I have always been grateful that my now-boyfriend, then-suitor first saw my living quarters when he was very, very drunk.
Oh, and lest you think I am in the habit of luring drunken college boys back to my creepy-crawly lair -- and it IS creepy-crawly, which is the point of this story -- I will have you know that this situation was a direct result of my Burgeoning Boyfriend’s Bloody Face-dorable courting strategy.
Specifically, this involved showing up at my apartment after dark with some kind of confectionary in hand and calling me, all, “Uh, hey, I was just passing by your building” (which he did not live especially near) “and I happen to have, um, [some chocolate that I found at a party/a brownie my friend’s mom baked/candy that they gave out at the office that I’m allergic to.] So. Can I come in?”
Some might have dubbed this behavior kind of murder-y and written the guy off. But I, for one, am always trying to eat a Reese’s peanut butter cup, and, you know, he had them. So.
As I tried very, very hard to talk to the cute stalker with whom I am now in a serious relationship, I just sat there, panicking. Praying he would not notice my foot as it nudged three bowls of crusty ramen noodles, a small stack of newspapers, and a midsized pile of dirty laundry under my cheapo futon. (And, yeah, I was also eating a Hershey’s bar, which was, in fact, delicious. Thanks, babe!)
Long story short, dude says he doesn’t remember the specifics of this fetid futon situation, and now we’re dating, probably because he got emotionally invested BEFORE taking a good, hard look at my hamper. Basically what I’m getting at is, you should trust all of my relationship advice, because I am an extremely reliable love expert!
So, all’s well that ends well. Except for the fact that I am still disgusting, and my boyfriend is horribly, freakishly, perhaps compulsively neat, and seriously, what are we even doing together?
When I say “neat,” here’s what I mean: “neat” like he’ll rewash dishes if you don’t wash them correctly the first time. “Neat” like he has three types of sponges sitting on a neat little rack in his kitchen sink. (Because you are, perhaps, as befuddled as I was: a scrubber thingie for crusted-on sauces, a dish sponge for just soaping up plates that are essentially already clean, and a counter-sponge. Like, a separate sponge for the counter. And you thought I got uppity about dishes!)
“Neat” like there is a place for everything, no, really, for everything, and a very specific place at that, and Rebecca, would you please stop flipping the floss in the other direction to see whether or not I’ll notice because I do. I notice, and it’s really annoying.
Whereas I, on the other hand, am messy and have always been messy. My room is messy. My purse is messy. My BRAIN is messy. My car, when I drove it regularly, was messy. Once, I had half a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich under the driver’s seat mat for no less than a week. Just... panini-ing there for several days.
I’m not “clean-messy,” as most purport to be when meeting their freshman year college roommates for the first time. You know what I’m talking about. “Oh, I’m totally messy, too, don’t even worry about it. SO messy. But I’m not, like, dirty, you know? Not dirty-messy.”
Nope, I am decidedly dirty-messy, or at least, I am sometimes. It is not at all unusual for me, for example, to forget I’ve left the remnants of some gross hummus concoction on my dresser, recall it, and proceed to ignore it, because, ugh, now this plate will be really really hard to clean. (Avoidance: an excellent tactic for your personal life, professional life, academic pursuits, et cetera. Strongly endorse it. A+!)
Also, because there are only so many quarters in this world and you are very cute if you think I am going to hand wash my clothing, I am kind of grimy about laundry, too. I hate to put something in the hamper that isn’t thaaat dirty, but I don’t want it associating with my super-clean clothes, either. So usually those in-betweener yoga pants (they are too often yoga pants) wind up on a chair, and then I need the chair, so they HIT THE FLO’ and it’s very sexy. No, it isn’t sexy. It’s gross!
Anyway, now that we’ve established that I’m putrid, I will say that my boyfriend and I bicker fairly infrequently about our cleanliness differential, at least, given how drastically different we are. We don’t live together, so we can usually keep our wariness for the other’s lifestyle to the occasional incredulous chuckle. I don’t know how you live this way! we trill, so very Lucy and Ricky.
But every now and then, his lip will curl at the sight of my week-old dresser-based hummus concoctions (“That’s its home now,” I might say, dismissively).
And occasionally, he’ll hover over me, micromanaging my dish washing and pointing out that I’m using the wrong sponge (“Oh my GOD it’s fine and fucking anyway, a little bacteria is good for your immune system. Like yogurt,” I might cut him off, charmingly).
Oh, and if I feel like he’s being particularly judgmental of my lifestyle, I will start in with him. “You realize that between your creepy flirting technique and your THREE kitchen sponges that you seem kind of like a serial killer, right? Like, a lot of people would just assume you are a serial killer. But I don’t. And I love you.”
These moments pass quickly, but they do leave something of a bitter aftertaste. I mean, neatness and messiness are kind of inherent qualities, right? Or at least, behaviors learned at a young age?
I’ll admit that I’m less messy now than I was a year ago (I had this genius realization recently that living in a cesspool is one of the many triggers for my depressive episodes. I can hear my mom sighing from New Jersey), but even when my floor is barren, my shelves are still complete clusterfucks of office supplies and beauty products and candles and candies and blah blah blah.
That’s because I like my coffee table strewn with books and magazines. I like my unmade bed with bunched-up blankets everywhere. I like my stuff and I like seeing my stuff and I like people to know I’m living where I’m living. And I feel like all of this bodes ill for the future of my relationship.
Tidiness is kind of a fundamental issue, and in some ways, I feel like it’s on par with religion or politics. I have so much respect for couples who are able to set drastic intellectual and emotional differences aside, because I don’t think I could even do that, but cleanliness is a beast all its own. I mean, the space in which you live, in which you watch TV and cook and brush your teeth, influences you at all times. And if you’re not happy in that space, how can you possibly be happy with the person you’re sharing it with?
Also, I know that as the messy one, I’m the one who’s expected to conform to his standard of living. In theory, I get that. One need not live amongst empty Chobani cartons and mugs with dried-out teabags, if that is not one’s jam.
But what about the clutter I like? The clutter I think makes things kind of homey? It seems like he should meet me halfway on that one, right? Because sterile shelves make me almost as gloomy as grimy floorboards.
And, OK, yes, I could be an adult about all this and just start picking my shit up, but like, isn’t there a more fun and interesting way we can tackle this? The best thing I’ve come up with so far is French maid role-play, where my boyfriend is the French maid but he just dresses like normal and he just cleans my room and we have a bunch of sex and maybe there’s a feather duster involved somehow.
Anyway, as my graduation draws near and my boyfriend and I start to vaguely (vaguely) discuss the future, this disparity has been more on my mind than ever. NOT THAT I AM SAYING WE ARE MOVING IN TOGETHER, GOD. I’ll be getting the fuck out of Boston, thank YOU! But, you know. If ever we were to, it would actually be an insult to my internal chaos if my EXTERNAL chaos did us in.
So tell me: Do you guys think neat/messy relationships work out, as a rule? Am I the grossest person alive? Also, do you think my boyfriend is a serial killer? Not that I do. I mean.
Rebecca’s airing her dirty laundry on Twitter at @rebsanti.