My husband and I have lived in the same New York City apartment for five years, and it’s not a big one. With only a few hundred square feet in sum, the kitchen accounts for only a small fraction of the total real estate, which makes me wonder, dear spouse: Given the size of the space, and the thousands of meals we’ve prepared in it over the years, how can you not know where the paprika is? Let me expand. How can you not know where the paprika is, given that you already have the salt and garlic powder out, and thus clearly know where the spice cabinet is located? And how can you look me square in the face and ask if we have any rice left when I nearly never eat it, but you do bi-weekly? And, really, I’m concerned that you don’t know where the Instant Pot goes after we use it—there is only one cabinet large enough to safely house it. Did you open that single large cabinet? Did you notice an Instant Pot-size vacancy on the shelf?
I assume the answers to my personalized take on “Let me Google that for you” would all be a human incarnation of the upside-down smiley face emoji. That’s to say, my husband doesn’t want to irritate me; he’s empathetic, sensitive, smart, and kind. He’s also completely oblivious and doesn’t want to not irritate me enough to spend two minutes looking for items that are right in front of him. During our time in quarantine in our tiny apartment with a tinier kitchen, I’ve officially grown tired of being the keeper of all things we share. We’re both spending more hours than ever inside these same walls, and we’re both cooking more meals than we used to. Why is it that only one of us is capable of finding the correct size Tupperware lid for its corresponding container? (It’s me. I’m apparently the only one who can find the lid.)
According to one relationship therapist, a lot of my frustration may have to do with the unequal household division of labor in quarantine and also with emotional labor, which journalist Gemma Hartley previously described to Well+Good as “the often unnoticed labor that goes into keeping those around you comfortable and happy.” Research has long shown that women bear the burden of emotional labor at work (where they’re underrepresented), and at home (where the household division of labor is still not equal, even when both partners have full-time jobs outside of the house). So it’s not a new thing that I have about seven cartons of chicken stock at any given time because my husband doesn’t know where they are—second shelf, above the microwave, in plain sight, eye roll—so he routinely buys a new one whenever he sees one.
Why, then, is the situation bothering me more now than it has in the past? Well, pretty simply, it’s because we’re using the kitchen space more than we ever have in the past. That means that the burden of emotional labor associated with the unequal division of labor in quarantine is higher now—and I’m feeling it.
What’s most important to understand, though, is that while my issue may have originated in the kitchen, to quote one James Kennedy of Vanderpump Rules, “it’s not about the pasta.” “It is imperative that both of you understand you are talking about more than spoons or blenders,” says Indigo Stray Conger, LMFT. “You are talking about whether you can count on him to shoulder equal adult responsibilities in the household.” To that end, while his lack of awareness has certainly peeved me, it’s on me to explain to him why that is and start a conversation about how we can fix it.
According to Conger, this requires sticking to a three-step plan.
- State my problem
- Devise a plan together to fix said problem. In my case, Conger suggests asking my husband if he could mindfully learn the contents of the kitchen so as to stop asking me where, say, the hand soap is, when it’s either in the only place where it should be (next to the sink) or out—in which case [takes deep breath], can you please take it upon yourself to go pick up a new bottle?
- Trust the plan will be implemented and let go of control.
To date, I’ve stated my issue and have even gone so far as to put it in writing (yep, you’re reading the proof of that). As far as an action plan and letting go of control? Both are works in progress; habits are hard to change! But at least we have time affluence on our side for that learning opportunity, with all kinds of fall recipes on our to-cook list and ingredients—located right in front of us—to find, use, and enjoy.