Q. I have been in a relationship with a man for almost four years. We have a one-year-old son. (We operate as if we are married. Marriage is not a factor. We are VERY committed, joint accounts and wills, etc.) I am a perfectionist. I know this is not a positive quality but I have accepted it as one of my hard-to-change flaws. HOWEVER.My spouse used to help with the housework without being told or asked or nagged, but now he barely does shit. He feels that me having to ask or request his help all the time is perfectly fine, and I have told him time and time again that I hate it. He can see that things need to be done around the house just like I do, so why should I have to nag him like I’m his mom? I’m starting to hate him. I have lost a lot of respect for him. He has no ambition, he’s not the type of person who takes initiative. I did not know he was like that until we became serious.
He used to work full-time, but he lost his job (lay-off, it wasn’t his fault). I am a student and blogger and I am trying to get my name out there so I have been taking on a lot of projects hoping to make some money. He says that it’s my fault that I took everything on and that that doesn’t mean he should have to do more.
I hate him. So my question is: What would you do? We live with my grandma right now. I have been considering leaving him for a long time. We’re supposed to move out in May. Should I leave? I don’t think he’s changing. I’m pretty sure he’s past caring because he won’t change his behavior.
A. My dear, you know what 99% of the problem is in almost all relationships? It’s that we are different people.
Some people consider this quite the challenge and to a degree, I see the point of those who cannot extend themselves across a divide in the name of commitment and love. Believe me. I’ve had my moments of revelation at dinner tables and on streets where I looked across at the person I was with and could only mutter to myself, What the fuck was I thinking, even after convincing myself, Yeah, this is cool, until that cruise control mindset usually ended up with me dumped to a curb or me dumping someone to a curb. Call this sanctity of questionable choice making the power of being in my early twenties.
But most of the time? Like the rest of the time? We are different. Completely. There are times were we are more similar than not and if we are lucky, we find someone whose differences are not so vastly away from ours. But we are still different. Different childhoods, different cultural rearing, different experiences. Different.
So, with this logic, you can imagine that we make different choices. That we think in different ways.
Hence, the 99% problem. However, instead of waggling around and just screaming and yelling at each other for being different, what most people do is they communicate. This, while harder than it often looks, is equal parts glue and oxygen for any relationship, the stuff that keeps you from thinking nasty little thoughts about the other one, like “He left his goddamn towel on the floor AGAIN, he MUST think I am the maid. I’m not the GODDAMN MAID” or “She didn’t ask me about this thing I have been thinking about for a day now because I HAVEN’T communicated it to her, WHY CAN’T SHE READ MY MIND INSTEAD OF BEING CONFUSED BY MY PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR.” That place in your mind is a nasty place, one where the worst aspects of your insecurities and faults and neuroses come screeching out, waiting to fulfill some narrative about the jilted love interest seeking redemption and validation. Communication? It prevents that. It lets you know where you exactly are and what you are exactly about, which, in my experience, is not the place of being the goddamn maid or not being able to mind-read as a fault.
Here’s a fun story: The last Mr.? We used to fight like cats and dogs over the dishes. Yes, the goddamn dishes. More specifically, the dishwasher. How’s that for a glimpse into the domesticity of a romantic life? See, being that we were two different people, I tended to load the dishwasher one way, and the Mr. tended to load it another. The Mr. was somewhat anal retentive when it comes to the dishes, where as I tend to be a little more lax. Meaning, I hate doing the goddamn dishes, so when I did it, it felt like a feat of nature, a miracle of sorts, one that certainly better not be criticized. I mean, I considered myself a modern type of woman, well-read and versed in feminist theory and certainly did not/would not take any craps from a guy on anything, especially the dishes that I did (what would Betty Friedan think?). The Mr. had a very specific way of doing dishes and it was common, that if I found myself doing the dishes, he would often stand behind me, rearranging the dishes I had just put in the washer and it pissed. me. off. If he wanted to do the dishes, why didn’t he just do the goddamn dishes? Why did he have to micromanage my doing the dishes? And so on and so on.
So we would argue about this. Actually, we would argue about this almost every time. And I would say something stupid like, “I’m not the maid,” knowing full well that the Mr. actually defied most male gender stereotypes and helped around the house a ton, and he would say something petty about me doing the dishes wrong, when he was really aware of the fact that he is just very specific about the dishes and I am not. But each and every time, we would find ourselves back at this point, where we had taken our respective positions hostage, waiting for the other one to budge and say those magical words: “You’re right.”
God, it was such a waste of time.
I mean, in reality, it wasn’t — it helped us grow. It helped us learn how to argue. It helped us learn that we are different, but have to communicate. It helped us learn that sometimes, even when we think we are being accepting, we are doing everything we can to try to change the other person to be like us. It was this petty fight and the thousand other petty and not-so-petty fights that have helped define us better, to show us what we need in a relationship, to show us how to grow. It doesn’t mean we were perfect. We were far from fulfilling that advice column stereotype of the perfect person with the perfect partner and the perfect family dispensing the perfect advice. Oh, we were universes away from that, so much so, that we are no longer together, which is actually quite fine, in my humble opinion. All I mean to say is that it is often the stuff that threatens to push you apart that is just as important as the stuff that brings you together.
You say you are committed to this guy — capital VERY committed, to be precise. Joint accounts, wills, for christ’s sake, a child. I think if one were going to measure commitment by signs of grown-up-hood, I suppose you would have a blue ribbon for these accomplishments. However, for all that you reap in signs of adulthood, I get the sense that you still have one foot out the door, ready to leave the VERY committed relationship behind and more invested in the adulthood shit than the actual shit of your relationship. Why? I want you to repeat this after me:
You are asking him to be like you.
He is not going to be like you.
You resent him for not being like you.
You are asking him this under the guise of help. You are then punishing him under the guise of help. Which leads me to believe you might want help, but that’s a secondary matter, one that you may not even realize. What it seems like you want more, is to be right. And as my momma always said, “You wanna be right or you wanna be happy?”
To further the point, as the exquisite Toni Morrison once said, “You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
Which means you need to give up the hate.
It is easy, so very easy, to start the vindication game in any long-term relationship. The one where the mental scorecard comes out and the indiscretions are added up, where how fucked off you feel becomes the terms on how the other person needs to operate and how all the things said and undone or said and done become points against the other person who just can’t seem to get their shit together and you need a person who has their shit together because you are a goddamn adult, right? And a goddamn adult would just pick up after themselves, right? Without you having to ask, right?
Certainly. But a goddamn adult would do a lot of things. And unfortunately, a goddamn adult is not always the exact definition we think it is going to be or plan it to be or expect it to be. What he is doing? It might feel selfish. It might be selfish. It also might be a sign of depression. What you are doing? It is selfish. I mean, are you really wanting to end the VERY committed, joint account, will, one child between you marriage but not real marriage because of housework?
An issue you seemed to have chased him on, but maybe not asked the questions you need to ask?
To have the conversations you need to have?
The kind of conversations that are absolutelyfuckingnecessary in VERY committed relationships?
Did you think the act of non-marriage (but kind of marriage) would save you from the hardships that many relationships and marriages face?
Did you think you could get all the grown-up benefits without the grown-up crap?
Please don’t think of this advice as a sort of scolding. Well, you can think of it as a bit of scolding because sometimes to get off our high horses, we need that scolding. I certainly have needed it once, twice, many times in my life, where someone who cared enough about me to see the tremendous pile of bullshit I was trying to stake my grand claim on, would kindly grab my hand, listen to what I was really saying, and tell me to chill the fuck out. That if I was a VERY committed person, than I would have to be VERY committed and walk my talk. That behind my frustrations and miscommunications and all those other stumbling learning blocks that come with being with a person for a long amount of time and trying to figure out how to be good to each other, you have to let go of a certain amount of fear: of being wrong, of being hurt, of eating crow, of whatever it is that you think perfect adult relationships look like. I certainly don’t mean extend this practice into the realm of condoning abusive, shitty behavior, but that’s a topic for another day. I just mean to say that if you are VERY committed, act like it. Even when you don’t fucking feel like it. That’s what being VERY committed means.
VERY committed means accepting that people have different ambition.
VERY committed means accepting that people react to stress differently.
VERY committed means not just peace-ing out when something become inconvenient.
VERY committed means not hating your partner.
I get it. I’m not proposing you submit to all and become Suzy Homemaker. I fully stand by the fact that housework ain’t up to the ladies anymore and that it needs to be split and that the second shift sucks. I officially sign onto the philosophy of any man who won’t clean is an asshole, or old, or terrible (or both). But it seems like your partner is less the old, terrible, asshole, and maybe the person who lost their job and is depressed and needs some loving real talk. Not “you should feel ashamed I’m still with your trifling ass” real talk, but some serious, listening, understanding real talk. May I also suggest that you take some in yourself if your partner has a few words to offer?
Because that’s what relationships are. Not who’s right, not who’s keeping score, not being resentful. If you want to leave, don’t do it because you think he isn’t going to change, do it because you know for a fact he has told you he isn’t going to change. Do it because you sat him down like an adult and talked to him about what it is that is needed, instead of letting the “I am just so right” resentment build up and make the decision for you and you are the type of person who lets their ego make the decisions around these parts. Do it because in the large-scale problems you may face as a couple or that you may face in being part of another couple, housework is one that you have to deal with together and can hopefully easily be solved. Do it because you are VERY committed and you are a person of your word. Do it because you owe it to yourself and your kid and your partner and did I mention yourself? You owe it to yourself to do it. You owe it to yourself to do it. You owe it to yourself to do it.
You owe it to yourself or you get the fuck out now.
If you can filter past the crap that plagues every relationship that involved different people (which happens to be almost all relationships),you will be able to get to a place where instead of you two arguing about doing the dishes, one of you can wash and the other one can load them in the dishwasher, a place where instead of one being right, you both can be right and wrong, and miraculously together doing the most mundane and boring of shit, and just happy you are there together.
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3 replies on “The VERY Commitment: Or, If You Wanna Fly…”
This is masterful.
(The title of Jeanette Winterson’s memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is useful if only to inspire the reverse question).
This was a very good read.
This is amazing.