A Decade Into My Marriage, Shoes Remain a Point of Contention

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Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. The saying was popularized by a poem published in 1895 by American poet, preacher and suffragist Mary T. Lathrap. Originally titled “Judge Softly,” it’s simply a plea for empathy.  

Judging softly is decidedly not what I’ve been doing during the past year’s challenging period of quarantine life, snowy shut-ins and general chaos. Lathrap’s poem has not cured me of my judgmental ways — not even close — and I have decided this is something I need to work on. Starting with my husband.

I still remember the first shoe-related argument we ever had. We had been dating for three years when we took a trip to Italy together — the last big trip before our daughter was born — in the fall of 2008. I had been going to Italy for many years by then, first to study, then for work and travel, but it was his first Italian vacation. I don’t count the time he passed through with his friends and camped in the forest outside Genoa. I do have standards.

We were in the town of Monte Argentario, a sleepy fishing village turned glamorous hot spot located on the Tuscan coast about halfway between Florence and Rome. It was September — the off-season for Italian beach resorts — and one afternoon we found ourselves wandering the streets window shopping. I was used to strolling in Italian cities while ogling the beautiful things I longed to own and could never afford. But I could tell it was making my husband — then boyfriend — nervous. Just the previous year we’d blown everything we had on purchasing a home in East Nashville. Neither of us was making any money. 

I spotted the burgundy leather Chelsea boots in a window, and my body instinctively followed my eyes until I was standing in the shop trying them on. I bought the boots. When I rejoined him outside, my guy was not happy with me. He could not understand how I could have spent “that kind of money” on shoes when we had just splurged on this expensive vacation. He had a valid point. However, I still have those boots — the leather is holding up beautifully — and I wear them at least a couple of times a year.

This dynamic has repeated itself on every trip we’ve been on since then. We’ll celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary in April — and 16 years as a couple. Shoes — mine and his — continue to be a point of contention. He owns a construction business, and it has always struck me as odd that he does not wear protective boots to work. Instead he sports the same pair of running shoes until they deteriorate, and then he’ll buy another pair. He is fine with it, so why do I care?

Sometime during that interminable but beautiful week in February when most of the Southeast — and much of the country — came to a screeching halt because of snow and ice, my husband and I went on a lovely, some might even say romantic, walk with the dog. We chatted about life and our desires for the future. Like most people, the challenges of the past year had us thinking big-picture: where we would move if we could and what we both liked and disliked about Nashville. For me, the weather has always been a complaint. I love snow, and the shoes and clothes that go with it. I wasn’t feeling judgy, but then it happened. 

About a block from home, I looked down at my husband’s feet. He was wearing a pair of thin, bright-blue “athleisure” sneakers more appropriate for mini golf than a walk in the snow. I proceeded to lecture him about how, if we ever did move to a place with real winters, he would need a whole new wardrobe, including proper boots, and he still probably wouldn’t wear the right thing. This upset him and left a sour note at the end of our walk.

I spent the rest of the day regretting my behavior but also wanting to figure out why I cared so much about what my husband, a grown man, chose to wear and when. Was I rude because I was closed-minded? Insecure? Overprotective? There was a lot to unpack. My parents loved to shop and were always dressed impeccably for every occasion, and they dressed their children with equal attention. My dad owned a clothing shop for a few years in the late 1960s right after he married my mom. My husband grew up with parents who let him wear whatever he wanted and grow his hair out long and curly. They even allowed him to paint the walls of his room black in high school. They wanted him to be able to express himself freely. And although I’m loath to admit it — and I’ll probably slip up in the future — I want that for him too. 

If we can outlast a horrible year of tornado, global pandemic, social unrest, political upheaval, violence and bombings — just to mention the things that have happened outside the walls of our home — then we can probably get through anything. The ground beneath us has been disturbed, and there is no going back. Going forward — me in Italian leather boots, him in beat-up sneakers — is, for now, our only option. 

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