With the spirit and sentiment of Valentine’s Day in the air, it is easy to get carried away. There’s a reason why so many marriage proposals happen around this time of year. All those roses! All that chocolate! All that Champagne and candlelight!
It’s time to get a grip on one’s emotions before popping or responding to the big question. Do you really know enough about each other’s likes and lifestyle preferences to commit to a satisfying long-lasting relationship? There have been myriad articles suggesting topics that should be asked before entering a union, such as religious beliefs, career aspirations, feelings on having children and sexual preferences. Once I read a story that said compatibility can be determined by a couple’s individual beliefs about having a TV in the bedroom. (There is a compromise: Maybe leave the picture on but turn off the sound?)
But I have never seen the biggest deal breaker discussed: Do you eat well together?
Even if I did not eat for a living, I cannot imagine sharing my life with someone who did not have a sense of adventure and anticipation about meals. My ideal partner would have a taste for the elegant as well as for the low-down and the appreciation of ethnic foods and foreign markets—an essential way to gain insights while traveling.
All of this came home to me a few months ago while talking to a friend’s son who was thinking of proposing to his long-time girlfriend. Knowing he was passionate about restaurants, I asked if his beloved was also a food enthusiast, only to be told, not really “She just likes salads and vegetables and plain food, but she’s great about going along with me and is good-natured even while I have many more courses than she does.” I tried to suggest that the patience of a fiancée might not extend to that of a wife but my words of caution were not heeded; I hear a wedding date has been set. I also think it would feel indecent and embarrassing to be ogled by a gastronomic voyeur while enjoying a great meal alone.
One’s attitudes toward food are also critical indications of other physical appetites, by which I mean, of course, sex. In my first serious work, The Seducer’s Cookbook from 1962, I quoted that epic seducer, the Marquis de Sade: “A good dinner can cause a physical voluptuousness,” by now a well-acknowledged result. The willingness to throw hat-over-the-windmill and have a second serving of truffled pasta or chocolate mousse, might indicate cravings for other sensual enticements.
Compatibility does not presume that both partners will like exactly the same things all of the time. But a successful relationship leaves room for the other person’s preferences. My late husband Richard Falcone loved the Italian dish pasta e fagioli which oddly I did could not stand, but in an Italian restaurant, I could have something else. Still, he eyed me suspiciously every time I refused that soupy, starchy combination of ditali and white beans, as though he suspected I might be unfaithful.
His proposal took place in the beautiful bygone Greenwich Village restaurant, Enrico and Paglieri. We had been dating about six months when he ordered what for him was a typical Italian dinner: some fried calamari and mozzarella with tomatoes to start, followed by linguine with white clam sauce, then steak with potato croquettes and roasted peppers ending with gelato and espresso. As I finished it all, he said, “You know? You’re OK! Wanna get married?” It was not that the emphasis was on downing huge portions, but rather that I let go and apparently loved it all, as I did the ensuing 60 years.
I wonder how I would have felt knowing this was an evaluation for a special role—a sort of casting table instead of couch.
It is also important to recognize that being together at table is among the experiences you will go on sharing most often. As the late brilliant actor-comedian-gourmand-and-home- chef Alan King said in his mid-60s when we co-authored a book, Is Salami and Eggs Better Than Sex?, “Eating is the only thing I can still do three times a day.”
Might as well keep it friendly.