While my husband and I were laying in bed one night, I mindlessly scrolled through my Facebook feed. I chuckled at a meme and turned the phone over to show Omar.
“Marriage is constantly asking each other what you want to eat until you die.”
“So true, so true,” Omar and I laughed together for a minute. I kept scrolling.
And so it goes. Each night we — like the millions of couples before us — ask each other what the other would like for dinner. At best it’s smooth sailing, no-nonsense conclusion, at worst it’s an all-out argument. (I just don’t like Pho, ok?!)
The daily “what to do for dinner” conversation routinely happens around 3 pm. This past Wednesday, before I sent the message, I quickly Google’d some rice recipes and there it was. A beautiful picture of perfectly arranged seafood on a delicious fluffy bed of rice. Paella the traditional Spanish dish. Exotic, flavorful, and adventurous — it was Wednesday, y’all.
I texted Omar.
Let’s make Paella tonight.
Surprisingly, he agreed. We recently bought our first home, which has allowed us to cook together more err…harmoniously. Prior to our house, we’d be cooking elbow to elbow — which is definitely not as romantic as it sounds.
Paella night was a green light. And during those few hours of cooking rice and shellfish, I learned a few things about our marriage.
Sometimes it requires you to go out of your way to get what you both need
Bomba Rice isn’t at our local grocery store. And because we live in Austin, neither are Littleneck Clams or Mussels. Actually, most of the ingredients weren’t at our local store. So this meant we had to meet at our bougie store, Central Market (which for the record, is amazing and I love everything about it, except maybe the prices).
Going out of our way for ingredients felt synonymous to us needing different things in our lives. And even though going out of our way can be a hassle, we both still made the effort and showed up.
Our families live on opposite sides of the country; which requires both intentional planning and offering up PTO hours. It means holidays are harder to plan, missing out on family gatherings, and difficult (often not guilt-free) decisions on where to spend our vacations.
Sometimes you’ll read things wrong, but that doesn’t mean it’ll come out bad
It turns out that “turn Shrimp halfway” does not mean to continuously turn them on their other half every few seconds. Whoops.
I realized I read the instructions wrong. Not terribly wrong, I still knew we were making Paella, but I didn’t understand that task right away and my knee-jerk reaction was to be angry. With myself, with Omar, with our cat, with anyone who would receive my anger.
How difficult to manage.
We both intentionally decided to not get upset about shrimp. And like life, it’s easy for me to default to anger when I misunderstood something entirely. It’s not my fault. It’s the writer’s fault for not being clear, it’s Omar’s for not checking my work, it’s our cat’s fault for meowing constantly while I was reading. It is not my fault.
There was palpable tension, our Paella was not turning out the way we’d want it to. But we decided we wouldn’t let this misstep ruin our time cooking together, we focused on the next steps of the recipe and continued to cook.
(by the way, it was my fault)
Some things are done when they open up, some things are just starting to cook.
Clams open when they’re done. Mussels open slightly before they’re done. (Thanks, internet)
When things are tense for me, I tend to explode out. I say all the things that I’m thinking and/or feeling and generally feel better after everything is said. I’m not one for contemplative thought, I take action quickly. I open up, and I’m done.
Omar is different. He listens. He’s patient and quiet while I’m over there ‘opening up’ like a madwoman. He’ll open his shell a little bit while I’m sniffling with every emotion out there, but he’s not done. He sits in the steam for a bit in order to fully open. And when he does open up, he’s not explosive. He’s gradual, contemplative, and resolute.
It’s a balance that works for us.
Enjoying it still requires work
If you’ve had Paella you know eating it requires a balance of de-shelling, ripping heads off, and tenderly scooping. It’s almost too romantic to think about this metaphor, really. It gives me butterflies thinking about the wholeness this dish represents.
Paella is delicate. To make it requires attention and love. To eat it requires savoring and work.
And isn’t this the perfect metaphor for marriage?
I don’t want to pretend I’m an expert in marriage. We haven’t been married long; we don’t have children yet. We’re at a point in our lives where we can cook Paella on a Wednesday night with little collateral damage.
But what I do know is that marriage is not happily-ever-after. It’s daily work of showing up, listening, opening up, and asking each other what you want to eat.
I suggest Paella.