I have to get something off my chest that’s been bugging me for a while, and that’s how to share the story of my recent solo grocery shopping trip. You may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? It’s just grocery shopping.” But for me, it was a significant step towards personal growth and independence even if it did leave me feeling a little overwhelmed.
Let me explain. For years, ever since I had been living in Germany, I’ve developed what some might call a codependent grocery shopping relationship with my girlfriend. I would tag along and help her pick out the freshest produce and ripest melons, but deep down, I knew I was relying on her to do the bulk of the shopping. She called it co-shopping, but I called it teamwork and a healthy relationship, especially when she’d pick out the healthier foods that I sometimes have problems picking out.
It was a few weeks ago when moving into the beach house that I realized that I may in fact be a little, if I have to admit it here and now … aghhhhhhh … here we go, codependent, which is something I’m sure I’ll bring up at some point in therapy. And it’s been holding me back from the true independence of conquering my fear of grocery shopping alone and ultimately, adulting.
So, I knew then and there that I had to make some first steps. And one of those first steps was getting into the local store on my own. Plus, I was getting hungry and couldn’t justify another night of takeout or simply not eating, which I often do if I can’t decide on what to eat or if I do decide on what to eat, how I’ll eat it.
But let’s face it, grocery stores are scary. There’s hurried, chaotic crowds, pushing large wire-framed boxes with broken wheels down aisles at all different speeds, and then there’s the endless options of foods with high fructose corn syrup, cancer-causing ingredients and gluten. How am I to choose what’s best?
To top it all off, I was diagnosed with ADHD like nearly every other kid in the 90s, so it can be literally overwhelming to try to navigate the sea of people and products and ad placements in an oversized American grocery shopping store and decide on what’s healthiest and a good buy.
But, I finally did it. I went inside the neighborhood Ralphs – thinking I was going into Vons – and was immediately hit with the familiar smells of Starbucks coffee, fresh produce and a wandering grocery cart pushed by someone glued to their phone. I didn’t get knocked over, but I almost did. And it hurt. After recollecting my thoughts, I paused for a moment to take it all in and to rub my leg, and then I made a beeline for the produce section, knowing that was where I could shine.
I do love me some good melons.
So, I walked past the aisles of pre-packaged foods and processed snacks, my focus solely on the vibrant colors and textures of the fruits and vegetables and not on the crunchy goodness that are various types of potato chips. I picked up a melon, gave it a gentle knock, feeling the firmness and assessing its freshness, and I smiled to myself, realizing that I had this all under control.
As I made my way through the store, zipping through each of the aisles, I encountered a pretty girl with wavy blonde hair who smiled back at me. It was nice being seen. But that was also when I began to lose my focus, because I had forgotten what exactly I wanted to get in the store in the first place. And because I don’t believe in writing down grocery lists, I zipped through the same aisles I had zipped through before, scanned the products several times over and over again, and had a brain freeze in aisle 3, the cereal aisle, when I saw that Mini Trix had finally been discontinued.
That’s when the same girl who smiled at me saw me again. So, to play it off, I grabbed a box of Wheaties, gasped at the $8 price tag and promptly put it back on the shelf where it belonged. It may have been a long time since I shopped, but I didn’t think people even bought Wheaties when they were $4, let alone now at twice the price. That girl must have seen my shocked reaction, because she gave me a little laugh in return, which was cool, because it gave me the impression that she too had some similar thoughts about the high cost of whole grain wheat flakes.
The thing is, I used to love grocery shopping. When I was living in Germany and the stores were smaller and more economically compact, I’d breeze through the aisles, say “Hallo” and “Auf Wiedersehen” to the Frauen and pick up the few items I needed, like bread and cheese and milk and something crunchy. And when I say a few items, I mean only a few, because the fridge in my small apartment in Bonn had only one shelf and a tiny freezer that could fill three frozen dinners, not that I bought any of them. And I liked it that way, buying only what I needed for a couple days. I didn’t feel anxious about wasting food and I could go back to the store, practice my German and find another crunchy item to snack on for the next day or so.
It’s not that I can’t shop, it’s that moving to America and re-learning the American way has made me feel somewhat like a newcomer, or as an ex-expat, as my girlfriend likes to say. Throw this in with everything else, and you might be able to see why shopping can be overwhelming for me.
But before I knew it, I had everything I needed. As I paid for my groceries, I fumbled through my wallet, forgot my girlfriend’s phone number for grocery rewards, and held up the line to sign up for a new rewards account that I’ll probably never remember to use again. I then tapped my credit card when the terminal asked me to insert, and inserted when I should have swiped – which sounds too similar to my sex life – but as I finally walked out of the store, I couldn’t help but feel proud of myself for taking the first step towards grocery shopping on my own.
In the end, my solo grocery shopping trip was about more than just buying food. “It was a small victory in my journey towards personal growth and breaking free from codependency,” I told my girlfriend on the phone in the parking lot, as I recounted play-by-play what just happened, and then remembering that I had also gotten some free paper bags from the store which she then explained were not actually free.
“I can’t go back there,” I said, realizing my error.
But who knows? Maybe next time, I’ll remember to get my rewards and pay for the paper bags. Or better yet, even bring my own bags from home.
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