There’s nothing about the way my wife shops for groceries that I would consider wrong, and I’m pretty sure she’d say the same thing. We behave in a very modern, egalitarian way with regards to shopping and cooking – our schedules are both very erratic, so both duties tend to get done by whichever one of us happens to be available.
My wife once went to Ecuador for ten weeks, leaving me for an entire summer with the three girls, and I learned a few things about those differences while she was gone. First, I learned that I was perfectly capable of taking care of the girls on my own for that length of time. And along the same lines, I learned that most mothers were shocked by this concept.
I cooked real meals and we rarely ate out. I was careful to include a variety of vegetables and fruit and healthy food in general, but as the summer wore on, we all had to admit that my arsenal was pretty limited. I was stuck on about ten things I knew how to make well, and we rotated through them until it started to get a little old. We made it through the summer just fine, but we were all happy to have my wife back.
Soon after, she went out to the store and spent around three hundred bucks. For a family of five, that’s a fairly average trip to the grocery, which I would normally expect to last about 10-14 days. But I was surprised the next day when I came home from work, went into the kitchen, and couldn’t find anything to make for dinner that night. It wasn’t that there wasn’t any food – it was just all a bunch of food I didn’t know what to do with.
I don’t know why I was surprised. It wasn’t the first time she’d done that, and it was also no secret that I tend to buy about the same batch of stuff when I go to the store, resulting in a monotonous menu which she is forever trying to break.
When I go to the store, I have to be conscious about what I’m buying so that she has things to eat as well – she’s a vegetarian. The trouble is, my cooking skills are very fifty years ago. If your mom didn’t make it for you when you were a kid in the seventies, then there’s a good chance I can’t make it for you, either. So frequently when I go shopping, my wife finds herself standing in the kitchen thinking the same thing.
I think this is pretty common. And for fourteen years, it’s just been a fact of life. If I’m doing the shopping, she’s disappointed, and if she’s doing the shopping then I am. It’s a mild disappointment, I don’t think it’s eating at us or anything. But it results in minor, secondary trips to the grocery store to offset the things the other person missed.
Just the other day I suddenly realized that we’d settled upon a solution – and the crux of it was that neither of us was doing anything wrong at all.
I didn’t turn out to be right. That would have been cool, if we got back a report from NASA and they said, well, our analysis is complete, and Tom is definitely the more efficient grocery shopper. My wife could stand there arguing with rocket scientists all day long if she wanted to.
And I’m sure my wife would have appreciated it if the imaginary report said the opposite.
No, instead we just happened to finally alternate for about a month. She’d take a trip, and then a week later I’d take a trip. When we did it that way, we found that the trips grew smaller each time, as we were able to stock up on ingredients that the other didn’t care about, and then work them in two weeks later, as the cupboards started to empty out and we could stand there looking at what we had left to work with.
It’s so obvious, it’s almost embarrassing. For a long time, I really believe – both of us truly thought we were shopping better than the other one. For a long time, we both thought that we were the one who was right, and we both thought it mattered.
It didn’t. What mattered more was both of our perspectives gaining equal ground. The grocery bill dropped, and cooking became easier, and there were fewer last-minute trips to the store, the kind that can snowball into mini-shopping sprees.
I realized it standing in the middle of the frozen food section at Giant Eagle, that this is what’s missing from our political discussions. Genuine respect and cooperation are nowhere to be found as we instead fixate on the things we both think the other side is doing wrong.
I’ll just tack another min-analogy on to the end here. I think we need to stop whacking each other over the head with these oars and put them back in the water, and realize that the boat will only go in a circle unless we paddle on both sides of it. The only way forward is to stop thinking of each other as idiots who are paddling on the wrong side, and start thinking of each other as partners who have to paddle at the same time.