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April 16, 2014

Help Me, Rhonda

Advice for Life's Persistent Questions

Dirty Damsel

My wife is pretty great. But she's never really been a clean person. I often feel like it's a test to see how long I can let things pile up. Eventually, I break and have to clean it myself. I've brought it up before, and she gets pretty defensive. The excuses range from “I’m too busy’”to “You're occasionally dirty too!” Nowadays, I avoid the topic, because I know it's a hot button. Any ideas on how I can nudge her in a cleaner direction?

Mr. Clean

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Are you, by any chance, secretly married to my sister? Does she ever say, “The house is as clean as I want it to be. If you want it cleaned to your unreasonable standard, you’ll have to do it”? Because if you are, in fact, married to my sister, you should know that she’s already fought that battle once. Against me. And she won.

One thing I know for certain is that you’re not going to get anywhere unless you can let go of the idea that she’s testing you. She’s not. She truly doesn’t care that there is dirty laundry on the floor or clutter on the coffee table (even if there’s so much stuff on it that one cannot set one’s  dishes or feet or coffee safely on top, which is the exact intended purpose of a coffee table). And even though you’ve told her that you care about these things, she can’t really internalize that or empathize. It’s not really her fault. I’m told people are born that way. But that doesn’t make it any less maddening for you.

Since I have never been really successful in getting a messy person to change her ways, I consulted my sister. She said the only thing that might mitigate messiness is confining it. If you and she can agree on certain areas that will remain clear—the dining room table for instance—she can probably accommodate them, and you’ll always know that you have a clear place to work.

In addition to that, I have two suggestions. One possible solution is that you agree to do the majority of the cleaning and find a chore you both can agree your wife will take over. That way, something is taken off your plate, and you might not feel so resentful about cleaning.

The other suggestion I have stems from the only headway I made while living with my sister. Shortly after one blow-out fight about cleaning, my sister happened to read an essay called The Politics of Housework, by Pat Mainardi. The essay discussed the ways couples fall into typical gender patterns of women doing most of the cleaning and men expecting them to. The justifications offered by the author’s husband included, “You’re the one who wants it so clean,” and “You’re better at cleaning than I am,” and “We used to be so happy!” (Subtext: why are you making us fight about this?). My sister guiltily recognized herself in a lot of the husband’s “justifications,” and this made for a much easier conversation. The essay is readily available online and is worth a read. Then, you just need to find a way to get your wife to read it without knowing it came from you.


History Repeats Itself

A good friend of mine has been in this on-again, off-again relationship for, like, two years. Every time they break up, she calls me crying, and I cancel my plans for the evening and go to her house to comfort her. It’s the same thing over and over again—she wants to get married, but he doesn’t love her anymore. A few breakups ago our other friend and I suggested she start seeing a therapist, but it seems he told her the root of her problems is that she’s “too pretty.” She’s definitely pretty, but I’m sure her looks aren’t the problem here. How can we be good, supportive friends without enabling this crazy relationship?

Supportive Friend

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If the therapist did indeed tell her that her problems stem from being too pretty, that doesn’t sound very therapeutic or appropriate or helpful. I’d encourage her to give therapy another try, with another therapist. The other possibility, of course, is that that’s not what the therapist said, but that’s what she heard or took away. In that case, something in her perception or understanding is skewed.

After two years, you’ve discharged your obligation as a friend to be immediately available at every break-up. The next time it happens, I’d suggest you not cancel your plans and rush over to her. Tell her you’re sorry they broke up (again) and ask if she wants to get together the next day or this weekend or whenever you truly have the time to get together. That underscores the non-urgency of the situation. 

When you do get together for consolation and relationship analysis, you might ask her some questions. Like, what she wants from the relationship. And if she thinks she could feel happy, comfortable or secure in a marriage to someone who’s so uncertain about his feelings. You’re trying to do two things: give her the space to articulate and recognize how unsatisfying this relationship is and figure out what she’s getting from it. If you can figure out what she’s getting from this relationship—like a feeling of security—it might help you feel a little more sympathetic and less frustrated.

Of course, while you’re continuing to be a supportive friend, you might also try to finagle some situations in which great guys cross her path, like a party at your house. Maybe she’ll see someone who looks better than her current BF, and both of your problems will be solved.


Losing Time

I feel like my life is slipping away to the Internet. When I’m supposed to be doing work, at work, I waste so much time checking my email, reading stuff online and looking at Facebook. The same thing happens when I’m at home. It feels like such a waste of time—most of the time I’m not doing anything of any consequence—but I can’t stop! I know this is a modern and first-world problem, but it’s really bothering me. Help!

Debbie Download

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The Internet is a time warp, DD, and there are only two possible scenarios: either you control your usage or it controls you. You want the former. These tactics will give you the best shot.

There are products to help you. One good one is a download called Freedom. It bills itself as “Internet blocking productivity software” and is available online. Once it’s installed, it lets you select a duration of time up to 24 hours, and it disables your Internet connection for that amount of time. (How does it do that? I’m not entirely sure how it works. I think by knocking out the little man who lives inside your computer and ferries information back and forth.) If you decide you absolutely must get online before the time is up, you can restart your computer to override your past, wiser self. You’ll probably do that occasionally, but you’ll find that Freedom is really successful in keeping you from tabbing over to your email when you’re supposed to be doing anything else.

The next tactic is to cancel your Internet access at home. I know that sounds extreme, but recall that you probably lived a good portion of your life, maybe even the majority of it, without access at home. And recall that you have access eight hours a day at work. At any given moment, you are also probably very close to a restaurant or coffee shop or other business with wi-fi. You can go there if you need to get online immediately. It will also save you some money each month. Try it for a month and see if you hate it. I don’t think you will.

Need advice? Ask Rhonda! advice@flagpole.com

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