The Entenmann’s Voice: How A Chocolate Cake Saved Our Marriage

She told me that she loved me.  The rest of her body told me otherwise.  

I heard the strain in my wife’s voice whenever we had a discussion. Her words were never unkind – but our discussions were squeezed tight at the edges, her sentences chopped off at the end as neatly as a nailclipper clicking through a toenail. Every reassurance she gave me ended with an unspoken “for Christ’s sake” that hung in the air like bug spray, toxic and deadly.

The only time I knew she loved me – really adored me – was when she spoke of chocolate cake.

Now, let’s be honest.  She was right to be vexed with me.  This was during the worst part of our marriage, when neither of us had learned the self-discipline to be kind to each other.  I was a fool, insecure, and grasping – and worst of all, I knew what I was doing yet was unable (back then) to stop myself.  Half of our conversations went like this: 

“Do you love me?” 

“Yes.” 

“…are you sure you love me?” 

“Yes.”  

(A moment passes, during which her whole body braces for the next onslaught – and then) “Are you sure you love me?”  

“For God’s sake, I said yes!” 

“But you sound so angry!”  

Someone once told me that the reason dogs are so happy to see you when you come home is because they didn’t know that you were coming back. Dogs have no concept of extended time, so when you return it’s as if you’d just arisen from the grave, They jump, and lick, and frolic because they didn’t expect to ever see you again!

I was a dog. Every time Gini left the room, her love left with her. When she returned, her love was obviously gone; she had been a fool to marry a schlub like me, and she must have realized it in that twenty minutes, she must have.  I tried not to ask, I really did, but my thoughts rattled around inside me like a pellet in a spraypaint can until the words squirted out, unbidden. 

So I’d ask again. Do you love me? Do you still? How about now?

Her patience waned, and it didn’t help that Gini had grown up in a family where expressing honest emotion = death. She’d had to bury every trace of resentment to stay alive, and so her psyche was a mystery to her. She would deny being angry at me for days on end, then suddenly stop in mid-stride with a befuddled expression to snap, “You know, I am furious at you.”

Our marriage was dying, and neither of us knew how to stop this spiral.  

I didn’t even realize how bad it had gotten until we shopped for an Entenmann’s Marshmallow Cake.

Now, you might think that the biggest sacrifices I’d made in quitting my job and moving up to Alaska to be with my new bride would be leaving my support group of friends behind, or leaving behind my sexy job buying books – books! – for a job buying pencils in bulk for a corporation.  

But I’m a pudgepot.  So I missed Entenmann’s cake.  

Marshmallow Cake was a delicacy that I could not find in Alaska. Oh, they had Entenmann’s prepackaged food product in all sorts of styles – the donuts, the waxy chocolate icing, the pop-’ems – but never the creamy, vanilla-tinged Marshmallow topping. When I was depressed back home, I’d buy a cake and strip the icing off of my Entenmann’s methodically, eating it as if I were mowing a sugary lawn. 

It probably contributed to my eventual heart attack, but damn did it cheer me up.  

So when we moved back down to Cleveland, the one thing that gave me hope was finding Entenmann’s again.  My marriage may be disintegrating, this move seemed like a covert excuse to get me back into the States before dumping me, but hey!  Entenmann’s!

And on the second day in town, my hopes soared when I found a local Entenmann’s outlet – but I quickly discovered that even the factory outlet had no Marshmallow cakes. The local factory didn’t make them.

When I returned home, I was crestfallen, expecting Gini to snap at me for being so upset at something as trivial as a chocolate cake.  But for the first time in a long time, Gini sympathized with me. 

“There, there,” she said, stroking my head. Her voice was as warm as a hug. “We’ll find your cake. It’ll be okay.”

And I realized: Gini had grown up poor.  

To her, in a family that had had to squash their emotions to survive, whining about feelings was stupid.  

But being deprived of things?  That, she understood.  

“That’s it,” I said.

“What?”

“That’s how I need you to talk to me.”

From then on, the good voice became The Entenmann’s Voice.  And when I really needed reassurance, I asked her to use it. 

The Entenmann’s voice was a breakthrough for Gini, because she realized that simply reciting the words weren’t enough – she had to mean them. She thought that I couldn’t hear the unspoken “dumbass” at the end of her comforts – but I could hear her undertones more keenly than words. It took her awhile, but I think she realized that perhaps it was possible to comfort me, if she acted in the right way.

Sometimes, you have to adjust for your partner in subtle and strange ways.  And she worked, and worked hard, at stopping giving me these snippy reassurances and instead recalling the compassion she’d felt for me about a chocolate cake and redirecting that into calming my flurries of emotional distress.

As for me, I realized that if she could sound that way about Entenmann’s, perhaps it wasn’t all lost. There were still vast, untapped reserves of love within her – I was just drilling too deep, taking too many of her resources. 

I didn’t know how to stop my quavering fears, but that Entenmann’s voice told me that I had to before I lost that, too.

These were both tiny steps for us. The Entenmann’s voice didn’t magically fix everything, but they expanded our vocabulary and laid a groundwork that we could work with.

Eventually, I had to learn that relationships are based on objective results, not internal struggles.   Gini was being stressed because I was asking her Do you love me? Do you love me still? every three minutes, nobody fucking cared whether I had really tried hard not to ask at Minute 1 and Minute 2. My internal struggles didn’t matter – what mattered was that I didn’t ask at Minute 3, either. Eventually, I learned to go an hour without asking (though it was pure agony), and then four hours, and then eight hours.

Now, sometimes I can go a whole day. It’s been almost two decades since those tumultuous first days of our marriage, and I’d like to tell you my fears have disappeared, like a good storybook  – but truth is, old scars never completely heal. But they’re manageable now.

It’s an ugly truth, but it was there all along: If I wanted Gini to stop thinking less of  me for being weak, I had to stop being weak. All the words and redefinitions couldn’t change a character flaw.

But the other night, Gini was working on the computer and I walked into her room. She checked her email, and suddenly I was overwhelmed with fears of Anchorage. I had a worry about a really stupid issue – the kind that had been answered definitively years ago. Asking her for reassurance on this thoroughly-settled conflict would be the dumbest possible thing I could do because I knew she loved me, that I was an idiot for asking, that any sane person should just walk away and stuff this fear deep inside.

But the words came out, insulting in their pure distrust: Do you love me? Do you still? How about now?

Gini stopped in mid-typing, then stared at me with concern…. And her face broke open in the most wonderful smile I’ve ever seen, the most loving thing that I think I shall ever witness in my time upon this planet. She held her arms out to me and put my hands on her shoulders so that she could look into my eyes and tell me yes, yes I love you, and you’re not a fool for asking. You’re my hero, Ferrett.

That was the Entenmann’s voice.  

It was also the power of our love reignited after we learned to be good to each other.  Through cake.  

And so when people come to me because they can’t stop fighting, the first question I usually ask is, “So what’s your Entenmann’s cake voice?”  That voice is probably not cake-related (unless you are a pudgepot like me).  

But there is often a tone in your voice that your partner needs to hear when you’re upset.  Some people call it a “love language,” but that’s often nebulous, because it’s not really a language so much as it is finding the channel to compassion when you’re being inconvenienced.  

You may love them.  Speaking love in a way that they can hear it is a separate skill. 

But if you master that art, it is a sweet, sweet dessert indeed.  

6 Comments

  1. TheFerrett
    Apr 11, 2018

    Full disclosure: This is a rewrite of a LiveJournal essay from 2004, but that essay was titled so badly I could never find it on Google searches and frankly, I wanted to incorporate some thoughts I’d had in the intervening years.

    So if this sounds familiar to old-time readers, it probably is.

  2. Sean McCulloch
    Apr 11, 2018

    So, as someone else who transplanted from NY to OH, and also misses that cake, I need to ask: Did you find it? If so, how?

    I mean, the relationship advice is good and all, but let’s focus on what’s important 🙂

    • Anonymous Alex
      Apr 11, 2018

      Dude! I totally want some of that cake, now, too!

      -Alex

    • TheFerrett
      Apr 11, 2018

      Nah, my friend. I’m afraid it’s only available on the East Coast.

      I stock up when I go home.

      • Anonymous Alex
        Apr 11, 2018

        Well, now I’m officially sad. Though I’m sure it’s better for one that it be the occasional treat back from a trip than to have it available all the time.

        -Alex

  3. Douglas Scheinberg
    Apr 11, 2018

    I’m still trying to figure out how to show my wife compassion without making her mad. :/

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