Is Wal-Mart Bad for Your Marriage?

My husband and I had a big fight on Saturday.  It started unexpectedly and completely without my knowledge.  And thinking it over, I blame Wal-Mart.  My husband and I get along really well most of the time.  But there’s just something about Wal-Mart . . .

We went to Wal-Mart that day for three reasons:

  1. To get groceries.
  2. To get a haircut for our son.
  3. To get a swimsuit for our daughter.

My husband took our daughter to find a swimsuit (he’s amazing with clothing-procurement activities) while I took our son for his haircut.  As we waited for his turn, he almost backed out.  I considered advising him to skip it, but as I looked at him in the salon, it suddenly occurred to me that the hair on top of his head was starting to look like Ted Koppel’s, so maybe it really was time for something different.

I thought the stylist was only going to give him a little trim, but she sheared him like a sheep.  Huge locks of hair cascaded onto the ground in a seemingly limitless supply.  Holy cow, did that boy ever have a lot of hair!  And it was going fast!  But once the first pass with the shears is made, there’s not a lot you can do if it was too radical.  I just had to stand by and hope for the best.  Fortunately, the haircut turned out pretty decent, and he was happy with it (though the stylist left his face and neck plastered with hair . . . he looked like he was morphing into a sasquatch or Chewbacca). 

Chewie doesn't get his hair done at Wal-Mart.

It’s the kind of haircut that starts out a little too short, but then has staying power as it grows out to the length it should have been in the first place.  I suspect that a lot of customers who get their hair cut at Wal-Mart want exactly that:  A haircut that’ll last a while.

Finally finished with that (it takes a long time to shear a wookiee), we headed over to the girls’ department, where my husband and daughter had just finished (and yeah, my husband found her a swimsuit that was absolutely perfect!).  We all headed over to the grocery section and started weaving back and forth down the aisles.  At some point my daughter took off to use the restroom, which I figured would be fine since we still had several aisles to go. 

In the snack aisle, I jokingly asked my son if he’d like some pork rinds, which I thought would thoroughly gross him out, but amazingly enough, the world’s pickiest eater said yes.  (I don’t know all the particulars about what he’ll eat and won’t eat since he’s only been living with us a few months.)  I’d much rather have him eating pork rinds than chips, so I told him to go ahead and grab a bag.  My husband continued on down the aisle without waiting for us, but he tends to do that whenever I stop to look at something, so I didn’t think anything of it. 

It couldn’t have taken us any more than 15 seconds, tops, to select a bag, but my husband had already reached the end of the aisle and gone out of sight.  My son and I went to the next aisle, but my husband wasn’t there.  So we continued to the next aisle.  And the next aisle.  And the next.  In each case, we just looked down the aisle because my husband is very, very tall and conspicuous.  We went all the way to the back of the store in the diary aisle, but still, no Dad.  “How on earth did he get away from us?” I thought.  We stood in the dairy section for a few moments, turning circles.  It was as if he had disappeared! 

Figuring he must have backtracked the other direction to get something from a previous aisle, we headed back down the main grocery aisle, again checking each aisle as we went.  We got all the way to the front of the store and still didn’t spot him. 

Since he had my shopping list, I figured he must have gone to the pharmacy side of the store to get soap or something else from that area.  So my son and I headed over that way, watching out for Dad all the way.  We checked all the aisles in the pharmacy section, but no Dad.  So we went to pick out soap.  I wanted to try something new, but I’m kind of fussy about soap scent, so, as we waited for Dad to show up (he needed soap, too), I popped the caps on numerous bottles trying to find something I like. 

Smell like a man.

My son settled on some manly smelling bars of Dove for Men (with manly, “patented technology”!), but I couldn’t find anything I liked.  I really don’t want to smell like grapefruit or suntan lotion or my grandma’s house.  I was so put off soap smells by that point that I just got some bars of Dove Unscented.   

We headed out of the aisle just in time to see my husband coming towards us.  I smiled and gestured by opening my arms as if to say, “There you are!”  But my smile quickly faded as I realized he wasn’t smiling.  He looked raging mad.  Once close enough, he began ranting and cursing.  “Where the *#% were you?  We’ve been all over the *#% store looking for you!” 

Our daughter had returned from her bathroom trip and found him in our absence, which he took as proof that we should have been able to find him.  “I sent her off looking for you, and she came back and found me three *#% times!  I’m the tallest thing in the *#% store!  How could you not *#% see me?!”

I was totally mortified, shocked, and angry that he would (a) berate and curse at me (b) in front of the kids (c) and in public.  I explained to him that we had looked for him (it turned out he was in the dairy aisle . . . invisible, apparently), but he wasn’t listening.  He headed for the cash register, where he’d already put our groceries up on the belt.  But they hadn’t gone anywhere.  There was some kind of problem with the couple in line in front of us.  I wasn’t sure what the issue was, but it looked suspiciously like they were trying to get away with something.  A supervisor was called over and there was much discussion.  Things were removed from bags, unscanned, rescanned, discussed some more.  Everyone in line shifted back and forth, starting to grumble.  The cashier looked panicked. 

Finally the issue was resolved and it was our turn.   The cashier was trembling as she started scanning our groceries.  She apologized for making us wait, and I said, “Oh, that’s no problem.  It gave my husband the chance to go find me.  I bet it really makes it a long day for you when you have customers like that.”  She sighed with relief that I wasn’t going to start complaining, her shoulders visibly dropping.  She said that the cashiers are timed on how long it takes them to process each customer, and when there are issues, it raises their average time and they get in trouble. 

This shouldn’t be a surprise, especially at Wal-Mart, but I’d never really thought about it. Now I understand why cashiers often turn away and start processing the next customer in such a hurry even when the wait hasn’t been that long.

I like Wal-Mart.  We shop there for the convenience (haircut, swimsuit, and groceries in one stop is hard to beat) and their prices, but I must admit that they are gradually starting to become a much less attractive option for me. 

  • For one thing, their prices aren’t as competitive as they used to be.  I don’t know if this is because they figure they’ve got us all hooked so they can start charging more or if it’s because other stores have been forced to lower prices to compete.  But I’ve noticed that in a lot of cases, especially if I tailor my choices to take advantage of sales, I can get as good of prices (and sometimes even better) at King Soopers (a division of Kroger).  We get sucked back into Wal-Mart for most major grocery trips because they are a lot cheaper on a handful of things, but more and more on those trips I find myself saying, “Oh, I’ll just wait and get that at King Soopers.” 
  • Wal-Mart’s once-famed breadth and depth of selection has been trimmed down so much that they don’t even carry many major brands.  This is a big mistake, as Wal-Mart has recently acknowledged and begun reversing, but not sufficiently.  Earlier this month, the Associated Press said “As part of its store overhaul, [Wal-Mart] had removed thousands of products from its shelves. Gone were top-selling toothbrushes and other things that people counted on Wal-Mart to stock….  Wal-Mart got rid of 20 percent of its groceries, about 10,000 items in that area of the store.”  Holy cow!  10,000 items gone just from the grocery department!  No wonder it seems like there are so few choices at Wal-Mart. 

Ironically enough, it was their amazing selection that first drew me into Wal-Mart years ago.  I was a diehard Target fan, and I never shopped at Wal-Mart.  But one time I needed a hose that could attach to a bathroom sink.  Target didn’t have it.  The hardware store didn’t have it.  But Wal-Mart did.  It gave me a newfound respect for them.  Once I realized how easy they made shopping (no running around to specialty stores), they had me hooked.  But that incentive has largely been removed.  

  • Their service is awful.  I don’t really blame the employees.  I think they are under so much pressure and have such a joyless environment, it tends to make them, well, not very friendly.  At King Soopers, by comparison, the employees almost universally smile, and none of them ever pass by me without asking if I need help.  At Wal-Mart, good luck even finding an employee.  I realize that good and plentiful customer service comes at a cost, but it’s a cost that looks increasingly worth it to me. 
  • Their produce isn’t very good.  Wal-Mart used to always have great produce, but increasingly in the last couple of years, I’ve avoided buying it. 
  • While trips to Wal-Mart tend to set us both on edge, I’ve found that I love shopping at King Soopers with my husband.  It’s almost like a date night.  It always feels relaxed and mellow, even when we’re in a hurry.  By contrast, when we shop at Wal-Mart, I feel rushed and pressured and crowded, and we usually end up annoying each other.  Come to think of it, most of our fights originate while shopping in Wal-Mart.  Could Wal-Mart be bad for your marriage??

We’re still not really past the fight.  We usually make up pretty quickly, but I can’t quite let go of this one.  My husband even bought me flowers yesterday, clearly as a reconciliatory gesture, and that was nice, but he’s never apologized.  And yeah, not to be petty, but I need an overt apology for this one.  More than that, I need to know that he knows why I’m upset.  And, as bad as this sounds, I need to know that he knows he was wrong!

I don’t think I’m going to Wal-Mart with him next time.

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One Response to Is Wal-Mart Bad for Your Marriage?

  1. DWW says:

    I, too, enjoy shopping at Wal-Mart. I used to live in a state that allowed gambling and smoking in a small section in the very front of (what seemed liked) all of the grocery stores. I am a non-smoker, so I was absolutely horrified to see smokers puffing away while wasting their time in front of “one-armed bandits.” I never bought produce at these stores because the produce sections were right next to the gambling/smoking area. Wal-Mart was a lifesaver. No smoking, no gambling, and no irritating “ching, ching, ching” sounds. Thank goodness the voters of the state finally passed an anti-smoking law which prohibited smoking in all areas where food was served, including grocery stores. I often continued to shop at Wal-Mart for fresh produce, but since I lived only a short distance from a traditional grocery store, I started to get most of my produce closer to home. I now live in a state where I am far away from Wal-Marts, but I still miss the convenience that these stores offered in my previous hometown. I still occassionally make the trek to a Wal-Mart – and I have to admit that I have noticed a decline in their grocery offerings. It is disappointing. You are right – to get the best deals, you really do need to shop at a variety of stores – and you have to develope a sense for which stores have the best prices on meat or other staples. It can be challenging.

    My husband and I make it a point to bring our cell phones with us, when we shop at one of the really big stores. It has saved us countless search and recover situations. My husband likes to make a bee line for electronics, whereas I prefer to review cosmetics and then linens and kitchen electrics. The cell phone has allowed each of us to do what we want to do. Gone are the days from my childhood when everyone would have to agree to meet back at a specific location in a said amount of time.

    It is easy to lose loved ones in the big stores. My husband lost me at Costco about a month ago. We had just reached the last isle of the store, when my husband decided to go all the way back to customer service to ask about two different prices on the same item. I told him I would go down the isle, pick up a big pack of paper towels, and then I would wait for him in that isle. After my husband left, I strolled down the isle and picked up the paper towels. Costco gets busy, so I thought it would be best to stand off to the side with my cart. There was a slight indentation in the stacks of products, so I pulled my cart close to it. Costco can often be a combination of circus maximus, bumper cars, and an old-fashioned demolition derby. Customers rarely watch where they are going – and their kids are always walking directly in front of fast-moving carts. If you and your cart are not moving, it is best to seek shelter on the side of the road, or try to protect yourself by carefully positioning yourself between a display and the chaotic cart traffic. Anyway, I could still see down the isle – and I figured that my husband would still be able to see me. I was wrong. I forgot to figure in the vantage point factor. I could see him, but he couldn’t see me. Of course, for the brief moment that he glanced down the isle, I was looking the other way. Instead of walking down to almost the end of the isle, by the paper towels, my husband made a cursory glance, didn’t see me, and moved on. I tried to call him, but unfortunately, that was one of the rare times that he did not have his cell phone with him. After what seemed like forever, I finally ventured out to find my husband. I found him rather quickly. I saw him before he saw me, of course (my husband is tall, too). He had walked all around the store at least three times, but didn’t think to actually go down the isle where I was patiently waiting for him. He wasn’t angry – just a little frustated. Apparently, he was so desperate to locate me that he enlisted the help of the friendly sample servers. I admit that I was a little enbarrassed when my husband told them that he had found me, as we passed each isle on our way to the checkout stands. Who would have guessed that so many people were on the lookout for me!

    I have no idea what makes a person go ballistic in a store, but you are right – your husband does need to take responsibility for his actions – and accept his guilt. He might try using his cell phone, too.

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