Diets, Differences, and Dates: Can a Couple that doesn’t Eat Together, Stay Together?

Love and Sex

Diets, Differences, and Dates: Can a Couple that doesn’t Eat Together, Stay Together?

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

Ascroll through my social media timeline paints the picture of a relationship in perfect health. My posts with my girlfriend are nauseatingly mushy, and most of our public interactions have an air of romantic hubris to them. I guess I should count my blessings; not everyone is lucky enough to be in an emotionally and sexually compatible relationship. But the overt love-in that Sara and I flaunt hides an ugly secret: we’re incompatible when it comes to food. 

After all, one of the many beautiful things about being in a relationship is indulging in new experiences together. Close to the top of that list is trying out new eateries, ordering in from exotic places, and basically being the reason why everyone asks your partner, “Is that a beer belly?” But instead of enjoying these fruits of our formally acknowledged fornication, the advent of Swiggy and Zomato has only added to our dietary woes as a couple. Since Sara is a vegetarian, an average evening of Netflix and Chill with the new Sacred Games season had me relating to Gaitonde saying, “Murga mangta hai mereko!” And when Sara utters those three dreaded words — “kuch order kare?” — the rest of our evening involves a heated debate over why “red velvet cake is basically just coloured chocolate cake.” By the end, Guruji’s plans of nuclear warfare suddenly don’t seem so bad.

When it comes to dietary incompatibility, we aren’t alone. Studies have shown that in parts of the world, couples spend up to five-and-a-half days a year deciding what to eat. I’ve met couples, old and young, who have had a gripe over their dietary restrictions. My former boss, for instance, is a strict Tam-Brahm married to a steak-devouring Catholic. The two are the picture of a happy marriage, juggling demanding careers with an even more demanding pre-teen son. But all this falls apart the minute the missus decides to chomp down some ribs on the same table as her husband. And I know of a Gujarati-Muslim duo that have been in the throes of a steamy romance for months but haven’t shared a meal together yet. I find it a little bizarre that both these couples can indulge in copious coitus, but draw the line at sharing a meal with both nalli nihari and mutter paneer on the table. These are questions that often plague my idle mind.

As we approach a year of being together, it’s become glaringly obvious that Sara and my palates are on two different ends of the spectrum. She, a fussy vegetarian who doesn’t necessarily enjoy overpowering flavours while I need chicken and a generous sprinkling of spices in most of my meals. I caught a ray of hope six months ago when she drunkenly chomped down a chicken burger. But my dream of us sharing a plate of chicken lollipops was squashed when she spent most of the following day throwing up and berating herself for her lapse in judgement.

I find it a little bizarre that both these couples can indulge in copious coitus, but draw the line at sharing a meal with both nalli nihari and mutter paneer on the table.

My gripe with vegetarianism aside, couples do differ over much more than just meat. Sometimes, it boils down to how deeply personal food is to us. For instance, I’ve grown up calling the roadside snack “pani puri” but Sara insists on calling them “gol gappas”. And sometimes she chooses to challenge nature by putting the peri peri masala on the side of the plate and dipping each fry in it individually. I have a fundamental problem with these things, and witnessing Sara commit these culinary crimes feels like daggers being driven into my eyes. 

The question of what to eat together is to couples what purgatory is to lost souls. Whether it’s take-out or restaurants, Sara and I can’t seem to find our usual simpatico vibe. Lately I’ve found myself pining for a meal that’s solely my choice. This means not having to settle for sharing a mild paneer reshmi tikka when I’m really craving the succulent goodness of a chicken kathi roll. And I thank the Lord for individual portion sizes every time we go to a chaat stall together.

This probably comes off as a rant, but having a partner who shares your enthusiasm — in sickness, health, and food — is a big part of the appeal of being in a relationship. After giving it some thought, I’ve come to realise that the reason why we are all so obsessed with getting our partners to try out the food we’ve grown up loving is similar to the reason we want them to watch the shows that shaped our childhood: we want their validation. Having grown up around some of Mumbai’s most legendary Indo-Chinese (or Chindian, for the pros) hotspots in Santacruz and Bandra, I feel the same joy at Sara enjoying a bite of honey chilli potatoes as I did when I first showed her Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” episode. In both cases, her approval mattered. And even if it was begrudging at first, it’s a triumph nonetheless.

While Sara’s and my future together is obviously not based on something as trivial as differing food choices (I hope), the culinary clash is definitely a challenge. Thankfully, despite our war over plates of chicken lollipop and paneer frankies, we’ve found common ground in bottles of Antiquity Blue.