Date Night - Steak Your Claim
At the tipping point from casual to relationship, prospective partners want to put meat on your bones
By CHARLOTTE IVERS
February 14 2023
The first steak that I ever ate was also the best. The occasion on which I ate it, somewhat less so. At 20, I had been a vegetarian all my life – almost by accident. My mother didn’t eat meat, and at an early age I realised that, if I followed in her footsteps, I would have an incontrovertible means of refusing the horrifying gristle-of-generic-origin stews that made up the majority of school lunches.
Unfortunately, this fact had escaped the notice of my companion for the evening. Before I could open my mouth to utter the fabled mantra of all vegetarians in restaurants – “Mushroom risotto! How exciting!” – he had already declared to the waiter that we would be sharing the Chateaubriand and a bottle of red. Having never consumed so much as a supermarket sausage roll, I suddenly found myself confronted with a vast, glistening, oozing lump of flesh. Not so much nought-to-sixty as breaking the sound barrier from a standing start. It was the most magical thing I had ever seen.
I eventually lost touch with my initiator into the world of meals-that-bleed. The final straw, as I remember it, came when I insisted – in a surge of feminist principles – on buying at least one round of cocktails in the fancy hotel bar he had taken me to, only to realise that the two drinks had come to more than my weekly budget for existing. Different lives, different bank accounts. When I ran into him a few years later he had become a reasonably senior government advisor, which made sense. Meanwhile, I had become an expert in the various different parts of cow that could be smothered with Béarnaise sauce, which also made sense.
It made sense because, after my initiation, it became clear to me that – more than anything else – men want to provide steak for the woman they are dating. Call it showboating, call it primal instinct, call it unmarried men only owning one pan – whatever the reason behind it, steak was the constant throughout the dates of my early to mid-twenties. The theme was so consistent that it became a joke among my female friends. Going round to his for a third date? He’s cooking for you, is he? I wonder what on earth he could possibly be planning? We were rarely disappointed.
Last summer, newly single and freshly released from government-imposed isolation, I set out on a mission to go on as many dates as possible. Reader, I ate so much steak it is a miracle I did not head for the fields and start moo-ing.
Each plate of meat I was served gave me insights into the man who prepared it. An extremely expensive cut, accompanied by oven chips? Lovely and thoughtful, but just not quite right. Two Tesco sirloins, bought with the intention of cooking together, but actually cooked by me? Ambitious, but probably needs to grow up a bit first.
Towards the end of summer, I became aware that I had allowed one fledgling relationship to extend weeks beyond its natural lifespan, too worried about hurting his feelings to call it off. Eventually, he invited me over to cook me dinner. After weeks of selfishly prevaricating, the thought of this man going to all the effort of buying and cooking steakand- sides just for me to call it off, was too cruel to bear for a moment longer. I let him down gently before he had time to go to the butcher’s.
It is very easy to mock romantic clichés, particularly when they aren’t done quite right. Red roses, a heart-shaped box of chocolates – they all speak to a lack of imagination. Eat enough steaks cooked by men who don’t actually love you, and the entire concept starts to become mildly risible. Like arts graduates who love The Smiths and teachers who are fed up with their students, steaks had become such an ubiquitous part of my generation’s dating lives that they started to verge on the absurd.
But then something odd happened. After that summer of many not-quite-right dates, and many not-quite-right steaks, I met someone new. A few, tentative, after-work drinks later, I realised that what I wanted – more than anything else – was for him to come over for dinner. And suddenly I knew, with a clarity that would have made any other meal impossible, that there was only one thing that I wanted to cook for him. Steak. Obviously.
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