Navigating Housework In A Modern Relationship
Just as a warning, this post is about to be super duper heteronormative because, well, I’m not gay and therefore don’t feel comfortable giving any advice out on how a gay person should conduct a relationship. I’m sure there’s a blog out there that’s way better than mine that can give you advice.
That being said, I do have some experience with dealing in the gender role department. I have, after all, been a girl for twenty-two years.
When I started dating my boyfriend, those roles came to the forefront. From well-meaning family came the lectures about “women’s work” and “men’s work.” Women were meant to maintain the household, men were meant for lawn care and vehicle maintenance.
That worked well for those relationships, and I didn’t say anything about it. I wasn’t about to pick a fight with beloved family members. After moving into the apartment, though, I knew some things were about to change.
After all, we don’t have a lawn, and we only have one car, but we have plenty of housework. That means that traditional gender roles would force me to be doing the majority of the work while he sits pretty on the couch.
Yeah, not in my house.
So, amongst ourselves, we had to figure some things out. Here are three ways for you and your SO to get your plans together and find some balance.
1. Discuss Chore Preferences
This was the first (and best) thing that my boyfriend and I ever did, and it helped more than anything else. We simply sat down, listed out all of the regular chores in our house (dishes, laundry, sweeping, vaccuming, etc) and then wrote down how we felt about each one personally.
It turned out that my favorite chore (laundry) was his most hated chore of all time. And my most hated chore (dishes) was something that he felt neutral about. I didn’t mind sweeping, while he didn’t mind feeding Moosie. I preferred morning walks with her, he preferred the night ones.
Obviously, it wasn’t perfect for every chore, and there were several that we both hated, but finding the ways we differed, where each of us could pick up the other’s slack, that was priceless.
2. Understand Your Threshold
In each relationship, there is inevitably one who is neater and cleaner than the other person. Sometimes the difference is small, and sometimes it is dramatic. In my relationship, I am the neat freak. And the difference is dramatic.
While I don’t suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a close family member did when I was growing up. This means that I have taken on habits of theirs, like the hand-washing and the need for piles of things to be meticulously stacked. This need can get overwhelming in a house with clutter. I know deep down that it would be unfair of me to inflict some of the more, shall we say, unreasonable tidying-up that I do onto my SO.
So, for him, I raise my threshold of what drives me bonkers. Does that pile of books on the table have to start with the largest on bottom and work up to the smallest on top? No, not really. Do the kitchen counters have to be stain-free every second of every day? No, not really.
He, in turn, has lowered his threshold, so that he can notice the clumps of dog hair on the floor or the dishes in the sink. Through this system, we manage to meet in the middle somewhere.
3. First Rule of Housework: Do Not Talk About Housework
Once you’ve talked everything over and you have a pretty good idea of how things are going to go, I now advise you to never talk about the system outside of you and your SO. I made this mistake, mentioning our system to friends and family off-handedly a few times, and I learned my lesson quick.
To the family, the system seemed way too progressive, and they insisted that my boyfriend wasn’t doing his share of the men’s work by performing lawn care and vehicle maintenance (again, we don’t have a lawn, and only one car, soooooo…)
Others verbally praised the idea, but I could see in their eyes that they felt bad for my boyfriend, as if I was emasculating him.
To my progressive friends, the system was not feminist enough. Why was I still doing such an old-fashioned thing as laundry? Why was I still tidying up more than he was? Why weren’t things exactly 100% perfectly equal?
Yeah, if you want to keep your sanity, then keep your system to yourself. You don’t need the peanut gallery chiming in on this one.
Honorable Mention: Be Flexible
So you’ve got your system all worked out, and you know who’s chores are whose, and so on and so forth. That’s awesome! So now it’ll continue on this way for all eternity, right?
At the end of the day, life happens. Sometimes my back issues creep up and I can’t bend over enough to get the laundry into the washer. Sometimes my boyfriend is sick and can’t stand long enough to get the dishes cleaned. Sometimes both of us are sick and we have to figure out who the hell is gonna walk the dog.
So, no matter how high or low your threshold is, or how much you hate a certain chore, you have to be prepared to do it sometimes. Maybe it’s been a long day, and maybe you can’t stand the idea, but thus goes adult life.
These tips may seem really common sense, but we all grow up with a bunch of different norms thrown at us, and when we start to guide our own lives it can be hard to filter out the bullshit. These are just things that I’ve learned from the past year, but that doesn’t mean they are the end-all be-all.
I hope you found these tips helpful, and if not, then I don’t know why you’re still reading (sucker).
Beyond that, I hope that it is warm wherever you are, or that you at least have a big fluffy quilt to crawl under if it’s cold.