A few weeks ago, I made bacon.
Not once, but twice in one weekend. Now, I get that this might be a common, weekly, heck daily occurrence for many people. But the thing is: I’m 32 years old and I have never made bacon. Ever. So this is my story about bacon. Except, as it turns out, it’s not really about the bacon.
A little background: When I was 3 years old I made a decision that has most regularly impacted my life on a daily basis. My sister, 6 and a half years my elder, decided it was high time to inform me what chicken nuggets and hot dogs really were. Or rather, where they came from. Upon hearing the horrifying and, to be honest, shocking news that a chicken nugget originated as a chicken that lived outside (what? Ew!) my 3 year old self made the decision never to eat “animals” again. I informed my parents who went through several phases: amusement (when I told them), bewilderment (when they realized I wasn’t eating any “animals”), scheming (when they tried to convince me fish sticks weren’t animals), hope (when I came home from my babysitter with the news that I really did love fish, only to find out it was goldfish) and, finally, timid acceptance (when they realized I had a strong conviction).
Anyway, that’s how I ended up at age 32 never having made bacon before. And a few weeks ago, I made it twice. Which is where my partner comes in. I’ve been dating him for almost 3 years now, a little over 1 of which we’ve lived together. He is South Asian, which upon hearing, lots of people say “oh so is he a vegetarian too?” No, I have to explain, he’s Catholic, so his religion doesn’t play a factor in his diet. And no, I also say, he eats meat. Lots of it. Usually two different kinds of meat in one meal. When he gets pad thai it’s pad thai with chicken and shrimp. When he gets a burger at a diner it pretty regularly comes with bacon on top.
And so, we when we moved in together, we adopted a sort of “roommate” approach to meal cooking. We would buy groceries together and more or less make our own meals throughout the week. I thought I was being a cool vegetarian girlfriend- I didn’t make a big fuss about meat in the house. I know vegetarian partners who insist on a meat-free house. I know partners who won’t kiss their other halves when they’ve eaten meat. I was chill, I thought. So you can imagine my absolute shock and horror when he suggested, about 14 months into living together, that maybe I could cook meat sometime. I didn’t know where to begin.
“SERIOUSLY?” was about all I could muster although I was cycling through a Beyonce-esque music video in my head where I was (sexily but also powerfully) raiding our fridge and throwing out all meat products.
This wasn’t just about cooking meat, this was about respecting me as a partner, respecting my choices, my decisions, who I was as a human being. I did a quick run through of my fighting approach options:
1.) Straight up refuse and commence silent treatment for even suggesting that (but I’m trying to work on reducing my use of the silent treatment in search of a more enlightened relationship, so probably not a good choice for me)
2.) Start with: “Well maybe you should try cooking me some vegetarian meals first” (this wouldn’t entirely work because he does make veggie options sometimes…veggie bacon, veggie ground beef, veggie paneer)
3.) “If you loved me you wouldn’t make me do things I didn’t want to do” (this isn’t entirely true either. We as partners make each other do a lot of things we don’t want to do. Take out the trash. Clean the dishes. Make the bed every morning. Face fears that are holding us back. Be honest with ourselves.)
I pondered option 3. I spend a lot of time thinking about what a good relationship is and isn’t. I think because in all of my time as a single-someone, I built an image of what I thought the perfect partner would be. And that person was smitten with me. And because he was smitten with me, he was absolutely 100% in awe of everything I did and never asked me to do things I wasn’t already doing. After joining forces with another human being to form a relationship, I’ve realized that the beauty of a partnership is finding how much you can love someone despite that not being true.
Is he in awe of my heroic vegetarianism? Not really. Am I jumping at the chance to make him bacon? Hell no. But after I quite rapidly catalyzed and diffused several arguments in my head, I had to ask myself: what was really going on? I knew he respected me, I knew he cared about my preferences, my likes and dislikes. I might not like that he asked me to cook something different, but that was it. I just didn’t like that he asked the question. And if I was planning on spending a life with someone, I had to be okay with not liking questions they asked. I had to have faith that if I wanted to say no, I could. And I did-I knew if my answer was no, our relationship wouldn’t be over.
So then the next thing I had to ask myself was: could I make the bacon? I probably could. I could probably try it and see how it went. It wasn’t something I was jumping at the chance to do, but I would do it. Before I did, though, I had to ask:
“Can you make us a completely vegetarian meal? That you eat too?” “Sure”, he said, “sure I can do that.”
So I made it. It took three minutes. I didn’t really like touching the raw bacon. But I did. If I had never made it, what would have happened? He probably would have sighed and we would have moved on with our relationship. If I had really thought about why I don’t want to and had sat down with him and talked it out, he probably would have appreciated it, even if he didn’t understand or agree. Is he right? Am I wrong? Probably a little bit of yes and no to each question.
Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately) life and relationships, as it turns out, aren’t about black and white, right and wrong.
This week, I’m enjoying completely vegetarian chili, made entirely by him. I appreciate the chili, the thought that went into looking up the recipe, buying the ingredients, putting it in a Tupperware for me to eat this week. I appreciate it enough that I’m even thinking about making bacon again this weekend.