This spring, Rosimar Nieves entered into a digital conversation with a man on Bumble. The exchange started the same way many dating app introductions go: Boy swipes right on girl, girl breaks the ice, boy inquires about girl’s hobbies. Nieves, 28, told the man she takes advantage of the local arts and culture scene in Chattanooga, Tennessee and that she loves to cook; preparing meals for family and friends, she says, is how she shows affection for those she cares about.
This admission seemingly caught the man’s attention. How wonderful would their first date be, he asked, if they spent it sharing a meal she had lovingly prepared? When should he expect such a dinner? “The guy was very suggestive and almost demanding that he come over so I can cook for him,” Nieves remembers.
“I don’t know why the idea of ‘Let me come over and smoke,’ versus ‘Come over and I’ll make you a dinner,’ is weird. Romance in our generation is changing and maybe what that looks like is not the same.”
Reading between the lines, Nieves suggested coffee as an alternative. Instead, the man unmatched her.
The rush toward physical intimacy rather than an emotional connection is an aspect of online dating that makes Nieves wary of other singles’ intentions. She’d like to have a date over for a home-cooked meal, but worries it may all be a ploy for a hookup. Why would she go through the effort of showing a date her home, her passions, if they’re just going to ghost later anyway? “When I cook for someone or cook with someone, it’s an experience that allows me to be myself because I do love it so much,” Nieves says. “It’s showing someone a part of who I am.”
It’s true that there are little intimacies—and thus, vulnerabilities—associated with preparing food for another person: Your date gets to know your preferences, gains insight into how you communicate, sees how you act under pressure. They can silently judge your dinnerware and appliances, too. But as far as tried-and-true psychology goes, the way to a person’s heart may in fact be through their stomach. Studies have shown that home cooking helps people connect socially and under the right circumstances (like having enough time to prepare the meal in a controlled, familiar environment) cooking is a leisurely activity. Another study found that offering food is a way to quell negative emotions in the recipient and "the use of food as a support behavior increases interpersonal closeness."
As the life cycle of relationships continues to dwindle, are daters speeding past home cooking—and its bond-strengthening effects—in the getting-to-know-you phase? Are singles sacrificing the intimacy that comes with preparing a meal with a partner?
Dr. Terri Orbuch, PhD, author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship and sociology professor at Oakland University in Michigan, argues that both long-term and new couples are missing out on the benefits of performing an activity together in lieu of showboaty meals and experiences. Not only is cooking a team-building experience, but you both get to revel in the glory afterwards, she says, which can be pretty sexy. “You’ve actually cooked a meal together and now you get to eat the product together,” Orbuch says. “It bonds you and it builds excitement and passion.”
Importantly, Orbuch continues, preparing a meal for a date shows you know how to listen. If a person who disclosed they’re gluten-intolerant shows up for a home-cooked dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, it’s a red flag that their date may not be the best communicator.
A home cooking date is a major indicator that someone is into you, says Matt Moore, chef and author of Have Her Over For Dinner. While he was still on the market, Moore (who is now married) would only welcome ladies into his kitchen if he was serious about them. “For me, when I dated, when I didn’t like someone, I wouldn't put time and effort into it,” Moore says. “Either I would pursue her or I would not. If I liked someone, I would make them dinner.” Though, save the at-home chef moves for after you’ve been on a few dates, he adds. Inviting someone into your apartment on the first date is a little intense.
“It’s a cute gesture to want to cook for someone and establish that intimacy… but then also why do you want me to feel comfortable in your home?”
Matchmaker Janis Spindel agrees it’s safer to wait until about the third date to show off your culinary skills if you’ve been on at least two solid prior outings. Cooking for a partner is a popular date choice among her clients, many of whom are upper-class men, and helps show you’re laid back and down-to-earth. However, Spindel says it’s important to set expectations: “You inviting them over for a home-cooked meal doesn’t mean you’re the one for dessert.”
These innuendos make Kiki Feliz extremely apprehensive to both inviting people into her home and going over to theirs. Pairing the current political climate with the nature of dating apps inspires constant awareness of her physical safety and active policing of those she welcomes into her space—she has friends, she says, who have never seen the inside of her New York City apartment. So when it comes to dating, she prefers to keep it in public. “It’s a cute gesture to want to cook for someone and establish that intimacy,” Feliz says, “but then also why do you want me to feel comfortable in your home?”
Among Feliz and her friends, an at-home cooking date is a rarity. She finds the idea old-fashioned and not conducive to today’s dating culture, where people humblebrag about where they went and what they did rather than a nice gesture. (She would be open to taking a public cooking class with a partner, though.)
Feliz does, however, recognize her peers’ contradictory behaviors when it comes to dating: Many will go to a stranger from Tinder’s house to smoke weed, but would never consider visiting that same person’s home to eat a meal they prepared. Perhaps it’s too romantic, she says… too passionate.
“I don’t know why … the idea of ‘Let me come over and smoke,’ versus ‘Come over and I’ll make you a dinner,’ is weird,” Feliz says. “Romance in our generation is changing and maybe what that looks like is not the same.”
Despite her rocky start with the hungry Bumble suitor, Rosimar Nieves is undeterred in finding a dude to cook for. She’s been seeing a guy for a few weeks, has already met his family, and thinks the time is right to welcome him into her kitchen. “I’m hoping it would lead to the next step,” she says, “whether it’s spending the night together or getting a little bit more of an intimate setting so we can talk about more serious things.”