By GINA BARRECA
The Hartford Courant
On the cover of four magazines on the newsstand this month is a version of the headline: "What Does Your Partner Want In Bed?"
How do I know this? I memorized the magazine covers because I was waiting on line at the checkout stand at my supermarket for what felt like two days, my cart piled high with orange juice, cereal, toilet paper and kitty litter. Yes, I lead a glamorous life.
Frankly, I thought the magazines were asking a dumb question.
What do people want in bed?
Clean sheets. Really, that's the first thing. Unless you're a guy under 23 who was raised by jackals, everybody wants cleans sheets.
Also, people want enough room in bed. A person needs to stretch and scratch without hitting a wall or irritating another person.
And, yes, sometimes a person wants sex. Sometimes a person wants sex, but then sometimes maybe a person might like a sandwich, followed by sleep. Uninterrupted sleep with no crumbs from the sandwich to interfere, either.
That's the real answer to what your partner wants in bed, and none of those feature articles focused on anything except item number No. 3 above, which, in case you forgot, was sex.
But apart from whether asking what somebody wants in bed is good question, the supermarket checkout counter is an absurd place to ask it.
Maybe I wasn't focused on romance because I was standing behind a small, very well-dressed and expensively accessorized elderly woman who had enough coupons for one product -- Renuzit Odor Killer -- to not only eradicate the national deficit but to send her Davos next year as a financial superpower. She was actually getting money back because she had so many. It was like a hold-up, except Ma Barker here was using coupons instead of a handgun for a weapon.
Obviously, whatever time she had left on this earth, Ma Barker was prepared to spend it at this particular register. Just as bifocal glasses don't necessarily give you a clearer view of the universe, age doesn't necessarily bring wisdom. You don't always get smarter as you get older and she was proof. This woman insisted the manager initial every coupon as the teenage checkout attendant scanned it through. Imagine the expression on this young man's face as she whispered, "You didn't triple that one, honey. Do it again and do it more slowly this time."
Therefore we can all agree the supermarket is the wrong place to think sexy.
Or maybe I lost interest in discovering what my partner wants in bed (after 23 years, you'd have thought I already knew) because a highly freckled and decidedly vicious little girl behind me in line started flinging herself at my leg as if I were a bouncy castle. (No, the fact that I was wearing a pink coat and might have gained a little weight over the winter did not justify her error. Bouncy castle indeed.)
Her father was a man whose indifference to his offspring's behavior was matched only by his contempt for the products he was about to purchase: cans of Alpo and Manwich were piled on top of cupcakes and cherry tomatoes. While she was throwing herself against my leg, he thumbed through a copy of People magazine and landed on a story about Sofia Vergara's thighs. It was hard to be certain of the story's content since I was being savaged by his Honey Boo-Boo/WWE hybrid.
They weren't the only reason I wasn't in the mood, however. Had a person one aisle over not been shouting, "Honey, did you get the anchovy paste and the Preparation H?" I might have felt better.
But let's think about this for a minute: Is a supermarket checkout aisle really the best place to get romantic and sexual advice? You're frantic, you're impatient, you're annoyed and you're feeling trapped.
So the answer, obviously, is yes: it is exactly like dating and relationships.
But we should remember that love offers no discounts, no buy-in-bulk savings and no special lane for those with fewer items; romance rarely hides its truth inside the covers of glossy magazines; and marriage lasts longer if you bring your own non-disposable bag -- not to mention your own sandwich.
GINA BARRECA is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant.