If you’ve ever had a roommate, and especially if that roommate happens to be your significant other, you’ve undoubtedly had to come to terms with your SBB: secret single behavior. (Sure, it’s an old Sex and the City reference, but stay with me for a moment.) Your SBB are all the things you do when no one is around, like watching The Bachelor or drinking wine from a plastic novelty baseball cup. When my boyfriend (now fiancé!) moved in, I knew I couldn’t hide the truth for long. Eventually, he was going to see what I really eat.
“There is an ever more acute difference … between my inner self which I know is the real me, and the various faces of the outside world,” Patricia Highsmith wrote in 1947. To those meeting her for the first time, Highsmith was a classic 30-under-30 success story: a Barnard graduate whose first novel, Strangers on a Train, was immediately adapted into the iconic Hitchcock film upon publication. She was fluent in several languages, and traveled to pied-à-terres in London and Paris. But Highsmith’s pedigree belied some serious secret single behavior of her own … especially where food was concerned.
Although her family moved to New York when she was 12, Highsmith’s culinary tastes stayed rooted in her Fort Worth, Texas childhood. “Her favourite food was the traditional cooking of the South—cornbread, collard greens, spare ribs, black-eyed peas and peanut butter,” Andrew Wilson writes in his biography, Beautiful Shadow. She ate breakfast at all times of the day, preferring cereal to any three-course meal.
But when friends would visit, Highsmith played the part of the consummate hostess, preparing complicated dishes for her guests rather than serving Cheerios. It didn’t always go well. One evening, Highsmith served up a roast beef that she left “two hours too long in the oven,” leaving her visitors to chew on the leathery result. Another friend recalled opening the fridge in Highsmith’s Paris apartment to grab a snack: “All there was was peanut butter and vodka.”
Highsmith never tried harder to mask her secret single behavior than when she was cooking for her lovers, like the Parisian Monique Buffet. “Every time Monique visited Moncourt, Pat made a côte de bœuf or a lapin and a salad … although she wouldn’t eat a bite herself.”
But you can only conceal your secret self for so long; when she was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in 1993, Highsmith finally let her secret out. “She would carry jars of peanut butter around in her handbag, as that’s all she could eat,” Wilson tells us. Breakfast, her favorite meal of the day, became the only one she ate. Like Tom Ripley, one of Highsmith’s most famous creations, discovers, keeping our single behavior secret is exhausting; it quickly becomes a burden. Sharing it is scary but when you’re no longer alone, the load feels that much lighter.