IT HAPPENED TO ME: A Housekeeper Saved My Marriage ... Almost
I want to be one of those people who likes to clean.
I want to be like other writers, many of whom neurotically clean their homes as a form of procrastination.
"How can I even think of working with this crap everywhere?!" they say, along with the notion that "I'll be better able to focus if my space is neat and clean."
At least they, after two hours with broom and mop, can feel good: they accomplished something. Then there's me. While in procrastination mode, I am far more likely to sail through a Simpsons marathon or a nice long nap. Doh!
I want to be like the others among us, who claim to enjoy cleaning for its "therapeutic" effects. My sister is one such specimen. She espouses a philosophy akin to this, "After a rough day dealing with other peoples incompetencies, and crap that is way out of my control, I can go home and spend time on one thing I can control that makes me feel productive, organized, and even fresh: I clean."
Pshh. My sister. She Windexes, Tilexes, and Swiffers her way to happiness like some kind of modern day Snow White. "Whistle while you work." Oh, how I wish I were so cheerfully inclined to perform such acts of immaculate cleanliness. Instead, I approach cleaning as a drudgery, with dread, and a gnawing resentfulness leftover from my childhood days.
"Why should I have to make the bed? I'm just going to have to sleep in it again tonight!" I would complain as a kid, and this seemed like a perfect line of reasoning to me. When my mom started deducting money from my allowance for every day I didn't make the bed, I actually learned to make do with less money. That's how much I hated it.
That may have been my attitude as kid, but wether I cleaned or not wasn't an issue for me until I got married. And boom! That, I quickly learned, is where the marital and sexual politics of cleaning house come into play.
When I first got married, I surprised myself by taking on the traditional role of laundry-doer, toilet scrubber, and head vacuumer. Not that my mate didn't help out before we go married. He did -- very much so. But once we said, "I do" it felt strangely thrilling to willingly embrace such a role.
Perhaps it was the novelty of being newlywed, but all of a sudden I did not mind cleaning. In a way I wanted to impress myself and my husband with this new identity as wife and cohabitant, and in a way it felt like saying to myself, "Sarah, you're married now. That means you're a grown-up. That means it's time to make the bed."
And I did.
Then, one day I came home to see the bed had been remade. By my husband.
"Oh. Did you remake the bed?" I asked him.
"It looked like five-year-old did it. Didn't you ever learn to make a bed?"
I was embarassed. We tried to make it a fun couples thing -- Look, my husband is teaching me how to do hospital corners! Ha ha! Isn't this fun? This is the stuff rom com movie montages are made of!
But, the montage ended when I came home again to find he had remade the bed the next day, too. I was furious. What was the point of me making the bed, when he was just going to remake it? Couldn't he just let me get better at it rather than showing me up every time? And why did it have to be perfect, anyway?
"You're so good at making the bed, you do it," I told him.
After that, I came home to find him folding a basket of towels...towels I had already folded.
What was the point of me spending the time to fold the clothes if he was going to just dump them out and refold them?
I decided he could damn well do the laundry, too.
The final straw was coming home to find that, after I had put all the dishes in the dishwasher, he had pulled them all out and put them in again, in a "more efficient fashion." (Granted, once I saw it, I thought his way was more efficient, but that wasn't the point!) He just couldn't understand that just because I wasn't hard-wired to execute mundane daily tasks with the kind of precision he clearly was, that didn't mean I should've been classified as lazy or lacking. I felt unappreciated, angry, and inept.
Some women withhold sex when they are angry. I withheld cleaning.
He disliked and/or disapproved of the way I cleaned? He could jolly well do the whole house. Of course, after a while he got angry and resentful that he was carrying the whole load.
"I tried," I reminded him, "but you always found fault with everything I did." We negotiated.
"Alright," I said. "You do the kitchen and bedroom, I'll do the bathroom and living room. We each do our own laundry."
That was fine for a while. Then, I was in a car accident. I had to have spine surgery, so I couldn't do my part of the housework. Heck, I couldn't wash my own hair or lift a pitcher of water during my recovery.
So, my husband, busy with graduate school, did something wonderful and smart: he hired a housekeeper named Ana. The surgery was the perfect excuse to do what might have otherwise felt like spoiling ourselves.
I got better. Ana stayed.
The tensions before of who did what, when, and why, all went out the window when Ana appeared before us, a virtual glowing white light surrounding her utility bucket full of sponges, rags, and every cleaning product known to man. When I offered her our cleaning products, she gave me a dry look and waved my things away. She had her own method. And it was magic.
Whenever Ana cleaned, our place smelled fresh and clean, like pine scented peace. The space was tidy. Clothes folded impeccably. Tub scrubbed like new. The woman literally has a gift, I thought: there is no way in hell I could make my place as clean as she could, and in no time flat.
My husband and I didn't fight over dishes, laundry, or the state of the bed linens. He was happy because the place looked fantastic, I was happy that it looked perfect and I not only didn't have to do it, nor did I have to get an earful every time my cleaning efforts/ability was deemed it was less than stellar.
We had relief from the housekeeping drama and that created some breathing room. In a way, we got back of a little of that magic you lose when you go from dating to cohabitating, dealing those mundane must-dos that get in the way of sweeping romance.
There was a time I would have credited hiring a housekeeper with saving our marriage.And, no doubt, it did improve the quality of our lives together. But, as it happens in the course of human relationships, when there are underlying issues between people, they rear their ugly heads in other ways. Unfortunately, we didn't quite make it to our 13th anniversary.
Now, Ana comes to my place on Mondays, and goes to his place on Thursdays.
We may be able to live without each other, but there's no way either one of us could live without her!