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Do not bless this mess

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  November 9, 2009 09:48 AM

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Hi all. Thank you so much for the response to the John Krasinski contest on Friday. The letters were fantastic. My mom had a tough time picking three winners. She kept saying to me, “Can’t we get a few more tickets?” Sadly, we only had three pairs. The winners were: a man whose wife is very into John Krasinski, a woman who sent my mom a list of hideous men from her past, and someone who had author David Foster Wallace as a professor. I hope they had a good time.

Today’s letter is about dirty things.


Q: Hey Meredith! I've been reading your column for a while. Thought I would write in to see if you could give me some good advice as well!

To give you some background information, my boyfriend and I have been in love since I was 15 and he was 14. I am 24 now and he is 23. He grew up in New Jersey and we had an open kind of relationship. That was the best we could do being so far apart (I was living in Massachusetts).

When he decided to go to college, he moved here and got his own apartment (paid for by his family who has money). His apartment was about an hour from where I lived so I would frequently be there and stay over some nights. Once I graduated college we decided to exclusively date. That was a little over two years ago now. We ended up moving to the town I grew up in and he decided to go back to school. He already had two culinary degrees.

During his time at culinary school, he would take jobs part time to cook because he loves to. He did not have to pay bills because his family was supporting him so he could go to school and concentrate on that. Since we moved in together, he has not been able to find work and actually, he isn't even looking. This isn't the problem here. I don’t mind him being unemployed while he’s going to school as long as we're getting the bills paid, which we are. I digress.

Now here's the problem. He is a complete SLOB! And this is coming from a girl who is a bit messy herself -- but compared to my boyfriend, I am a clean freak! He leaves his clothes on the floor (as do I, but in our bedroom) in our bathroom, wherever he takes them off. My bathroom fills up with clothes by the end of the week there is no room. When he cooks (and you sure bet he does with those two culinary degrees and no job) he leaves his mess EVERYWHERE. If onions fall on the floor as he's slicing them, they stay there until I find them and end up cleaning them up. Empty boxes from food lay around the kitchen, pieces of food everywhere. Our stove USED to be white and now it’s black and cruddy from all the grease. Also, he won't change the trash bag when it gets full. He just stacks the garbage until it can't hold anymore.

In the living room, he will move around furniture or his guitars and amps. His video games and controllers are spread around everywhere. We eat dinner on the couch in the living room because we have used up the space on the table in the kitchen with other stuff. He will bring in condiment after condiment and leave them on the coffee table. I ask him to put them away and he insists he will just not right at that moment. If he spills something, sometimes he doesn’t clean it up until days later or until I clean it up. If he knocks something over or drops something - he doesn't pick it up. Sometimes, he just throws things on the floor or table. I really don't even think he notices that he does this! I really don't think he realizes just how messy he is. Yes, I've tried telling him but to no avail.

The point is, is that I ask him to clean up after himself all the time and it doesn't get done. I work all day (wake up at 5:30am and I’m not home until 6pm) and when I get home I do not want to be picking up after him. He has school during the days but has plenty of time to pick up around the house or take the trash out. Not much to ask, I don't think. I know it sounds like a petty problem but day after day of living in mess and watching him not help out really gets to me. I usually spend my weekends cleaning. I won't even allow friends over or our parents in the apartment because it is such a disgrace. Once I finally get the place clean, a couple days later he has messed it up again.

Wow, I digress again. My question is, How do I get him to stop being so darn messy -- and if he's going to be messy how do I get him to at least help out with the cleaning.

I know people will question our love for each other and all that stuff but that is not a problem. I know he loves me with all his heart and so do I. I'm going crazy with this MESS and sometimes I do begin to question whether he loves me. If he loves me, shouldn't he care that I get stressed out and want to have a clean house? Shouldn't he want to help me? I'm not a demanding girlfriend. I let him do what he wants. Maybe that’s the problem.

Anyway, please offer some advice on how to keep my boyfriend and apartment in ORDER!

– In Love with a Slob, Framingham

A: ILWAS, this is actually a big problem. It’s about respect. It’s about your ability to cohabitate with the man you love.

I have to wonder whether he’d do this to a roommate – whether he’s taking liberties because he’s living with a significant other as opposed to a friend.

My advice is to sit down with him and tell him that you want to hire a cheap cleaning service, even if it’s just for a once-a-month visit. I’m all for admitting when something isn’t going to get done. If he can’t commit to scrubbing the floor and the stove -- and you don’t want to have to keep doing it on your own -- hire someone. I know you’re both young and probably a little broke, but your sanity is worth that much. Split the cost. If someone comes in and scrubs like crazy once a month, it should be easier to pick up the little stuff. Tell your boyfriend the service will keep you in a better mood.

You must explain that in addition to the cleaning service, you need his help. This is your one demand, and deep down, he knows it’s legit. Who leaves onions on the floor? He needs to do the basics. He needs to keep the place livable.

This is the kind of problem that can explode later. If you grow increasingly resentful, you're going to start getting angry about other, unrelated things. Cleaning – like finances – is serious in the context of a partnership. Don’t laugh it off.

You brought up his background a few times in your letter. He’s used to getting help, used to getting things paid for. Now is the time to let him know that you’re not his caretaker and you’re not his parent. You have a problem and you’re not going to fix it (or pay to fix it) alone.

If he can’t agree to help, start doing what you’d do to a roommate who was this disrespectful. You've known him for a long time, but the living situation is relatively new. Now is the time to make your expectations clear.

Everyone? Is there a way she can get through to him? Am I wrong about the cleaning service? Can she clean up this mess? Share thoughts here.

– Meredith



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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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