Amy answered a letter a couple months ago (which means I can’t find it any more…sigh) from a woman who spent the weekends at her boyfriend’s apartment, and bemoaned how messy it was. She was at her wits’ end, reduced to spilling things on purpose so she could clean them up…and also wipe down all surrounding surfaces while she was at it. The guy seemed to want and prefer things cleaner, but never seemed to get around to doing it.
This letter led to a flood of mail from men and women with all kinds of advice–she should hire a cleaning service, she should butt out, she should say she can’t come there unless he cleans it up, she has no right to make changes to his place, etc.
Today’s insight is one of the more extreme ones I’ve seen:
Dear Amy: I’m responding to “T in D.C.,” whose boyfriend was a slob. She should check into what else her boyfriend may be messy about in his life. If his house is that messy, his credit may be that messy too. I know all about this. I married one of those “messy housekeepers” and quickly had creditors calling me on his delinquent bills and loans.
If this guy’s house is that messy, his checkbook probably is too. — Been There, Done That
But it’s Amy’s response that really interests me:
Dear Been there: The response to “T in D.C.” has split completely along gender lines. Men responding feel that clubbiness might be next to godliness, while women seem to feel that an unclean house reveals deeper truths about a person’s psyche.
The odd thing is….I know men who are neatniks and women who are slobs. So the ability (even….compulsion?) to have things neat and clean is not in and of itself a gender issue. But whether or not you feel like you SHOULD, or that it says something about you if you don’t, definitely seems to be.
Hmm, I was going to argue that women care more about what people think when they walk into the place, and so perhaps try harder to keep it presentable, but when I honestly reflect, that’s not the case either. I know men who can get messy on their own but clean up when they know company is coming. I know women who don’t, because they just don’t care or think it’s a very important use of time.
But I do think that Amy’s right in saying that women read more into cleanliness or messiness than men do–that it’s more a reflection of character and personality. I could even take as an example what I just said about guys cleaning up for company….for (most) guys, the state of the house (most of the time) seems utterly disconnected from their individual selves. It can get messy if there’s no one around to see it, or maybe it won’t, or if it does they can just pick it up when someone else is coming over.
For women, I think there’s a much more powerful link. (Ironically?) most women that I know do less cleaning up “for company” than most men I know (the obvious exception being preparing the house for a visit from mom). I think it’s because–whether they’re neat or messy–women maintain their surroundings in a way that they think is appropriate most of the time. Either they want it clean, so they keep it clean, so they don’t need to pick up for company, or they don’t care about the mess, so they leave it whether people are coming over or not. For men cleaning up or not seems to be largely circumstantial–who else is there, and what is the situation, is it worth doing right now? For women it seems to be deeply personal–doing it or not depends more on their own preferences than on outside circumstances.
This seems important to keep in mind when dealing with the opposite sex. Actual conversations from my life:
M: Don’t worry, I’m a lot neater when I live with someone else.
W: I don’t know, why would you be? I mean, you like to think you would be, but ultimately you live how you live and you like it how you like it. Why would it suddenly change because you’re sharing the space with someone else?
M: Because. I’m sharing the space with someone else.
W: I don’t see why that makes a difference.