I have long heard the saying “once toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s awfully hard to get back in” as an analogy relating to relationships and the things that we say to one another. It is most notably cited in schools in the context of bullying and how we cannot fully take something back once we put it out there. To my surprise, however, toothpaste is playing a pretty significant part in my current relationship, and it is proving to be rather eye-opening. Is it possible that once all of the toothpaste is gone, so too is the love?
The present situation is this: About two weeks ago, we ran out of toothpaste in our bathroom. This did not come as a shock. It did not disappear mysteriously. It happened gradually and each day we witnessed as it came nearer and nearer to the end. As we both coaxed out what we could from the tube in various creative ways - sliding the empty part along the counter so as to push up any remaining bits from the bottom up and out, pushing forcefully at the neck of the tube squeezing it in on itself to get out the very last of it, we were both acutely aware of what was happening. We needed to buy more toothpaste. But something else, perhaps less obvious, is happening beneath the surface, and the toothpaste is merely a symptom.
As I assess the current toothpaste standoff currently underway in my home, I am reminded of an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” The show opened with the lead couple engaged in a power struggle, both refusing to carry a now empty suitcase from a recent trip upstairs to be put away. The episode hilariously unfolds as each continues to pass by the suitcase on the stairs in protest that the other has not addressed it, and resentment and tension between them builds.
Like many women today, somewhere along the way in our relationship, I became the person that does everything. I work a demanding full-time job, have a side business, and am raising two teenagers (one with autism). In addition to managing all that comes along with being a busy, working mom, I have somehow become solely responsible for all of the grocery shopping for the household, all of the cleaning (on the rare occasion that it occurs), and all of the meal planning and preparation for everyone.
This lack of balance in domestic responsibility is, in part, born from my Type A personality, and the unfortunate reality that in order to get things done, or, more truthfully, to get them done in a way I am comfortable with, I have to do it myself. This is something I am working on, but it is a process. Why not ask for help, you might wonder. Excellent question. Which brings me back to the toothpaste.
The tube of toothpaste is gone. I have been to the grocery store at least three times, yet with everything I juggle I am notoriously forgetful and have managed to forget the toothpaste on all of these trips. After unloading the car and bags (by myself, of course) after each trip, I realize my mistake and am frustrated. The resentment builds as a voice in my head nags the question of why, despite us both needing toothpaste, it is assumed that I will handle this trivial task of buying its replacement?
In the meantime, my boyfriend has now pulled out a tube of toothpaste from his travel bag, which we begin using. It is nearly gone. Again, each day I observe as this tube is also depleted, along with my patience.
A couple of nights ago, as we both entered the bathroom to get ready for bed, he raced to the bathroom drawer and retrieved the now nearly empty travel toothpaste and said (yes, out loud) something to the effect of, “I need to make sure I get to this first before there isn’t any.” I was struck by the insensitivity of this statement.
In this moment, I decide to be somewhat less passive-aggressive about my feelings that I have been the unspoken designated fixer of all. I responded, “You work right next door to the grocery store. You are free to pick up some toothpaste at any time.” My therapist would be so proud.
In response to this muffled cry for help, my “partner” answered with, “And you pass three of them on your way home.”
I could not bring myself to respond to this blatant refusal to do one thing to help me. It spoke volumes. The toothpaste is out of the tube, and it is awfully hard to put back in.
So, I did what any mature person would do. I have resorted to using the toothpaste in my own travel bag. Secretly, of course, not letting him know that it is there. We have now also just grabbed the last toilet paper roll from the cabinet. I suspect that shit is about to start getting pretty real - literally and figuratively.