The finicky eater (Searching for Sushi Man)
“Oh thank, God. What a relief! You do look like your profile picture! You have no idea how many times I show up to a date and the woman is twenty years older than the picture she posted!”
The same words I’d found endearing on that first online coffee date sounded much less cute when I heard them for the fifth time.
“So, you’re a hematologist, huh?”
Actually, I’m a hematologist-oncologist. But I understood the urge to avoid gloomy cancer talk on a first date.
“Yes, I am,” I would answer with a smile.
Just like all his predecessors, the online-date-guy of the day would deviate his eyes, scratch his arm, clear his throat and shoot his best guess. “That’s the skin doctor. Right?”
A game show buzzer played in my mind each time. Wrong answer. You lost points. Then I’d politely explain that the skin doctor is the dermatologist, and a hematologist deals with blood disorders.
The rest of the hour-long date would be uneventful. But I already knew the guy wasn’t it.
Was I too picky? Was it too much to ask for my date to be intellectually challenging?
Being the archetypal nerdy student, I’d taken over online dating with the fierce discipline I applied to schoolwork. It had become my ultimate Science Project.
Every morning, I diligently browsed my numerous Match.com messages. First, I’d confirm that my set deal-breakers were not being ignored. No smokers. No men with zero spiritual beliefs. No men who had a problem with children. Not having children and never being married were almost deal-breakers for men over forty—red flags that the man in question wasn’t “the committing type.”
After eliminating everybody who was “separated but not divorced”—and especially anyone who’d posted a shirtless selfie or a photo of himself holding a fish— came a careful selection process. After a few days exchanging emails to spot and eliminate the psychopaths, I would accept the finalists’ invitation for coffee or for lunch.
In days when my kids were with my ex, I stoically endured two to three times a week of excess caffeine, fattening meals and awkward first dates—It was a sacrifice in the name of science. In each date, I’d apply my recently learned social skills, and test my brand new, basic flirting abilities. I took extensive mental notes, and then at the end of the week would retreat to my favorite sushi restaurant to analyze them.
The overall conclusion from the project? Men were NOT the scary beings I once thought they were—evil, mustache-twisting villains, always plotting against women, hoping to seduce us. Some of my friends, disillusioned with online dating, could hardly believe it—but it’s true. Every gentleman I met during that time was a good-hearted human being, longing for company. They were more scared than I was, each one stretching out if his comfort zone to be there.
Yet none of them made my heart skip a beat.
And that was good. I had promised myself that I’d be celibate for six months to a year after I left my ex. Then I kept extending the deadline, and I was now getting close to two years. Some girlfriends have asked me if those two sexless years were difficult, and I give them the same answer I give when they ask if it was hard to “guard my virtue” for years before marrying as a virgin in my twenties. The honest answer was, “Not really. I wasn’t tempted by what I saw around me.” I didn’t like 99% of the men I saw. And the 1% I did like didn’t seem to notice I existed. You can say I am a finicky eater for men.
I’ve always been a finicky eater. Growing up in the DR, the daily menu was limited. Lunch invariably consisted of rice and beans, and most of the time, dinner was green, boiled plantains. In my family you never asked, “What’s for lunch?” or “What’s for dinner?” You asked, “What’s la compaña?” (the company), meaning “With what are we eating today our rice, beans or plantains?” If I was lucky, the compaña for lunch would be chicken (I disliked pork and hated beef). And hopefully our dinner plantains would come with salami or cheese instead of eggs.
That’s it. I just summarized two decades of my dietary life.
And forget about the limited choices! On the occasions when a new dish did become available (avocado, spaghetti, eggplant…) finicky-eater me would promptly say, “no thank you.” My sisters still tease me because I’d eat the rice and beans, but refuse to eat moro— a meal consisting of (drumroll) rice and beans, but mixed together instead of separately. I did not like breaking my routine. I liked the old classics so much I would’ve happily eaten them every day for the rest of my life.
Moving to the US, I slowly learned to open up my tastes and accept international cuisine. The danger became eating too much. There was not much to do but shopping and eating. And every city was a minefield of ridiculously fattening restaurants.
And now newly single, my favorite day-without-kids activity consisted on sitting in my favorite restaurant with my laptop, my book of the moment and my journal, relishing silence. I’d finally learned to enjoy being with myself, and that was worth the calories.
But luckily, I’d just discovered the one restaurant meal I loved that would not make me gain weight—actually, it was helping me shed the pounds I’d put on during my Crab cake Benedicts and sweet-potato fries brunches with girlfriends. That new favorite meal was the same dish that had once terrified me—sushi.
Sushi rolls became my ideal meal. They combined the rice (a nostalgic reminder of home meals) with the sushi (the new life of stretching out of my comfort zone I was now embracing).
I never got tired of sushi rolls. Some came covered in avocado, some covered in tempura flakes, some covered with sweet eel sauce, some to dip in salty soy sauce—They were satisfying, delicious, and they were healthy too.
And then one day, the question entered my mind while journaling. Did the Sushi-Man exist? A man who tasted delicious, yet it was good for me? A dish so stimulating, I wouldn’t mind eating it daily for the rest of my life?
So far I had met the Steak Man, a dish loaded with proteins and healthy iron a woman reportedly needs. It was that rich lawyer who’d bragged about his strong values, his luxury car and his fat bank account. He’d been any woman’s dream—but just not-my-thing. I’d simply never craved beef.
I’d also met the Cheesecake Man—that surfer with tan skin, piercing blue eyes and Adonis physique. He was sweet looking—but also non-nutritional. I bet he’d taste so good he’d give me a sugar rush—but it wasn’t worth the crash after that, and hating myself later on for having all those empty calories.
Then there was the Fat free Dressing, No-toppings, Salad Man. That engineer who was surprisingly good-looking and well traveled. But he lacked spark and Mojo. Like a fat-free, plain salad, he was also flavor free. Probably good for you, but not filling, or a dish that tempted my taste buds.
Or there was the Fast-food-Restaurant-Salad Man. It probably tasted better than a regular salad and appeared to be good for me. But after factoring in the calories in the heavy dressing, the croutons, chicken, nuts and cheese, I might as well rather order a pizza. (I swear one of the Crispers so-called salads had whole slices of pizza inside.) That dish could’ve been the hot surgeon I met through some friends, (outside of online dating), who was fun and witty, but wanted to “explore more than a friendship—as long as I didn’t mind that he had a girlfriend.”
I met men who seemed like tasteless squash soup; and also exotic dishes I didn’t even know what to make of them. I even met dangerous brownies, and cholesterol-threatening cheese fondue. But all I wanted was to find a Sushi-Roll Man (no sexual innuendo intended).
Just like I’d once had to stretch myself to fist taste sushi, finding my Sushi-Man would have to start by me opening my mind to something new. Someone I may’ve never considered before. For example, a man who had grown in a culture completely different from mine. Or a man who had a different religion than me. Or a man who was more liberal than conservative-raised me.
Or a man over forty who’d never been married and didn’t have children of his own—but who was willing to accept mine.
Or a man who was all of the above, but felt strangely similar to me in life-view and deep values. A man whose differences harmonized with mine—who complemented me instead of replicating me.
Yes. I was not going to settle for less than a Sushi Man. Who cared if it took me years?
Then one Thursday afternoon, in one of the three coffee-dates of the week, a hunky Professor of English changed the routine opening line.
“So, you’re a hematologist, huh? Have you ever stopped to consider that the iron in your red blood cells was made during Super Nova explosions millions of years ago? The same iron molecules have recycled again and again on the planet. So think about it: you have stardust circulating in your blood.”
My jaw dropped. If once, moths ago, my eyes had sprung out of their orbits to the sight of shirtless Mister-Ox-Leg-Wart, that day what sprung out of my skull was my brain. My brain fell on the floor and rolled to his feet begging, “More, please! I want more mind-blowing, cool stories like that! I want more veiled-spiritual messages hiding in clever science facts! I want to get to know a man who not only knows what “hematology” is, and knows there is iron in the red blood cells, but can teach me a few new things—and wrap it all in a big bow of poetry.”
Yup. My brain was a goner—and my heart would soon follow after.
But that’s another story.