When I was dating my important grad school boyfriend, Tom, we had a fight about sharing bathroom items. [Note: I’ve always referred to him as "vip-ex" but I’m sick of it. He gets a name now and that name is "Tom."]
Tom was insulted because I didn't want to share my hairbrush and bath towel with him. My reaction was, "Wouldn't you prefer your own hairbrush and bath towel?"
"You're being petty. You don't care about me."
"What are you talking about?” I didn’t know that sharing bath items was a sign of affection. “How can you say I'm petty?"
"When I go stay with my dad we use the same towel all the time and it's no big deal."
"Well, in my house everyone got their own towel. I'm just treating you like any other guest."
"I don't want to be treated like a guest. You don't want me here." Tom said.
"I can't believe you. Look, I don't care if we share a towel, but when I get out of the shower, I want a dry towel. Just leave a dry one for me, ok?"
But we still hadn't resolved the matter of the hairbrush.
When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by the objects my father pulled out of his pockets and placed on his dresser at the end of the day: a half-eaten roll of mints, a Chapstick with the label worn off, a comb and piles of change. I would touch all of these items, use the Chapstick and eat a mint if he weren't looking. On more than one occasion, I asked to use his comb. Dad said, "Don't use the comb--I have dandruff and I don't want you to catch it." Thus, I merely worshipped the comb from afar. I also thought that you could catch dandruff.
Guess who else had dandruff? Tom, that's who. I usually keep my hair long and I tend to buy a new brush every couple of years. The old ones don't wear out, but they get dirty, they're hard to clean and sometimes I just want a new style. Sometimes I get one that's not really suited to my type of hair (straight, fine, and abundant). The old brushes knock around in the bathroom cupboards for years until I finally get sick of seeing them and toss them in the trash. I had a couple of nice, lightly used, good quality brushes, which I offered to Tom. Of course, he never used a brush, just a comb, but I only had one comb and I didn't offer it to him. Because of the dandruff.
The same day we fought about the towel, he said, "Why can't I just use your brush?"
I said, "Don't you prefer using your own?"
"No. It's a pain."
"That's silly, it's right there in drawer You can use any of the brushes in there." I said.
He asked, "Why can't I use yours?"
"Look, I'd just prefer if you didn't."
"You're being selfish."
"Really? You think that?" I was hurt. "I'm offering you two really nice choices--that boar bristle brush is practically brand new and it's perfect for your hair. I've only used it a couple of times."
"I don't like it. Why can't I use yours?" Tom insisted.
I sighed. "I don't want to share the brush with you because you have dandruff."
"I don't want to catch your dandruff." I felt foolish saying it because as soon as I did, I realized it probably wasn't possible to catch dandruff.
"You can't catch dandruff."
"Oh. Really? I didn't know that." It was one of those little myths I'd been carrying around since childhood and I had never needed to question it before.
"Who told you that? It's not a disease."
"My dad told me. When I was little. So, I just thought…you really can't catch it?"
"Oh. Hmm." But I wasn't entirely convinced.
A couple of weeks later, I asked my hair dresser about catching dandruff and he laughed and laughed. "What do you think, you can catch grey hairs too?" Well, no, I'm not stupid. But I had to laugh at myself a little too.
After that, I offered to share my brush with Tom. He declined and just used his fingers.
I guess I should be grateful that he never asked to share my toothbrush.
Another boyfriend-related sharing experience was with my first Chapel Hill boyfriend, Fred. He used to spend a lot of time at my place because he lived in the dorms and hated his roommate. The roommate hated me too so I only spent the night there once or twice. When he stayed at my place, Fred would always leave his shoes and socks in the middle of the room, insuring that I would trip over them if I made a visit to the bathroom in the night. I said to him, "Could you please put your stuff next to the wall where I won't trip on it?" But he never did.
One day, I was clearing out my closet and I made some room for Fred. I said, "Here's a shelf for you--you can put your stuff here."
He never left his shoes in the middle of the room again. Apparently, that was his way of marking his territory. But he never would have asked for a shelf. Fred was the silent type.
When I was going steady with Tom (in the same era as the bathroom sharing incident), I spent a lot of time at his house. He lived closer to campus and he cooked dinner for us almost every night. (I adore a boyfriend who cooks.) I didn't wait for him to clear out shelf space for me. One day I said, "I need somewhere to put my pajamas. What about up here? I'm moving your stuff." I put my things in an out of the way spot on the high shelf in his closet. He was surprised, but he didn't stop me. Later he made a more convenient part of the closet available to me, so I guess it was ok.
Sharing, that's what it's all about. I like that I was able to see Tom's point of view on the towels and the brushes, though I still think it's odd that he would accuse me of being petty for wanting to keep things separate. The truth is, I didn't mind sharing, especially since it was so (symbolically) important to him.
When someone is spending a lot of time in your space, it can be hard for them to ask for what they need. That was Fred's problem. He was in my house, following my rules--it was undeniably my place. But by giving him that little tiny space of his own, I let him know he was welcome and he was much more comfortable after that.
With Tom, I didn't have any problem claiming a little space for myself. But with other guys I would probably wait until they offered. You have know how to read the situation.
Grateful for: learning to share.
Drop me a line.
P.S. I asked Pele to read an earlier draft of this post to make sure the switching back and forth between Tom and Fred wasn't confusing. That didn't bother her, but she said, "I'm not sure about that last paragraph. What's the moral of the story?" I said, "You want a moral, huh? Dammit." And you will notice that I did find a moral and it's there in the last three paragraphs. It's nothing that you couldn't have figured out on your own, but it's a better conclusion. The original ending wasn't linked to the rest of the story. It was, rather, a musing summary of the issues that led to my breakup with Tom. It may get it's own post someday, but this isn't the place.