How to clean up a new relationship.
My boyfriend of five months lives in another state and I just visited him for the second time. He's a nice person and the relationship is promising. For my first visit he tidied his house, but that was a short visit and I didn't look at the details. This time I saw too much. I saw a messy and untidy person, including dog hair on the kitchen floor. Later I asked him questions and maybe did some abrasive educating; he just listened. Throughout my stay, I redirected him on how to do things. I feel like I should have a serious conversation with him; this could make or break us. I was thinking about sending him a link to cleaners near him to let him know how much it means to me.
Hara Estroff Marano is the Editor at Large of Psychology Today and writes the magazine's advice column, Unconventional Wisdom. Her newest book, A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, grew out the groundbreaking Psychology Today article A Nation of Wimps.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
Hold off on sending that link. He probably knows where the cleaners is—that place right next door to the chicken-wing takeout joint. Why not let your last (overdone) message sink in and gauge its effect by seeing how things look on your third visit? Obviously your boyfriend now knows that a certain degree of cleanliness and tidiness are important to you. If, on the next visit, he has cleaned his house, it will be a clear demonstration of interest. But a failure to clean up cannot be interpreted as a lack of interest, and under no circumstances should you comment, "educate" him, or deprive him of affection. Simply, your boyfriend may have a typical disorder. It may be that, growing up, he, like many males, was shielded from cleanup responsibilities, possibly even discouraged from them. Simply noticing might take neural circuitry that never received sufficient stimulation for normal growth. Sooner or later, most males begin to catch on. They like clean underwear as much you do. Young men have been known to live in squalor in the early, solo years and to reform after buying a home or otherwise investing in their living space. If your boyfriend has a stable job and a stable life, it's probably time for him to become conscious of the value of order at home. Yes, dog hair on the kitchen floor is unappetizing, but he didn't actively drop it there and, owing to the early lapses in his upbringing, may not be aware it's there until it reaches a critical mass. If the relationship continues and you consider establishing a joint household, cleanup responsibilities, like all others, will be ripe for discussion. In the old days, roles and responsibilities were generally divided by gender. Today they're negotiated, and the process can be a source of tension. Household cleanup may be a responsibility you want to take on, as it matters greatly to you—let me warn you that males don't even have the gene for folding towels. To keep any such burden from becoming a source of resentment, your partner needs to assume equivalent responsibilities in another domain equally important to your shared life. The goal is to create a plan that minimizes the need for constant education. And whatever education you engage in, do it with humor. That said, you are the other half of the equation, and what's not clear are your cleanliness standards—off-the-chart neat freak or just your average obsessive-compulsive. It's hard to compromise on cleanliness but you may want to cut your beau a little slack on neatness.