The strangest things bring a tear to your eye when you’re single. You can sit through a weepie romcom with barely a flicker, connecting emotionally as you would to watching a lawn getting mowed, and the death of an elderly relative can bring a temporary heavy heart yes, but the real tearjerkers aren’t the huge sad moments or highly emotional events. No, it’s the little things that get you. Like supermarkets. Supermarkets make me sad.
Unless you’re unlucky to be partnered up with a congenitally lazy retail-avoider, the weekly shop is a team event. You do it together, from opening and closing endless cupboards to check stock levels, composing (and arguing over) the shopping list and trundling around the aisles with a trolley to lugging it home and unpacking, cursing at whatever you left behind amid the piles of carrier bags at the checkout. While wrestling with the grocery shop could hardly be called a fun activity, and as romantic as cleaning the toilet, it’s a shared experience all the same, with mutual benefit. It leads to cooking together, sampling a glass of wine and saying “Ooh, that was nice – we’ll buy that again”. It’s a bicycle built very much for two.
Venturing into the supermarket alone, unless it’s by choice and your only escape from a noisy family or irritating other half, is a joyless experience, reduced to a shadow of its former self. It is a grey, tasteless necessity rather than a gateway to an exciting feast. “Well, I suppose I’ve got to eat,” you’ll murmur yourself as you plod, zombified, from aisle to aisle with your basket slamming against your knee. And it’s always a basket, there’s no fun in a trolley any more. You’d never be able to fill it, and there’s nobody else there to take a turn in pushing it when you need a break or want to stroll off and squeeze some tomatoes.
Almost everything sold in the supermarket is aimed at an audience of two or more. Your hand hovers over the English muffins, packed in sixes. You’ll never eat six, not before they go stale. The only way you could get through six muffins before the mould hits is by having them for every meal for the next two days. You’re not eating as much as you used to these days, you see; you can’t afford the extra ballast and tucking into a huge meal alone feels like gluttony, an expression of sadness. And so it goes on, multipack after multipack; nothing is sold in quantities which wouldn’t very easily feed both an army and a wedding in one sitting. Your only respite is the odd individual pack or tin – soup, perhaps, or a ready meal. It will make it clear that it’s for those who don’t have any potential sharers to hand. “FOR ONE” it will scream on the packaging. Out of principle, you refuse to buy it, unwilling to be marketed at like you’re a hermit. Vegetables, prone as they are to rot as soon as you get them home, become strangers to you. You can’t bear the sight of those shrivelled leeks and unloved, slimy mushrooms glaring at you from the bottom of the fridge in memoriam at another meal for two you’ll never eat again.
But if a sting is yet to come to your eyes, look around instead at your fellow shoppers. Duos abound. Hands are held, smiles exchanged and light bickering takes place over whether to buy shop-brand soft cheese or Philadelphia (go for the latter; the former is never the same). Their trollies heave with all manner of goodies for the week ahead, yet a lone can of Baxter’s rolls around your plastic pannier. Your solitude takes over you, wearing you like a cheap scarf. You make your way to the checkout, your eyes glassy and your cheeks tingling as your throat constricts. Packing your carrier bag – no point in bringing a ‘bag for life’ for your few pathetic comestibles – you resolve to make a proper list next time, get some ingredients and make a big meal, and freeze some of them. A supermarket is no place to be lonely.
But before you leave, run back to the aisles and look and listen carefully. Squeeze by a couple’s trolley and notice one of them turn to appraise you. Then see their partner notice the distraction. The bickering turns from light to heavy in a matter of moments, but the argument isn’t yours, you can carry on unabated to the next aisle. Look again, then, at the contented tummies of the dynamic duos, the trollies filled to the brim with crap that they’ll shovel into their mouths and the booze they drink to bleach out the monotony of another night fighting over the remote control. So only soup awaits you for dinner. Your freedom is worth all the puddings in the world.
Oh the supermarket can bring on the tears all right, but they shouldn’t be yours. Dry your eyes. There are better ways to find an unexpected item in your bagging area.