When I got engaged, my husband and I thought alike about so many things that I foolishly thought we would have a perpetual conflict-free mind meld. That lasted for about a month until I dragged him to a fabric store, trying to get his opinion on material for curtains I was going to sew for our first apartment. I discovered very quickly that he considered shopping to be a unique form of torture.
Anyone who has been married for any length of time knows that marriage is an ongoing series of compromises and negotiations against a backdrop of mundane routines sprinkled with momentary triumphs and losses. As a former piano student who was required to learn several of J.S. Bach’s two-part inventions (watch one of my favorites, #8 performed here), it is easy for me to think of a marriage like a two-part invention. The pianist is playing a harmonious theme with both hands in counterpoint; both hands take turns playing a variation of the dominant melody while being supported by the other hand. The hands seem disparate at times but work together to create an aesthetically pleasing tune.
While my husband and I shared a visit to Target recently, I felt like I was in a relational two-part invention. We were both adapting to each other the whole time with some tension thrown in the mix. I felt like I was making the sacrifice of shopping with the equivalent of a recalcitrant youth and I’m sure he felt like his willingness to shop at my pace was the ultimate endurance test. This is dedicated to those couples who think they are the only ones who aren’t always on the same page.
The Scene: My husband and I need to shop for household items. My husband is “starving,” and we try to go to an early dinner at 4 pm, but discover that our favorite restaurant doesn’t open until 5.
Me: Well, Target is just right around the corner. I need to return something and we can get lots of the stuff on our list there, so let’s just go and come back.
Him: (In a voice suggesting that he has just done some heavy lifting) But that’s a whole hour and there’s no way I can spend an hour at Target. Plus, I’m starving now.
Me: OK—I know—Target has lots of snacks—you can just march yourself over to the produce aisle right by the entrance. Get yourself some organic hummus or almond butter and organic baby carrots or some other snack that is healthy enough to leave you feeling virtuous. That should hold you over.
Him: (With utmost reluctance and another heavy sigh) OOOkaaaay.
Me: OK drop me off at the entrance and I’ll go get in line at the returns and I’ll meet you in there.
Act II: 30 minutes later (He says 20—I’ll compromise to 25)
The Scene: I’m standing in the bathroom organization aisle and wonder why I haven’t heard from my husband for a half hour, and he isn’t responding to my texts. I’ve decided he either ran into someone he knows or is taking an important call. I finally take my chances at calling him on the phone.
Me: Where did you go? Is that sports radio I hear in the background?
Him: I’m eating my snack.
Me: You’re eating your snack where?
Him: In the car.
Me: You went in and bought a snack and went back out to the car? (Restating the obvious, trying to express my incredulity) Why didn’t you just come find me and eat it in the store?
Him: They would have thought I was shoplifting. I’m almost done. I was just about to come find you.
Me: (knowing that shoplifting is not his main concern) Hmmm…..K well I’m making my way over to the kitchen aisle so I’ll meet you over there, ok?
Him: OK I’ll be right in. (Shows up at the kitchen aisle a few minutes later)
Me: What do you think about this new mat for the sink?
Him: (Yawns) Great. Perfect.
Me: OK—so I was thinking that if we added one of these items to the silverware drawer, it would eliminate the black hole in the back—or do you think this size is better?
Him: (Yawns—starts to put head down on cart) I don’t know, dear. I can’t bring anything but apathy to this conversation. Whatever you think.
Me: OK let’s get this one. Now, I need to run over to the pet aisle so can you go over to the bathroom organization aisle and return this thing I don’t think I want anymore? I’ll meet you over by the cleaning aisle, OK? Oh, and while you’re over there, look at the storage stuff and see what you think about the different options for our bathroom.
Him: (Yawns—looks up, rubbing eyes) OK.
2 minutes later:
Me: (Look up, surprised to see my husband back in the pet aisle so soon) Hey, you’re just in time to help me go pick out a kitchen sponge.
Him: (Yawns): Oh yaaay!
Me: (Ignore his sarcasm) Hey, so what did you see in the bathroom aisle?
Me: The bathroom aisle—did you look at storage options?
Him: Oh. Yeah. I didn’t see anything that would be useful.
Me: (Laughing) You saw nothing that would be useful? Oh, honey, you didn’t even look, did you?
Him: Nope. I’m bad at picking out that kind of stuff.
Me: Well, we need some bathroom storage stuff, so let’s run over there really fast.
Me: Oh, look, this is the lazy susan I was telling you I thought would work for our daughter’s hair products. What do you think?
Him: (Gazing over my head, suddenly alert) Is that….a Squatty Potty? It is! Look, there’s a unicorn! (If you’re new to the Squatty Potty, see explanation here)
Me: Oh yeah—a healthy colon is a happy colon—are you kidding me?!! You’ve been acting like you have narcolepsy for the last half hour and suddenly you come alive when you see a Squatty Potty?
Him: (Handling one reverently) These things are the best!
Act III: 20 minutes later
Scene: Standing by the cosmetics aisle
Me: Oh, I forgot, I need a lighted mirror—there they are.
Him: How about that one? It matches our bathroom.
Me: Wow! You actually noticed that? (I look closer, 10x magnification, gasp) Oh NO! That is WAY too much information. I prefer to see myself at a distance.
Him: Honey you’re silly.
Me: (Glued to “Mirror, mirror, on the wall”) It’s like a train wreck and I can’t look away—when did all those wrinkles happen?
Him: Come on, I just remembered we need steel cut oats.
Me: Wait—I need a minute to mourn my youth—steel cut oats is not going to fix this! Even if they’re organic!
Him: Come on, you don’t have wrinkles.
Me: You’re just saying that because you’re getting farsighted—your vision is compromised—There is a reason that one of the pictures hanging in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland is a young lady turning wrinkled and haggard. It’s frightening! Honey, we are getting old!
Him: Yes we are. Together. OK I’ll meet you at the register.
Act IV: At the register
Him: This shopping trip has actually taken us 90 minutes. I don’t even feel this tired after a hundred mile bike ride!
Me: You’re ridiculous.
Him: I’m serious. If I go to Hell, they are going to make me shop at Target for 90 minutes at a time.
Me: You said your personal Hell was having to watch a parade.
Him: Well, it’s watching a parade while shopping at Target…(ponders) at the Circus!
Me: The carnival is worse than the circus.
Him: Good point–definitely worse. You can’t sit down at a carnival. Shopping at Target while watching a parade at the circus at the carnival. See honey, this proves I would go to the depths of Hell for you. You’re welcome.
This was a very typical shopping trip, and if I’m being honest, it felt somewhat arduous to both of us. We were both bored and tired and hungry. We were both operating under obligation. We both would have preferred to be a hundred other places that were more exciting. That’s real life. We’re just two different people trying to run a household with limited time, energy and resources. Sometimes my opinion takes front stage and sometimes his does, with plenty of tension in between, but in the end we are hoping for a relationship with the same resonance as a two-part invention—and we are one shopping trip closer to that end.
Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_stocking’>stocking / 123RF Stock Photo</a>