Guy with a Grudge
Dear Patrick: Why do I have to go to the store once a month to buy “feminine hygiene” equipment, i.e., one box of Super Duper Triple Wide tampons and one plastic bag of ultra-light panty liners? This makes no sense to me because I am not the one who is bleeding. My live-in girlfriend does most of the grocery shopping. She is in her late twenties, so it’s not like having a period is a big surprise to her. Why doesn’t she get her supplies 30 days in advance like a reasonable person instead of waiting until the first day of her period, when she is in bed with a heating pad, a big bottle of ibuprofen, and all of the chocolate God made this week? I cannot tell you how much I hate going down to the 24-hour pharmacy to get these things. It is embarrassing as hell. I go do it because … well, I guess because I feel bad for her and I want to be a good partner. Please get me out of this.
The hormonal fluctuations of the female body are one of the hardest things for men to understand—even guys who want to be, as you say, “a good partner.” Some women are lucky enough to experience only a mild alteration in their physical or emotional reality; an unlucky few feel as if their world gets torn apart and then rebuilt once a month. Between these two extremes are large numbers of women who may experience significant amounts of pain, emotional sensitivity, and other forms of discomfort. Women who try to consult a doctor about issues related to the menstrual cycle are routinely told it’s all in their head, it’s natural, and nothing can be done. Gynecologists will routinely recommend either birth control pills or pregnancy, as if having PMS is a good reason to have a child. The physical changes associated with pregnancy do help some women who have severe cramps and other periodic ills, but not everyone.
I’ll briefly ask you to consider what social changes would take place if men bled from their penises once a month. Do you think they would still be expected to go to work, much less come home and make dinner and clean up the house and do the laundry? I kinda don’t think so.
Some women come to resent the differences between male bodies, which don’t seem to have hormonal fluctuations, and their own situation. They want somebody to notice the unfairness of all of this and do something about it. A kind word and some help finding the heating pad may not be enough. She feels rotten and harassed and very uncomfortable, so why should you get away with watching your favorite TV program or going out for a beer with your friends?
I’m not saying that your lover resents you. I don’t know her. She may just be really absent-minded. Or she might hate her period so much that she is in denial about its inevitable return. But this is clearly a very charged issue. I don’t think there’s an easy way for you to get out of this unwelcome chore. She needs to be take care of, and this is the way she has chosen to ask for that care.
In my own relationship, I have had to accept the reality that my partner has no idea where clean underwear and socks come from or how the contents of a sandwich get into the refrigerator. All long-term couples make accommodations for each other’s short-comings and blind spots. You, too, need to accept certain facts about her habitual behavior patterns and take care of yourself by monitoring key areas of her life. Find a way to keep track of her cycle. One does this compassionately, and keeps the self-defense angle on the down-low. So you don’t want to put big red X’s on the calendar by the dishwasher.
How does your girlfriend figure out what to buy at the grocery store? If she has a list on the refrigerator, start writing “tampons and pads” on it the same way you would write down “bacon” or “deodorant.” If she asks you why you did that, saying “I just noticed you were running low” may earn you a few points. It might also provide a useful opening for a conversation about how awkward this is for you. If you say, “I don’t want to do this any more. It’s embarrassing,” and she replies, “Well, if I have to feel so bad, the least you can do is help me deal with it,” you are being sent a clear message about what’s going on.
If she still doesn’t buy the necessary items, you may have to stock up. Buy a lot of the things she needs. You still won’t enjoy doing it, but you won’t have to do it as often. You may be able to find a drugstore in your area that delivers, or you might be able to order her supplies on-line. This will probably be more expensive, so you can decide whether it’s worth it or not.
The bigger issue here is that she feels like hell once a month. It’s not much fun to think that’s how the rest of your life is going to be. Tell her that you are worried and want to see if there is anything that can be done. Encourage her to seek out a specialist and get a consultation. At the very least, they should be able to provide decent pain control for her. What else is Western medicine good for?