps asking why this chapter can’t be sexier. It can’t be because the only time I can think of that anyone would intentionally not cook or cook badly is when there is a problem; the possibility of being taken for granted, the heavy burden of former abuses, sour humor, the presence of sadly twisted quirks of a personal nature, unhappiness, imbalance, etc. In that light, you will be thrilled to find it not nearly so depressing a chapter as it could be.
2 Lots of things could be described this way.
3 I sadly point out that a lack of integrity might very well profit you in some situations, as will being able to cook, while an actual dearth of cooking skills will never benefit anyone.
4 Once again, no need to be belligerent about it, loudly refusing to cook, nor making political issue of it.
5 A brilliant woman reports it takes a year after the actual date of commitment. “Do not do anything, and I mean absolutely nothing, in the first year of marriage you do not intend to do for the rest of your life.” That is her advice to young people about to be wed, for better or for worse.
6 Russell howls, “Anachronistic!” Bias cut silk. The sort of thing Jean Harlow wore while slinking through a dozen movies. It is best in silk, although it is done in almost every fabric. The garment is cut so that individual threads in the cloth run diagonally across the body rather than vertically and horizontally. The fabric drapes and slithers over curves. A technique explored and nearly perfected by a Frenchwoman named Vionnet, and later used by just about everyone. Grasp opposing corners of your handkerchief or square scarf and pull gently to see the flexibility available from the bias. Is the metaphor beginning to make sense, or shall I retire to academia?
7 Again, unless that is the arrangement for which you have contracted. Only you know for sure.
8 This is the easiest of all things to execute, as it is practically impossible to cook well when one has been insulted.
9 Naturally, we are talking about adults. Children and puppies you cannot leave, but you can banish them briefly, if only to remove them from your anger. How does one make the point that another’s behavior is intolerable without making any universal judgments nor accusations? I have come to believe all one can do is not-tolerate, as opposed to being intolerant. Not-tolerate and be clear about what you are not tolerating. That another behaves in a revolting fashion, out of fear or one of its many manifestations, does not give you the right to behave badly in return. This is an extremely large topic and one I am even less qualified to discuss than the one at hand.
10 It is hard to come up with an example of this, it is so rare. Certainly it is even more rare for it to occur regularly and in the same fashion. Generally it is delusion on your part that their well-being is at stake since healthy people do not require sacrifice from others. But perhaps your brother is invalid and someone needs to feed him. You might have do it, or if finances allow you can hire someone to do it, but there is no guarantee you won’t resent writing a check as much as roasting potatoes. Best in these cases to find a way to feed him which you do not resent. Be creative, be generous, delve into Confucian thought to help you through this trial of filial piety. Mostly, if you must do something which is that little bit too difficult for you to do graciously, circle yourself with friends who support you in your endeavor, who can help you achieve, temporarily, a degree of grace unnatural to you. To be sure, this situation doesn’t arise all that often and not for all that long unless you are particularly selfish, in which case it happens every day and in the same ways.