What a dump!

I love my wife more every day, but sometimes I want to scream because she’s a pack rat and a slob.


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Cary Tennis
November 28, 2002 3:18am (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I'm 28 and I'm married to a woman I've been involved with since I was 19. The simple point is that she kicks ass. I love her more every day. Ninety-five percent of this relationship is better than anything I ever thought I'd get. But, that 5 percent drives me nuts. She is a pack rat and a bit of a slob, but she freaks on me when I try to bring it up. We're both pretty busy, both with full-time jobs, so I don't make a stink too often about household stuff not getting taken care of. But sometimes I want to scream because I'm always picking up after her and doing the chores she forgot to do.

Am I nuts? Sometimes, especially when I'm drinking with the guys, I realize that it's all silliness and I'm just damn lucky to have her in the first place. And then, I wake up sober the next day, see her dirty clothes on the floor, and almost have a heart attack. She'll bring me my coffee in bed on Sunday morning, but then I'll find a bunch of cups left in the sink instead of put in the dishwasher and I want to tear my hair out. Should I just drop it and be happy or is the small, everyday stuff important too?

I should mention that I do things that drive her nuts too. But she has been vocal about them since the beginning of our relationship and I have tried to stop doing those things. Heck, I quit smoking for this woman. I don't think putting the laundry away is too much to ask.

Neat Nick

Dear Neat,

Certain mental tricks may be required. It sometimes helps to pause before a discarded item of clothing and interrogate it; question its existence and its place; inquire of its origin, and whether it has any rights of its own that must be recognized. Carefully consider whether hostile action toward it might symbolize hostile action toward its owner; perhaps it ought therefore to be treated with the same dignity and respect as its owner would be treated.

Indeed, such an article of clothing might symbolize that very woman whom you love so deeply -- would you kick her? Then why would you kick her underwear? This all, after all, is she: Every shopping bag on the dining table, every coat draped on the back of a chair, every pair of jeans wadded up and set on the floor at the foot of the bed where one -- particularly one who is not a morning person -- might stumble over it barefoot coming out of the shower. And if one were to arrive home in the evening to a house overrun by animals that have rolled in the carcass of a dead seal in order to absorb its rare perfume, a house piled chin-high in dirty laundry, if one were to yell in outrage or descend, as is our Norwegian custom, into a dark and wintry funk redolent with silent blame and mute recrimination, toward whom would that be directed? Toward the sweet woman with the beautiful eyes who haunts one's dreams?

It is, as they say in business, a serious disconnect. So try to connect it. Try to say, Oh, that is the blouse of my beloved, that is the monocle of mon oncle.

Because, of course, the alternative project, the behavioral makeover, the husbandly assertion of pedagogical superiority, the buying of books on getting organized, has about as much chance of ending well as, say, bringing home a hooker and telling the wife she's a housekeeper you've hired to help things run more smoothly. Although I will say that having enough containers for everything does make a difference; architecture can save you, if you can see your way clear to get the right stuff.

It's enough to drive you nuts, I know. But it's a true test of your love, isn't it? It may be particularly touchy for your girlfriend because it hasn't been that long since women were regarded as chambermaids from birth. Men, as well, may carry some residual sense of gender privilege as regards the expected condition of the house. I don't know. But I know what you're talking about and I think you just have to approach it intelligently, and with a sense of humor.


Cary Tennis

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