Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dudefile #43 - Everything Was Perfect Until...

Dear DW,

I'm confused, and hoping you can help me. 

My wonderful, amazing hot boyfriend and I got married and moved in together about a year ago. We had been dating less then a year, but were wildly in love, my parents love him, my friends all talked about how perfect we were together, his friends told me they had never seen him so happy, all seems fairy tale perfect, right? And it was! Except, now, it isn't, and I cant quite figure it all out. 

For a variety of reasons that I won't bore you with, we have both hit a difficult place in our careers, though I should mention that my career is going better than his. Anyway, cash has been tight (his salary got cut), and he has been working odd hours so we don't see each-other a lot. When we do, it seems one of us is ready to go out and the other is just exhausted. As a result, what was once a crazy awesome sex life had puttered away to almost nothing. Before we got married and shacked up, he gave me compliments constantly, left flowers and love notes in my apartment, we went out all the time, he basically made me feel like a gorgeous sex goddess that could do no wrong. Now, I feel like he criticizes me constantly, and is so sensitive to me criticizing him that some days I feel I'm walking on those notorious egg shells. Plus  he never, ever wants to go out anymore.

I also find myself getting annoyed with his domestic habits; when I had my own place, everything was just where I wanted it, towels were always hung on their towel hooks, my mail was right where I left it--you get the point. He leaves his stuff EVERYWHERE and try as I have to make our home feel like our home, you know, cute dishcloths in the kitchen, a well placed shelf in the bedroom, knick knacks lined up smartly on the mantle-I keep getting undone by cleaning up his messes--and yes, I totally get that most straight men couldn't give a damn whether a dish cloth is checked or flowered-but the fact remains that after a whole year living together I still feel like our place looks like a frat house and I hate it. Shouldn't the fact that I care about such things be enough to at least get him to fake it???

It's not as if this whole year has been bad, but when I think back I do feel like our troubles began when we shacked up and got married. In fact, we went away for Thanksgiving and stayed in the coziest hotel on the planet and had the most amazing time, sex every night, long walks every day, it was like a second honeymoon! Then we got back to our frat house--I mean apartment, and within two days slid back into our old patterns. I worry I'm just bad at the domestic thing, my ex-boyfriend and I had a perfectly lovely relationship until we moved in together and all went down hill.

Has cohabitation and matrimony killed our perfect relationship? 

DW, I need your help,

Thank you,

Un-Domestic Diva

Hi UnDD,

First of all, as reference, the DW would like to direct you to this classic bit of genius - Dudefile #22 -Will My Dude Ever Be Clean in which it is discussed how the wifey loves the DW even though a razor thin line of cleanliness separates him from a hobo. It is also worth noting that at the time of this current post the DW has in view one pair of underpants hung from a doorknob and three unwashed coffee mugs. And what looks like a peach pit. Or dried cat poo. Let's call it a peach pit.

The good news is this. You don't exactly find yourself in an unusual situation. Most couples who live together have the same Mount Rushmore of domestic disputes- Home life (Cooking, cleaning, decorating, etc.), Money, Family, Boning. The DW heard about a study a while back that concluded couples disagree with the same frequency, too. So, if couples disagree about the same stuff with the same frequency, what gives? Why do some couples sit on the same side of the table in restaurants and others insult each other on Wife Swap? It's all in how the disputes get resolved.  

So, what the DW is going to ask you to do is search for some middle ground with your dude. The good news about sloppy dude is that the way you describe him doesnt make him sound like a jerk or a troll or a wifebeater or a scamp. He's just a dude who does some typical slacker upkeep dude stuff. Trust the DW- you can handle that. 

First thing to do is this - take a deep breath and try to see the other side of this as best you can. The DW is not saying you give in to the dude's way completely, but he does admit to being suspicious about the accuracy of assessments like We Were Perfect Before But Now We're SOOO Shlumpy! You feel like the place is a dungheap, and with some reason. But the DW guarantees your dude is just as bummed about how he's supposed to keep the place clean enough to assemble superconductors, also with some reason. 

(Note: Pause here for a second. You have to really believe the DW that as much as Your Way and Your Level Of Neatness matters to you, The Dude's Way and The Dude's Level Of Neatness matters to him. If you don't think his POV has as much validity as yours, you can just stop reading and know your situation will not end well.)

Second thing? Just hang in there for a bit. The DW was a little more freaked than he thought he would be about having a woman in the house when the wifey moved in. It's weird to go from Your Stuff Your Way On Your Time to Sharing Frickin' Everything All Day Long. Some of the items that had the DW on edge were just territorial nonsense like where the towels got hung up or which sheets went on the bed- things that he didn't actually really give two s&its about and that just faded away after the initial general wigout. The DW's not saying you let yourself get worn down and accept a sh&tty situation, just that you give things long enough to settle and be clear in your mind about what matters to you and what is part of a general fog of whatthef*ckness about your new situation.

Third- make sure you're telling the dude what you're thinking. And as the DW is wont to say, be direct and specific. Dudes do not get hints. Look, the DW knows it's not satisfying to have your dude empty the dishwasher just because you asked, but here's the thing. Dudes learn cleanliness habits by rote, and only for you. Stephen Baldwin will win an Oscar before a dude will intuit, say, the right way to fold the guest towels. At a dudes very core he does not understand about candles or table runners or fabric softener or whatever it is you're thinking of. Communicate clearly and directly and a dude will do his best, he really will. 

A way to bring your cleanliness concerns up without seeming naggy is to ask if he's got some difficulties with the way the place is organized on his mind, too. You know, like how he feels trapped in house where he feels like he might as well wrap the couch in plastic since apparently he can't fart without you calling your girlfriends to complain about it. joke. Joke! Well, mostly. Just remember dude's seeing this from a whole other way around.

Basically, this is all just to say- here are the facts. You live with a dude now. This will not change. Does this mean you have to live in a frat house? No. But does it mean you can expect him to live in your previous perfect girly apartment? Also no.  Stand firm on some things you Have to Have, but be prepared to concede some things he Has To Have, too. 

There are lots of strategies for compromise and you'll find one. Right now, for instance, the living room and dining room at DW central are so clean and shiny the cats almost don't like to hang out in there. Bedroom? A little less so with some reading piles and some laundry. DW's office- total stereotypical hellhole man cave that smells a little like curry B.O. and shoe. Overall, the house is way cleaner than the DW would have if the place was His and way dumpier than the wifey would have the place was Hers, but it's a good equilibrium for Us. 

Look, you'll be fine. This has been a whirlwind and you're taking on a lot of things at once. Job weirdness, adjustment from dating to marriage, moving in together, tight cash, combining stuff, etc, etc. Sit down of a bowl of ice cream, have a friendly chat, take some time together to get some naughty sweaty buttsmackin' headboard rattlin' hanky panky back on the menu, and it'll work itself out. All that good stuff at the beginning wasn't a mirage, you're both just freakin' out a little right now.

Here's to settling in,

the DW 


Anonymous said...

My husband's man cave smells EXACTLY like curry B.O. and shoe. That is freaky!

Anonymous said...

mmmmm... curry, b.o. and shoe: the smell of freedom!

thedudewhisperer@yahoo.com said...


Felinessa said...

I know this is coming way late, but I haven't trolled here in a very, very long time.

Seeking compromise is an obvious and reasonable solution, but I have an idea where she's coming from. The first thing we need to remember is that you absolutely don't need to be an OCD neat freak in order to feel overwhelmed and stressed out in a messy environment.

A lot of women from my generation (I'm in my late 20s, and I got the feeling the OP may be close to that) have never been properly trained to "keep house." We don't particularly like cleaning, we're not very efficient at it, but we perceive it as necessary for our sanity. As a consequence, we've gotten very good at making it last via superficial maintenance - laundry goes in the basket (not on the floor), dishes get washed the same night (so they don't pile up), things get put back to where they belong, bathrooms get mopped after every shower, etc. This way, we only need to spend a couple of hours on the weekend doing a bit of vacuuming, dusting, scrubbing, etc. Obviously, individual standards vary, but I imagine that the average person would be satisfied with that.

It is hugely demoralizing when that efficient little system gets completely undone and trampled on. Living with a messy person means that not only isn't the place maintained to an acceptable degree (so it feels like we walk into a pig sty when we come home from work), but that all of sudden, we have to spend all this extra time doing something we already didn't like and weren't very good at.

It's not a good place to be in for someone who is already struggling with major changes in her life (perhaps financial difficulties due to the economic crisis, keeping a job, adjusting to living with someone else, trying to make a relationship work, etc.). In addition to feeling stressed out by the mess in the house and by the extra cleaning we need to do, we also feel like we don't add up because we can't keep it under control. No wonder there's little interest in doing things together or "boning like caffeined squirrels." Yep, I liked that.

Look, DW, this is one of the few times I'm kind of disagreeing with you. It's not about keeping our couches covered in plastic. It's about feeling like our efforts to keep the place somewhat in order are being systematically undone. My ex-husband was considerably more efficient at undoing my cleaning than I was at doing it and that made me feel not just suffocated by the mess and overburdened by the extra work I had to do, but taken for granted and disrespected.

Here's something to consider for you, Diva. If your apartment allows it, try to carve out individual spaces for the two of you. From this point of view, DW is right on and I'll add this - everyone needs a "room of one's own." Don't see this as leading to isolation and separation - it's just so both of you can get a little space when you need it.

If you can't afford it right now, make it a financial priority. It's more valuable long-term than a snazzy getaway. An extra room could be only 200-300 away, and while moving is a horrible hassle, you might want to consider it.

The other thing to consider is hiring a cleaner to come in once a week or so. It's usually not that expensive, and perhaps, if he has to help pay for it, he'll be less inclined to instantly undo it. If he's not willing to split the bill, try to make him understand how your current environment is affecting both you and your relationship. If he sees it not as an investment in cleaning (which he may perceive as unnecessary), but an investment in your relationship, he may be more willing to go with it. I'm stressing here the importance of splitting the cleaning bill not due to financial considerations, but to make it seem more like a team effort.

While I'm happy my marriage ended (for many other reasons), I hope yours can be fixed with a few changes and some communication.