The 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.
July 10, 2011 at 2:57 pm
You are spot on…I think my whole life has been based on expectations. I have expected a lot from the people in my life, probably way more than I should have and was forever being disappointed. A few years ago I started realizing this and have forced myself to become more realistic with my friends/family and other things in my life. I’ve been divorced as well, and back then I had this certain expectation of what a marriage should be (granted there were many other things wrong with that marriage) but now I’m re-married and I think one of the things that makes this 2nd marriage so much better is that I have lowered my expectations. Not to the point of settling – I don’t mean that. My ex and I used to fight about the dumbest things. But my husband now, we hardly ever fight because I have lowered those expectations that may have been a bit too unrealistic, and I’m much more content and satisfied with the results. instead of being forever disappointed, I am now quite often pleasantly surprised….. If that makes any sense.
July 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm
OMG!!!! So funny and so true. That friggn cookie! I’d rather eat peat bog from Ireland! It all has to do with expectations. I think this is why my separation is going so well. Initially, I was preparing for an acrimonious divorce based on other reports and common knowledge that divorce is “horrible.” But my ex and I are doing great. We actually had a disagreement about our son this morning and were able to work it out and I even felt he cared about what I needed and thought. This would have never happened when we were married. It would have been a drawn out fight ending with me crying not feeling that he saw my perspective or cared at all. When we were together I was constantly looking for the interchange we had this morning mostly because of the fact that we married. I thought that would married couple do: care about each other. I am not sure what we have right now and I am kinda afraid to call it anything because whatever it is, it ‘s working.
July 11, 2011 at 7:35 am
Very good metaphor!
July 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm
Please let me take you, your other veg friend Julie and other skeptics to some absolutely decadent calorie-packed vegan dessert joints. The genre has come a long way since the institution of Souen. That said, I am rushing and merely skimmed this seeing the words “Julie,” “vegetarian,” and “driest, nastiest amalgam.” However, I DO recognize that there is a metaphor going on here and this is really about categorizing and maybe settling for less and probably marriage, and not really about food. But still. Blossum carrot cake. Lula’s mint chip and hot fudge. Candle’s chocolate mousse… Just as not-so-nice things can come in nice packages with familiar monikers, so can very nice ones. To test this principle, we request a dessert date.