Mel sent me to Safeway with a short list.
· Cottage cheese
This was not the first time she’d sent me to pick up a feminine hygiene product.
She was pregnant at the time. Next to “pads,” she listed the brand, weight, length, durability, and a few other details about the specific pads that she wanted, and as I read through the modifiers, I was surprised that this was such a complicated thing. Before I got married, I never would’ve considered that a woman has as many options for hygiene as I do engine oil.
I waited until the end of the list to pick up the pads. I always do this because it limits the amount of time I have to spend walking around the store, anxiously gazing at the hygiene product in the cart, wondering if the people around me are looking at it too, and making assumptions.
And frankly, there are a lot of assumptions to be made.
The normal assumption, and most truthful, is that I’m a married man, sweet and wonderful, and willing to pick that sort of thing up for my wife. But that assumption would take rational thought, which I don’t often use in these moments.
Instead, I assume that it shows how whipped I am. Like having those things in the cart while I’m alone shows some chip on my manhood. Perhaps people look at the package in the cart and whisper, “What a bitch for buying those for his wife. He needs to man up.” Or worse, I wonder if people are wondering if I’m going to use them as part of some sick sexual fetish.
And while I’m sure Mel wished I better understood what it’s like to go through the emotional and physical stress of having a period once a month, I really want her to know what I go through each time she places something like this, casually, on a grocery list, like it’s as normal as picking up a gallon of milk.
Now the last thing that I’m saying is that a woman’s period is a 100% equal comparison to a man shopping for his wife’s pads. It’s not. But what I will say is that buying anything to do with a woman’s period makes me feel like I’m giving a public speech to a formal audience while stark naked.
It’s really a nerve-racking event.
I stood before the “feminine products,” trying to act casual, like I belonged, but all the while I was a bit red in the face, my right hand shaking as it held the list. I longed to not be spotted by anyone who could take a photo. I always assume that I’m going to get better at this with time. That I will become confident to the point that buying pads will truly be as casual as picking up milk.
And I will admit that I have gotten better. The first time Mel sent me to the store for a hygiene product, I felt really nervous, so I bought a bunch of crap I didn’t need (a book, some candy, and toilet scrubber…) so that I wouldn’t look like some creep with nothing but hygiene products in his cart. The cashier checked out my eclectic items, and once she reached the hygiene products, I felt like I need to say something to normalize the situation. “Don’t worry,” I said, with a smirk. “They’re not for me.”
And the cashier, a snarky gum-chewing blond in her late teens, gave me a twisted lip smile. Her look seemed to say, “You know, you saying that makes me think that they are.”
Now, after ten years of marriage, I can go to the store, pick out the product Mel needs, strut to the register, and not say a thing. Outwardly, I don’t think I come off as that nervous. Obviously I’ve gotten better at this, but I still don’t like it much.
I found what Mel had listed, and as I tossed it into the cart, I wondered what the male equivalent of this purchase would be. What could I send Mel to buy that would be equally as troubling and embarrassing as me buying her pads? Outside of underwear, my man parts don’t require any sort of regular appliance that must be purchased at a store. I can’t recall ever sending Mel to get me underwear. And I don’t play ball sports, so I can’t send her to pick me up jock strap.
The closest I can think that she’s ever gotten was one time she bought us some condoms at Wal-Mart. She came home, a little red-faced and flustered, and told me that condom buying was my job now.
“I’m never doing that again,” she said. “Really awkward.”
And it’s not like I don’t want to understand what it’s like to have a monthly cycle. But as a man (I think this can be said about most men), I don’t think much about a woman’s period.
Mostly because I find them a little gross, and a little confusing. (After living with Mel for 10 years, it might be safe to say that she feels the same way as I do about her period. But I digress.)
A few years ago I went to see the Vagina Monologues in an attempt to better understand my wife. I know that the point of the play is to bring about awareness to a woman’s coming of age. Let outsiders (men I assume) better understand what it’s like to be a woman, and to allow women an opportunity to normalize and connect over their own coming of age.
I laughed at the play. I left feeling like I’d learned a lot about what it means to be a woman. But at the same time, I felt a little queasy and thought to myself, “I don’t know if any of this will ever make sense.”
I made it to the cashier with my products. I timed it so that as the pads crossed the scanner, I ran my card through the reader. This made it easier to avoid eye contact. And as I left with my bag of groceries, the pads tucked away where no one could see them, I felt relieved, like I’d been placed in a very embarrassing situation (crapping my pants, for example) and made it out without anyone noticing.
Once I made it to the car, I sat in the drivers seat with the engine running for a moment. I thought about my wife, and how much I love her.
You would also enjoy, I Thought I Was A Good Husband Until I Went Grocery Shopping
Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley