A Slob and A Neat-Freak Fall In Love…
Almost every day, it occurs to me that I should probably deal with my laundry. Not because I don’t love my obvious system of “clean pile,” “dirty pile,” and “not so dirty that others would notice” pile. It’s worked well for me for more than 40 years now. But because I am married to a neat freak. And in my heart, I want to give him everything in the world that brings him joy, including a tidy house. But it simply isn’t going to happen. I am a slob, it is one of my defining characteristics. And I know it.
I remember, clearly, the first time I went to his place. He opened the door, and I was immediately struck with the lightning charge of panic. Not because it was clear he was a serial killer, or one of those adults obsessed with Disney, but because his place looked like Dwell Magazine. And I could tell that it wasn’t just tidied up to impress the girl, but everything truly had a place. Color-coded, sized perfectly, symmetrical.
This was the first night that the naked things were going to happen. I couldn’t wait. We’d been texting each other all day and all I had been able to think about was the slippery explorations to come. But as soon as he opened the door, all that vanished.
“I’m just gonna enjoy the hell out of tonight, because this is probably the end of us, this will never work.”
Years later, he steps over my laundry all the time, and still tells me several times a day how lucky he feels to have found me. We run a business and a home together. There has, in my mind, never been a more perfect coupling.
All of which is why I was not one of the endless people sharing that blog post called “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By The Sink.” First of all, no, she didn’t. Not unless she’s unimaginably shallow, which I suppose is possible.
But I didn’t share it, because the underlying sentiment of everyone who I saw share it was along the lines of “sometimes the little thing are actually big things.” And I just don’t believe that when it comes to domestic peccadilloes. In fact, I would argue that obsessing over the little things is usually proof that someone is trying very hard to avoid the big things.
If one can be put over the edge by dishes or laundry, there are probably other, much more serious, problems.
In marriages, I believe that is often because rather than truly marrying the person for who they are, we are casting them in the part of “spouse” that we’ve had in our mind since long before we met them. It’s a script we’ve written in our head since childhood. “My future life will look like…” And it includes ideas about what our home will look like, how our future spouse will treat us, what kinds of kids we’ll have, vacations, pets…. And as such, our process of choosing spouses is less an exploration and merging of individual beings, and more a long casting call, until we find someone who can play the part.
Of course, they’ll need some work, but that’s okay. Our love can, obviously, change them.
That isn’t to say that there’s an absence of love. Indeed, we are so focused on our ideas of the power of romantic love that as soon as we start to feel intimacy, we go about seeing if we can fit this new person into this role we’ve been waiting to fill. We develop projections and expectations and…..
And we stop seeing them as who they really are. Rather, we see them as what they could be, with that glossy spit-shine of my all powerful love.
Disatisfaction will inevitably strike. Maybe even dissolution.
When that night went well (oh my god, so so so so well,) I decided to hold on and see if this neat thing was as pervasive as I thought. Yup, it’s who he is. The man has never met anything that couldn’t be neatly labeled and put in some sort of logical ascending or descending order. (He owns more than one label maker. Really.)
He is also really slow to make any decision. ANY decision. He’s late to almost everything except work (which is my greatest pet peeve, in the world!) He is stubborn like nothing you’ve ever encountered, even if you’ve raised toddlers. His favorite music is my soundtrack to Hell – EDM and Reggae. His favorite way to blow off steam is to go dancing, something that will never, ever , happen with me.
And I am so madly in love with him, and with being with him, that it just doesn’t matter.
Conversely, I am an extraordinary slob. I can pile things with the mastery of any architect. I am a quick bottom-liner in any situation, and obsessively punctual. New information about anything can get a quick and graceful pivot out of me, and the only music I ever need is Zeppelin. I hate crowds and noise and the day has not yet come when I’m going dancing. Anywhere. For any reason.
We fit together perfectly. Completely complimentary.
I do feel bad about my laundry piles when I see him step over them. I do. But I have spent decades trying to change this thing about me. I feel safe saying, now, that I can’t. I’ll see him step over them, and say to him, “I have so many other amazing qualities.” And without missing a beat, he’ll kiss me and say “so many!”
So that other post, in which he says things like “caring about her = keeping your laundry off the floors,” misses the point of relationships, entirely. It could just as easily say, “caring about him = not caring about his laundry on the floor.”
But more likely, it starts earlier than that. It looks like “caring about this relationship = being really honest about who we are and what we expect, BEFORE we get married.”
Except, that’s not how the fairy tale goes. There is no scene in any Disney movie in which the young lovers (well, probably chaste lovers, which is also a bad idea that I’ll save for another post) say “I am so in love with you, but I’m afraid these life patterns make us a bad match.”
Being happily married takes a hell of a lot more than being in love. It takes being truly compatible. And being blatantly honest about what you see as your intractable “flaws,” while figuring out if you can live with those as well.
I would also add that expectations are often the death of joy, in any context. They pull you out of any moment so that you can compare that moment with your checklist. Like you are your own drill sargent checking things off to see if you can be happy now. It’s a great way to miss life, and love. And joy. If you are doing that, it’s time to have a long hard talk with yourself about what you really want, because I’d be willing to guess that something doesn’t jibe.
After that night, I knew, for sure, that I could live in the real-life fantasy that was this delicious man. But before we got married, we had long talks about all the other stuff that both of us bring to the table.
Do we each see our contribution to the relationship as equal and important? Do we sit in the same place on the political spectrum. Do we share MOST of the same ideas about how we show love, and spend free time. Do we trust each other enough to let the other go do whatever it is they want to do on their own – so that I never have to be in a crowded room listening to EDM?
I felt so sorry for that man in the post about dishes and laundry. No, she didn’t leave you because of dishes. My guess is that she left you because she cast you in a role that you couldn’t perform. You weren’t the right actor. And you shouldn’t have had to be. Someone out there would be okay with that.
The little things are, in fact, always little. Though we do sometimes pile them up to make a very big wall in order to avoid looking at the big things. The big things are always big. And almost always the problem.
As for the glass. It’s always full. With whatever we choose to put in it. A glass full of something you love will still be a welcome sight on a messy counter.
And the moment you realize that, it’s worth stopping everything, kissing, and saying “cheers!”