Paula Simons: A dark, bittersweet Valentine's Day confession

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Just going into a chocolate store to buy gifts for friends or family makes Paula Simons feel like a space alien.
Postmedia

I have a dark secret. There’s something perverse and strange about me, which makes me freakishly different from most of humanity. After 15 years as a columnist, I have to come clean. And Valentine’s Day seemed the right time. 

So here it is. My aberration. My confession of deviance.

I hate chocolate. 

I don’t just dislike it. I don’t merely prefer vanilla or lemon. I despise chocolate in all its forms — dark, milk, white, bitter or sweet, liquid, solid, powder.

For some 50 years now, I’ve watched the rest of you eat it and drink it. I’ve listening to you gush on and on about how happy chocolate makes you, how it fills your brain with dopamine, how it makes you more alert or more aroused, how it cures your PMS, how it keeps Dementors and depression at bay. 

I’m baffled.

It’s what I imagine it must be like to be colour-blind. Am I the only one who thinks it tastes absolutely vile?

My mother always attributed my revulsion to chocolate to an incident in my early childhood. I was a toddler and I’d been sick with tonsillitis. My doting grandfather brought me chocolate as a treat. I reportedly gobbled it up — and was violently ill. My mum believes the trauma triggered my deep psychological aversion. 

I’m dubious.

People often say, “Oh just try some chocolate! You’ll see how good it is, if you just taste it!” 

I know exactly what chocolate tastes like.

You can’t avoid the flavour. Sometimes, I bite into an oatmeal cookie, expecting the chewy joy of a raisin, and hit a bitter, slimy, disgusting chocolate chip instead.

Sometimes, I lick a rich vanilla ice cream cone, only to find it’s streaked with an acrid shadow of brown goo. The nasty flavour of chocolate is as omnipresent as it is insidious — it permeates anything and everything it touches.

Its cloying smell is almost as nasty.

And yet. It is everywhere.

It besmirches every holiday: Easter and Halloween, Christmas and Hanukkah. This Chinese New Year, some well-meaning lady even gave me a red envelope with a gold-wrapped chocolate coin inside.

The madness reaches its zenith at Valentine’s Day, when the rest of you buy tonnes of the stuff to exchange in some ritualized form of gastronomic foreplay. On no other day of the calendar do I feel as alien or as alienated, a minority of one in a world of chocoholics.

I don’t think I’m a picky eater. I love all kinds of things that many people don’t — mushrooms, eggplant, grapefruits, jellyfish, squid tentacles, chopped liver.

But cocoa? Blech.

These days, if you say you’re allergic to peanuts or shellfish, if you say you don’t eat gluten or dairy, if tell someone you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, people are usually understanding. And if someone tells you they don’t like black licorice or goat cheese or cilantro or hot curry, you might disagree with their taste, but you wouldn’t be shocked. Such dislikes are all considered to be within the normal range of human preferences.

But tell some one you don’t like chocolate and they stare at your, gobsmacked, as though you’re speaking some extraterrestrial tongue, one the Universal Translator can’t decode. 

A couple of months ago, I turned down some treats that were being passed around the newsroom. 

“No thanks, I don’t eat chocolate,” I demurred.

An idealistic young colleague beamed and congratulated me — on the assumption I was acting out of concern for enslaved child labourers, forced to pick cocoa beans on African plantations. I squirmed with embarrassment, as I revealed my chocolate boycott was utterly unmoored from moral principle. 

I’m not trying to shame you. Some of my best friends like chocolate. (Actually, all of my best friends love chocolate.) I’ll never forget the relief in the voice of my childhood friend Elsbeth, the first time she saw my kid eat a chocolate ice cream cone. 

“Thank God, you’re not a freak like your mother,” she cried. 

And I gave thanks, too. My chocolate intolerance isn’t a curse I’d like to pass to anyone. It’s mine to bear alone. But at least when my husband opens his chocolate goodies Tuesday morning, he’ll know they’re a pure and disinterested gift of love — one he’ll never have to share.

psimons@postmedia.com

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February 14, 2017 |

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