Q: I just moved in with my boyfriend who, while he’s a great guy, has NO IDEA how to do anything around the house. He’s lost when it comes to doing his laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher, cleaning the bathroom, pretty much everything. I have to show him everything. How does someone get to adulthood without knowing this really basic stuff?
A: Short version? No one ever taught him, and he never felt it necessary to learn. But there’s always more than the short version, right? Right.
OK, so everyone knows how I feel about cleaning and gender roles. If you don’t, I think it’s all bullshit. I think the idea that women are expected to just innately know how to and be the ones to clean while men sit there and act all helpless about the whole thing is complete bullshit. (Please excuse the gender binary there; when tackling traditional gender roles, unfortunately, things tend to break down to men and women.)
So what we have here is a person, regardless of gender, who has reached adulthood and a point at which he (to use the example from our question) is cohabitating with someone else, and doesn’t know the basics of housekeeping. A few questions come immediately to mind:
- Does he really not know, or does he figure that if he says he doesn’t, someone else will do it?
- Did his parents not teach him these skills, which, by extension, means did he never have to do chores?
- Why has this never been an issue before? Did he live in relative filth, or did someone else always do the cleaning?
- Has he heard of Google?
Let’s go in order. If he legitimately does not possess these skills, that’s one thing. However, a lot of housekeeping is common sense, so he may just be playing dumb so that you’ll do the work for him. Because, frankly, it seems to work for a lot of people for a very long time. That, and they think if they do it “wrong,” they won’t be asked to do it again. That’s not how it works. Or, that’s not how it should work. If he genuinely doesn’t know, showing him once should be plenty, and, of course, skills are only learned with repetition, so he needs to do it a few more times so he can make sure he’s mastered it.
Next: parents, you are doing your children no favors if you aren’t making them do chores. By the time a person is ready to move out on their own, they should be able to do just about everything that’s necessary to keep a household running. Obviously, age-appropriate tasks are called for here, but keeping in mind that children’s chores, sort of by definition, will be imperfect, and it’s less about a perfect result than it is about getting into the habit of doing things around the house and honing those skills over a number of years. The best way to teach your child how and when to do laundry is to stop doing it for them. They want clean clothes? They wash them. There is absolutely no reason that someone should be even high school-aged, let alone college and beyond, and not know how to do laundry or wash dishes or do a basic bathroom cleaning.
Also, why is this just now coming up? Have his parents or someone else been doing these things for him all this time? Has he never had clean clothes before? Did he just throw away his dirty dishes and buy new ones instead of washing them? This is where “I don’t know how” kind of falls apart, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, there are basic skills that people may not have learned, but at some point, this shit needs to get done, so either someone else has been doing it all along (again, not doing anyone any favors here in the long run), or it’s been kind of trial-by-fire, do it as it comes up. Maybe it’s not being done well, but it’s probably being done.
Which leads me to my last point. I’m a relative Old. Back in my day, I relied on family members to show me how to do chores. It’s 2014, for fuck’s sake. The Internet exists. There are hundreds of tutorials for every possible household task you can think of. “I don’t know how” is a legitimate excuse exactly once. If the person you’re living with truly wants to contribute to keeping the household running, they’ll figure it out.
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