When the best husband and I started to live together, we didn’t talk much about ‘roles’ in our relationship. We both worked full time and more or less managed to get done everything required for a respectable life. Shopping, cleaning, doing laundry, paying bills, we were used to taking care of stuff. We were also reasonable people who believed in an equitable partnership and we certainly weren’t moving in to have the other take care of us.
Until I met Jeff, I had done my grocery shopping where it was most convenient. Mostly at the shiny market half a block from my apartment. Even if pressed, I could not have told you how much I paid for the half gallon of milk or a box of cereal. Shopping exhausts me and the cost of groceries was never important to me as long as I got out of the store quickly.
In contrast, Jeff is an energetic and passionate shopper with an unfailing memory for prices and deals. Early on he had labeled me, with my disdain for coupons and disregard for sales, as a hopeless spendthrift who was throwing money away. At first, he sought to show me the way through subtle hints. When I was reaching for cleaning supplies at the market I would hear a quiet: “I can pick that up next week at Target at a much better price” or “I’ll stop at Costco next week to get that.” Very soon I realized the futility of me trying to buy anything and just left the whole thing to Jeff. It seemed like the best solution.
Several months of our newly established domesticity went by when I finally noticed a certain lack of warmth in our relationship. My cautious inquiry of “is everything all right honey?” led to a “funny you should ask” and the equivalent of “what took you so long to notice?” It turned out that the best of all husbands felt that I had left shopping and cooking entirely to him without so much as a “by your leave.” Frankly, he was sick and tired of putting food on the table in time for me to collapse from my hour-long commute. None of my heart-felt “this is wonderful” and “thank you for cooking dinner” comments had made a dent in this view. He was convinced that I simply wanted a houseboy with benefits and he was not having it.
He was shocked when I told him that he didn’t trust me with buying a can of beans since I would have no clue where the best deal of the week was to be had and I could be counted on to come home with the wrong brand. Since he liked to decide what we needed by wandering through the market while composing the menu for the week based on what was on sale, all that was left for me was to push the cart and I had been tired of that routine for some time.
Clearly, it was time for a change. I promised to help with the shopping at the stores he liked as long as he wrote down what we needed. I still remember the powerful feeling of agency when I walked by myself through a grocery store for the first time after months of stuff simply showing up in the refrigerator. I agreed to do some of the cooking on weekends. I also negotiated that, occasionally, I had permission to buy an item at the market, even if it was not at the best price, so I didn’t have to go to another store.
Over time, we have refined our roles. I make sure that the bills are paid, file our taxes and I do most of the cleaning and tidying up. Is it obvious that I am a Virgo? Jeff does most of the cooking and meal planning. We each do our own laundry. Most weekends we go on a grocery run together. I go to Trader Joe’s and Costco during the week. He usually deals with Target. We really should have talked about all that in the beginning. We just didn’t know how good it would feel to take care of the other.
This article was first published at Frontiers LA.