What do you do if your spouse, an amateur and not very skilled cook, makes a disgusting and possibly lethal “sushi casserole” and sets his or her heart on bringing it to and serving it at a large, fancy social event, where it almost certainly will meet with humiliating public rejection?
This was the Spousal Tactics discussion touched off in our internal staff chat today by a sad, awful, and extremely funny r/relationships post from a Redditor whose wife had done just that. I will give you a summary of the post in a second, but I urge you to click the link and read the entire thing; it’s not very long, and it includes a lot of nuance and (I think) implied backstory that will help you form your own Spousal Tactics theories.
In summary: Husband and Wife have been invited to a fancy, well-attended, and catered Labor Day potluck (i.e. a party that will have professionally-made foods but to which guests are welcome to bring their signature dishes if they want to show off). Wife decides to make and bring a “sushi casserole” she saw online but never has made before; botches it like six different ways; and winds up with a very gross-looking mess that almost certainly is not safe for eating. Husband and Wife have a fight beforehand when he tells her the food looks disgusting and she lashes out at him for food snobbery and for more generally not being a supportive partner. She brings the food to the party; nobody eats it; it’s the only thing nobody eats; Wife is humiliated and angry; Husband’s (lame, too-late) attempts at consolation only make her feel worse; and now she’s barely talking to him.
So the question we kicked around is, what could Husband have done differently? This is a much thornier question than what Wife could have done differently: The very easy answer to that question is “Not make a gross nightmare botulism pile, or at least not bring the gross nightmare botulism pile to a large party full of strangers who of course will reject the gross nightmare botulism pile.” But the Husband definitely fucked up, too! He had many, many opportunities to avert disaster, and he fumbled all of them.
The thing is, this really isn’t a fight about a gross sushi casserole. Of course it isn’t! The giveaway is here (emphasis mine, everything sic’d):
Well, when it was done it honestly, and I mean HONESTLY, looked like a tray of vomit. The mushed up avocado (which had gone slightly brown) plus reddish fish plus scattered rice and watery mayo made it look exactly like a big tray of puke. I was frank and told her the “sushi casserole” looks seriously gross and that sushi shouldn’t even be in casserole/lasagna/burger/cake or whatever else buzzfeed comes up with that week to begin with. I thought we were both on the same page at that point and she would laugh and throw the monstrosity away, but she got extremely mad at me.
She told me I NEVER like the food she makes and I’m never supportive. She also brought up the fact that just because I had traveled more than she has and eaten at far more “fancy” restaurants than she, it doesn’t mean I can be such a food snob. I told her that dish had nothing to do with trips to Japan or 3 Michelin star dinners; it was just a bad dish, period.
This was the clue! The fight is about stuff that goes deeper than the sushi casserole! At the very least the fight is about Wife feeling like, instead of recognizing her insecurity (in this case, about her cooking and her relative dearth of travel/fine-dining experience) and working to shore her up emotionally or at least showing that he values her (valiant, in this case misguided) attempts at expanding her repertoire, Husband seems to approach her not as her partner but from a position of authority, as The Only Good Food Knower Around Here, The Guy Qualified By Virtue Of His Greater Sophistication To Render A Valid Opinion On This, and how this makes her feel lonely and unsupported. She’s in the trenches, and he’s standing next to the trench, looking down into the trench, and going, “I’m sorry, but that trench is trash. No offense.”
The important thing, here, is this: It really, violently doesn’t matter whether Husband feels like he can make a case for that being an inaccurate description of what he’s doing. All his “No, your perception is bad, actually this has nothing to do with my vastly greater experience of quality food, the food you made is just Objectively Bad and any fool can see it” take can do is make things a million times worse, because categorically it belongs to a whole other conversation. He is not an Iron Chef judge. He is a spouse—a partner. The conversation is about partnership and emotional well-being; trying to pretend it is a conversation about The Hard Facts Of Culinary Execution just widens the gap between the two of them.
(This is why the lame, after-the-fact attempt at fixing things—“So we got back home and I tell her not to worry too much and that there was just too much food overall which is why hers wasn’t as popular”—not only doesn’t fix things but fucks them up even more. The time to handle Wife’s emotions with delicate care was like 65 exits ago, man! He can’t be like Oh well I’m sure it’s just because everybody was super-duper into the deviled eggs when just like two days earlier he was telling her that her dish was a revolting horror no one would want to eat. He’d already proved the point he never should have been making; all the display of patronizing grace amounts to is going for the two-point conversion. But he wasn’t supposed to be trying to score on her in the first place!)
So. Husband fucked it up. But what should you do when your spouse decides to make a very bad and gross sushi casserole and bring it to a big party where nobody will want to eat it? A firm grasp and timely application of even Beginner Spousal Tactics could have prevented even that first fight from ever happening in the first place.
The Beginner Spousal Tactic, when your spouse decides to make and serve to many strangers a “sushi casserole” that, realistically, is far beyond their culinary skill, is to offer your enthusiastic, un-begrudging help in making it. “Oooh, sushi casserole!” the Beginner Spouse says. “That sounds intimidating, but it could be great! You’re ambitious and brave! Let’s make it together!”
It probably will still be shit. Nobody will want to eat it! Probably nobody should ever make “sushi casserole,” period, including actual sushi chefs who are qualified to prepare sushi rice and judge and prepare sushi-grade fish. But you will own the failure together; you will be able to share knowing grimaces and laughter about the time you made sushi casserole for a fancy catered party and nobody ate it. It will be a warm memory of something you shared, a time you were in the shit together, rather than a bitter memory of a time (hopefully the only time) you humiliated your spouse for the even more humiliating reason of preventing your spouse from self-humiliation, and then they self-humiliated anyway, and then you heaped on some extra humiliation for the sake of a deeply insincere performance of “it’s not so bad.”
This is pretty basic committed partner shit. If a grenade lands next to your partner and you dive away from them, instead of toward them, you were never really “committed,” y’know? There was a limit to your commitment. I am your partner right up until you’re about to get blown up, is what you have said. Then you are on your own. (I hear you going “But they’re the one who dropped the grenade.” Well, so what? Did you just meet them yesterday? Or did you freely and of your own choice choose to marry the whole entire person whose insecurities and ambitions and peccadillos might eventually birth the idea that dropping a grenade on the floor next to where they were standing would be dope and rad? In for a penny, in for a pound, motherfucker!)
But, maybe Beginner Spousal Tactics are not enough for you. Maybe you are determined to avoid serving this extremely bad and gross foodstuff at the party, but you also have the bare-minimum wits to recognize that going “Actually, my dear, the food you worked to make and (foolishly) invested with your ambition to get better at cooking is nauseating trash and if you serve it everyone will be disgusted” probably is not the best way to go about things. Well, that is why the hell they invented Elementary Spousal Tactics.
The Elementary Spousal Tactic is as follows:
You: “Wow, sushi casserole? That looks good as hell. In fact, I don’t want to wait for the party, let’s make sushi casserole tomorrow night, together, so that I can house six pounds of sushi casserole, to slake my great, sudden, and irresistible lust for sushi casserole, a thing I definitely want to eat.”
You see where this is going. The sushi casserole almost certainly will be disgusting. It will look bad and smell weird. Possibly it will give you the shits! But, especially if you made it together, you can share the recognition that the sushi casserole is not good, and then the embarrassment of it obviously having been a bad idea will not be something your partner has to bear alone. And then the after-the-fact consolation type shit you say—“Jeez, I guess getting sushi-grade fish is harder than we thought”; “Hmm, y’know, now I understand why it takes years of training to be a real sushi chef”; “I just shat out both of my kidneys”—will be not only true but untainted by the added stink of told-you-so.
There’s a risk, here! The risk is that you will get botulism. Maybe you want to avoid serving sushi casserole, avoid hurting your partner’s feelings, and avoid botulism. Are you extremely confident in your persuasive skills? Then maybe Intermediate Spousal Tactics are for you.
Applying Intermediate Spousal Tactics begins, like the Beginner and Elementary tactics before it, with a positive reaction to the sushi casserole idea. After all, when they shared the sushi casserole idea with you, probably at least a big part of what they were looking for was affirmation, and in the big-picture sense your spouse feeling affirmed and supported is more important than making sure you fire off the most accurate possible take at every opportunity.
Now. Here is the difficult part. The difficult part is finding another recipe for a more appetizing and less risky foodstuff, waiting until two or three days before the party, and then figuring out how to sliiiiiide that sucker on in there in such a way that your spouse agrees to make it instead of sushi casserole—but, crucially, does not feel as though you have overruled their choice or browbeaten them into doing what you wanted or otherwise indicated your low opinion of their critical thinking faculties or sanity or cooking skill. This, my friends, is not for Beginner Spouses.
If, for example, my wife, an Elite Spouse, wanted to ward me off some clearly bad and foolhardy cooking plan before I self-immolated, probably the thing to do would be to text me a photo of the foodstuff she’d targeted to stand in for the sushi casserole, along with, like, “OMG I just got the craaaaaaaaziest craving for this, can we make this instead of the sushi casserole for Labor Day, and do the sushi casserole next week instead???? I MUST HAVE THIS.” And then I would be kind of flattered that she was coming to me with her craving for this foodstuff instead of, like, getting it at a restaurant; also I would be secretly relieved at being granted a way out of the over-ambitious choice to make sushi casserole, but without ever having had to admit that I was intimidated by it in the first place, and like a big dumb dope I would go “Hurr yeah!”
And then literally 10 years would pass before it occurred to me that she had played me like a slide whistle and by then the thought of it would fill me with affection and gratitude and the warm feeling of knowing that I am married to somebody who knows me so well and looks out for me when I am too stupid to look out for myself. That’s good spousing.
But hey, maybe you are beyond Intermediate Spousal Tactics. Maybe you know your spouse well enough to know that they will see right through this approach and you don’t want to blow your cover. Or, maybe you tried the above, it didn’t work, and you are extremely good at pushing your spouse’s buttons. You can try Proficient Spousal Tactics.
The Proficient Spousal Tactic is to wait until you and your spouse have begun the cooking process together, and then, deploying your skills as a Proficient Spouse, to throw an irresistible Dance of Seduction at them, so that all the time they could have spent preparing the revolting sushi casserole instead is spent doing sex, and then, Hey, gosh, wouldja look at that, turns out we don’t have time to make the sushi casserole, because we are Wild And Crazy People Who Fuck Impulsively Sometimes, Like Back When We Were Dating.
Now, look! You have to be a True Proficient Spouse for this to work. That is to say, you have to be good at doing sex with your spouse. If sex is weird and fraught and/or persistently disappointing between you, this will not work at all; probably you will not get past the Dance of Seduction phase. Likewise if the sex is over after 24 seconds and leaves plenty of time for making sushi casserole.
But! If you can pull this off, it will be wayyyyyy better and more affirmative than anything that could result from the effort to make sushi casserole together, even if the sushi casserole were to come out good. You will spend the Labor Day party sharing knowing smiles and flirting with each other and so forth, because it will remind you of the good time you had instead of making sushi casserole, and how you are like secretly disheveled Rock-’N’-Roll Sex Havers.
Any of these approaches will work better than what Husband did, way back up there in the Reddit post. Because ultimately the actual goal, for a supportive spouse in a healthy, trusting, mutually supportive relationship, is to nourish and strengthen that relationship, and any of the above will do that. But maybe they strike you as somehow insufficient, because you believe the healthiest possible marriage is one in which you can be totally honest about sushi casserole being a terrible fucking idea doomed to embarrassing failure if your spouse follows through on the idea of making and serving it. Well, my friend, now you are talking about ...
The kind of marriage to aim for is not one where your spouse trusts your judgment more than their own, and substitutes assuming you’re right in for trying shit out and sometimes failing. That is not a good marriage. That’s a bad marriage!
For one thing, you do not actually know for a fact that the sushi casserole will be terrible; you just expect that it will be. The odds are in your favor! But you do not get bonus points for having accurately predicted an embarrassing failure; that shit is no help. Much more to the point, you should want your spouse, like your kids if you have any, to succeed at the stuff they try; you should be rooting for them; you should believe that it’s possible for them to make a good-ass sushi casserole if they put their mind to it, or at least you should want them to believe that about themselves. So keep your fucking pessimist shit to yourself, and either offer your enthusiastic and committed help, and/or maybe try to gently steer them toward ventures less completely doomed to failure, ya big jerk!
And then if they insist on making the sushi casserole, and it still winds up looking and smelling like it came rocketing out of Satan’s asshole, you can deploy Advanced Spousal Tactics to avert disaster and protect your dumb-ass spouse’s self-esteem.
The true Advanced Spousal Tactic for dealing with this situation is to be a supportive partner throughout, help make the friggin’ thing, and then, when it comes out looking like hell-trash and reeking like Captain Gorton’s open grave, to take up the responsibility of carrying it from the car into the Labor Day party ... and “accidentally” stumble and throw it into the woods on your way across the parking lot.
This is true hero shit, my friends. You take upon yourself the shame of being the clumsy doofus who destroyed the beautiful, ambitious, sure-to-win-the-day sushi casserole you and your spouse made together, and instead of a humiliating un-eaten sushi casserole, you bring to the Labor Day party the funny story of Ol’ Dingus Mingus Over Here dropping the beautiful, painstakingly made casserole in the parking lot. And you can both go to your graves insisting that the casserole would have bowled everyone over if only you hadn’t spiked it like a damn football and ashed a million cigars on its ruins and run it over with a steamroller while screaming DIEEEEEE on “accident.”
The only risk here is that your spouse will try again next year, and you will have to fake your own kidnapping while carrying the horror into the Labor Day party. That is a whole other level of Spousal Tactics, and I don’t think you’re ready for it.