Thursday, November 18, 2010


Have you guys read A Practical Wedding today?  If you haven't, go, read, and come back.  Then we'll chitchat about cleanliness and sexism.

Meg says, "I worry when I hear about most of us* doing the bulk of the chores around the house. Not because we have to, but because we want to (“I just care more about cleanliness than he does, so I need to take responsibility for that.”)"  

The asterisk explains Meg herself does not care for housework.  Neither, really, do I.  I think I've talked about this before.  I'm a slob.  In college, you couldn't see the floor in my bedroom.  Now, you can't see the floor in whatever space I call my own, be it the side of the bed, my area of the office, the zone in front of my dresser.  I live in heaps.  This isn't a healthy way to live and I'm sure the clutterbugs people would have a lot of choice words about me.  I have a lot of guy friends who are the same way - they live out of a basket of wrinkled laundry.  They don't want to vacuum, ever.  If given the choice, they would let the dirty dishes pile up next to their keyboards until they started growing mold, like I did in high school.*

I live in my own little world of squalor.  Those guys don't.  My husband doesn't pick up after me, and their wives/girlfriends do.  I say, if the dishes are a problem for you, you do them.  He says, that's not fair.  He's right.  But for so, so many of my male friends, they get to live in this relationship dynamic of, "I care more about the house being clean, so I do the cleaning."  And I don't know a single couple like us, where the guy is the neat one and the girl is the slob, where the man feels that way and picks up after his wife.  So it's not just an issue of one person "caring more".  I do really think that ultimately, this comes down to gender roles.  Women don't have a problem feeling like they have to pick up after or "take care" of their husband/the house, and they do it, and then they justify it. Men feel, very reasonably, like they are responsible for their own mess and the other person should be the same.

Over the last three years of us living together, we have navigated this minefield of cleanliness again and again.  We finally got through it a little bit by using the "this thing you do makes me feel this way" instead of saying "you're a slob", Mark says, "when you don't clean up after yourself, I feel like you don't respect me or our space".  I reply with, "when you nag me, I feel like a small child and it makes me resentful."  So over the years, the dynamic is, he puts up with more and I try harder to create/maintain less mess.  It's not perfect, but we're getting better.  I'd be lying though, if I said I didn't wish he would just clean up after me like my friend's wives/girlfriends do.

Do you see this dynamic in yourselves/your friends?  Do you clean up after your spouse?  And for our readers in same-sex relationships, how is the dynamic for you?

*Clearly, I'm a catch.


  1. Oh the things you realize when you move in with them. We're still working on our cleaning issues too, but after 3 years we've got a decent handle on them. He could care less about cleanliness 95% of the time. I need cleanliness to feel like I'm not going insane. I can't work in an unorganized space and since I study in our living room, it needs to stay clean. But the good thing is that he respects that. I don't clean more because I care more about it, we both clean more because I care about it. I'm lucky enough to have a husband who hears my frustration with the mess and actually does something about it. But I can see how easy it would be for people to fall into the gender role pattern. If only every marriage license came with a maid.

  2. my fiance and i have an equal balance of cleaning and what not...however, i get upset about the mess far before he does. both of us live in "meh" messiness for a while though...until one of us brings home a bottle of champagne to convince the other that it's time.

    i understand the imbalance...i get it from my family..."it's your responsibility, be cleaning."

  3. I'm a major neat freak and this is something I've thought a lot about. I don't agree with nagging a partner to live up to my (insane) standards of cleanliness, but I also don't agree with the idea that the tidier partner should "take responsibility" for doing all the cleaning.

    Eventually I came to the conclusion that when you live with a partner, you can't expect your preferred level of cleanliness (or preferred level of effort put into cleanliness) to be the only one that matters in the house. Both partners should be willing to compromise, to either let minor things go or to put more effort into keeping things tidy.

    I think one of the reasons that my husband and I work so well together is that he's a) fairly tidy anyway, and b) believes in equal distribution of household labor. I think that if I did run around the apartment picking up after him all the time he'd be really uncomfortable with it. Whenever I clean something, he usually pitches in by pulling out the vacuum or starting to pick up in another room. I don't even have to ask -- he just does it because he sees me working and wants to help. Damn, I love that guy :-)

  4. My husband and I are kind of like you, actually. I also have the tendency to leave things (dishes, clothes, etc) laying around until I just can't take it. My husband is much neater and more orderly than I am. But without nagging me, he's made me neater. I don't like to leave things around because I know it annoys him and I know it makes him feel like I'm disrespecting our home. I've gotten much better about cleaning up after myself.

    As for actual cleaning, like the bathrooms and vacuuming and stuff, we share it. One of us cleans the kitchen and living room and runs the vacuum while the other does the bathrooms. It works for us.

  5. ahhh you and i are so much alike. sounds like y'all do about what we do. it really gets me when i feel like my husband is cleaning just to be passive-aggressive at my lack of cleaning. I'll get to it! I am pretty good about dishes, but i am a horrible packrat and a stacker, so it can be an issue. Jon cares WAY more about it than I do. (And actually, he complains that that makes him feel weird, that he cares about it so much and I don't seem to. underlying gender stuff, perhaps?) Of course, I always go on a cleaning spree before we entertain or anything, but in normal life I am definitely on the messy end of the spectrum.

  6. Collin cleans more than I do because he cares more. But I don't "get away with it" very easily. I try very hard to up the amount I contribute to cleaning and chores. And when I slip up, I get a lot of, "I love you, but YOU ARE A SLOB."

  7. I have been a mess my whole life. I leave a wake of clothes on the floor, piled up dishes, etc. Although I do pay attention to cleanliness, just not messes. I have a tendency to start small piles around the entire apartment.

    Mr. Beagle on the other hand is a neat freak. He likes everything put away. He hates mess. He is actually a guy who picks up after me (after he's exhausted his nagging). However, he doesn't worry about cleanliness. I've never seen him scrub a tub.

    Together I think we make a good team. I do all the laundry, he does all the dishes. I try to cut down on my messes and he tries to wash surfaces down more.

    But seriously, I think he was sent from the gods because he cleans up after me. And the only reason I try to clean up after myself is because I love him and only him. I wouldn't make as much of an effort for any other man.

  8. Sadly, I could have written this post myself... Including the floor thing and the growing mold on dishes part. Poor Karl gets stuck with the dishes, because dirty dishes in the sink? Don't bother me at all...

  9. I definitely know what you're talking about. I feel so blessed that Daniel and I have about the same level of cleanliness, and we'll both nag each other if the other's things are getting ridiculous. But yeah, I've definitely seen girls who pick up after their boyfriends for just the reasons you describe. I feel like there are a lot of things like that still, traditional gender roles just because they don't feel wrong. It's lame, and we as a sex should probably stop that.

  10. Steve and I are in your exact boat, and have had some nasty fights over the fact that he feels disrespected in the space/I feel like I'm being nagged. We're committed to working toward a happy medium, most recently (and successfully) involving the two of us sitting down together so he can help me figure out where to put things or what to get rid of without getting overwhelmed/I can give him back some of the living space I steal with all my piles.