dearest dude whisperer,
this is a question about my husband. he’s perfect and great in many ways, but the fact is that we have very different standards of cleanliness. i’m super clean and he, well, just isn’t. i knew this going into the relationship. before we got married and were living together, his bachelor apartment was just straight up dirty. i mean, he didn’t own a vacuum cleaner!! or a toilet brush!!
now that we live together, he’s gotten much cleaner and i can tell he is trying his hardest to live up to my clean standards. the problem is, i feel like i’m constantly nagging him about cleaning up. he’ll do laundry, but only when i ask him. he’ll scoop litter and vacuum, but only at my request.
he does all the cooking, which is great, but the kitchen is often a mess afterwards. he does the dishes, but there are always food scraps andcrumbs on the floor. like an onion skin at the base of the sink.
the thing is, when i visited his parents during the holidays, his mom’s kitchen wasn’t exactly the cleanest. there was even, believe it or not, an onion skin at the base of the sink!
is there anything i can do to make him cleaner? or am i destined to live in a slightly dirty home the rest of my life.
– your wife
ps. yes, that’s right. this email is from your wife! it’s coming from within the apartment!
Dang! Called out on his own blog! You realize that readers might not think the DW is perfect any more because of this. I hope you can live with breaking all those reader hearts.
Anyway, your question is actually a good chance for the DW to reiterate the difference between wondering if a dude can fundamentally change versus if a dude can change his behavior. In other words, is the DW ever going to share your way of thinking about cleanliness? Uh, no. Can he learn to somewhat accurately predict what you might care about regarding cleanliness and act accordingly? Sure. Will he ever live up to your standards? Er, read on.
It’s like the classic toilet seat thing. A dude needs it up most of the time, but whichever way it sits at the moment is fine- lower it, lift it, whatever, back to the ballgame. A woman needs it down and cares that it’s that way all the time for a multitude of reasons dudes don’t quite get or, frankly, care about. Our viewpoint, to us, seems just as valid and logical and always will no matter how you want to argue the point, but we learn that the toilet seat thing fires you up a lot more than us and so we put it down because it just makes everything easier. We have not fundamentally changed into Toilet Seat Lowerers, we have changed our behavior so that we lower the toilet seat. Big difference.
So, the trick is learning to measure your dude, not against some magical transformation that is never going to happen, but against reasonable effort and respect.
Say there’s a scale of How Clean You Keep Your Apartment. It runs from 0 (Outright Sh*tting On The Floor Like an Urban Wildcat) to 100 (Daily Scrubbing of the Baseboards With a Sterilized Toothbrush). And let’s also say that before you and the DW moved in together his apartment was a 12 (Half a Roll of Paper Towels Is All That Separates You From a Hobo) and yours was an 85 (All That’s Keeping this Place From a 95 Is That the Building Is Old and Sh^tty and I Don’t Own It). Well, our current apartment is running no lower than 65 or 70 (No Shoes Indoors Which Is Good, But Too Dusty and Sprouting Wee Piles of Clothes).
Here’s what that means in terms of sheer proportion. The DW has undoubtedly lowered your standards a good 15-20 points. And for that he has no excuse. At the same time, however, he has raised his own standards a whopping 53-58! Way more change and sacrifice than you, wifey! Seriously, if you don’t think that’s enough of a difference that the DW’s friends are secretly talking about how they don’t even know who he is anymore, you’re nuts. The DW can hear the whispers all the time. He’s been tamed! Of all people, him! What else goes on in that place? Does he sing her lullabyes each night and rub her feet with warm coconut oil? Just exactly how far has he driven down Pussywhip Lane? And can we ever bring him back?
Now, the mistake a lot of women would make at this point (and, in fairness, dudes make the same mistake on other issues), in the DW’s opinion, is to say- “Look, do all the math you want. The place is still a sty.” Cleanliness, like a billion other things in a relationship is a compromise. If you refuse to accept a reasonable, and the DW stresses reasonable, compromise you are essentially saying that your view is more valid than the other person’s and you’re not going to get a very understanding attitude in return. Maybe even outright resistance or dismissal. Look, if the DW was still keeping house like a Red-Assed Baboon? Inexcusable. But in reality, he’s changed the sheets more in the last year than he did in the entirety of his life pre-wifey. He spends a hundredfold more times tidying up than he used to and maybe five times more than he still gets the point of. And the kitchen is absolutely not a mess when he’s done cooking. Maybe just the floor. A little.
So, how do you ask for your amount of compromise without being a nag? Well, first of all, it’s not nagging to remind a dude to do what he said he would do. And a dude should know the difference and if he doesn’t you have the DW’s permission to kick in squarely in the nuts because that goes right to basic accountability. The rest is mostly tone and that should really take care of itself if you approach the situation fairly and keeping all of the above in mind.
In other words, if you approach the dude thinking, Why is this place always such a f&cking wreck! He never listens to me when I tell him to do the laundry! you’re going to choose words and posture and tone that suggest he is as daft as the plot of a Rob Schneider movie and he will be defensive and weird whether he’s wrong or right or whatever just on sheer principle. However, if you approach the dude simply thinking He needs to be reminded to do the laundry, you’ll choose better words and come across evenly and he’ll do the laundry and that’s that. Remember, the goal is just that the laundry gets done, that’s all. Also remember, the DW and most other dudes are not Stay On Top Of The Laundry people any more than they are Toilet Lowerers and will never be, at their core, altered to such. We can only learn to do the laundry and lower the seat as learned behaviors and, as wacky as it sounds from the other end of the spectrum, those things absolutely take as much effort as living with our mess and always will.
Anyways, to answer your question- Yes, by your standards, my dear, you are destined to live a slightly dirty life from here on out. The DW simply doesn’t perceive cleanliness beyond a certain point, no matter how he tries. You get to about 45 on the scale and it all looks the same after that. Those of you who can tell 67 from 73 seem like Eskimos talking about the different colors of white in the snow. So, sadly, you will have to somehow console yourself that the DW is an award winning pie maker, the best driver ever, a genius, freakishly good looking, and USDA World’s Geatest Beefcake Sex Machine Ever. Among other things.
And, you’re getting an honest effort about the cleaning, although it may appear sometimes that the DW never made it past the nine month old stage of fingerpainting with his own poo. By the DW’s standards, we’re living in a Pine-Sol commercial. Any cleaner and we could assemble microchips in this joint. This is why the DW always advises women to expect that if the dude starts a certain way, he will remain, fundamentally, a certain way. Cheater, shy, forgetful, whatever. If you truly can’t abide a certain flaw, you should get out while you can because, like a nick in a wooden tabletop, that flaw can be polished up and waxed over, but it’s never going away.
Thank goodness my onion skin ways aren’t a deal breaker for you. Uh, right?
Best of luck with your dude, er, me. Frankly, he sounds incredibly super awesome. See you in about two seconds,