Women do a lot of things to get men to marry them. Some use charm. Some use sex. Some use ultimatums.
Me, I used sandwiches.
When I tell people I had to make my boyfriend 300 sandwiches before he’d agree to marry me, most think I’m a sandwich short of a picnic. When I started a blog about it, my now-fiancé was labelled “The Internet’s Worst Boyfriend.” And when Matt Lauer called and said they wanted me on the Today show, my parents laughed: “Honey, you can’t even cook.”
And that’s the thing: I couldn’t cook. And that was costing me the chance to move forward in my relationship with a food-loving man.
My mom raised me to be a paradigm of feminism—my career choices, my money, where I went and with whom, they were all up to me. Why would a woman like me need to learn how to cook when I lived in a city filled with great takeout food? The guy who ran Saigon Grill on 90th street knew my voice because I called at exactly 6:52 every Sunday night for weeks with the same order—chicken bun with a Thai iced coffee.
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Then I met Eric. He loved food. He cooked beautifully. And being inept in the kitchen put me at a real disadvantage. I tried to help out, but I wasn’t fully his partner in the kitchen; loading a dishwasher didn’t seem as seductive as presenting a sizzling steak and vegetables on a plate after a long day of work. Eric never pressured me to cook, but he was only half joking when he told me he’d appreciate a sandwich from time to time.
One day, I called his bluff. I constructed a basic turkey and Swiss sandwich and presented it to him with a side of chips and a pickle. And then I saw the true power of learning how to cook. His face lit up. He took a photo –- overlayed with a double rainbow — and posted it on Facebook. And then he declared, "Honey, you are 300 sandwiches away from an engagement ring!"
Feminist me recoiled. I bet power barrister Amal Clooney didn’t have to make 300 sandwiches before getting that actor (what’s his name again?) to propose.
But the more I thought about it, I realized that when a woman cooks for a man, she IS empowered. Cooking takes creativity, effort, patience, thoughtfulness, compromise and consideration. All of the qualities most people would want in a mate.
It took the better part of two years, but I made my boyfriend the 300 sandwiches. I made sandwiches for cozy breakfasts and Sunday dinners. For holidays and yes, after arguments. Sandwich by sandwich, we became a closer—and more equal—couple, sharing laughs and the division of kitchen labor.
Some people still think cooking for a man is the equivalent of serfdom, as though I’d traded in my 2015 city girl persona to become Betty Draper. But cooking for a man isn’t surrendering your power; it’s claiming it.
Cooking allows a woman to exercise control and express affection at once. And along with writing, dancing, running marathons, driving a stick shift, riding a motorcycle and snowboarding, has made me a well-rounded, strong woman. I still excelled at work. I still paid my own bills and took birth control and voted and read “Lean In” three times. I was still a card-carrying member of the female gender. I had not been stripped of my womanhood because I made a few sandwiches. But I was able to inflict joy, good health and great memories on another person through a good meal. That, to me, is real empowerment.
When women complain to me about men who aren’t willing to commit, my advice is simple: Cook for him. Cook anything. Cookies. Biscuits. Coffee. Popcorn. Fillet Mignon. Paella. Find the one dish, or three dishes, or one flavor of ice cream, your partner goes cross-eyed for. Do it repeatedly.
After I made my 256th sandwich, breakfast arepas, a popular Venezuelan sandwich, E popped the question. We’re getting married this summer. There will be sandwiches at the wedding.
WORLD’S SWEETEST GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH RECIPE
It’s late, and you’ve got the munchies. This goat cheese, honey and chopped walnut sandwich, warmed, is great for those night-owl cravings.
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 slices bread
2 Tbsp goat cheese
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 Tbsp honey
Melt butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Smear the bottom piece of bread with goat cheese. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts and drizzle with honey. Finish with the other piece of bread. Warm in the pan for about 3 minutes, flipping once. Remove, slice and serve. Makes 1 sandwich.