In the two years I’ve lived with my boyfriend, Mike, a lot has changed. I’ve taught him that a salad can in fact be a meal in itself. He’s taught me that sometimes, you just have to eat the hot dog or the McNuggets and enjoy it without an ounce of remorse. But it wasn’t easy to find this sweet spot when it came to food.
Immediately after college, Mike and I moved to New York City together. We’d been doing long distance for four years and decided now was the time to end that chapter and actually see each other on a regular basis. We moved into a cozy apartment in Astoria, Queens and officially became roommates.
As with anyone you live with for the first time, we experienced an adjustment period. We had to learn to balance our work lives with our social lives, respect each other’s space, and compromise on so many things: home decor, cleanliness, and especially how we ate.
Living with someone forces you to take an honest look at how you eat, and I didn’t realize how much eating habits could affect a relationship until I dealt with it firsthand. When we were preparing to move, I had a pretty picture in my head: We would both come home from long days at work and cook a perfect meal together, then sit down at the table and eat and have perfect conversations. Boy, was my imagination far from the truth.
Mike worked late hours and ate many dinners at his office while I ate alone. When we did eat together, we didn’t always want the same foods. Mike, a self-proclaimed number one fan of McDonald’s, enjoyed getting dinner off the dollar menu once a week; I preferred to save my indulgences for the weekend. I was constantly frustrated because my picture-perfect mealtime scenario was rarely a reality.
Now, a year later, I’ve learned so much about how living and eating with your partner affects your relationship. “Sharing meals can be an important way for couples to bond, but there’s no rule that says you both need to be eating or eating the same thing,” notes Health contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, RD. “One partner can be sipping tea or water while the other eats, or you can be eating completely different meals.”
Communicating and paying attention to each other are vital in a relationship, and eating together is just one way to feel and grow that connection and intimacy. After a few too many feuds about our out-of-synch eating schedules, Mike and I now reserve Sundays as a time to have dinner together. And when we do get to eat together during the week, I’ve made an active effort not to get stressed when he wants hot dogs and I want a salad. Instead, I make sure we enjoy our respective meals and focus on good conversation.
Whether he knows it or not, Mike’s taught me a lot about intuitive eating, too. Before living together, I would indulge mindlessly, often regretting my food choices afterward. But after watching him only eat when he’s truly hungry or only picking up a dessert when he really craves something sweet, I’ve gotten better at listening to what my body wants as well.
Practicing intuitive eating has also made it easier for me to enjoy more indulgent meals because I can tell that I actually want those foods in that moment. This is so delicious and fun to eat, I tell myself, rather than punishing myself by repeating in my head, I can’t believe you just ate that. As silly or minute as it seems, Mike’s unapologetic outlook on eating has allowed me to let go of my own feelings of food regret.
Most importantly, we’ve found a middle ground when it comes to food. “When you stop pushing your own preferences on your partner and settle into an agreement about how to eat differently together, it can bring a lot of happiness and harmony to the relationship,” explains Sass.
With this in mind, Mike and I generally grocery shop and cook separately during the week. While it felt strange at first—especially coming from a household where my dad ate whatever my mom cooked, no questions asked—it’s created less tension in our relationship. Instead of arguing about having too much dairy in our shared meal or not enough greens, we can eat what we really want and spend that time enjoying each other’s company instead.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that every meal I eat with Mike won’t feel like it’s out of a romcom, and that’s okay. When we do experience food adventures, like eating hand-pulled noodles at our favorite hole-in-the-wall neighborhood joint or finding a new cafe with great coffee, those moments feel extra special.
And when he’s eating cold hot dogs and I’m eating leftover chicken and rice for dinner in our tiny apartment, those moments feel good too, because they’re us—and they’re real.