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6:26

It would never occur to me to drizzle ketchup on my fries.

What a nightmare — one fry drenched, the other bare, your fingers red and sticky. Instead, I make a polite pool to the side, like a sane person. Like a person who values consistency and control. My ketchup intake is measured per fry, per dip — a pop of color on a crispy tater. It’s the sensible way to experience a condiment.

Then I met the love of my life: a drizzler.

Without a thought, he zigzags ketchup across his fries. And because I rarely order fries, preferring to eat from my dining partner’s plate, this affects me. I either have to get my own and give up the illusion that I’m a side-salad person or reach into that soupy mess. You might think cohabitation is a big deal, but I assure you that chastising another person for how they choose to consume food is a whole other relationship level to unlock.

At house parties, at bars, I started surveying the crowd for drizzlers. Who among us eats this way? The sweet, shy drizzlers raise a hand. The poolers, always in majority, swoop in for ridicule and belittlement. You’ve never met a meaner crowd than poolers presented with a drizzler. That’s the fun of it: something simple we can attack each other over.

In a final curtain to the social turmoil I’ve unleashed on this social gathering, I out my lover as a drizzler. He’s so logical, so calculated and reasonable. I expose him to emphasize my own shock that he, of all people, drizzles. It usually has the intended effect, as if he has a third nipple or tongue split in two. Step right up and see him. Meet my drizzler.


The Mind of a Drizzler

There are two types of people: drizzlers and poolers.

A few people will claim to do something different, like lining each fry, but those outliers can still be grouped into control versus variation. Oh, you pretend the pack of ketchup is a lighter and light the fry like a cigarette? Still a pooler. Someone once told me they squirt ketchup in their mouth and then jam fries in there like some sort of disgusting washing machine. Sounds like a lie, but you’re still a pooler.

A drizzler doesn’t have to drizzle all the time. Based on my years of unprofessional research, drizzlers understand that their tendency is impractical. However, it’s their preference, and it creates a final product they find more desirable. If you’re struggling to figure out if you’re a drizzler or a pooler, don’t think about frequency — it’s about what sparks more joy.

This is a distinct feature of drizzlers: joy. And science backs up this theory. A 2001 study from Emory University and Baylor College of Medicine reports that surprises trigger increased activity in the pleasure centers of one’s mind. They discovered this by scanning people’s brains in an fMRI while a computer-controlled dual-syringe pump squirted water or juice into their mouths at timed intervals.

The researchers explain, “So-called pleasure centers in the brain do not react equally to any pleasurable substance, but instead react more strongly when the pleasures are unexpected. This means that the brain finds unexpected pleasures more rewarding than expected ones, and it may have little to do with what people say they like.”

Poolers are, I think, having the same experience with each fry, perhaps reducing their pleasure. Drizzlers, on the other hand, can get more pleasure from the mix of outcomes. My drizzler has a canned response to attacks from poolers: “Every bite is different.” What poolers see as a problem, he sees as a source of pleasure.

Sociopaths, Terrorists, and Demons

Search “ketchup drizzle” on Twitter and you will scroll through pages and pages of tweets declaring drizzlers to be sociopaths, terrorists, and demons. There is no drizzle pride in response. They accept the attacks and offer up compromises. “Most of my friends/family don’t like ketchup so I don’t do the drizzle thing so we can share,” says someone identifying as “It Me (๑´ڡ`๑).”

Here’s what I think is happening in the pooler/drizzler dynamic: The drizzler is expressing a preference, and the pooler is arguing for an objective truth. The pooler sees their choice as the right one, as a nonnegotiable fact. They deny that preference has anything to do with it. There is one way to ketchup and it is a dip in the pool.

This false sense of objective truth can be found in many areas of a relationship, from the ‘“right’” time to eat dinner to the ‘“right’” way to deal with conflict. One person holds their truth to be so self-evident that they gaslight others into thinking that anything different is the behavior of a sociopath, terrorist, demon. A lot has been written about gaslighting, the psychological manipulation that causes a person to question their own sanity. But if we remove the idea that the gaslighter is specifically manipulating with malicious intent, we’re left with one person who dismisses another person’s experience because they cannot empathize with another perspective.

In the self-help starter-pack book The Power Of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes that the “forcefully compulsive and deeply unconscious need to be right” is a “form of violence.” It comes from a place of fear, and the solution is compassion. In his article “Think You’re Always Right? It’s Probably Ruining Your Relationship,” Roger Landry, MD, says, “If you just keep banging away at someone until they flinch and accept your point of view, you’re probably not very happy with the state of your current relationships.”

In light of all this, I no longer complain about my drizzler’s drizzling habits. At social gatherings, I’ve stopped presenting him as some sort of medical marvel for others to mock. He loves to eat his fries in a way that makes no sense — and oftentimes I make no sense — but the truth is that there’s no right or wrong way to do any one thing.

Except for eating pizza with a knife and fork. Those people are sociopaths.