06 June 2005

Arguing with Dear Prudie!

(Shh, you ain't seen me, right? If 'Doris' sent you, you want the comments section, below. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more, as the blind man said to the Bishop.....)

I can't believe I am doing this, but,.... (famous last words?)

I love the Dear Prudence column in Slate Magazine. I like it so much that I even have it delivered to my inbox.

Some of her answers really highlight the differences between the US and the UK, but not in this case. This time, I just feel that Prudie has overlooked an option (the obvious one, to my mind). So here goes.

This is the original enquiry and Prudie's answer:

Dear Prudie,
I am a longtime fan and now I find myself requiring your advice. I am madly in love with my boyfriend of two years. We've lived together for about seven months now. The problem is he is the worst housekeeper known to man. He will walk in the front door and distribute his work clothes like bread crumbs through the house. He thinks that the best way to wash dishes is rinsing them for a few seconds under cold water. His idea of "cleaning up" is to hide things … in closets, in locked rooms, on top of the fridge. His newest habit is grabbing a clean towel out of the cabinet, even if there's a clean one hanging on the towel rack. I love my man, but I am burned out being the only one to clean the house. Whenever I point out his shortcomings in the cleaning department, he gets huffy and pouts. Usually after the second or third time I tell him something, I'm forced to do it myself. Short of sitting him down like a pouting 3-year-old and showing him how to clean, what's the best way to deal with this? Hiring a housekeeper is completely out of the financial question.

—Sick of playing the Cleaning Lady

Dear Sick,
Given the fact that you're in a two-year relationship with a swell guy, Prudie would advise you to pick your battles. Because the beloved is an inveterate slob and you've had no luck getting him to pitch in around the house, there are really only two options open to you. One is to sit him down … not like a 3-year-old, but like a partner to whom you're making a plea for help. Tell him you feel like the maid and that's not the way you want to feel. Lessons are not required to remember to take your clothes off in one place, use hot water instead of cold, or learn that the top of the fridge is not the proper place for whatever he's putting up there—merely a serious request. The other alternative is what Prudie's mother taught her: It is sometimes easier to pick up the guy's socks than to make continual "requests." Given that he is slothful and chaotic around the house (and may also have retro ideas about men and women), it might be easier on you to bear in mind what a great guy you have while you pick up his socks. Don't ask Prudie how she knows this.

—Prudie, efficiently

WHAT A LOT OF TROUBLE! So here is my own suggestion, which is effectively a combination of the two above.

In the spirit of 'hate the sin but love the sinner' I would treat the man as a man and the habit as belonging to a child. I guess he is in his twenties, so for a typical male that's about right, he still has one foot in either camp. Treat him like a co-lodger - set lines of demarcation so that his business is his business, but shared areas stay clean and tidy. To do this:

Treat the man as a man: Trust him to know how things should get done and to know exactly what game he's playing - check with his mother or siblings because it's highly unlikely he got away with this at home. Is this his first time away from mummy? Is he enjoying being messy because he feels it is what students and people who leave home are allowed to do?

Treat the habit as a child's: Buy him toy boxes, large plastic containers (with lids in case of a smelly war of attrition), one per room where he offends, and simply tidy up directly into them. If this involves keeping your plate and cutlery separate from his and hiding the rest, so be it. The dirty greasy rinsed plate, the paperwork and items off the fridge like his keys or trash; all should go in one box together. If his unwashed socks and sweaty T-shirt go in the mix too, all the better. Don't wash a single item of clothing that you haven't pulled from the laundry basket.

If he doesn't mind the smell of his unwashed socks seeping from a box then buy mothballs and drop one in the container. That will cover his smell with one he won't be able to ignore. If the boxes fill up, empty them into a bin bag and store it all outside or in a designated cupboard, so you have room to keep picking up after him.

Be realistic: he is never going to tidy up if he has a skivvy to do it for him and give him back his stuff all sorted, clean, tidy and ready to use. Just like a four year old he knows he can pout and wrap you round his little finger - so you have do to two things:
  • break him of his habits by ignoring the bad behaviour
  • teach him that his responsibilities are his own and that good behaviour has its rewards (like a clean shirt.)
Standard child psychology.

Being a victim about his behaviour (whining) will start him on the 'yes but' track as in 'I'm lazy but you're a whiner so we're even'. Taking control too blatantly and being smug, parental or predatory about boxing his stuff will elicit the same response except you might be called bitch, instead. He might even try to claim that your flaws are worse than his. Your best bet is to treat the challenge (and it is a conscious, willing challenge) with a sense of fun - warn him you will get him toy boxes, then do it and laugh about it. If he doesn't mind his things being messy, he is hardly in a position to complain about where they go to remain messy, although I am sure he'll try.

If he is particularly obstinate then I suggest being open about the set-up to visitors - don't tuck the boxes right out of sight, and if someone asks, say honestly that 'Johnny' has toy boxes until he is old enough to reach the coat hangers.

And smile!

(Maybe I should start an advice column in the name of Auntie Whiplash; you reckon? ROFL.)


Ally said...

I wish Aunty Mad Baggage had been there with similar advice when I was shacked up with someone who couldn't even pick up a newspaper off the floor! We got in to such a war of attrition that by the end of the week there would be no clean crockery and you couldn't see the carpet ... I can't believe the agony aunt thinks that it's acceptable to pick up after him ... {grumbles off for glass of wine in sure knowledge she doesn't have to do ANY washing up for three weeks while husband away ...} :).

Cheryl said...

Same here Ally. First (ex)H would point at a speck and say 'Thats been there for bloody days'. When a friend suggested I answer with 'you saw it, you pick it up' I thought I'd have a fit - he'd have gone apeshit. Mens God complexes get bigger the longer you let them go on, if they are that way inclined. Vicious circle!
Enjoy your plonk!

Doris said...

Aunty Whiplash sounds good but it only works if your advice is as stupid and implausible as Aunty whatnots.

I dunno about bolloxy men and am sorry about those that do. So I'd have no advice except keep your fanny shut and move on to something better. Remember the advert..... "because I'm worth it"

In the original question I wonder what makes the bloke so good if he can be so disrespectful? I'd say it was that reasoning that was flawed.

Aunty Doris says keep up the great work Madam Whiplash :)

Doris said...

This is Doris's alter ego apologising for her last comment. She has already exceeded the recommended dosage of red wine this evening and is now quite remorseful.

Cheryl said...

Hahahaha and fanny means bottom in the US which makes it worse? I understand it pays $1K in the US porn industry, although I wonder what percentage a good accountant would write off against future surgery, when the young ladies who do THAT on a regular basis inevitable end up 'as big as clowns pockets'.
Dear Doris - its not that bad - but if you still feel its 'just not you' in the morning, I will delete for you - just let me know.

Jeff said...

I would tend to agree with Prudie's advice. Think about it.

Cheryl said...

Dear Jx I have an IQ of 160. I thought about it. There is MUCH more shame in staying with a lazy childish man than in being single.
He can do his share, learn to do his share, or take his shit somewhere else. The End. Or is it different where you are?

Doris said...

Dear Aunty Whiplash

You definitely should be doing this advice malarky more - I love your reply to Jx and hope that Jx can appreciate it too :-)

No need to censor the ramblings of an old woman - I can almost hold my purple rinse up with pride and stand by what I said. But a $1k for that? Do you think they have any openings for me.... Grans on the Bran or something similar? Got a phone number dear?

(Oh dear, you are welcome to delete this message if it is too much for decency.)

ella m. said...

Your advice is yards better than that columnist (who's answer reeks so badly of pre feminist sentiments, I suspect a man in drag behind the keyboard). it would make an interesting weekly fature to see you sitting in the advice chair, as you obviously have more sense than so called pros.

If I EVER blog happily about how wonderful I think my mate is as I pick up his socks, please shoot me in the back o the head and send me to the nearest glue factory like they used to do to a used up cart horse.

Steve said...

Wonderfully thought provoking blog as usual. As a bloke I can see what Ella means its either a bloke who now writes the Dear Pru column or its some 80 yr old 1950's wife who thinks a womans place is in the home and that the mans dinner should be on the table and his G+T ready when he returns home. A third option has just occurred to me perhaps the column is now written by the scourge of modern day society.....the committee. You know the type of thing I mean four or five (or sometimes many more) politically correct morons sitting around the table trying not to offend anyone and coming up with the most ludicrous answers ever thought up.