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Relationship Rants are about that beloved someone, and the things they do that drive you nuts.
Ladies and gentleman, welcome to my adulthood. I co-habitate with a man I expect to marry. I have multiple friends who have babies, multiple friends who own houses, multiple friends whose weddings I attend, am in. I am thirty. Only, like most women of my generation, I grew up thinking marriage was an option, not an absolute. And in the same way marriage or even partnership is an option, the terms of what it entails and the paths to it are also open.
For me, I determined this to loosely include:
1) Moving in with the person I think I want to marry first.
2) Waiting till I knew myself pretty well to make that decision.
3) Finding a man who knew himself equally well.
4) Finding a partner who loves the things I love.
5) Finding a partner who compliments my personality and I his.
6) Finding a partner who would share our responsibilities as partners equally, financially, emotionally…domestically. Oh, wait.
Because, ladies and gentleman, this is how my boyfriend folds things.
That is, if he folds things, because that picture was taken while we were doing our laundry together and I said “Here, Babe, fold this,” when he started to stuff all our hot, freshly laundered clothing and sheets back into the laundry bag to die wrinkled deaths in a compacted ball.
Now, you guys, it’s not like my boyfriend, Brad Pitt, doesn’t know how to fold things. Ask him about his stint in retail at Abercrombie and Fitch in 2001. And, if any of you have ever worked retail, or hell, been inside a Gap, you know that retail stores are folding Nazis. I worked at Benetton in high school and they had a special board you had to fold the sweaters around so that they were all exactly the same size.
Other domestic events that have also happened in our first month together.
Brad made our bed. He couldn’t figure out the fitted sheet and put it on so that the narrow part of the sheet elasticked to the wide part of our queen bed and visa versa. The sheet puffed over the top of our mattress like the top of a chef’s hat and came off the first night we slept on it with a loud “SNAP.” In Brad’s old apartment, his sheets weren’t the right size for his mattress, so he had no frame of reference. He also washed said sheets about every six weeks.
When Brad does the dishes, he’ll puts pots still caked with food in the dishwasher. And as a dishwasher is not actually a fleet of tiny dish elves who scrub pots and pans, those pots come out still not clean. He will also sometimes stack those dirty pans on top of the expensive and pretty plates that I have been collecting piecemeal in discount stores for several years.
Sometimes, when I watch him try to do something in our house, I feel like I’ve walked into a romantic comedy. Except, I thought those gender generalizations were just jokes. And condescending ones at that. I mean, the idea of a clueless, wrinkled bachelor à la Knocked Up isn’t exactly complementary. But, when Brad and I moved in together, I found that I either did or took the lead on almost everything having to do with setting up our house and running our life together.
Now, I suppose we could all just dump our stuff in the closets and go about our day. There is no rule that you have to wash your sheets once a week, do the dishes and keep your taxes in files. And, truth-be-told for a lot of the last decade I, too, lived in a sometimes-vacuumed 100 square-foot section of a medium-shitty Brooklyn apartment. Everything remotely important I kept in a plastic accordion folder shoved somewhere in the back of my closet.
Except, now that I’ve done this “growing up and settling down” thing, all the lessons my mother and grandmother ever taught me about how to make a home and a family have become relevant and are starting to kick in.
This year, when I went to visit my grandparents at Christmas, my cousin Lydia and I shared the downstairs bedroom. We had both arrived at their house exhausted from the craziness leading up to the holidays and were feeling the joys of finally decompressing. This meant we were being a bit lazy, particularly about cleaning up our stuff. Clothes poured out of our suitcases. We left the beds unmade and some towels on the floor of the bathroom. Two days in my grandfather walked by our room and immediately – as he is not a man who is known for keeping his opinions to himself – came to find us napping on the couch, “Your grandmother doesn’t keep a house like that!” he thundered. He had a point.
For my family, and probably for a lot of up-by-the-bootstraps American families, the state of things is a source of pride. You wear a dress or “slacks” to go out to dinner. You make your bed. Neatness means industry, success.
And indeed, at my grandparent’s farm, everything has its right, efficient place. I love the soft, clean cushions on my grandmother’s front porch chairs in the summer, her vegetable garden, her dinner on the table every day between six-thirty and seven. There is a splendor and a safety in my grandfather’s pressed shirts hanging behind the laundry room door and the smell of freshly cut grass.
At night, after my grandmother has put dinner away, her kitchen is quiet and smells of Palmolive. Before she leaves the room, her last step is to dim the lights. And before I go to bed, I like to sit on the counter in silent kitchen and drink a glass of water. There is a special kind of peace and joy in their home, the kind that comes only after you’ve worked all day for it. It is this robust, happy peace that comes at the end of a productive day, that I always aspired to emulate when I made a home.
But this is 2012. By the age of 30, my grandmother had had three of her four children. Her only job was that of a mother and a homemaker, and she did it well. Whereas at 30 I have a career, not an engagement ring. Yet, I still maintain this standard for what a home and family life should be. Just in my vision, keeping a house wouldn’t be my only job, nor would I do it alone.
And I think this is a good model. My grandparents partnership has been happy and successful for over 50 years. Largely, I’d wager, because they had a solid structure on which to build a it. In its most pragmatic elements, I believe a marriage is a lot like a business. Successful ones run efficiently.
And Then We Clash
Now, Brad is as kind and sweet and devoted as they come, and – this is important – he would never actively neglect to help me. That said, I don’t think anything like “a vision for a home” has ever crossed his mind. Is it genetic? Probably a bit. Is it cultural? Definitely. Brad’s mother is the sweetest, but very traditional. She cooked for, cleaned for and spoiled her only son and only child. That said, while genetics and culture are all well and good, I do not intend to shoulder the burden of administrating our life and home alone.
Therefore, Brad’s gap in experience regarding has caused some sparks between the two of us.
1) My vision is not his vision. Just because I want something done a certain way because it has value to me, doesn’t mean it has value to him. It would appear that compromise applies here. Also, a bit of understanding. Brad tries hard to be a good guy. It’s a top priority for him, so I can understand how he might feel beleaguered or overwhelmed when I get annoyed at him for not doing things “my way.”
2) At the same time, there are real and functional reasons keeping things nice is well, nice. But because Brad’s lived as a poor writer for a decade, I feel like he doesn’t completely understand those upsides. (Like having friends over for dinner in our clean, airy kitchen with flowers on the table, to eat that tomato eggplant bisque I made from scratch). This make me seem like a taskmaster. Things he’s said, “I don’t want to walk around my house with some kind of list of things you want me to do floating above my head, when I don’t even know what that list is.” Whereas I’m thinking, “There’s crap on the rug. Vacuum. Isn’t it obvious!?”
3) Brad’s gap in housekeeping experience puts me in the position of having to teach my partner things like, why a pants hanger is good, or how to use the vacuum cleaner attachments to suck up the cat hair under the couch every week or so. This is a weird, unequal place, that frustrates both of us even when Brad is cool with learning, and my children, regardless of gender, will know what the fuck dryer sheets are.
4) The disparity between our experiences freaks me out. It feels – in my most panicked state – like an uphill battle and an injustice. I start having visions of those headlines about how modern women still do most of the housework in addition to having a career. And I also have flashbacks to my mother’s short-lived marriage to my father, where her job was to clean things up and his to drop them. Those worries cause me to get a little ahead of myself. Example: “We can’t have two children running around in diapers and you just sitting there playing video games for three hours in the morning!!!” God help me, I said this.
5) I also get annoyed because the things that I’m doing aren’t for my own benefit, but rather for the two of us, and yet they end up being a source of conflict. I want us to have a nice life where we eat good dinners, pay our bills on time, and walk through our house without getting cat litter stuck to our feet, together.
And Then We Make Up
Ultimately, I realize this is all just part of the learning curve of living together. And this problem would be a very different one if Brad expected me to cook and clean and set up a house, rather than just not always understanding the particulars. But two generations away from my grandparents, this experience is not one that I expected.
However, there’s another factor at play here. Which is that, while I’m really good at things like making our plane reservations and watching the mail for coupons. Brad’s really good at things like relaxing, taking things in stride, and not yelling at our nuts downstairs neighbor. In fact, I could make an argument that Brad is actually the sweeter and more sensitive of the two of us, which certainly defies gender. And given my tendency toward Type-A obsession, his warmth is invaluable.
Brad and I love each other. Both of us bring things to our relationship. And in the end, because of course Brad isn’t a bonehead romcom slob, he has started to Swiffer. On my end, I’ve remembered that hardly anything can be what you expect or plan it to be entirely, and that’s okay. Because, whether it’s my grandparents in 1950 or Brad and I in 2012, what’s most important is that couple’s respect each other equally. What is equally? It’s a long life. It’s hard to say. These are little things.
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