photoThe other night, a bunch of us were out at Souen, this superhealthy, macrobiotic restaurant near Union Square, which has been serving patchouli-scented, hummus-eating healthy people since the early ’70s. This was at the request of my friend Julie, who is a vegetarian. The food was good (I had some garlicky greens) and as much as I love a good cheeseburger, I got really into that feeling of filling my body with something indisputably healthy. My dish was so tasty–truly tasty, not just tasty-for-healthy-food tasty–in fact, that I had fantasy flashes of revamping my life so as to incorporate more kale.

It was all good until dessert. Julie got some kind of soy-based pudding thingy with cacao in it, which didn’t taste like pudding but wasn’t horrible, either. To me, the best thing about it was that it wasn’t good enough to compel you to finish it, thus making it low calorie.

Jen, however, ordered the cookie of the day, which was the driest, nastiest amalgam of pressed gains that had ever been baked at 350 degrees, with sesame seeds sprinkled on top where by all rights there should have been pretty artificially dyed pink and turquoise sprinkles or at the very least chocolate chips. It is pictured above. She took one tiny piece and shoved the plate away disdainfully.

We all took a crumb and tried it. If you looked around the table at that moment, you’d have seen five sour-faced women sliding their tongues along the roofs of their mouths like toddlers who were given strained spinach in lieu of the expected apple sauce.

My experience of the cookie was that the no doubt salubrious grains it was made of were sucking the saliva from the pink tissue of my mouth faster than I could generate it, forming a dry glob of matter that I couldn’t swallow for lack of lubrication. It was like I had a ShamWow! in my mouth. I drank some water, which helped, but that was it for me.

At that moment, a lesson I had learned and re-learned over the last year since I split from my husband found new expression. The problem here was not that there was anything inherently wrong with this cookie, distasteful though it was. The problem was that it was called a cookie, and thus our expectation of it having all the positive properties of a cookie–sweetness, for example, or some kind of solid fat like, say, butter, which would have made the texture an enjoyable part of the sensory experience–was bound to be horribly disappointed.

The cookie was simply limited.

“If you don’t think of it as a cookie,” I suggested, “But rather as a fiber supplement or perhaps a hockey puck, it’s not so bad,” We laughed as well as we could considering our jaws were fused together with healthy cookie mortar.

Cookies are limited, like people are limited (myself perhaps more than most) like relationships are limited. Everything and everyone is limited, and if you recognize and accept the limitations of the cookie or person or relationship, you can access it a lot more accurately than if you’re constantly hoping the cookie or person or relationship will turn out to be something it just cannot be. But if you shrug, stop eating the cookie after one bite or stop thinking of it as a cookie and eat the whole thing without any expectation of sensual pleasure, you’ll be a lot less frustrated, and can even appreciate the so-called cookie for its colon cleansing properties.

Several of us around that table at Souen were recently separated, and one had divorced a decade ago. Jen is in a lovely new relationship, which is a different kind of transition, and is exploring a different set of limitations. One of the women is adjusting to her new, more respectful friendship with her ex (he’s a better ex-husband than he was a husband, in her opinion). The problem was not with him or with my friend (limited though of course both human beings are) but the fact that they were married. Their marriage was limited.

I am still figuring things out with regard to my own marriage, but when I look back on how I was with my ex, I know for certain that I felt limited, that I could not be the self I wanted to be, a self that might have made our marriage better and both of us happier. I don’t yet know if my limitations were because our relationship was called a marriage and that, perhaps, led to us having expectations of it that I could not meet. If it had remained a friendship, perhaps it would have been the most fulfilling friendship ever. Who knows?

All I know is that you shouldn’t call something a cookie in the hopes that calling it so will make it so. You have to call things what they are, even if it means you don’t get to eat it.