Seven years ago, I met a hard-drinking, meat-loving, motorcycle-racing Southern man and fell in love.
Oh, we had fun! And I needed it. I was a single mother of three, stringing my budget together with coupons and prayer. For as long as I could remember, every spare dime had gone to a school field trip fee or birthday gift for a friend. My Friday nights mostly involved popcorn and rented videos. Then suddenly this guy comes along and I'm zipping across the countryside on the back of his Triumph, eating piled-up pizzas in roadside taverns, drinking Port until all hours, swing dancing on stages and staying in rustic B&B's.
We met just in time for all this. I was 39; he was 44. We still felt young -- probably because our mandatory medical tests had not yet begun. Think of it! A time before yearly mammograms and four-vial blood draws and colonoscopies with their cunning promise of "twilight" sleep. Remember that? When salty margaritas and steaming enchiladas did not sound like instruments of death?
So here we are, in 2012, with fabulous health care (for which we're very grateful) and sober, well-meaning practitioners who check us over like used cars someone is planning to buy. But the battery of results for my devil-may-care man come back showing a cholesterol level so high, I think maybe they've mixed up the number with our credit score.
He's already quit drinking craft beer -- which he loved -- because it put weight on him and made him sluggish. So he's switched to red wine. He left behind his cigarette and soda habits a decade ago. These days the man draws an excellent shot of espresso (or six) that he mixes with raw sugar. He eats the salads I make and avoids trans-fats and goes to yoga with me once a month or so, when he doesn't have anything better to do.
But our doctor says this isn't enough. He needs a low-cholesterol diet. What does that mean? Well, no ice cream, to start. ("Did you know that a single cup of ice cream has more fat than a hamburger and more cholesterol than 10 glazed doughnuts?" asks the information she sent.) Only lean meat. And -- his face is blank as I say this; because, of course, as the wife, it's my job to interpret and enforce the new regimen -- virtually no cheese.
Now, the thing you must know about my husband is that he doesn't believe in dinner without cheese melted in a great, wide lava-spill formation on top. The only exception, he'll tell you, is Chinese food. It doesn't tasted quite right with a layer of mozzarella. But he can attest to this only because he's tried.
I once returned from a business trip and walked in the door to a daughter who was touchingly thrilled. "Thank God you're back," she said. "Did you know that when you're gone our diet is 87 percent cheese?"
Many's the night I have watched my husband sprinkle sharp cheddar, Roquefort and parmesan on a dinner I spent two hours preparing. Then he sticks his plate in the microwave and radiates the whole thing on high.
I also managed to find the single only Southern man ever who hates and WILL NOT EAT beans. "Can you imagine how hard it was growing up?" he asks with a sweet, wondering expression on his face. "People kept giving me black-eyes peas or beans and rice. Disgusting! It was hell."
Protein should moo at some time in its life before reaching John's plate. He'll tolerate chicken if it's properly outfitted (i.e. stuffed with gorgonzola). He does appreciate fish, but his tastes run to the rare deep-ocean varieties that cost $14 per pound... and he'll require two.
"Will you eat steel-cut oats?" I am scanning the list of recommended foods. He scowls. "How about barley?" He looks at me like I'm insane.
And the thing is, I feel a little crazy. Because as much as I want to keep my husband alive and arterially unclogged, we're talking about changing him in a way that doesn't appeal to me. It's his job to be a hedonist! That's why we work.
I veer toward asceticism and self-denial. I don't know why. I'm the kind of person who orders the tofu and brown rice and takes half of it home in a box. Left to myself, I skip meals and drink in measured quantities. I'm not (let's face it) much fun.
One of the best things I discovered when I met then married John was my tiny, dormant wild side. Granted, "wild" for me means staying up past midnight or having a mimosa with brunch. But the fact is, I'm a softer, gentler, more interesting person when this man is pulling me toward his Bacchanalian ways. And the last thing in the world I want to do is pull him toward mine.
We've made a deal, John and I. It's a private contract (some things are, you know) and it involves psyllium fiber. That's all I'll say. Point is, I know enough about marriage that I don't want to change my husband. Sure, I'll be madly searching for recipes that hide heart-healthy ingredients under, say, spaghetti sauce. I'll be concealing oats inside meatloaf -- made with lean ground turkey. (Shhh, don't tell.)
But I won't be nagging and I'll continue to admire John's Benjamin Franklin-style lust for life. Because I wouldn't want him any other way.
Ann Bauer's novel, "The Forever Marriage," was published by Overlook Press in June 2012. She is also the author of "A Wild Ride Up the Cupboards" and "Damn Good Food." Her work has appeared in Elle, The New York Times, Redbook, The Sun and Salon. She blogs at www.theforevermarriage.com. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.