Category Archives: chores

deja deja vu

When I read Miss Manners‘ column this morning (well, really it was Sunday’s column), I knew I’d read it–and even written about it!–before.  So imagine my surprise when in the deep little help please archives, I couldn’t find the post that I was sure would contain precisely the phrase I recognized in the column.

I broadened my search.  And, lo and behold, I found the post. But guess what–I never found the column. I know, I would bet the farm if I had one, that in early 2009 Amy published this letter from a woman who spills things on purpose to give her an excuse to clean up her boyfriend’s garage apartment.  I know it.  But apparently I couldn’t even find the column then, and I can’t find it now.


Advice by moonlight

It’s 12:47 at night on Monday (Tuesday?).   Mondays are Mondays, which means it’s hard to get up in the morning, and they are long days, full of meetings, catching up on email, figuring out what I said I’d do over the weekend and didn’t, regular work, and then the highlight of my week, an hour with the kiddles at 826Michigan, followed by pub trivia.

This Monday was enhanced by a ribbon cutting ceremony at the library (a rather moving one at that), the excitement of losing my purse (I think/hope I know where I left it), and a young writer more interested in bolting out the door than crafting his personal nemesis.  So the columns, all in all, were left by the wayside until 12:47 or, by now, 12:50, when I’m tired but not sleepy.

And thus I offer a quick drive-by-fruiting (Mrs. Doubtfire?  Anyone?) of Prudence’s Monday live chat–which I always forget about until 12:47, or, by now, 12:51 on Monday (Tuesday?).

As Prudence says each week, (except, of course, this week when I want to quote it): Let’s get to it!


Yikes.  After reading the first three chat participants, I’m not sure “drive by fruiting” is the best approach after all.  Some pretty heavy stuff in this week’s chat.  Here’s a rundown, anyway, with key quotes included and sassy commentary withheld.  Have a look, if you want to read about:

  • “One of my close friends just announced his engagement to a woman he’s been dating for a few years. We’re happy for him, but many of us can’t shake the feeling that he’s making a mistake. In essence, the woman makes fun of him a lot in front of his friends, and not in a loving way.”
  • “A few months ago, my husband raped me in the middle of the night. He was asleep during the attack, and he believes that it is a disorder called sexsomnia…I feel like I will never be able to get over this and I will live in constant fear for the rest of my life…To make matters worse, I have recently started having an affair, because I needed someone to take away all of the pain….I still care about my husband, and I want to honor the commitment I made to him, but when I look at him all I see is a monster. Is there any hope that I can fall in love with him again, or should I cut ties and move on?”
  • “If you have done whatever you can to get any kind of income and you haven’t been able to find a stable job, do you take it as a sign that perhaps you’re supposed to be unemployed? I’m at my wits’ end, and this is how I’m thinking, more to save my sanity than anything else. What do you think?”
  • I work in a small, close-knit office. There is one “boss” to speak of, but we all work mostly independently. Most of our staff have advanced college degrees. My problem occurs during lunchtime. There have been quite a few times that the “boss” reaches on my plate and takes some food.

Thank God!  Something petty, at last!  From that point on, the chat is all over the map, with the nasty relatives, nosy friends, speech disorders, adultery, boozing, housekeeping (and lack thereof) and lazy co-workers we all like to see.

Not much cheery or inspirational in Prudence this week, I’m afraid.  Tell your friends not to marry jerks, ignore the jerks in your own lives, and do your jobs, everyone!  Happy Tuesday.  Since it’s now 1:08.



Hi readers…

I’ve been a bit preoccupied this week, and nothing much in the columns has been leaping out at me, so I’ve decided to dig through some of my (oooold) unpublished drafts and see what I can make of them.  Inspired, as always, by Maria Von Trapp, I decided to start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). So, I scrolled to the bottom of my draft posts, and found this one from September 18.  September 18, 2008.  That’s, like, two weeks after I started this blog.  The draft was titled, simply, “toilets.”

Continue reading

Let he who is without sin, throw the first tennis ball

Except where children and weddings are concerned, and always when a situation is vague or ambiguous, Carolyn Hax heroically refrains from passing judgment on those who write in to her.  Even when it feel really, really hard not to.  Case in point:

In Friday’s chat, a woman wrote in looking for advice about whether to get a dog.  Wait, scratch that.  Not a dog, a puppy:

Chicago: How difficult is it to raise a dog? I live in a very dog-friendly city (with many parks and beaches and dog-oriented services such as dog walkers and doggy day care). I have friends with dogs, I’ve dog-sat before, so I have an idea of what it’s like to raise one. My boyfriend seems to think I can’t handle it (I did have cats before…didn’t work out, I gave them to the Humane Society when they were still kittens, but to my defense I was only 23 and definitely not ready). I’m in a different place right now, emotionally (now 27) and physically (didn’t live in Chicago several years back), and I would love a puppy. I don’t need my boyfriend’s approval but I’d like him to be on-board with my decision, since we are planning on getting married. Any thoughts?

So much about this makes me want to scream DO NOT GET A DOG!!!!!! The most obvious being

  1. The cliche (but true) “if you can’t handle cats, what makes you think you can handle a dog?”
  2. She’s asking, broadly, “how hard is it to raise a dog?”  This strikes me as comparable to saying “how hard is it to raise a kid?”  Um.  Depends on you, the dog, your job, commute time, home, commitment to exercise and discipline, disposable income, patience, temper, and desire to travel.  Over the next 15 years.  It’s not a question with an answer.  The fact that she’s asking it concerns me–sounds like she’s just looking for confirmation/support, not actually thinking it through.

But, while I was quick to align myself with the boyfriend, who doesn’t think “Chicago” can handle a dog, Carolyn refrained from criticizing her, and instead gave her options to dip her toe into the doggy pool–and called the boyfriend out on his criticism:

Carolyn Hax: First, don’t get a puppy if you’re not sure. They’re much more difficult to have than adult dogs.

And, you might want to consider fostering first. A lot of rescue groups place dogs in temporary homes (a) because it’s better than being in a pen at a shelter, and (b) because most rescue dogs need some TLC, either because of medical issues or just because they need some basic training (housebreaking, obedience) to make them better candidates for adoption.

So, you could narrow down your breed preference–or just figure out your best size and temperament fit–and approach rescue groups as a volunteer. There will likely be some screening involved–there’s less red tape in having a baby (0) than there is in adopting an animal–but you can get that process going today.

BTW, is it possible your BF doesn’t want a dog, or doesn’t want the hassle of your having a dog? Suggesting you can’t handle it is a remarkable lack of faith, and I wonder what his justification is for that.

Hm.  I’m not sure fostering is the best idea….kind of like recommending that someone find out if they like teaching by subbing.  People who fantasize about getting a dog seem to want one for the relationship they’d have with it.  Plus, as Carolyn notes, dogs fostered from the humane society are likely to need extra time, treatment, attention, etc.  I’m not sure that’s a great choice for someone who’s never owned a dog before, period.

Chicago again: He has grown up with dogs his entire life (golden retrievers) and loves them but thinks that if I get one, he’s going to end up doing most of the work and he’s not ready for that just yet. He also doesn’t think it’s right to have a dog in the city (his condo is small, no backyard) and wants to wait until we move to the suburbs (Barf. I hate the suburbs. But even so, that’s not for a while anyway, maybe several more years). He also thinks I’m a bit whimsical in nature, which may be true, but I have been thinking about this for a while. But I think volunteering/fostering might be a good first step.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like fostering makes sense on a lot of levels. Having experience with goldens does matter, but the breed of a dog makes a difference. There are dogs with all ranges of exercise needs, and unless he had extremely mellow goldens, he’s used to dogs that need to get a good workout. (Retriever = working dog, no matter how commonly they’re seen as family dogs; same goes for border collies, shepherds, pointers, hounds, etc.) There are excellent breeds for city life, and some research will point you to them.

Now, many rescue dogs are also mutts, and even the veteran shelter staff can be mystified by some of these guys–but they aren’t mystified by the temperaments they see. That’s another argument for an adult: You won’t be guessing about final size or mood. What you see will be what you get.

This was going to be more about relationships than dog breeds, but I got carried away. Sorry.

Anyway … (more)

Hm.  Carolyn’s right, here…if the bf has only ever had retrievers, then his experience, too, is limited.  No wonder he thinks–and he would be right–that it’s unfair to have such a dog in a small condo with no yard.  In this case, Carolyn’s advice to do good research about what kind of dog would be happy and healthy in that environment is good.…but….read on:

Carolyn Hax: I balk at the idea of your “proving” anything to your boyfriend, since your last post makes him sound awfully patronizing. You’re your own person, and while you’re right to consider the future, it’s still time for you to do with your life what you think is right. If he really has so little faith in you, then it will be important for him to see whether his prediction bears out. I just hope that, if you do flake out on him, he makes up his mind one way or the other, to break up with you or love you (and his new dog responsibilities) as-is. Trying to have it both ways, to keep someone close while also vocally doubting him or her, is a well-tested recipe for misery.

Well said.  But wait.  Something just struck me that I didn’t catch the first time around.  Is she living with him, in his small, yard-less condo?  Or does she virtually live there?  This is never made explicit, but it definitely seems possible.  Why else would the size and layout of his condo matter to the discussion?  If she lives in a condo he owns, and wants to get a dog he doesn’t want (and doesn’t think she needs his “approval,”) there are even more complicated problems here.  But again–this is exactly my point: this is me, jumping to conclusions and filling in gaps to arrive at what I think is a convenient judgment.

Another reader said:

Chicago & Dog: I’m waiting for your more response….but didn’t the “he wants to wait until the suburbs and her saying yuck – bring up a red flag?

Seems like they aren’t on the same page in other areas either.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, I was going there when I said he sounds patronizing; their being together does seem to be predicated on his being right about things, like when it’s okay to have dogs, when it’s time to move to the burbs, and when one deserves to be taken seriously. I hope she asserts herself here, if only to make it clear who she is.

Argh, once again to me it sounds like she’s the one being cagey: she’s accepted that the suburbs are in their future, but snidely adds a “yuck” when talking to other people.  He’s obviously been clear about his plans and desires.  To me, it sounds like she hasn’t been.  But that’s not fair of me, right? Why is it so hard for me not to roll my eyes at this woman?

I wasn’t the only one to question this person.  At least one reader wrote in with a similar comment to mine above:

Washington, D.C.: For “wants a dog in Chicago”: if she couldn’t even take care of cats, how does she expect to take care of a dog? Dogs need much more care and attention than cats, not to mention the multiple walks per day. If you feed the cats and make sure their litter box is clean, they’re pretty much good to go.

And Carolyn lays it out on the table:

Carolyn Hax: I think the point was, that was then, this is now. The BF is taking the past miscalculation as evidence that a dog is a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean we’re free to jump to the same conclusion. A dog is a bad idea only if the circumstances that led to the cat reversal are unchanged, and if she doesn’t fully appreciate what having a dog involves vs a cat. A foster situation would be illuminating on both counts. And if her daily schedule is such that any agency would say she’s not a fit for a dog, then that will tell her a lot, too.

Hm.  What do you think?  Did I let my annoyance that she dumped her kittens at the shelter unfairly color my interpretation of everything she said after that?  Or did Carolyn withhold judgment to the extent of not asking questions about some definitely questionable details?  What’s your take on “Chicago”?

But I’m afraid she *is* real…. (aka, “Whaaaaat?”)

On Friday, Carolyn’s live chat was dominated by a woman who startled on several fronts: first, in her defiant, deluded, egocentric approach to marriage and then, oddly, in her open-minded and seemingly sincere desire to fix things.  The extremes were jarring to the extent that Carolyn called her out as a fake….but I’m not thinking so.  The rundown, below:

Arlington, VA: I’ve finally put my foot down and told my husband our discussion about housework is over and he needs to increase his share of the work or else. He wasn’t too pleased with this, but I feel I need to stand my ground. We each estimated the number of hours we put toward housework and watching the kids. I end up with almost 60% of the work. [Slight digression: a good chunk of the chat also hit on the rudeness and pointlessness of eye rolling.  Nevertheless….I find it hard to believe we didn’t all do so here].  I excluded things on his side that I don’t really call work, because I know he enjoys the solitude (lawn care, weeding, finances, cooking, etc.).[Um.  What?  Roll.  Roll.  Furrow brow.]  He doesn’t think that’s right, but I don’t think these tasks are any comparison to vacuuming, doing dishes every night and cleaning bathrooms. I also don’t buy his argument that he works 10-15 hours more than I do at work each week.[What?  Does he or doesn’t he?] That is a career choice, and while it’s enabled him to earn far more money than I do, it doesn’t excuse him from his share of housework. [What? What?] Short of threatening divorce, how do I convince him that he is wrong? As a reality check, I threw this out to friends and family and everyone agrees with me. [Just casually tossed it out there, I’m sure…]

Carolyn Hax: Let’s play “one of these things is not like the other,” a la “Sesame Street”:

a hot bath,

a long walk,

a good book, and

hunching over to claw at dirt for several hours!

How do you like to get your solitude? I guess it’s something that you still have friends, because I might have thought otherwise after reading that you count weeding among “things on his side that I don’t really call work.” Wow.

Anything you wouldn’t already be doing as a leisure activity counts as housework. Period.

And if he is at 40 percent of the household load with all of the yard work, cooking and finances excluded, and if he’s carrying this nearly-half-to-possibly-more-than-half of the domestic load while working longer hours than you do and bringing more money to the household than you do, then you owe him one of the fattest apologies ever owed a spouse–not just for failing to respect what he does, and not just for standing your arbitrarily you-centric ground, but also for dragging his rather domestically generous self through the mud of everyone you know as you sought approbation.

To deliver this apology, you might need to track him down at his attorney’s office.

Now, if he’s cooking only for himself and not you, or if he’s gardening/doing lawn care as a way of escaping from you, or if he isn’t contributing his extra money to the marital war chest, then you’ve got something–something different from what you’re saying, but a legit gripe nonetheless, one that’s worth taking to counseling. [Carolyn has to give these caveats I think, because she has so little information to go on…but in this case it felt like she was just offering this nut a rather complicated conditional set of legs to stand on.  I wish she’d just skipped ahead to: ]

But if you just don’t like him any more, then, okay–end the marriage, don’t make up a reason to trash him.

Housework vs. yard work: As a single woman with a house and yard that I have to keep up all by my little old self, can I just tell the woman complaining about her husband to count her blessings??!! To think that I would NEVER have to think about cutting the grass, weeding, cleaning cutters, pruning shrubs, sweeping the sidewalk, makes me want to swoon. Cooking too??.sdakkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk….sorry I just passed out for a second.

Carolyn Hax: No problem. People think I do that all the time during these things.

Re: Arlington Housework: I don’t really buy your reasons for thinking my husband is correct. [She doesn’t seem to “buy” much of anything, except her own argument, does she?] He does contribute all of his salary to our family, but that’s beside the point. [How?] The big difference is that I absolutely hate cleaning bathrooms while his chores are not that big of a deal to him – mine just get weighted more heavily in the calculation.[So none of his contributions to the family count because she hates cleaning bathrooms? No logic, here.  If he hated his chores more, the bathrooms would still need to be cleaned] Also, you might call asking friends about this “dragging him through the mud”, but I think it might be the only way he changes his ways. [Whoa, these do not cancel each other out.  This is not, “you might call it dragging him through the mud, but I call it getting feedback.”  If that’s what she said, I’d still agree with Carolyn, but at least those are different words for the same thing.  This is “getting him to do what I want by dragging him through the mud”].  If nothing else works, I think my next step would be to have my Mom talk to him [What?]  and then discreetly get my friends to mention this as often as they can when we get together [Whaaaaaaaat?]. Another option is to hire someone to do my share of the work – then I’ll have nothing to complain about. [Why the hell not?  But seriously?  If that’s really the only thing that’s bugging her, how can it have ballooned into a disaster of this magnitude?  I have a really hard time buying–to use her phrase–that if someone else cleaned the bathrooms, she’d have “nothing to complain about.”  She seems like the type who will find something.]

Carolyn Hax: Seriously–if this is just about cleaning bathrooms, then hire someone to clean your bathrooms. Or switch it up with your husband, and alternate weeks where you clean ‘throoms and do yard work.

If he refuses to do that, then you have a leg to stand on.

However, I maintain that your airing your grievances to “friends and family” makes your husband look bad–and I maintain that that stinks. Consulting with one friend and your Mom, okay, but surveying everyone? And doing it, you now admit, as a means of leveraging him? That stinks even more.

As for enlisting your mom and friends to talk to him, well, that’s so mind-boggling I have to wonder if this is a fake question.

Re Re: Arlington Housework: One other thing I probably should have included in my original post. You might think I’m self-centered, but I have a different take on it. My husband was pretty socially awkward when we first met. I don’t want to say I did him a favor by marrying him, but it’s not that far from the truth. I’m much better looking than he is, I’m much smarter, and I have a much better personality. We have what you’d call an unbalanced marriage and I expect him to compensate for that, in some way. So even if he is doing slightly more work than I am, I don’t think that even comes close to what he really owes this marriage. [Oh my.  Sadly, it doesn’t really surprise me that this kind of thing happens, and that this kind of resentment and passive power play occurs as a result.  But I’m stunned that she’s so completely aware of it, open about it, and seems to be of the mindset that this is totally OK–that she confesses it as an argument for what she wants, not as a nail in the coffin of her case.  Has she read Carolyn before?  What is she thinking?  Who is this person?]

Carolyn Hax: Okay, you officially can’t be real. Too bad. [She seems only too real to me….]

Re Re Re: Arlington Housework:: I’m not sure why you think this isn’t real. My husband is upset about the whole thing and maybe my take on things is skewed — that’s why I wrote in. It’s hard to think my view is really so off when I get validation from just about everyone I talk with and even my husband would agree with how “unbalanced” our marriage is [Ha, right? ]. He just doesn’t agree there needs to be a remedy.

Carolyn Hax: When you married each other, you deemed each other your equals–emotional equals, equals in status and your standing in life, equal partners in each other’s happiness. You became equals who would then divide the household chores more or less equally, with that “more or less” being determined by your responsibilities outside the marriage, such as jobs and ailing relatives and such.

The marriage you’re describing is a business arrangement–and, as it happens, as a business arrangement, it seems to be pretty fair. [This confused me, or seemed to be lacking context or something, here, but she elaborates below]

A straight answer, just in case.

Re: Arlington: Carolyn, I think she’s real. In fact, I think I know her.

Honey, I am one of the “friends” you dragged this to, and I agreed with you just to get you to shut up. You may be more outgoing and better-looking, but take my word for it, he has the better personality. The person who married up is you.

Carolyn Hax: Oh dear. [Indeed]

Re: Arlington Housework and Boston: Sheesh. Movie script: the Arlington Housework husband cuts loose, moves to Boston and falls in love with someone who appreciates him. Arlington Housework starts a new job as an party planner for self-centered 20-something’s. [Boston, Party planner, etc., refers to another topic in the chat]

Carolyn Hax: Casting ideas?

Re Re Re: Arlington Housework:: I appreciate the straight answer. Maybe what I can take from all of this is that I need some individual counseling and that my husband and I need some marriage counseling. [Even more shocked that she seems to accept this.  This, not anything she said above, made me wonder if it was a fake message….how can she be so adamant, so mired in her narrow perception of the situation, ready to divorce if she doesn’t get her way, and then be suddenly up for counseling?  I mean, Carolyn’s good, but…..]

Carolyn Hax: Yes, I think that’s fair. I’m sorry I put you off as insincere. I do get fake questions, and your declaration that he owed you more housework because you have the better personality really was shocking–enough for me not to believe you.

Why? Because I don’t believe there’s such a thing as altruism in marriage. No one marries someone as a favor to the other person. What happens instead is that the people who marry perceived inferiors get something in return for doing that, be it money or security or a place where they don’t feel threatened–as in, an abiding sense of superiority to prop them up through life.

I guess what I missed is that there is such a thing as -perceived- altruism in marriage, where one spouse -thinks- s/he has done the other a favor. And when you get a few years into the marriage and feel your spouse hasn’t delivered the benefits to which you believe your altruism entitles you, then that’s seen as grounds for divorce.

If that’s what happened here, then I have only this to repeat–marriage made you equals–and this to say: He is a human being. Please grant him the dignity that affords him, and stop shouting to everyone who will listen about his social awkwardness and his relative worthlessness as a person against your high value. Start noting and appreciating what he does for you. And yes, counseling, stat.

Casting Couch: How about Mark Ruffalo for the husband?

Carolyn Hax: Like it

[several minutes of chat pass; other topics are discussed]

Carolyn Hax: Mark Ruffalo was so right for the husband that I posted it before remembering that I’d thought better of following the movie thread. Just to explain why I’m not posting your suggestions. Thanks, tho

Shouting to everyone: Huh, wonder if I am guilty of some version of what Arlington is doing. My spouse is smart, attractive, good at his job and interesting. He is also lazy to the bone around the house and tends to be very moody at home. I vent about both. Should I not? It is true, not likely to change, and venting does make me feel a bit more able to cope with it.

Carolyn Hax: It’s okay to have discreet outlets, it’s not okay to air to any and all. [Here things take an interesting turn to the topic of spouse-venting.]

And while I’m here: It’s okay to accept tradeoffs in mates, because no one will be all that–but it’s not okay to hide behind “venting” when you;re really just miserable. [Reminds me of good advice my mom gave to me: it’s OK to vent to your friends every once in awhile–and always thank them for listening–but if you’re venting all the time, it’s time to focus on fixing what’s upsetting you, not griping about it]

Talk to fewer people, sure, but also listen to yourself. [Nice–concise]

Politics of housework: Everyone, ever, who has housework issues that are also partner issues should read the should-be-dated-but-definitely-isn’t “The Politics of Housework,” which is a (short) essay by Pat Mainardi (easily googleable). I say this not because I necessarily agree with the woman who wrote in about her husband, but because it’s a good way to separate the issues from the other issues. The Politics of Housework

Carolyn Hax: Haven’t seen it myself, but will have a look, thanks. [I read it; it’s worth taking a look and makes interesting arguments, though it also makes it easy for women to be a bit smug and self-important about things like the division of housework.  I got a little fired up, and had to remind myself that in our house, it’s SK who remembers to vacuum, clean bathrooms, clean the litter box, etc.  Don’t let the gender theory obscure your own reality]

Talking about your spouse’s shortcoming: Is this really that common? I just don’t talk about issues we have from time to time with others. A few things in passing, sure, but nothing like our split of household chorse. It’s not that we don’t have our issues, but we tend to talk about them ourselves and I don’t get anything out of talking to other people about them. My husband is the same way. Does that make us strange? [Le sigh. I’m with this person’s approach, but I can’t help feeling that this isn’t a sincere “are we strange?” question. She has to know their relationship is–at least based on this tiny tidbit–more healthy and equitable than the others thus laid bare in this chat. Why she needs public validation of that is anyone’s guess.]

Carolyn Hax: I think it means you get along well. But let’s take this up next week?

Fairfax, VA: Airing spouse’s laundry: a friend once told me something that has stuck with me. “You are your partner’s best advocate. Or worst.”

It’s true. My friends and family will remember long after I’ve forgotten that Spouse -forgot our anniversary, doesn’t help around the house, told me I was fat on our firstborn’s first birthday.

I will talk to my friends/family about things in my head, but I never forget that what I say can’t be unsaid. [Great point about not polluting your spouse’s image to others, though if all of her examples are real, I’m feeling a little sad for her].

Carolyn Hax: I like this too.

Wow–Pretty much ran out of colors with this one. I hope they do take this topic up again next week!    Will keep you posted.

You Say Tomato, I Say Wipe Up Your Damn Mess

SK, who has become quite a fan of Dear Prudence, asked me what I thought of her advice to a neatnik fed up with her boyfriend’s sloppiness. He thought Prudence was less than helpful, but I’m not sure I agree:

Dear Prudence:
A couple of months ago, my boyfriend had part of his ceiling collapse. I told him he was welcome to stay with me until it was repaired. It’s fixed now, but he’s still at my place. I travel frequently for work and have been coming home to some unpleasant surprises. He’s trying to be helpful but says he’s “just a guy.” So when he does the laundry, my dark clothes end up covered in light-colored towel fluff. There are other disgusting and unsanitary issues like the trail of urine running down my toilet and the kitchen counter spotted with grease or food. I’m not a neat freak, but I do think that he should respect my living space. I even hired a cleaning lady—but neither she nor I can clean up after him every day. After an exhausting trip, I came home to a new mystery odor and again set upon scrubbing his urine off of my bathroom floor. I don’t want to marry or have kids, and I’m tired of acting like his mommy, but I do want to keep him as my boyfriend. How do I get him out of my house without getting him out of my life?
—Grossed Out
Dear Grossed,
He may be a true slob, or he may be “just a guy” (if you had a Venn diagram of these two states, the overlap would be significant), but face it—you’re a neat freak. You are entitled to be one, but it’s a good thing that until now you have lived alone. Either your boyfriend adores you or his apartment is a dump, because having someone monitor every crumb you leave and drop of urine you discharge has got to be a real drag. (As comedian Rita Rudner once observed about men’s relationship to toilets, “They aren’t too specific.”) The best way to get him out of your apartment is to tell the truth: Living together full-time is driving both of you crazy and will destroy your relationship. Explain that his moving in has made you realize that having another person around to mess up your pristine space is not for you, and surely he can’t be happy having you chase after him with a wet rag. There are no guarantees he will continue to be your boyfriend, but if he’s stuck around this long, he seems unlikely to end it just because you want him to go back to dribbling on his own bathroom tiles.
SK felt Prudie was unreasonably harsh on this woman–that food remains and urine stains are indeed worth getting up in arms over, and not the province of obsessive-compulsive folk only. And while she honed in to criticize this particular woman, she was even harder on men in general, assuming they’re generally all slobs beyond redemption. My first instinct is that this is not Prudie’s best work.
But there’s more under the surface here: while the writer basically wants to be patted on the back and told that she’s right and her boyfriend is a pig, Prudie won’t give her that out. So many letters that show up in these columns are just about labels and validation–who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s normal, who’s unreasonable–when in fact picking sides, most of the time, does nothing to address the problem.
What Prudence’s answer forces us to recognize is that it doesn’t matter which one of them is normal and which one is nuts–all that matters is that they have different expectations, natures, and comfort levels and living together is driving them BOTH mad
If they were married or otherwise deliberately cohabiting, Prudie might have made some suggestions about how to communicate openly about this and find a reasonable medium. But in this case the woman has no desire to be married, and she doesn’t even want to be living with this guy–he’s just staying without any discussion or decision between them. So the thing to do at this juncture is not to get him to respect her space, but to go back to his own.
Prudie’s response had a bit more sneer to it than I expected (who knew she had such a grudge against neatniks?) but in the end, she gives the woman the answer she needs and the words to use, so in my book she’s done her duty.

Not-so-Great Expectations

These parents sound a little….a little I don’t know what. Harsh, and yet harsh in a really non-harsh way. It’s weird.

Dear Annie: My wife and I are very strict with our 12-year-old son, “Jonathan.” He has normal adolescent issues, but he really is a great kid — well-mannered, hardworking, gets good grades, etc. We give him lots of freedom to make decisions about free-time activities and try to teach him about life. We take him on vacations and spend a lot of time with him.
Jonathan has recently begun doing small things that show he really isn’t thinking, such as walking past an overflowing garbage can, etc. We told him to go to his room and write a letter about how he was going to be more respectful and help out the family. He came back with a letter about how he wished he could live a “normal” life like his other friends. We sat down and had a tearful conversation with him, but didn’t get any clear answers about why he doesn’t feel normal.
Do we have anything to be concerned about?

— Hurting Parent

Um, seriously? Writing a letter about being more respectful? Sending him to his room at age 12, not for being, like, rude or unpleasant, but for not taking out the trash when he sees it? I wonder if this is one of his “regular” chores, or if it’s more like “we expect you to show respect by doing all chores that you recognize need doing.” Because I think it makes a difference, in terms of how they handle it, and maybe in terms of his being aware of what the expectations are.

Although either way I don’t see why, if you see him walk by the garbage can, you can’t just say “Hey, Jon, will you take out the trash please? Thanks.” He might pout if he was on his way to do something else he conceives of as incredibly important (I probably would have), but I seriously doubt he’ll refuse to do it.

Also, it wouldn’t hurt if the parents gave this kid a little credit. Growing up as a kid who was, like, 93% “good,” I know it could be really frustrating to see other kids getting paid to get good grades, or totaling cars and getting new ones, or asking their parents for money all the time and not having a job, when I worked hard because it was important to me, had a job and covered all my own petty expenses, and was always really careful and never damaged my parents’ property. On the other hand, I know I was often flaky about chores around the house.

No, you shouldn’t necessarily be rewarded for NOT causing trouble (is that like getting extra credit for showing up to class, or turning in your homework on time?), but I definitely remember sometimes, when fuming about being asked to empty the dishwasher (yes, yes, I was a whiner), thinking to myself, “they have no idea how easy they have it.”

Of course life isn’t fair and we shouldn’t expect it to be. And yes, of course, kids should learn to value working hard and doing a good job as bringing their own reward, and understand the importance of earning their own way. But still. Come on. Give the good kids a little credit. If the hardest thing these parents have to do is get their 12 year old to help out around the house, they should be dancing in the streets, not punishing him.

Instead of focusing on one task that needed to be done, these parents inflated it to mean that their kid was disrespectful and lazy. No wonder he feels crappy. They have every right to expect him to do chores, and follow up with him when he doesn’t. But I think that, if they aren’t, they should be giving him some the same praise they mentioned to Marcie and Kathy.

Their response:

Dear Hurting: Probably not, but you need to watch how you handle the situation because it is likely to get more complicated as he gets older. Like many teens and preteens, Jonathan wants to spread his wings. He also sees that his friends apparently have fewer rules and he may be envious. But too little supervision can make children insecure and they often respond by testing the boundaries more forcefully in order to get their parents to react.
If Jonathan is saying his family life isn’t “normal,” that’s OK. If he is saying HE isn’t normal, however, it might indicate a problem, so watch for signs of depression. You seem to have excellent communication with your son, which will help, but try to be flexible enough to adjust your methods as Jonathan goes through his teen years.

Semantic Double Standard

This is not an unusual issue…in fact, it comes up all the time, which is even more frustrating…..:

Dear Annie: My husband’s job requires him to travel several days during the week. We have two teenage daughters still at home. When he first took the job, there was some adjusting, but the girls and I quickly settled into a routine.

I work a 40-hour week. I look forward to not being the cook and chauffeur on the weekends, but my husband, who enjoys cooking, refuses to help. He says he doesn’t want to be “the butler” when he is home from his travels.

I understand being on the road is not a vacation. I know he looks forward to a home-cooked meal, and I make every effort to arrange it, but it feels like I never get a break. Can you give us some advice? — Not the Butler’s Wife

Arrrgh….yes, it’s exhausting being on the road, and I see why this guy would just want to rest up at home and enjoy the family, rather than run around completing a list of chores in the two days he’s home. But why is it that when the mom does all the housework during the week, in addition to her 40-hour job, she’s just being the mom, but when the dad is expected to do it, he’s being treated like “the butler?” It makes no sense to me, and also implies that he considers the basic tasks of maintaining a home the work of a servant, not that of a responsible home owner and parent. To me this suggests that not only does he not want to do these tasks himself, he doesn’t respect or value the time, effort, and skill his wife brings to them.

What’s really odd is that he apparently enjoys cooking….most people who enjoy cooking love nothing more than sharing a special meal with the people they love. Since he doesn’t have the opportunity to do this while he’s away–and probably eating out a lot–it really seems strange that he has no desire to do so when he’s at home and has a full kitchen at his disposal. Seems like he’s resisting activities that he enjoys, is good at, and would support his family, just on the principle that he thinks he should get to lie around. And that’s really annoying.

Dear Wife: Both of you need a break. Every couple handles this in their own way. Some do all the chores together, so each person only has half as much to do. Some divide the weekend, giving the husband one day’s tasks and the wife the other. Many couples let the housework go and order takeout.

You have two teenage girls who should be quite capable of helping. Since your husband wants a home-cooked meal, either let your girls get creative with the food, or make a little extra when you cook during the week and freeze it. That way your husband can have his preferred meal and you don’t have to spend the weekend preparing it.

I agree with Marcy and Kathy’s solutions…I like the idea of 1) putting the daughters in charge of dinner, at least one night a weekend and/or 2) cooking extra and freezing it during the week.

I also think, though, that perhaps being away so much has caused him to become a bit distant from his family and their day-to-day life. The mom says that “the girls and I quickly settled into a routine.” He, on the other hand, has not rearranged how he relates to his family now that he’s away so often…instead, it seems like perhaps when he’s home he tries harder to fit things into the “old order.” He probably feels like a bit of a martyr, being away all the time (alone with his thoughts, to mope) to support his family and thinks they should flock to him and pamper him when he’s back. But perhaps he needs to make more of an effort to understand how things have changed while he’s away.

Of course, reason #1 I couldn’t be an advice columnist for real? I always wind up advising the wrong person. All this mom can do is change her own behavior, not her husband’s. Still thinking about that one.

Mr. Clean: Man or Myth?

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.


Update on Passive Aggressivity:

It doesn’t go away. Ever.