I love food. I also love my boyfriend. But if you asked me to pick between the two, I'd quickly be saying sayonara to a three-year relationship. That may seem harsh, but my partner feels exactly the same way, as our shared passion for food is one of the things that drew us together in the first place. Some couples hike and surf, others jam out at concerts, but we're the homebodies that would greatly prefer a remarkable, probably-too-expensive dinner over just about everything else. But when COVID-19 hit, we suddenly lost our go-to date night and had to figure out how to keep food as part of our lives in an increasingly virtual lifestyle.
While it's not the same as excitedly waiting to taste the meal you enthusiastically ordered off the menu, not knowing what dish waited behind the door brought its own sweet anticipation.
Yes, sharing a meal with a loved one is a ubiquitous experience, but sitting down at the table has been a primary backbone of my relationship. He made dinner for our first "unofficial hang," introduced me to the glorious world of fine dining (which we've promised to do once a season since month three), and still gets just as excited for weekly ramen as he did years ago. We've tried to branch out into other pastimes, but when six o'clock rolls around and we still haven't finalized plans, "let's just get dinner" is where we always land. Without question, the safety of ourselves, our families, and our communities took priority over this wine-accompanied ritual, but we couldn't completely let go of it either. That's when Zoom and delivery services became a blessing. Like many others, we were ordering in like crazy, and would typically FaceTime while eating to create some semblance of a shared meal.
One night, however, my partner just couldn't decide what to eat. After tiring of all the favorites he usually goes for, I made an innocent suggestion to choose for him. Since I was treating him to dinner, he naturally wanted to do the same, and we swiftly agreed to have our first "surprise" dinner date where we would each order a surprise meal for the other person and enjoy them together over Zoom. While it's not the same as excitedly waiting to taste the meal you enthusiastically ordered off the menu, not knowing what dish waited behind the door brought its own sweet anticipation. "He knows I love sushi, but I did have that last week . . . Oh God, is he going to get me something super heavy?" I would wonder to myself. Simultaneously, I would spend 45 minutes searching through delivery apps, racking my brain for the perfect meal for him, pondering his favorite flavors, not wanting to choose something too obvious while still ensuring he'd be satisfied.
Once both our couriers arrived, we automatically had a new part of our day to discuss, plus the usual talk of what we liked and didn't like about our mystery meals. It's a simple date, really, with the only difference being that you aren't deciding your own dinner, but I was taken aback by how much we were able to attain our previous level of connection through food that was a pre-COVID staple. There was renewed excitement around our love of cuisine, and our processes to wade through menus to find the optimal dish revealed another layer of our sentimentality and consideration for the other person. We decided to try and hold these dinners at least once a month, knowing that a more often frequency would be rough on our post-grad wallets.
We were able to breathe life back into this dwindling part of our relationship, but it also opened us up to the eateries in our communities we hadn't thought to visit. We live in two different cities, and typically fall into a rhythm of visiting the same places each time we visit the other, but ordering original meals from new restaurants has exposed us to all of the amazing dishes in our own neighborhoods, giving us a list of places to try once dining is back in full swing. We still haven't cracked a fine-dining dupe yet, since unfortunately, neither of us have Top Chef skills in the kitchen, but this simple date remedy has made the wait for normal wife much more bearable and, when we choose right, much more delicious.