I will never willingly choose to eat a burrito on a first date. If I ever suggest to you that we eat together at Chipotle, you should know that it either means that you are in my inner circle, or that I think that our relationship is doomed. It’s a beautiful litmus test, really. How many suitors or potential friends can continue to see me the same way after I have consumed a burrito the size of my head in front of them? It would be one thing if I could do it neatly, but I’m not sure that there is a person on earth who can eat a Chipotle burrito without dropping and dripping part of it, without guacamole oozing onto her hands, and black beans, steeped in the juice of two kinds of salsa, smearing the corners of their mouth. I know this at least, I am not that person. If they still like me after seeing this it’s clear that they won’t run at the first sign of untidiness or disappointment, that our relationship isn’t based on my being put-together.
I grew up eating tacos at home a few times a week, first in San Diego, and then in Washington State, after we moved. My mother fried small corn tortillas and slightly larger flour ones in hot canola oil, folding them over halfway through so that they held their taco shape. I usually chose the flour ones because they got the most crispy, and I learned to pack them full of ground beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa, and avocado. On taco nights, we didn’t worry about staying free of debris. I waited until the end of the meal before I washed the salsa off my hands and cleaned off my face. Part of the enjoyment of eating tacos was the idea that there was nothing you could do to stay pristine. For a type A, list-maker who noticed when anything in her space was out of place, this was a safe way to stretch my comfort zone. This was a good place to be a little bit messy.
When I go out on dates, especially first dates, I think a lot about what we might eat. I blame this both on the fact that many of the men I’m dating ask me where I want to go, and also on my own tendency to overanalyze most decisions I make. Frequently, my inner dialogue revolves around what foods I can eat without making a mess. I can eat pizza with a knife and fork, but a hamburger just won’t fit in my mouth.
I know that for any kind of relationship to work, I need to be able to eat in front of the other person. I cannot hide away behind plates of pasta molded into small, bite sized shapes. Eventually, I will make my homemade red sauce in the blender, adding browned meat, and zucchini cooked soft. I will ladle it onto heaping bowls of angel hair and I will need to keep my cloth napkin close at hand.
Then, there are those sandwiches I make, more mustard than anything. I heap rounds of salami and cheddar cheese onto a croissant, sliced in half and cover it everything with plain yellow mustard, and then the top half of the croissant. It tastes like Chicago in the summer, and also like living on my own for the first time in the late spring, finally responsible for all of my own grocery shopping. It’s messy like those days of learning to feed myself. Messy like the tubs of guacamole I bought for dinner at Trader Joe’s because I was tired and didn’t have a food processor. Messy like the sticky counter after I’ve gotten out twelve ingredients to make one cocktail.
I’m learning that good relationships are like homemade pasta sauce, overstuffed tacos, and cocktails. They are nourishing and take time and trouble, they don’t stay contained in the safe parts of your life, they can delight and intoxicate you. They’re a mess.
I can wash my blender and wipe down my countertops. I can eat the dropped parts of my taco with a fork. But I don’t stay neat, and neither do my relationships.
Like in those constant taco nights from my childhood, learning to love the juicy salsa running down my arms, I’m stretching into the edges of my relationships. I’m saying words like “I’m lonely” and listening to words like “I don’t know what to do.” I’m opening my mouth wide to welcome a bite of burrito, knowing that part of it will fall and that the person in front of me will see the mess I’ve made. I’m letting the rich red sauce of relationship spread onto the table between us, enjoying the scent of freshly crushed tomatoes as it fills the air.