That Time I Dated A Man Who Was A Bit Too Interested In My Cooking
My only African friend in college once told me in the most Kenyan accent ever: “You are a young girl, you should be out dancing.” Perhaps she was right because 10 years later, I’m in bed, wine in hand, aimlessly swiping on Tinder.
The prolonged winter we recently experienced on the East coast made it almost impossible to go out and have fun, so as the weather began to turn I took my chances at home and swiped. One day I matched with a young man who just so happened to be Nigerian, as I am. I’ll admit, I did get a little excited to explore all the things we had in common — or at the very least trade stories about dramatic life experiences, our Nigerian mothers, maybe stop rolling my Rs so hard, and speak a bit of pidgin.
He was tall, dark and handsome, smart, educated, you know, your average Nigerian Ken doll. Once we started talking and getting to know each other, I broke the ice about being Nigerian as well and our conversation got much better. I was finally able to relax in the comfort of sameness with the man I was getting to know. Unfortunately, this very sameness would be the thing that did us both in.
Eventually, we exchanged numbers and would talk periodically throughout the day. One day as we went through our daily debrief on how our days went, I mentioned that I was foraging for dinner. This led to a conversation about my love for all things culinary and what exactly I was going to cook for myself. He then asked, “So do you know how to cook Egusi?” (Egusi is a popular Nigerian dish.) I buckled at the question, as it was very specific. I replied stating that my skills with this dish were okay but I hadn’t cooked it for a long time and would usually order that dish in as it was a time-intensive effort. He seemed disappointed. “Well we’re going to have to work on that,” he stated. “I want a wife who can cook Egusi as it’s my favorite.”
Sir. SIR?! I excused this comment as a first-time thing. A rookie dating mistake, if you will. But progressively throughout our conversation, this guy would keep throwing out these mini “tests” and questions about my cooking as though to size up my domestic skills until he finally blurted out one day: “You’d make a good wife.” At this point, I couldn’t tell if I had been transported back to the 60s or was making up this entire exchange in my head. I was triggered, mostly from a cultural standpoint. See, as girls in Nigeria (speaking from my own experience), we are taught to cook, clean, iron, fetch water, and develop life skills very early on. None of those abilities is inherently bad on their own, except that these life lessons always had an extremely sexist undertone to them. We were taught these things, not to care for ourselves, but in order to get and keep a man. I can’t tell you how many times I was told as a young woman to “learn how to cook for my husband.” Learning to cook was always to impress a man and never really for myself. Case in point, one Christmas I spent with my ex-boyfriend I slaved away in the kitchen all day, cooking every single Nigerian delicacy one could. At the end of the night, with swollen feet, all I got was a kiss on the forehead and no ring. Understandably, when this young gentleman brought up cooking and the word “wife” in the same sentence, I balked.
Why does the idea of domesticity imbue a certain validation of worthiness to be a wife? The fact that these are desirable qualities in a partner is not lost on me at all, but I’m confused why some men feel that domestication is a primary quality to look for when seeking a life partner. Last time I checked, the ability to cook, clean and care for one’s home is a fundamental life skill everyone should have.
Needless to say, the Nigerian Ken doll and I ended our conversation there, as I explained to him that I was no longer interested in dating. I may have signed up for Tinder, but I didn’t sign up for my marriageability to be sized up solely based on my domestic skills.