A fresh perspective…
Tobi Layton, married 6 years

While I fantasize about possessing a few Martha Stewart skills, cooking is not my forte. Fortunately, my husband is not picky or demanding. After four years of marriage, I have learned one secret to preparing a successful meal: something is better than nothing.

Early in our marriage I made valiant, though sporadic, efforts to be the happy homemaker. I distinctly remember the filet mignon that I broke the budget to buy for Ryan’s birthday dinner. Unfortunately, the steaks also threatened to break a tooth.

I searched the Internet for a chicken cordon bleu recipe on Valentine’s Day. I slaved for hours, pounding the stubborn chicken flat and dicing ham. I followed the two-page recipe to the letter, carefully wrapping the cheese and ham in the chicken, securing the bundle with tiny toothpicks. I was a proud chef when I presented my masterpiece to Ryan. My pride quickly turned to chagrin when I realized I had forgotten the final instruction (step #18, I believe) to "remove toothpicks before serving." Ryan graciously thanked me for my efforts and did his best to choke down the results of my latest experiment.

And then there was the toast meal. I don’t remember what the main course was that night, but I do remember it turned out surprisingly well. That, however, was not what triggered the wide smile I wore when I presented Ryan with my culinary masterpiece. No, it was the side item—toast. But this was no ordinary toast. This had been lovingly buttered, parsleyed, and cut into the shape of a heart. It was so cute, so thoughtful, so romantic.

So unimpressive, apparently. When Ryan failed to ooh and ah over my efforts, I tried a little prompting. "What do you think of the toast?" I waited for his enthusiastic response. Instead, he "harrumphed," and gave a little chuckle.

I was hurt that Ryan didn’t appreciate and enjoy what I, in all honesty, did more for my own pleasure than for his (I mean, really, what man craves bread cut into sappy shapes?) More importantly, I was hurt by something Ryan said during the "discussion" that ensued. "I don’t need fancy meals," he told me. "I’m just happy when you cook for me." The "when" stung a bit, but it was well-deserved. You see, in between my attempts at gourmet meals were months’ worth of cereal, snack food and McDonald’s for supper.

Before we married, we had agreed on traditional household roles. I would take care of the "inside stuff" and Ryan would man the yard and vehicles. So, supper really was my job, and I had shirked the duty. I treated supper like an unwanted chore, instead of an opportunity to love my husband. I thought if I couldn’t produce a four-course, five-star meal, I shouldn’t even bother. Surely Ryan would be insulted if I put macaroni and cheese in front of him and called it cooking.

But the heart-shaped toast taught me a lesson. My husband didn’t want a perfect meal. All he desired was a little nutrition and some quality time with his wife. He just needed to know that I wanted take care of him, whether that meant sandwiches or steak.

I still don’t cook every night, but I am trying to increase my frequency and decrease my self-imposed expectations. Hamburger Helper really does make a great meal.

And Ryan is doing his part, too. Last Valentine’s Day we were too busy to go out to eat. He brought home dinner that night—a pizza, shaped like a heart.

A seasoned perspective…
Deborah Raney, married 33 years

We hadn’t been married more than a few weeks when my husband spoke the words that wives through the ages have come to dread. I’d made a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies—Ken’s favorite—and waited, beaming, for him to praise my efforts.