This is the latest in my "Checkout-Line Encounters" series: you can read the others here and here.
Last night I went grocery shopping at No Frills. A man and woman about my age entered the store just after I did; I noticed that she seemed particularly smiley and enthusiastic, but I didn't pay them much more attention as I went ahead of them up and down the aisles.
When I finished my shopping and went to pay, they were at the next checkout. I noticed that the woman did the bagging (with great efficiency) while the man paid. That's the opposite of how Richard and I usually do it on the rare occasions that we shop together: he'll load the bags and bins while I do the transaction. In fact, in most cases when I see a couple shopping, I've observed that the man starts the packing process while the woman pays. It's just one of those gender-role things that we're probably barely conscious of and that just happens without anyone saying, "This is how we should do it."
But then, having paid for the groceries, the man said, "I'll just go for a smoke while you load up, OK, honey?" And before she could reply, he walked out of the store.
When I got home it was dark, and Richard and Jonathan were playing in the driveway. I got out of the car and Richard said, "I'll carry the stuff inside; you go on in."
I said, "Rich, you are a prince compared to the guy I just saw at No Frills."
Up until the guy made the "smoke" comment, I'd observed the situation as if it were a bit of a gender-role reversal. I'd even imagined reasons for his not doing the grocery-bagging: he's the only one with a credit card so he has to do that part; he's got a disability or injury and can't do any lifting; they're not actually a "couple" at all, they're co-workers picking up stuff for a work event. It was as if there had to be some good reason for a man to let his female partner do the physical work. I know, I know: it sounds sexist and dated, but I confess that's what I thought.
But when he left the store to indulge in a smoke while she finished packing, it suddenly wasn't a gender issue at all. If the opposite had happened -- if the woman had said to the man, "I'll just go for a smoke while you load up, OK, honey?" -- it wouldn't have made any difference. I'd have thought she was selfish, inconsiderate, and immature.
I don't know what kind of relationship they have, but it didn't look like a nice one. And that's not because he was a man letting a woman bag groceries; if a couple treat each other right, it doesn't really matter who does which task.
It's because he was a man acting like a jerk.