I remember very clearly the first time I ever went to my boyfriend’s apartment. It was in Pasadena.
Pasadena was only 30 minutes from my house, but if you’ve ever been to or lived in Los Angeles, you’ll know that people here have a mental block about driving to another city. I looked thirsty. No one drives to Pasadena for just-a-friend.
But I did, because people were hanging out there and I was at a stage in my life where I’d convinced myself that I needed to “get out more.” (I wanted to hook up with someone.) My thirst was rewarded. The moment I walked into my now-boyfriend’s place, I could see that he was an adult. Like a real adult. In my experience, single men don’t put a nice rug on top of their hardwood floors to make their open floor plans look more sectioned-off. They just don’t. This man had a rug.
He also had a shower curtain! And his bed was off the floor and… wait for it… the bed was in the middle of the room. That’s right. Two entrances to the bed. A Real Adult, at last. But what really bowled me over was what was in his kitchen sink.
Nothing. Nothing was in the kitchen sink. Nothing was on the counters next to the kitchen sink, waiting its turn to be in the kitchen sink. Who lives like this?! Certainly no one I had dated or lived with or visited in Pasadena.
No one. Here was an adult man who lived totally alone and was doing the dishes just for the sake of having clean dishes. Not because his girlfriend or wife was telling him to, and not because his mom had just been in town and he’d cleaned up for her (or—even worse—because she cleaned for him.) It was so sexy.
I hover in the middle of messy and clean. I don’t leave the cap off the toothpaste, I never leave dishes lying around the house, I clean as I go when I cook, and when I drink a bit and cut my bangs over the sink, I’m meticulous about cleaning up the little hairs.
I’m very willing to clean bathrooms, and I’ve been known to sweep for fun. But I also have two “clothes chairs,” where clothes with confusing or demanding laundry instructions end up sitting for weeks. I’ve also never once unpacked a suitcase within the first week of coming home, and I think making beds is a waste of time. As for my boyfriend, I often end up doing the laundry for both of us, because he waits until he’s out of underwear.
And yet, when it comes to our apartment, we both do something wonderful: we adjust up. Each of us works way harder to maintain the house than either of us would on our own, for the sake of one another. In the two years we’ve lived together we’ve never once had a disagreement or resentment about household chores.
We’ve had plenty of other fraught moments—I’m not putting this out there to brag about how well we just happen to get along. We don’t. We work on it. Neither of us wants to sweep our back patio, which despite being near zero trees is constantly filled with leaves, but we do it because we don’t want the other person to feel like they have to.
Often when my boyfriend and I have big cleaning days, like before a party we’re hosting, we ask each other “What do you think needs to be done?” This gives us a good idea of what we both need to tackle, and then we divvy things up based on what we each hate doing the least.
He usually has more things on his list than I do, because I’m lazy and who cares about vacuuming a rug. But even then, we both try to keep working until the job as a whole is done, not just the tasks allocated to us. Ultimately, it’s our apartment.
We wouldn’t have achieved this domestic harmony if either of us felt that the other person should be working to meet our expectations of clean. If I want something done, I don’t feel my boyfriend should help. But he usually does. A while ago, probably on a terrible Reddit thread about marriage advice, I read something that, while cheesy, is also true.
The Reddit platitude went something like this: in every relationship one person is going to be giving 60 percent and one person is going to be giving 40 percent, and both people should be trying to be the one who gives 60 percent.
Besides a willingness to help out, you should also be willing to let your partner off the hook when they forget one of “their” chores, or when the NBA finals are on the night before your mom comes over, or when they’ve had a terrible day at work and really don’t have the energy to fix the shower curtain rod.
Stepping back to let your partner be lazy sometimes is just as important as keeping up your end of the bargain.
I don’t think you need a chore chart to find balance in your housework. Chore charts are a bad sign. Your partner should not have to remind you, nag you, renegotiate with you, guilt-trip you, or coddle you into cleaning out the fridge every two weeks. Sure, if you really don’t “see messes” (I’m skeptical of this excuse) maybe you do need a list in your phone of chores around the house that need doing. But I think in a good relationship, if you or your partner wants something done, it should become a shared goal