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For Better or Worse ... But Not for Lunch

Why can't my husband even locate the mustard?

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Animation of man and woman at table, wife is peering at husband while holding lunch ingredients
Oscar Bolton Green
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“Do we have any more of that cheddar?” my husband asks, peering into our open refrigerator.           

Has he regressed to a teenager? My brothers used to stare endlessly into the fridge, unable to find something to eat. “You’ll let all the cold air out!” my mother admonished, ordering the door shut.           

“The cheese is right in front of you,” I impatiently tell my husband. “Are you wearing the wrong glasses?” He has three pairs: for reading, for the computer and for distance. Often, I must wait at the door for us to leave while he searches for the misplaced or forgotten one.           

“Oh, I found it!” He holds up the yellow wedge as if winning a scavenger hunt. “Is this the cheese I like? And where’s the slicer?”           

“How long have you lived here?” I attempt to sound jovial. “Let me introduce you to the utensil drawer.”           

“Do we have any mustard?”           

“Wait, I’ll draw you a map of the kitchen cabinets.”           

He’s always been a helpful husband: shopping, cooking, cleaning, fixing. He’d also been a busy businessman, 10 hours a day at the office, weeklong travels to clients. I missed him, but I relished my time alone, eating ice cream for dinner if I desired. At home, my handy husband repaired our broken freezer, saving us $200. But why can’t he locate the mustard?           

I learned to live with my husband four times. First, when we married decades ago, which we now sweetly refer to as our young-and-in-love stage. Then, shifting our focus to raising our daughter, we replaced lazy Sunday brunches with cheering from the sidelines of soccer matches. During the coronavirus-induced lockdown, when we both worked from home, we established territorial boundaries in our city apartment. But when the pandemic caused my husband’s business to shutter, he was suddenly unemployed. A prelude to retirement. Round 4.           

He’d planned to work one more year, paying down our small mortgage and reducing our retirement expenses, but life is unpredictable. He’s looking for a job, but it’s rough for a 72-year-old during high unemployment. A university professor, I have no plans to retire. I still feel excited each new semester, facilitating bonds with a class of writers, enjoying their remarkable essays and memoirs. I love my husband but want him away from my queendom — my open office space that’s always been mine.             

Several friends have already adapted to their husbands’ retirements. One tells me: “I’d come home from work and find the bed not made and the dishwasher full — he was ‘relaxing’ and didn’t get around to it. Or he’d empty it as he heard my key in the door. I reminded him that our daughter did that as a teenager.”

On days she worked from home, she reveals, “He’d say, ‘What’s for lunch?’ Even though every other day he had no problem figuring out lunch on his own.”

“Our wedding vows said for better or worse — but not for lunch,” says my friend, sometimes making a smoothie for lunch to avoid the communal kitchen table.       

I begin to feel jealous that my husband appears more relaxed than I do. No matter how many times I explain that I’m working at my computer, he interrupts me with nonurgent matters like “We need to do the laundry tonight.” After an exhausting but rewarding day with my students, I bristle when he inquires, at 5 p.m., “What should we do about dinner?” He can plaster a ceiling, but I’ve always been the planner.           

In the mornings I’m already at my desk when he ambles in for breakfast.             

“Can you slurp a little more quietly?” I ask.           

Flecks of cereal dot his chin. “How is that possible?”           

“Stop interrupting me.”           

“You began this conversation.”           

I’ve been married long enough to know that the cliché of arguing over an uncapped toothpaste tube goes deeper than fluoride. It’s OK to feel envious that he has more free time. It’s important to have discussions about a range of issues—from setting budgets to navigating how to cohabitate in this new phase of our marriage. We’ve lived and loved together for four decades; certainly he can learn to devise a dinner menu.           

Sometimes he doesn’t get it and needs reminders. As a parent and professor, I’m skilled in repeating and gently prodding. He still interrupts me occasionally, but nobody’s perfect. I leave the mustard in the front of the fridge for easy access.

And when I’m waiting at the door for us to leave together for an evening walk and he’s still searching for eyeglasses, I gently urge him to get going. I wave my hand toward the door like an air traffic controller. My handy, talented, accomplished husband still has the toddler in him at times. I’m here to guide him and move things along. And to suggest that tomorrow would be a good day to have lunch out with a friend. 

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