"Fabio is on travel this week so I guess it's wine and cereal for dinner."
"Meh, cooking for myself, don't bother. If it's just me, it's cereal. Or, like, rice cakes and air sauce."
"You cook? For yourself? Why? I mean, how do you do that? I mean, sorry, that's great that you actually eat food that isn't in a bag or a box although it must be tiring to do it just for you, like even pouring the milk is hard for me when I'm by myself, but, yeah."
These are all variations on the "If one dines alone, one must starve" routine I've heard for many years. People are routinely genuinely shocked that I take the time to make myself meals. I can tell it's genuine because they look so concerned about it in a very real way. Their shock is in turn still mildly shocking to me--moreso, for some reason, than some of the other weird and reductive things people say to single/no kids people--because I'm not sure what else a person is supposed to do about food when other people aren't there other than make it and eat it like normal.
My response to these statements is generally that I like to eat and I really like to eat food that doesn't suck, and this doesn't change whether I'm among one hundred people or alone. This sounds obvious to me and a little tiring to explain, and I need that extra energy to turn the stove burners on all by myself and lift my one solitary fork and stand on a chair to get the crock pot down from the high shelf and stuff, so I try to keep it simple. If I'm feeling really energetic and not exhausted from wandering this earth alone, I point out that if I only ate cereal and drank air any time other humans weren't around to eat with me, I'd hardly ever have a decent meal at home, and that will not do, friends.
I dislike when these conversations have that undertone of confusion why anyone would do anything just for herself, particularly a basic life skill, so I try to ignore it. I leave out thoughts about not eating not being in the consequences column of dating every commitmentphobe in these United States, and running like hell from that one super-settling situation that was almost accidentally a marriage before I came to my senses. I shudder to think of that dinner table. I don't point out that sometimes what is packaged as a joyful group dining situation just isn't, although it's kind of relevant. I try not to go on about the simple pleasure of making food for the sake of eating it, or the gratitude that I have never had to face starving so hell yeah, I'm going to eat what I've got and like it. These are the things to live and not talk about, although I'm making an exception here. I've learned to have little commentary about other people's family choices, no matter how big or small, because people have so much commentary on living single. I believe we all do what we do and we get what we get, and hopefully live in some kind of contentment regardless, hallelujah, amen.
I understand that my experience may also be colored by the fact that I actually enjoy cooking. It's a creative pursuit if you work it right, and I like following a basic guideline and watching what I'm making take shape. Tonight I made a pork roast and brown sugar sweet potatoes, because it's in my DNA to want some kind of major protein source on a Sunday afternoon and in the fall I find it extra comforting. It was so good I wanted to marry me, and now I have food in the refrigerator for the week, when I'm face down in my computer and don't want to think about lunch. I need food, so I cook it. I'm hungry, so I eat.
This is certainly not true for all people. I watched my widowed grandmother who by no means needed a weight reduction program heat herself up a Lean Cuisine Chicken Chow Mein a few nights a week and eat half of it, leaving the other half on the stove in case I wanted it when I got home from my waitressing shift late at night. Her late afternoon lunch was Oreos and milk, a mostly solitary affair. She cooked regularly, but it was entirely in the context of homemaking and I'm not sure she ever enjoyed it; my grandfather was the dedicated home cook, and while I know he liked feeding us, I think he would have done it for himself, too, had he outlived her.
Now I'm depressing myself. Man I miss my grandparents. Why can't people live forever?
Anyway. Of course there are the off nights when I don't feel like cooking. I have a busy life and I often get tired and don't always feel like cooking real food. I love to eat out and it's fine when other people cook for me and I can show up somewhere and give them money to do that. I even eat cereal for dinner from time to time--Lucky Charms if I'm in feeling good about being bad, or Raisin Bran on a regular day. But I'm just as likely to make a whole, real, meal, and yes, all for me. A few years ago I was reading and editing hundreds of food blog posts for work. If you haven't delved into that genre, there are thousands, and many of them are so beautiful and well done I found myself wanting to reach through the screen and eat them for lunch. I was inspired to create a list of dishes I wanted to make--mostly classic things and basics like chicken soup, pie crust, pot roast, proper eggs--that I had never learned how to cook, a recipe life list, of sorts. Since then I've tried new things on a regular basis, and it's really fun and feels like a productive skill to develop. (Homemade chicken soup? What a chore. If anyone makes this for you, know that they love you so much.) Pinterest is recipe city, and since I pin for work and for fun, I have stored a bunch of things for future reference. I may not make a single craft on any board I've ever obsessively pinned from, but several of the recipes have made it from the screen--I have a Brussels Sprouts board, and, I'll admit it, 50 Shades of Chicken--to my kitchen. So much fun.
I have to remember that the people questioning why in the world I'd cook for just myself are often people who have lived their adult lives with a spouse (or not) and kids (mostly). So while they think that they would never cook if they lived alone for an extended period of time, they really have no way of knowing if they would or not, because they've never done it. I've never had to churn out dinners five to seven nights a week for a family. I do love cooking for friends, although I know it's not the same. I've watched friends do it--hell, I watched my own mother do it--and I know it isn't always fun or easy. Maybe if I did that I'd dive for the cereal box when I was finally left alone, too. I have no way to know. I do know that it's just a thing you do, much like it's a thing I do for myself.
The thought that I reject, though, and one that gets insinuated frequently and directly stated from time to time is that cooking for one is pointless or a waste of time. I don't mean to get all old inspirational hair dye commercial here, but I do believe I'm worth a homemade meal served on a real plate; I am happy to serve this to myself, and that I can.
I'll admit to hating the clean-up part and I'll absolutely take help with that. Kitchen squad goals? That's mine.