The Food of Love (and Sex)

For whatever reason, for the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about sex and relationships in the context of food. I am not the first person to think about food as a metaphor for relationship and sex. Laura Esquivel wrote a beautiful and haunting book about that very thing: Like Water For Chocolate. (Holy moly. Super sensual.) But musing about the metaphor got me thinking about how nourishing sex, communication, and relationship are to us humans. We need them to feed us; many of us don’t feel ‘full’ without them. Of course, we all have different preferences and flavors and meals we enjoy- but sex, relationship, and communication are meant to nourish us in a way that is similar to how food nourishes our body- giving us energy, joy, pleasure.

One thing I was thinking about was how far I have come in my ‘meal preparation’ skills over the years. I think we all start out in love and relationships making what is most familiar to us. We start with the mac-and-cheese or spaghetti or ramen noodles equivalent of love and sex. Those are the basics and we all have to start where we are. As we practice love, sex, and relationships, some of us discover that we’re terrible at cooking- we never got decent instructions from our family and friends. Some of us discover that what we learned to ‘cook’ in terms of sex and relationships is actually plastic food- not real, nourishing, or tasty. Some of us discover that we actively sabotage our own good cooking- we use salt when the recipe calls for sugar. Some of us just can’t quite get in the groove with whoever else is in the kitchen- we keep bumping into each other.

But, like cooking, if you’re committed to the process of learning about relationships, you can make some really fantastic things in your relational life. You begin to learn that love, sex, communication, are different aspects of the whole meal. And perhaps you’re really skilled at some parts but need to learn and practice more in others. I’m very good at loving people- watching and learning about them and then caring for them in exactly the way that makes them feel encouraged, seen, and loved. I have also been toxic about that skill- loving too much (where I hurt myself) or controlling my boyfriend (and husband) instead of caring for him.

These days I feel like a master chef, though. I know how to make the separate pieces of sex, communication, and love work into a beautiful feast. I know how to grow the ingredients, prepare them, and make them work into something tasty, fun, and nourishing. (This applies to other kinds of relationships as well, not just sexual or romantic ones.) One of my soul lessons for last year was that I wanted to have more opportunities to teach people about sex and relationships and how to make them better. (Which I did and am doing.) So now I also have the skills to help people make better mac-and-cheese or figure out why they keep putting salt in their recipe instead of sugar. There will always be moments of bumping into the other folks in the kitchen, depending on the relationship, but I also know a lot about how to work through those issues and make it more of a dance. It’s been fun to learn this and also to be of more service to my fellow humans.

What’s on the menu?

One of the best meals I have ever eaten was at a renovated castle in Wales. We were traveling in England and Wales as part of the celebrations for my husband receiving his Ph.D. And one evening we had dinner out on the back deck of this small castle we were staying at. We were the only people there for dinner and a new chef was eager to prove his skills to his new employer. I don’t remember what the meat was, but it was delicious and I can still taste it in my mouth, nearly 20 years later. There were mashed potatoes and vegetables, reductions and dressings, and a decadent chocolate dessert. It was memorable and amazing. There was nothing that would have improved it. Nothing more was needed.

One thing I’ve learned about sex and relationships is that sometimes you realize you’re not being nourished by it anymore. For a variety of reasons, people find that their relationship just isn’t working for them and they need more or different kinds of nourishment in those areas. They start taking vitamins to keep the marriage intact, rather than learning how to cook something more nourishing- or leaving the kitchen all together. This is what affairs often revolve around. Something is missing- love, sex, communication, being seen or cared for, one person grows and the other doesn’t- and so we supplement it with another person. I don’t judge people for this anymore- I know it happens and I know a lot of people are just doing the best they can do. (What I do judge is people who don’t undertake the emotional and psychological work of figuring out what’s missing and whether they can learn to fix it or leave the relationship.) The thing is- supplements aren’t the same as nourishment. If they were, we’d all be living off of Flintstone and One-A-Day vitamins. Humans need real nourishment- in food and relationships.

There are other options, in the kitchen and in marriages. Long ago, my husband and I agreed that we could flirt with, and potentially kiss, other people- if it didn’t threaten our marriage. My husband is a fabulous dancer and when we go out, lots of women dance near him and compliment him on his dancing. He might flirt with a few of them, but then he goes to the bar, takes a shot of whiskey, gives me a kiss, and heads back out to the dance floor. It boosts his ego and it doesn’t bother me one bit. We talk about this like it’s a brownie, a small desert or snack. It doesn’t ruin the meal we have created- sometimes it enhances it because it gives us each a little ego boost and helps us feel attractive and alive. It’s a treat, a bit of fun, and we’ve both agreed to let it work this way. Because we define our relationship this way, it isn’t cheating. It all depends on how you use what you’ve got- you can make a feast from nothing if you know your intentions and you can use the space in your relationship as a chance to make something new, rather than supplementing what doesn’t exist.

In years past, I have wanted to sleep with other people, but that really seems like a step too far for me and my relationship (I’ve fixed things that were missing, in other words). It would be a true betrayal and I just can’t imagine doing that anymore. I really do love my guy, and sometimes we are so deeply in love it feels like it’s new all over again. But there are also those moments when it’s very clear I’ve not kissed anyone else for 24 years and I’d just like to have a drink with someone, flirt, chat, listen, smile, and maybe make out a little at the end of the night. It’s not going to break anything important and it keeps my spark alive.

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I think I’m realizing why I have been thinking about love and relationships as nourishment and food. The other aspect of this metaphor is about some of my soul lessons from this past year. If I’m a chef in this metaphor, my boundaries are the restaurant I work in and my soul lesson lately is to keep good boundaries. There are some wonderful, beautiful people inside my restaurant. They love me, they dig me, the get me, and I love them in return (not all of these folks are romantic relationships, obviously). There are also people outside the restaurant- some of whom happily walk past, no need to interact. There are also some folks outside who continue to press their nose against the glass and look at the menu taped to the window, but never open the door to come inside. In the past (even now to some extent) I will open the door and try to welcome them in- let’s say hello, let’s start the conversation about what you like and what we might cook together. But my lesson this year is to let those people do their own thing. If they want to come inside and see what we can make, they will. They know how simple it is- a call, a text, an email, a message. If they can’t extend the most basic communication, if they can’t even say they’d like to come inside and see if there’s a seat for them, then I am learning to let them do what they need to do- to stay safe and to stay away. It’s not been a fun lesson, but I get a bit better at handling it each day (well, two steps forward, one step back, anyway).

I don’t think of myself as a scary person, but perhaps I am to some people. Actually, I know I am to some folks. There are people I have kicked out of my metaphorical restaurant and some who can only come in the door but never have a meal. A couple of folks I have banished and put snipers on the roof for. So, yeah, I can be scary (but it takes a long fucking time for me to get there, so don’t be an asshole and it won’t happen.) If I can be scary, then I understand people being scared of me. And that’s okay. We’re all where we are and working with the skills and ingredients we have at hand.

I can see now that this metaphor is a gift from my mind- a way for me to see the lessons before me and be able to work with them more skillfully. It is a way to keep me accountable to myself- to make sure I watch myself and don’t fall into the old traps. It’s allowed me to see some things about my skills, my life, and my self that I needed to think about. I live by symbols and metaphors- they are wonderful tools that you can turn around in your mind and find new things to learn, new ways to see. So, yes, this metaphor is here to help, to remind, to help me grow stronger. (Our hearts and souls really do know the way- they help us in synchronous, serendipitous, and secret ways like this.)

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That’s enough musing for tonight, right, fellow travelers?
Big love from the couch,
Joanna :: xoxo

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