Wait, so you want me to love on you AND clean all the things?

Whenever I think about love, I think about partnership and I envision what it would be like to be married.

Recently, I had a great conversation with a working writer and activist who is also a married mother. “I know how to be single and happy,” she said. “What I’m working on is learning how to be happy with another person.”

She still very much identifies with the struggles of singles who are considered infantile until they are partnered. And I had a lot of compassion for her and some of my other friends who are searching for models of partnered love that do not oppress women who also enjoy little luxuries like freedom and leisure. So, of course, reading things like this are pretty sobering:

Women are a growing part of the American workforce. In the last 25 years, the number of working women has grown by 44.2 percent, while 59.4 percent of working-age women are currently in the labor force. Sixty percent of women are the primary or co-bread winner for their household.

But despite those historic numbers, most women are still left doing the majority of the house work.

A new report out from the Bureau of Labor Statistics details how both men and women spend their days, and it comes as no surprise that women do a larger portion of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and other chores:

On an average day, 19 percent of men did housework–such as cleaning or doing laundry–compared with 48 percent of women. Forty percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 66 percent of women.

The numbers can be in part explained by the women who don’t work or who have part-time jobs. But the disproportionate burden of housework on women shows that a “second shift” still exists for those who work. While women have earned more rights in the office place (though they still aren’t fairly paid for their work), there is still the burden for them to be the primary housekeepers and caretakers.

There are a dozen reasons why this is no bueno. The glorious benefit to being single, of course, is that I can leave the dishes dirty until it requires a power cleaner to get the hard spaghetti sauce off the plate from my intentional neglect. Underthings can hang from the ceiling fans if I want. No one will see it for days but me.

But the other thing that makes this a rough situation is that I want to take care of my partner, but I also don’t like to do free work. I don’t want the house to smell like the inside of a hamper, but that’s what Glade plug-ins are for. Relationships, I hear, are work. So is marriage. Maybe I’m too tired from the heat to see how this ends up being a good deal for women. Am I missing something?

9 thoughts on “Wait, so you want me to love on you AND clean all the things?

  1. I negotiate this by stating point-blank, as often as needed, that I am NOT going to do all of the work. Fortunately, he is more of a neat-freak than I, so we don’t end up in a stand-off, where out of frustration with the uncleanliness I cave and clean, which is what I think happens to a lot of women.

    In my case, he needs to have the place cleaned more regularly than I need, to feel comfortable. I tell him I’ll pitch in at my pace. Originally he tried to convince me that as a woman I ought to care more about these things and implied that it was wrong that he cared more than I do about keeping neat. I just keep repeating the truth and pointing out the ill-logic of his views, while keeping my word to help out so the cleaning doesn’t fall ALL on him. I’m not sure I’ve changed his beliefs, but I have changed his expectations. At least I’m happier! But the training is exhausting.

  2. Ah J.V. I love how you make me think. For me, conflict arises from confusion about how we value one another.

    Historically men needed to hunt, protect, and defend the house while women gathered, nurtured, and kept the fire going. Today, we live in a world where most of us don’t have to worry about stalking our meat, attacking neighbors, or stoking a fire yet these gender roles persist. Many men feel pressure to financially provide, be emotionally stoic, and defend themselves/the family. It makes sense, then, that they expect the opposite from their women (to care for the home, raise the children, and be the primary emotional/psychological providers).

    As much as I’d like to throw those notions out the window, it’s pretty tricky to navigate the new paradigm. As far as household chores, Dear Boyfriend (DB) and I are both capable and good at getting stuff done, and bring a unique skillset for fixing the house and raising kids. However, if I have children and am out of the workforce for a significant period of time, I will be completely financially dependent on him, and I can understand how he would want to be excused from laundry duty while he’s working overtime so I can be a stay-at-home-mom. He’d be valuing me for my reproductive capacity, while I’d be appreciating his sense of duty to provide and strength in the workforce, much like Neanderthals.

    Still, who’s making money while who’s folding socks seems superficial. The balance of any two people (no matter the gender) living together has to be honest, open, caring, respectful, and flexible. In terms of the heterosexual couple, I think what matters most is crafting a new sort of value system for how to appreciate the other.

    But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t real physical, emotional, and spiritual differences between men and women, in addition to the gender-free uniqueness of our inner souls. My boyfriend’s life path involves creating art that makes people feel connected. He’s way better at math than I am, at making rational decisions, and he’s a lot stronger. He’s patient and kind with old people and children. And most of all, he has a pretty consistent personality with straightforward needs that makes him more dependable than I am.

    My life is about empowering people and community engagement. I am better at negotiating social situations, meeting strangers, and navigating new places. I’m great at multi-tasking, at making sure things are fair and just, and keeping a moral compass. I love very strongly, I feel lots of empathy and sympathy, and I can make a disaster seem like a blessing in disguise through laughter and love. In return, I need a lot of alone time for introspection, and have mood swings I can’t always control.

    Any two people, regardless of gender, can find their unique version of harmony. If we can live for our “higher” ideals including our life purpose and core strengths, we won’t get so lost in the minutia of who’s doing which everyday chores.

    Thanks so much for this post, and for bringing important issues to light, once again.

    • Very eloquent, as usual, Katina. I definitely agree that two people, even if they are very independent, can work together to craft a relationship dynamic that works for them and doesn’t necessarily conform to traditional mores or even deviate too much from them. I think we are all always working these things out, especially those of us who are thoughtful about how we want to give ourselves to the world and to each other.

  3. the title intrigued me… and the writing brought me in … very well written about a very common problem that all women face :)

  4. Pingback: Successful Careers for Women: Do We Sabotage Ourselves? « Women Well Loved

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