As odd as it may sound, the smell of garlic is the smell I most closely associate with love.
Let others have their sweet roses, heavy musks, and the heady scent of pomegranate. When I walk in the door I want to be greeted by a billowing aroma of a freshly cut bulb.
Let it be known that I am not some anti-vampire who becomes aroused by the scent of odorous vegetables. The actual bulb itself is nothing special. It’s the smell that’s released when my boyfriend takes the time to cook me something, which happens to almost always involves at least one clove.
Our relationship has been one of exploration and compromise. He likes me in dresses, but I adore my pants. I wish he would run more, he wishes I’d listen to his podcasts in which men drone on about the economy. We have many differences, but there is something we both enjoy.
We both love feeling taken care of. I don’t mean financially, although sometimes I think how perfect my life would be if I could live as a large grumpy pug in a wealthy man’s home.
I’m talking about emotionally. Looking after the other’s emotional well-being has been a bigger test of our relationship than nearly anything else.
Acquiring the knowledge of how to gauge another’s emotional needs was not easy. We’re both introverts who tend to repress everything. The best way to know if someone was annoyed by decoding how snidely they said, “Nothing,” when you asked what was wrong. As a result, our way of showing love revolved around food.
Bad day at work? Here is the pearl tea you like.
Did you have a draining conversation with your needy brother? Look at this chicken I roasted!
Anxiety setting in? I’ve killed this boar for you!
While the boar bit is a lie, the fact remains that food became our love language. We opened up more, talking between bites, then we did while doing any other activity. In all fairness because of time constraints, this was one of the only activities we were actually do together. Well, besides others that don’t involve the kitchen. Usually.
There was only one problem. I would cook for him, but he would generally buy me food from a restaurant.
I started to feel resentful. I’d take the time to go shopping, prep, and make him a meal. He’d pop in somewhere and that would be it.
We had a few conversations about his lack of cooking skills. Usually, while I was cooking, focused, and hating to explain how to chop tomatoes for a salad. How would he ever make me food if he was that uncertain about tomato slicing? I didn’t need a feast, just a little more effort.
Over time he’d offer to do dishes, bring some wine, but overwhelmingly I was the cook. I begrudgingly accepted things as they were, but felt sad whenever I thought about the issue too much.
I hadn’t known it before, but having a man that could cook was something I wanted. I never said so, but I think he knew. He started watching more closely and asking questions. He was listening. And, like the robots that will one day kill us all, he was learning.
Then, one night, I was on my way home after a particularly grueling day. We had a cooking date, which meant he would help prep where he could, but I would be doing most of the work. I thought about calling and asking him to order something but didn’t want the meat thawing in the fridge to go to waste. I was irritated, angry, and wasn’t sure I could handle being the only adult in the house who could cook anymore.
I started to unlock the front door, and that’s when I smelled it.
The unmistakable scent of garlic sizzling in a hot pan.
Upon entering the apartment I saw a miracle. Everything was ready to go. The vegetables were chopped and spiced. He hadn’t called me to ask how big to cut the pieces, or how much of which spice to add. He’d done it himself. The meat was out of the fridge, marinating in a tangy-looking concoction. He had poured me a glass of wine that now rested on the side of the couch, where I like to sit the most.
The sight almost brought tears to my eyes, as no onion ever had before.
Now I have no resentment when I cook for him because I know he can return the gesture. Food is still our love language it feels like we are finally getting to the same chapter.
When we cook together, deftly cutting the mountain of garlic we like in our food, the scent released reminds me that the man beside me is someone willing to grow and learn, and that inspires me to do the same.