Keeping clean or fighting dirty?

Just as you can say things such as "pansy-assed," Dan, and it’s funny, your boyfriend can shop and cook for you and it’s charming. But cooking and cleaning for a boyfriend when you’re a woman is not so picturesque. It’s just old and tired. I understand where your reply to Just That Into Him is coming from. I am bisexual and I like to shop and cook for my girlfriend—in fact, there are a lot of things I would do for a woman that I wouldn’t do for a man (e.g., lingerie and pumps). It’s not that I don’t like men as much, it’s just that being a stereotypical woman in a heterosexual relationship is expected of me so it’s not a turnon, it’s just business as usual. Cleaning up after men might be practical, but it won’t enhance the average het couple’s sexual relationship.

I suspect your reply to JTIH was just a coy, humorous way of making her realize that if she gets serious about mess boy she will be picking up after him, just like his mommy. —Messy In Canada

I wanted to make a brief comment on your response to JTIH. While I am all for people taking up whatever relationship roles make their twosomes, threesomes and foursomes work regardless of gender, completely discounting the discrepancies between which work is deemed masculine and which is shoveled onto women seems a little unfair. There’s a reason feminists feel their leg hairs pricking up when people suggest a woman follow around after her beau and pick up everything he drops carelessly behind him: They’ve been doing it for centuries and it’s a hard role/expectation to escape from. Straight men just expecting their girlfriends to do their laundry if they buy them things creates persistent inequity. And how many times a week do things around the house really need to be moved and killed?

That being said, on an individual level we can only go with the dynamics that work for us. But a quick sentence peppered here or there sympathizing with girls who keep finding the same expectant straight guys could do wonders for fag-feminist diplomatic relations, instead of just dismissing the idea of gendered work altogether. —A Not So Angry Feminist

First off, as a card-carrying feminist and all-purpose angry lady, let me say that I’m COMPLETELY okay with what you had to say to Just That Into Him. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy division of labor as long as there’s some attempt to be equitable, and as long as the efforts of both sides are truly appreciated.

That said, if you and your significant other live together, with other roommates, and your habit is to let your SO pick up the slack for you on a regular basis, YOUR ROOMMATES WILL NOTICE. If you ice the suck cake by constantly complaining about how filthy everything is — while, again, never lifting a finger yourself — YOUR ROOMMATES WILL NOTICE. They might eat your suck cake uncomplaining (as might your SO), but you haven’t fooled them. It sucks. —Cranky

I’m a 23-year-old female living with my boyfriend of about four-and-a-half years, and I am incurably messy. Just am, always have been. My boyfriend, however, is a total neat freak. He had a problem with my living style at first, but we’ve worked it out nicely: I make sure to keep his areas free of my clutter, and every few weeks or so I’ll get out of his hair while he goes on a cleaning binge and picks up all of my crap. In return, I do everything I can to make his life easier—cook, run errands, etc.—and I try not to nag him about habits of his that I might not like (playing video games, for example). It works out pretty well. No reason why people should get up in arms just because the sexes happen to be switched around. It’s a personality thing, not a gender thing. —Blessed With A Cleaning Boy

Your advice to Just That Into Him didn’t strike me as wrong because of its misogynistic overtones. It struck me as wrong because it totally ignores the resentment that builds up when one person picks up after another person. Did you not have parents or something? Did you never see the look of frustration in your mother’s eyes when your dad left some socks out on the dining-room floor? After a certain point, the woman gets fed up of feeling her cleaning goes unappreciated and starts to nag. The guy responds to this with resentment and you’ve got a really, truly massive problem on your hands. While intensive cleaning (i.e., scrubbing the bathroom, cleaning the stove, etc.) may be the work of only one partner, picking up after yourself is something that should be expected of every adult. —Sensitive Engaged Man Envisions Nagging

I am a strong heterosexual woman. And I feel that no woman should ever clean up after a man. Period. Full stop. The end. That’s all folks!

We are all individuals, responsible for ourselves and our messes. It’s sweet that your boyfriend plays the little lady around the house, Mr. Savage, but trotting him out as an example to all women everywhere isn’t going to win you any arguments or friends. I don’t care what sort of sexist role-playing scenarios a couple of homos get up to behind their closed doors. When and if I ever marry or move in with a man, I will make it clear from the start: I take care of myself, he takes care of himself. —Never Doing His Laundry

I am not going to accuse you of being misogynist, but I have to point out that once the honeymoon is over, what seem like tiny issues can practically destroy a marriage. It may not be the clothes on the floor for every and all couples, but I know from experience that if neither partner wants to pick them up, then the one who ends up doing it can end up bitter and resentful. JTIH needs to assess her true feelings about mess and household duties and be up front about what condition things must be in generally for her to be happy, and not just who is going to do what. Laundry is a lot less of a pain if the dirty clothes are found in the hamper, for example, and not strewn throughout the house. Furthermore, for all she knows, this guy "picked up" his place before she arrived and he’s generally much messier. This discussion need not happen right away, but it should happen when things begin to get serious, for example if they are moving in together. There should be ground rules early on, before an unbalanced housework load becomes an ingrained habit.

And incidentally, for what it’s worth, statistics show that women still do more than their share of unpaid work in heterosexual couples, even when both are employed. The ratio becomes more equal with higher educational status. So this may not be fundamentally a gender issue, but the culture certainly presents us with an apparent uphill battle for women. —Catherine C

You knew you had it coming, right, Dan?

While your boyfriend picking up after you works for you and him, it’s unlikely JTIH is gung-ho to act as mommy to a middle-aged man. After all, you don’t like cleaning, do you? Presumably she doesn’t either. If JTIH doesn’t want to clean up after the dude, nor come out and say he’s a slob, how about giving him a gift certificate for a couple of sessions with a maid? He’ll get the point that he’s living in a pig pen, and that JTIH’s obviously not going to fix it for him. —A Not-Very-Angry Woman

I’m a slob, my boyfriend is a slob. We’re both in grad school, both work, very busy. So our apartment was a disaster. It was embarrassing to have anyone over. So I went on Craigslist and found us a maid. How can we afford it? Glad you asked: Our maid pays us. He’s this nice, middle-aged, submissive man, not much to look at, but he comes to our house once a week and scrubs the bathrooms, does the dishes and laundry, and anything else that needs doing. And he pays us $100 each week for the privilege. Every once in a while I give him a spanking. Hate housework? Get a slave! —Slob Problem Solved

I’m a feminist woman and have been living with my boyfriend for two years. When he first moved in I couldn’t believe how messy he was, and in spite of myself I cleaned up after him. I picked up his clothes, emptied ashtrays, scrubbed the bathroom. But after a few months of him watching me do this I think he got the hang of it. I still do all of the down-and-dirty cleaning but he now knows that laundry belongs in the hamper, and dishes in the dishwasher. He cooks me dinner, I scrub the pans. It’s an equal relationship, as you say, we’re just both doing what we’re good at. —Katrina Send letters to

About The Author

Dan Savage

Dan Savage is a sex-advice columnist, podcaster, and author, and has appeared on numerous television shows. His sex advice column “Savage Love” first appeared in The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative weekly, in 1991. The column is now syndicated across the United States and Canada. He has published six books...
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