A recent conversation with a friend ventured to a frequently discussed topic with women in their late twenties and early thirties; relationships. Despite the fact that women truly seem to beat this topic to death with a club, we have good reason to discuss it so much. It often engulfs us, becomes our primary focus. I can’t help but wonder if men are the same way, but just don’t have the energy to actually use their words to talk about it, but I doubt it. Anyway, the point is, in the midst of our conversation my friend said this,
“I wish relationships were simple.”
It isn’t like the statement is earth shattering, or even one I have never heard before. But it held a new truth hearing her say it this time. A new truth given the complexity of humans that becomes increasingly clear as I venture farther and farther into the years of my life.
I responded “nothing is simple. Except baking, of course.”
And here lies the juncture between two of my greatest passions, people and baking. With baking, you know what you are getting into, and you know what you will get out of it in the end. It is predictable, consistent. The correct ratio of flour, butter, vanilla, and sugar will always yield a perfect piecrust. Sure, you can spice it up or mess it up. But, if you pay attention, you do it correctly, you bake it at the right temperature for the right amount time, you are guaranteed a life changing, mouth watering, pant size increasing experience of melt in your mouth piecrust after about 20 minutes at 375 degrees.
I escape to the kitchen for this reason. It is a place where I can unwind, unthink, undo, and redo. Recover, rejuvenate, recuperate, and move on from the inconsistencies, fears, and vulnerabilities that are human relationships. I can shut my mind off and know that I will have a pie at the end, or a cake, or cookies.
I developed my love of the kitchen early into my illness in high school. I had just been diagnosed with Crohns Disease and wasn’t yet well enough to be back in school. My days were spent at home with my grandmother, playing cards, watching movies, interspersing small short activities between stretches of naps and bubble baths. I have often thought that my love of cooking perhaps came from a period of wanting nothing to do with eating, so why not cook? But now, looking back, I can’t help but wonder if it was in fact about control.
I spoke to my mom on the phone the other day. She and my dad are currently shaken by the terminal illness of a dear friend. My dad had spent the day in the hospital. My mom on the other hand, spent the day in the kitchen. “What did you do today?” I asked, “I baked emotional cookies.” she replied. Apparently the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, or whatever it is they say about like mother like daughter.
The best part of baking is that once you get it, once you understand how it works, you can play around and have fun with it. You can experiment as long as you don’t stray from the basics and the results will be the same. Can you imagine if relationships were like this? If you could try something new without the fear or risk of getting hurt?
Investing in the kitchen isn’t a risk. Investing in people is all about risk.
People are so unpredictable. They will hurt you, disappoint you, doubt you, ignore you, stalk you, even harm you. Each one of us is full of scars from the people in our past. And sometimes, these scars can harm us just as much as the initial injury.
Two years ago I had a few episodes of serious pain and other stomach issues resulting in multiple hospital admissions, prolonged periods of liquid diets, and eventually, an unavoidable third operation related to my Crohns. The surgeon went in expecting to find new inflammation requiring another resection of my intestines. However, what he actually found was a nasty tangle of adhesions; scar tissues from previous surgery, that was strangling the good and healthy parts of my intestines. He was able to remove the scar tissue without needing to cut out more. But how symbolic is that?
All of these issues, all of the pain, weight loss, inability to eat solid food that I had suffered for over six months was all the result of scarring. Scarring from previous surgeries, previous attempts to make me well.
Sometimes, the scars that people have from the hurt in their past makes things just as complicated, just as painful as the initial harm. What’s worse is that with people, we take our pain and with it, intentionally or not, we inflict pain on others.
This is why relationships are so hard, so complex. We are billions of bundles of pain walking around. On the one hand protecting ourselves, assuming every future outcome will be similar to ones of the past.
“Every man will treat me the way he did,” or “any woman will be as harmful to me as my mother was.”
On the other hand, we fling ourselves around, haphazardly, assuming we are immune. Assuming that everything will be different this time. Repeating the same mistakes, fulfilling our destiny through the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result.
All of this ran through my head last night as I walked home. I looked around at the people passing me by, I no longer saw their jackets or hats, their faces or features, I began instead to just see pain, body after body of the results of and embodiment of the unpredictability of people. From the man on his phone discussing a coworker who had harmed his potential, the man leaving a corner store, two beers in a brown bag, an exhausted look on his face that implied more than a sleepless night a few hours prior, to the woman, nearly catatonic, eyes red, glazed, and fixed as she shuffled slowly up the street. Skin hanging on meatless bones, not properly covered by a coat for the cold, looking like something out of a movie or TV show, not out of my own neighborhood. I couldn’t help but wonder, what person made her that way? And who and what had happened to them before.
So no, my dearly loved friend, relationships are not simple because people are not simple. Relationships are full of risk, full of pain. They will scar you, mar you, make the future harder and the past unbearable. People are not like pies, although I sometimes wish they were.
But the thing that keeps us going, that keeps us holding on, is that at some point you find a person, or people that make you feel so overwhelmingly safe, so loved and protected, despite their pain, despite your own, and it is those pains that brought you together. So hold on, it isn’t simple but it is worth it. And it is so much better than pie.