When I began life with my cohabitant two years ago, I was horrified by his food choices, but it was too early for lines in the sand. He is, after all, a grown man, has been feeding himself for more than six decades, and actually did not ask my opinion about his food choices. He didn’t know I was a foodie and I had never met someone who enjoyed ready-to-eat corndogs from the minimart. It’s a wonder we made it through that early phase of discovery. His familiarity with fried food warmed under a heat lamp alarmed me. Also, so much sugar in his coffee. Also, eating meat three times a day. But I kept those thoughts to myself because my strategy for changing him was Year One Sugar, Year Two Meat. I said those exact words to myself. Be patient. Pace yourself. Don’t try to do this all at once. Year One Sugar. Year Two Meat.
On our first date we met for breakfast, went for a hike, and then had lunch. He had eggs benedict for breakfast and put four sugars in his coffee. I love eggs benny, but the four sugars were a flashing red light on my mental dashboard. Then hours later for lunch we had cheeseburgers and fries, which were delicious, but for me an unheard-of indulgence after our chubby breakfast. It’s no surprise I gained several pounds when we started living together. I do all the cooking and I was showing off my meat skills.
Obviously, no one should take relationship advice from me. I really did go into this food sharing kitchen takeover with the idea that I was going to change him. First eliminate sugar from his diet. Imperceptibly. Yet entirely. That would take about a year. Then eliminate meat the next year. Same approach. Meat would slowly magically disappear from our lives. It was a plan.
At first, I thought I could just convince him sugar was bad and talk him out of it. So, after sending him many texts with links to articles about sugar addiction and inflammation, I stood in front of the refrigerator and used the calculator on my phone to add up all the sugar he was consuming on a weekly basis. Then I filled a glass bowl with actual granular sugar equal to his weekly consumption and left the bowl in the middle of the kitchen table. This approach was either too shock-and-awe or too Nancy Drew. I’m not sure. But I did get the message that it was a bridge too far. Put the bowl away. My visualization therapy had failed.
Then I tried lying. (I know, this is such a popular trend right now.) And for about a month, I thought I was successful. A few times week I would dilute his bottle of French Vanilla Sweet Cream with some milk. It’s his special brand of French Vanilla Sweet Cream. He puts it in his coffee every day. The sugar in the bowl was mostly from his French Vanilla Sweet Cream ingredients list. When I told him he should stop adding sugar to his coffee, he said, “It’s my coffee.”
Those words rocked my world. It was my moment of visualization therapy. His coffee. My coffee. I drink my coffee black. If I had to have it with dairy, I would rather not have it. He said he felt the same way about coffee without sugar. He would rather drink something else. Morning coffee is church. Don’t try to change my religion.
Still, I persisted. Mornings I’m usually at my desk or in the garden, not around the kitchen when he makes his coffee, so my only way of measuring his sugar consumption was to track the amount of French Vanilla Sweet Cream in the bottle in the fridge. And incredibly, it never ran out. I just kept adding milk. One morning, weeks after I had begun my deception, we happened to be refilling our mugs at the same time. I noticed him open the sugar cannister to put a teaspoon in his coffee and I almost broke my elbow patting myself on the back. I did it! I changed his behavior! He’s measuring his consumption!
Then when I made a positive (condescending) good-behavior-reinforcing (self-righteous) remark on it, he sighed and said, “I wouldn’t have to do this if you would stop adding milk to my cream.”
So, yeah. That didn’t really work.
I think I started with sugar because it’s much easier for me to give up sugar than meat. A cheeseburger is my dream food. I was a vegetarian for years. Then I moved to the country and started a small livestock farm, growing my own food, and learning to harvest home-grown meat. My philosophy was life with purpose, death with dignity. I believe we are what we eat. My animals had beautiful lives and they made beautiful food. I learned to taste the difference. Now I have a curious palate. Though the rising price and our goal of wellness may stop us from eating meat. Before I could test my Year Two Meat strategy, he went on a fishing trip and came home with 100 lbs. of fish. That put us on the path to reducing our meat consumption until now our meals are mostly vegetarian.
I’ve thought of food as medicine since I was in my 20s and had health issues of my own. I pay attention to food ingredients and nutrition. I read labels. Also, I have been 40 lbs. overweight, and I know how hard it is to lose that. Plus, I was married to my deceased husband for 32 years before he died of cancer, and health threats against the man I love, dead or alive, launch me like an airbag into caregiver mode. Make no mistake, this is about love. And control. In this life I’m conditioned to ponder my partner’s death. Those thoughts just surface in me. So, please don’t eat sugar because I’m more comfortable if you don’t eat what I don’t eat! Life is uncertain. Let’s not invite trouble.
Of course, this makes no sense. He’s mentioned hypocrisy a few times, but my confirmation bias de-prioritizes his point of view and pushes it so far down my newsfeed that I almost never see it. Also, feeling in control reduces my anxiety. Yes, I was trying to goad him into becoming my clone. Probably a bad idea. I know a lack of diversity in my thinking reduces my resilience. But I really, really, really want to be right all the time. This is my struggle. To have the confidence to fight for my point of view and the humility to admit there’s a possibility I’m wrong. Fortunately, I have someone who is very different from me to recognize my risky behavior patterns and nudge me away from extremism. Dare I call him my Sugar Daddy?
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