He’s standing outside the door, hanging and chatting as other folks finish up their cigarettes. In his hand is a cupcake that he brought to the party.
“Oh, my partner made them,” he says. “She’s the baker in the house. Me? I’m more of a cook.”
“It’s funny how that works,” someone else says. “Baking is all about precision. Measurements. Making things exact. Cooking… it’s a lot more spontaneous.”
I nod. “I’m the cook in my house. He’s the baker. So when we make a pizza, he’s the one who wrangles the dough. And I’m the one who figures out what weird toppings to put on it.” It’s been a fun challenge lately. I’ve been throwing miniature versions of complete meals on there. One recent pizza was chicken and mac and cheese. Another was spaghetti and sausage. And I’m always playing with the spice balance, seeing what novel combinations that I can find that shouldn’t taste good together but really do. It’s like a game.
“Exactly,” he says.
“It seems like it’s that way in every house,” I say. “That there’s a cook and there’s a baker.”
Multiple people nod.
“Huh,” I say. “I wonder if there’s a lesson there about relationships. If there’s always a cook and a baker. A person who plans and another person who injects spontaneity. One organizer and one minister of fun.”
“I don’t know,” he says. “If anything, she’s the spontaneous one outside of baking.”
And as soon as he says that, I realize that it’s the same way in my life, when it comes to my nesting partner Justin (i.e., the person I live with). He bakes with precision but is otherwise quite a “go with the flow” person. Whereas I may be chaotic in the kitchen, but when it comes to the rest of my life, I’m a consummate planner.
Love Cooks and Love Bakers
My Myers-Briggs personality type is ENFJ. For those not terribly familiar with the framework, the four letters in that result stand for extraverted (E), intution (N), feeling (F), and judging (J). The exact opposite of my type would be ISTP, which would stand for introverted (I), sensing (S), thinking (T), and perceiving (P).
The last variable, judging (J) versus perceiving (P), relates specifically to whether a person prefers to plan or to go with the flow. J-types like me tend to be organized, prefer to always have some kind of plan, and typically stick to an established plan unless presented with a good reason to deviate from it. When it comes to dealing with other people, they behave less like cooks and more like bakers.
And when it comes to romantic relationships (and navigating social situations in general), my natural inclination is to be more of a baker than a cook. I tend to measure. Stick to the plan. Act intentionally.
Conversely, perceiving types are very much like cooks. They are naturally oriented to improvise and explore alternatives. And to keep their options open. Justin is a P-type. When it comes to love and social relationships, he’s basically a cook.
When a Love Cook and a Love Baker Date One Another
In the Myers-Briggs framework, it’s typically believed that perceiving and judging types are more romantically compatible with one another than with another person of their same type, especially when it comes to managing a household together. I think this is because it’s easy for two J-planners to butt heads and fight about what the plan should be. And conversely, if everyone is going with the flow, things fall through the cracks. So having one planner and one improviser is at least in theory more balanced.
However, Justin did remark that dating me took a great deal of adjustment, despite ours being a rather ideal pairing (INFP & ENFJ).
It was jarring for him how much structure to social time I needed, at baseline. He learned to prep an answer to the question I’d ask every day: “So what’s the plan for tonight?”
Before I was in his life, he usually didn’t have one, aside from any obligations he’d committed to. A work or a volunteer shift. Firm one-on-one social plans were a rarity. He usually had a lot of things that he could maybe drop in on.
But I was a differently wired creature. I wanted to know how we were spending the evening as soon as possible. Preferably by noon. And if for some reason circumstances changed and we needed to deviate, I typically dealt with that rather poorly. I’d go along with it, but I’d spend a few minutes miffed and staring out the window, feeling overwhelmed.
“I’m sorry,” I’d say. “I try not to get married to ideas when they’re just a possibility, but it’s hard for me. I get whiplash when things change.”
“It’s okay,” he’d say. “I’m adjusting, too.” And stroke my hair.
Over time, he got good at coming up with plans and tended to interpret mine as less flexible. And I adjusted, too. I learned not to stick so doggedly to plans when to do so was foolish. To accept change more gracefully.
And these days, I do find that while my calendar has a lot of engagements on it (since I’m dating multiple people and work a lot) that I’m no longer troubled by empty, undefined space the way I used to be.
I can tolerate not knowing exactly what will happen. I can go with the flow.
So it would seem that over time we met somewhere in the middle.
Learning to Bake When You’re More of a Cook
Justin has gone on to date other women like me — who need a plan. In all honesty, he tends to gravitate towards planners. Sweet women who struggle with anxiety and find structure comforting. Smart, strong women who can take care of themselves just fine but really appreciate the reassurance when it’s offered. Who find it irresistible when the other person manages expectations appropriately (*swoon*).
And he’s admitted that he’s learned a lot about how to give preemptive reassurance and plans from his experiences being there for me. He’s learned how to carefully measure and weigh. To be intentional in the way that he manages time and communicates. In essence, he’s learned how to be a love baker for those who benefit from it, when naturally he’s a love cook who’d normally just sling a bunch of ingredients into a pot.
It’s been a beautiful thing to watch, his applying those lessons to other relationships. He’s awfully hard on himself sometimes. I think he wishes he were perfect at it. But you know, he’s gotten pretty good. And the fact that he even tries means so much — to me and surely to the other women he’s dated.
It reminds me of the first time I tried to bake him a cake. A boxed cake in his favorite flavor. It should have been so easy. I followed directions exactly… except when it came to allowing the cake to cool. I didn’t wait long enough. And when I went to frost it, the top of the cake came up and mixed with the frosting. The cake was pretty ugly, basically looked linty due to all the crumbs studding the surface.
But Justin didn’t care. Sure, he laughed (who wouldn’t?). But he ate it, told me it was delicious. And was just so happy that I tried.