My boyfriend of nine months leaves a mess in my home, and it infuriates me. Although he’s otherwise a great guy, just a glass not taken to the kitchen makes me boil with rage. He doesn’t only leave glasses around, but dishes and trash, napkins and soda cans. Jackets and sweatshirts are dropped wherever. He lies on the bed without taking his shoes off … arrrrgh! And he spits toothpaste into the sink without rinsing it out, and never does dishes when we cook or put carryout on plates. I don’t understand my anger because I sometimes leave a glass out, too. I do know I shouldn’t approach him about this while I’m this upset.
— Pigpen’s Girlfriend
Where does your boyfriend think dirty dishes go to die? Do they jump out an open window and smash themselves on the pavement? Leap into a sinkful of soapy water and drown themselves? Or, do they hire a hit man to do the job? Maybe an aging housewife who breaks into your place in the dead of night, slowly and methodically pulls on rubber gloves, then holds the plates under water until the deed is done.
Your boyfriend could be pondering this question nightly, but it seems he’s too busy flopping on the bed, swinging his big shoes onto your duvet, and snoring. Meanwhile, you’re storming around the house collecting cans, snarling, "What does he think, that I answered an ad for a fully furnished dumpster with cable TV? Or was he worried I’d get lost making my way back from the living room to the kitchen? How sweet of him to leave a trail of dirty napkins to mark my path!"
Next, he’ll complain there’s no mint on the pillow — or, worse yet, he’ll slip and call you Mom. Who, exactly, does he think picks up all this stuff he drops? Actually, he probably hasn’t the slightest idea. In fact, while, for you, one empty Chicken McNuggets box on the couch turns your apartment into a Superfund site, your boyfriend might have to sit on the thing to realize it’s there. As I’ve written before, research shows that, in general, straight men don’t have the filth- and clutter-vision women and gay men do. Men generally have better distance vision, and can maintain intense focus on small-scale projects, but they’re prone to overlook environmental detail — increasing the chance that they’ll let the chips (and the empty potato chip bags) fall where they may.
OK, so the glass is not only half-empty, it’s been on your foyer table for three whole days. How could your boyfriend not know how upset this makes you? Well, there is the fact that, instead of sweetly telling him what works for you, it seems you’ve spent the better part of a year festering with hate. Your inability to ask, "Mind doing the dishes tonight?" or tease him about the difference between a bedspread and a sidewalk, suggests there’s more to this than liking things tidy. Are you anxious or insecure, and manifesting it in a Gestapo-like need to control your environment? Are you skittish about commitment and seeking an out, like the idea that he doesn’t respect you? If you want to be with him, tell him what you need. If he cares about you, he’ll make an effort. He might sometimes screw up, but he’ll probably put a good spin on it: Dinner with you was so romantic and wonderful, he wanted to leave you a little something to remember it by — something day-old and encrusted on a plate. Come on, look closely at that petrified moo shu. Can’t you see a heart?
This great woman I’ve started seeing has a stressful career, and "doesn’t really have time for a partner now"— although she enjoys our time together (weekend trips, backpacking, etc.). I just want all that to continue. I’m good at giving her space, but she still says she has difficulty making any decisions about us because of her work pressure. Should I give her a time limit?
— Camped Out
Give her a time limit? What are you, Cinderella? You’ll lose your glass hiking boot and your Honda Civic will turn into a pumpkin if she doesn’t force a decision about you? She doesn’t have a lot of time, but you claim not to need a lot of time. If that’s actually the case, where’s the decision to be made, beyond whether to spend this weekend chasing each other around the campfire or the California King? Of course, it’s possible you’ll get attached, and she’ll have to break it off. If you can’t bear moping around missing somebody, you’d better bow out now. It might also be a good idea to wean yourself off friends, as you never know when one of the buggers will get picked off by a truck.
(c)2008, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (www.advicegoddess.com)