Yes, he can cook, too.
Photo: Maiysha Kai

A wise commenter once said, “Girl, never go on a date hungry. Also, never decline date continuation suggestions after he’s seen your makeup drip and your hair swell up like Donna Summer!”

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Words to live by, y’all (thanks, @FeministOnFire). And since I’d spent the very first day of my 22 Days challenge looking a hot mess on a hot date, I saw no reason to play it cool when the date in question offered to cook me a “nice vegan dinner” for our next meeting—I mean, an interesting man, interested in me, with my interests in mind? Ding, ding, ding! Is it just me, or does an invitation like that give new meaning to the term “grown folks’ business”? (And yes, you may be getting a half-vegan, half-dating diary for the remaining two weeks of this challenge—and you will deal. A woman cannot live on bread and vegan butter alone!)

But seriously, for someone whose relationship with food has at times been as fraught as her romantic life, combining the two is not always as seamless as I’d like. My personal history includes a few painful breakups, but also a painful binge-eating phase in my 20s, several major weight fluctuations in my 30s (and now, 40s), and decadeslong generalized anxiety about food, despite being an avowed foodie—and yes, I’m in therapy. Suffice to say it’s often cringe-inducing to discuss my dietary choices with others (especially others I’m attracted to). Besides, as already discussed, if there’s one thing doing this challenge publicly magnifies, it’s how easily we internalize other folks’ judgments about how we eat and generally treat our bodies (which is generally just them projecting their body insecurities onto others, but that’s a whole other post).

All this to say that since I was already feeling some kind of way about dating at my fluffiest (especially since all my cutest clothes are currently too small), I wasn’t prepared to discuss the deeper issues behind my veganism with a potential love interest. Thankfully, homeboy was resourceful enough to read The Root—and to offer to participate before I had to ask. *swoon* Fellas, take notes.

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So, what did we eat? I wish I could tell you, but instead of emailing him one of 22 Days’ multitude of recipes, I decided to leave my micromanaging tendencies at home. And after identifying my likes, dislikes and potential food allergies ahead of time, the man...improvised. No, for real, he said, “I love making meals up as I go along!” and went to work chopping peppers, butternut squash, Swiss chard and broccoli while lentils brewed and I prayed I wasn’t in for a gassy evening. (Have we talked about the inherent gassiness of a vegan existence yet? No? It’s coming—in fact, it’s gurgling, as we speak.)

But more importantly, as he cooked, we talked, and I was reminded of one of the unique pleasures of preparing food with others, something I too rarely do: it’s communion. There are few things more intimate than feeding someone (or trusting someone enough to let them feed you), and as I sampled bites and gave my (asked-for) input on seasonings, I felt myself relax about needing to be cute, and instead just focused on all the clean, colorful magic coming together on our plates.

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Photo: Maiysha Kai

I still don’t know what you call that meal, but it was delicious—spicy, straightforward, satisfying, and best of all, good for me—kind of like my ideal relationship. It’s still too early to tell if the fella and I are headed in that direction, but I’m taking the moment as a win for my relationship with food: Maybe it’s only as “complicated” as you make it.

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Besides, this vegan thing is starting to look sexier than I thought.