I get the feeling, judging by the comments section on certain posts, that family dinner is not always a family affair. That, you know, some of us aren’t so good at pulling our weight. Luckily, there’s a new book — full disclosure: I edited it — that just might help take a little of the resentment out of the equation. Here, to give us a whole new way of thinking about the division of labor around the house (i.e. stop focusing so much on 50/50!) is DALS guest-poster Paula Szuchman, Wall Street Journal editor and co-author, with Jenny Anderson, of Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage & Dirty Dishes. You can also read their excellent and funny blog here. — Andy
My husband and I both cook, and we both loved being cooked for. There are few things more luxurious than lying on the couch after a long day, the smell of sautéed onions wafting through the living room, secure in the knowledge that at any minute, your favorite person is going to walk over and put a plate of food in front of you—and if you’re really lucky, also a glass of wine, a remote control, and license to watch reruns of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills until you pass out.
Others aren’t so lucky. From what I hear, there are plenty of readers of this blog whose spouses don’t cook, can’t cook or never come home on time to cook. You guys are wondering if there’s a secret to reprogramming such spouses. I have two suggestions.
First, accept and overcome. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but let me explain. Each person in a relationship has things he or she does better, relative to other things. So sure, your spouse could fry an egg if someone had a gun to his head, but in terms of skill and efficiency, he’s way better at changing light bulbs. He has what an economist might call the comparative advantage in light-bulb changing. You have the comparative advantage in cooking.
The theory of comparative advantage is the foundation of free trade—it means that if each country specializes in what it makes best relative to other products, and then trades, every country is better off in the end. Comparative advantage is why China exports flat-screen TVs around the globe, and the U.S. specializes in trashy reality shows. In your house, maybe you’re relatively better at folding laundry and cleaning the hamster cage, and he can mow the lawn and program the Tivo in the time it takes you to brush your teeth. Specialize and you’re both better off.
But okay, I get it, cooking is a little different. Because like I said, it’s so damn awesome to be cooked for, that no one wants to go their whole life never experiencing it. Which brings me to my second suggestion: Find three dishes your spouse can develop a comparative advantage in. Specialization can be dynamic. China didn’t always dominate the flat-screen TV market. It set a goal and it went after it (I mean, I assume it did, I really have no idea what goes on at the Communist Party HQ behind closed doors). Similarly, your husband doesn’t always have to be a dimwit in the kitchen—he can develop a specialization and dominate it.
When I was a kid, there were three things my dad cooked: omelets, Steak Umms, and chocolate mousse. If we ever ate any of those, it was because my dad made them. He got a kick out of it, but no one would dare ask him to cook, say, chicken cutlets or meatloaf. They just weren’t his specialties. But we loved all three, and we loved that he loved making them for us. Three dishes, that’s it. Anyone can learn to make three dishes.
My husband can make more than three things. But of all his signature dishes, there’s one he really, truly specializes in: fried eggs. I think his secret is a ton of butter. But he’s also got the flip down pat. He invented a dish around the fried egg that he calls Gringo Bi Bim Bop (after the Korean dish). It’s a bowl of rice (brown rice, in our house), topped with steamed kale, topped with a fried egg, drizzled with soy sauce and sriracha. It’s good for dinner, but it also happens to be the best hangover breakfast I’ve ever had, hands down.
Photo at the top of this post provided by Pluto.