The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal - On The Vital, Romance-Preserving Skill Of Saying “No”
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On The Vital, Romance-Preserving Skill Of Saying “No”|
So when I discussed how I was unwilling to help Gini clean the house to her spartan standards, I got a fair amount of silence. The few comments I did get went mostly along the lines of, “…yeah, I think that’s you.”
I think many people’s reactions could be summed up by this comment:
“This whole ‘I don’t support Gini in this because I don’t need to because it’s her hobby that I have no interest in’ strikes me as contradicting a post of yours I really liked from a few years back, where you talked about how both you and Gini sort of adjusted your housekeeping standards around each other and found a sweet spot, where you’d pick up clutter and become more aware of your environment because you knew it’d please her, and vice versa. THAT, to me, is an expression of how awesome your relationship is.”
Here’s the thing, though: This is that exact same essay, told from a slightly different point of view.
In relationships, we’re told all about how giving is love, doing stuff for your partner is love, sacrifice is love. And that’s what our culture interprets as “romantic” – every rom-com ends with one partner giving up some aspect of his/her life to be a better match with his or her mate. So when I say, “I’m willing to do this for Gini,” that’s pre-programmed to give you the warm fuzzies.
But while boundary-setting may not be romantic, it’s every bit as valid to a functioning relationship…. And you write that off at your peril. We’ve all seen the horrid relationships where a guy finds the love of his life, gives up all his hobbies and outside interests and friends for her, and then she leaves because he’s not the man she used to love.
Sacrifice and giving is but one aspect of a healthy relationship. The other is knowing when to say “Fuck that noise.”
Is it romantic for Gini to have said, “You know what, Ferrett? I can’t reassure you of my love as often as you’d like. Either learn to keep it to yourself, or get the fuck out.” Of course it’s not. Viewed through our cultural lens, it’s rather cold and clinical. It’s the speech of the first, bad girlfriend in the movie who throws the noble hero out on his ass before he finds the true love of his life.
But the alternative was her putting up with a behavior that irritated her to the point where she’d either have to leave, or would have to compromise her own self-esteem to the point where she’d be constantly miserable.
The reason we’re together is because Gini was willing to tell me to GTFO. And God bless her.
This so-called “sweet spot” of house cleaning is actually a constant, low-grade irritation to the both of us. In an ideal world, Gini would prefer that she lived in a cleaner house; I would prefer to spend less time cleaning. We tolerate it because we love each other, and that love helps make it go down… but it is a compromise.
And the compromise can only be negotiated because we have upper limits. Gini is not willing to tolerate me reaching a certain level of sloppiness, because it would stress her out; I am unwilling to do exotic cleaning beyond a certain level, because it would stress me out.
The middle is formed from these extremes.
Is it romantic for me to say, “You know what, Gini? This level of cleanliness is more than I’m willing to pitch in on; it’d be hours of effort that I’d hate, and the end result would have me living in a house that would be as uncluttered and personality-free as a hotel room, a sterile place that would make me feel uncomfortable in my own house. So you can do it if you want, but I won’t pitch in.” Of course it’s not.
But it’s vital, because otherwise I’d be so in love that I’d do anything for my sweetheart, and I’d clean and work and quietly resent the change. Eventually, my whole personality would warp to become nothing more than an extension of Gini’s desires, because without that ability to say, “This will make me unhappy, and I know it” then I’d be shifted into co-dependency one gentle “Aw, why not?” at a time.
Saying “No” to your loved one is a wondrous power, one that should never be taken for granted.
Yeah, it might be nice if I just schmoopily did everything Gini wanted and never questioned…. But that’s not the real world. As it is, I’ll clean a lot more than I want to. Do not think that having boundaries means that I am an unsubtle oaf; I put in a lot of effort to make Gini happy, having adopted hundreds of unnatural habits to make her environment more livable for her. I work hard at pleasing her.
But the fact that I love her does not remove my ability to have limits. And exercising those limits is not wrong.
Boundary-patrolling is wondrously hot, and vital. If all you get out of our relationship is, “We do wonderful things for each other,” then you’re failing at the lessons we’re trying to teach. Part of the reason our relationship is so wonderful is that both of us know when to say, “Okay, no, that’s more than I’m willing to give, and so I’m not doing that. Let’s discuss alternatives.”
Romance springs from this loving climate. This boundary between “This is what I am willing to give, and this is what I am not.” That’s where the real power grows.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/197321.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
Tags: gini, relationships
That strikes me as perfectly reasonable. Even when in a relationship that is to help the other be the best they can, you still have to set boundaries to ensure their best doesn't diminish you. Plain and simple.
I didn't comment on the other post because I mostly agreed with it; I think both boundary-setting and being willing to sacrifice for your partner are important. My husband and I go through the same considerations, though around different issues.
As a married creature of 16 years, I am totally with you on this. I wish I had learned to do it sooner.
Wow, how'd I miss that? Wonderful.
Wow, I am just realizing how true this is.
My parents, after more than 25 years of marriage, had a "coffee divorce." My mom likes her coffee one way, my dad likes his another, and finally they agreed to make their coffee separately instead of one of them having to have the other's kind of coffee. And I thought, "Why the hell didn't you do this as soon as you met?" Until I realized I was doing the same thing with my boyfriend, in other respects -- assuming that just because we're in love we'd never have a difference of opinion.
I figured that one out after the 5th or 6th disagreement about ice cream flavors I had with a previous boyfriend, and we started getting 2 flavors each time we shopped for ice cream.
It's easier to do that, though, than what Ferrett is talking about. Having 2 ice cream flavors negatively impacts neither person; having to clean around your spouse or having to clean to your spouse's standards has potential negative impact, and so is harder to negotiate.
preston tells me all the time that i clean too much. that i don't have to keep the house as clean as i do. he just can't grasp that if i don't, it sets off both my ADHD and the panic disorder. i can't handle clutter. messes give me anxiety. i keep the house as clean as i do so i don't have to worry about it on top of everything else.
|Date:||March 9th, 2012 07:04 pm (UTC)|| |
This. So much.
fantastic when others understand! :)
Your parent's relationships affect you in subtle ways that you can't ever imagine. It's strange, how it becomes a part of your subconscious.
Someone amazing said to me once that if we protect our boundaries we allow those we love to get closer to us. I didn't comment, but I liked the previous article about your unwilingness to clean to the nth degree. My foundation partner does the same exact thing, about different things. "Please stop talking about xxx. I love you, but I'm fucking done hearing about it." Etc. Boundaries rawk. Go Ferrett.
Do not think that having boundaries means that I am an unsubtle oaf
Well clarified. Also, if you don't have boundaries (or don't tell your partner about them), you don't give your partner any opportunity to make "romantic" changes for you. And "one-sided relationship" is not a romantic turn of phrase, is it?
This all makes sense. I must confess that I found something off-putting on a gut-level about your previous post though. I think it's because the subject of the boundaries and compromises was housework, and I have a lot of hot buttons around men not doing a fair share of housework. I'm not saying that you are not doing a fair share, mind. Or that the woman or the less-messy person gets to unilaterally set the standards for what's sufficiently clean, thus obligating the other to an arbitrary 50%. So, not personal to you guys but I've seen a lot of unhealthy and unfair relationship patterns around this issue, and on a societal level I think it's a problematic pattern that has to do with how men are raised. Not just to do less cleaning but to see less need for it and not value a cleaner home. (Again... want to emphasize here that I'm not talking about you per se, just the larger issues that made your other post no resonate as much as it might've.)
So, not personal to you guys but I've seen a lot of unhealthy and unfair relationship patterns around this issue, and on a societal level I think it's a problematic pattern that has to do with how men are raised. Not just to do less cleaning but to see less need for it and not value a cleaner home.
Don't you mean a problematic pattern that has to do with how women are raised; not just to do more cleaning but to see more need for it and become disgruntled about a less than sparkling clean home?
Seriously though, I do agree with you to an extent, a lot of guys are happy to live in disgusting filth and that's a problem, but I think it's fair to consider requiring more than a healthy cleanliness to be a problem too. The distinction I'm drawing here is "stack of papers on the floor" is not unhealthy, "stack of moldy cups and pizza boxes on the couch" is unhealthy.
But the way you expressed it came across pretty one-sided, that "more cleanliness" is objectively better. Admittedly it's hard to argue for "less cleanliness" having advantages, but it does because you're not really just fighting between those two states - more cleanliness comes at a cost of time or money making things more clean. There must be a threshold of "clean enough that it's not worth expending more effort" somewhere, and I don't think it's inherently wrong to set that threshold, well, pretty much anywhere below where mold starts growing.
But again, back with what you were getting at, I do agree that there is frequently a problem where a guy's threshold is so much lower that the woman ends up doing all the cleaning, because the filth level never gets bad enough that he would do anything. I'm not sure there is any really good, fair resolution when that situation occurs - I think ideally the guy would do the same amount of cleaning he would do to maintain his own level even though it's already above that level (and would make some effort to not make things worse), but in practice that just doesn't work because the tasks are so different - eg. dusting skirting-boards is completely outside the scope of low-threshold cleaning and a low-threshold person literally does not see a surface in need of cleaning there.
I don't think more cleanliness is necessarily better, but aside from some outliers I don't think most people of either gender are going for the magazine cover look or the total slob lifestyle. There are time/energy/money tradeoffs of various sorts anywhere on the spectrum. Of course I believe my own placement on the spectrum is close to ideal - don't we all? :)
I do believe that on average, more girls than boys leave home knowing how to do their own laundry, cook basic meals, and clean bathrooms and kitchens. Just as unfortunately more boys than girls leave home knowing how to do yard work and basic home/car repair stuff. Until those things come closer to equal in our culture, it's hard for me to accept that women being raised with lower standards for cleanliness is a good solution. I'd rather know that women are raised to understand that cleaning a shared space is no more their job than anyone else's. Although certainly everyone who contributes should get an equal voice in defining "clean enough."
But these arguments with stereotypical theoretical average people of their gender don't really mean much in real life because everyone is all over the map. And this is absolutely not solely a gender thing. I've seen plenty of het couples where the woman is messier than the guy, too. And I've lived in multi-adult households with mixed genders with people falling all over the spectrum. I've been the messier person and the neater person in both relationships and group living situations so I know what both roles can feel like.
I think you are exactly right that most people have messiness triggers set at various points, often separate ones for different things like clutter, dirt, food, etc. When the person with the lower threshhold never gets triggered it can be hard to get them to contribute to cleaning. As you say, I don't think there's a super good solution.
The only solution I've found is that if the variance is too great, be prepared to hire a lot of paid cleaning help or just don't live together. For smaller variances, it's a matter of compromises, good boundaries as Ferret writes about, and judicious choices/experimentation in finding ways that people can contribute that they hopefully don't hate too much :)
Agree with everything you wrote. :)
The solution in my household is neither of us are very cleaning-inclined, and our thresholds are similar (clutter is fine, anything that decays is not), and we have conveniently different preferences in things to deal with - she hates emptying the dishwasher, so I do that, I hate vacuuming so she does that. I fix plumbing, she drives, I chop tree branches and big weeds, she mows grass, etc. Then there's the weird ones like I frequently get rid of vegetable pieces she leaves on the chopping board and crumbs and stuff, and she much more rarely does the much bigger "argh everything should all be cleaned at once" kitchen-nuke. And we can't let anything get even slightly gross because this is Florida, there are plenty of fruit flies, ants, mice and cockroaches just waiting to pounce on the slightest sign of cleaning weakness.
The main conclusion we draw from all this is that basic maintenance sucks and why don't we have better robots by now?
As a reflection of women's problems, I can definitely see that.
it kind of goes both ways, though. both of you have said "ok, i'm willing to compromise to X amount, but no more". there's still compromise, there's still willingness to work with each other.
but there's that line in the sand that you dont cross. and its HEALTHY. al's office? i dont mess with it. its HIS mess to deal with, there are doors i can close. (there were Loud Words Spoken about me wanting his mess contained. he was not happy. i was not happy. but we got it settled, which was the good ending.)
healthy boundaries! each of you getting at least SOME of what you want! whats not to build a happy relationship on, you know? two thumbs up for not only realizing it, but working with it and blogging about it.
|Date:||March 9th, 2012 07:15 pm (UTC)|| |
I love this. It's taken me a long time to get to the point where I understand the concept of boundary setting, and viewing it as a healthy thing rather than the death knell of a relationship.
I think that's true of so many of this.
There were 2 problems with your original post:
1) It did not note that you put forth any effort to be more cleanly than you otherwise would be. So it seemed like you weren't meeting Gini even partway on this, deciding it was something that was simply "not your problem."
2) You made it sound like it was something YOU do for the relationship, but really it was mostly Gini. It's Gini who is wise enough, in this instance, to say "I want the house to be this way, but I realize that this is not a universal requirement, but simply my own desire, and that you don't feel the same way--and I am willing not to demand it of you." In too many relationships, when one partner feels that things around the household "should" be done in any specific way, they refuse to acknowledge that their preferences are only that--a set of subjective preferences--and insist that their partner MUST go along with it, or else.
|Date:||March 10th, 2012 03:34 am (UTC)|| |
Well, he did say "certainly, Gini has raised my cleaning standards over the years to be more compatible with hers." which I think reads as "I'm meeting Gini partway on this", tho it does depend on how you're reading it.
1) As noted, it did; it's just something people tend to gloss over because of the way things get read.
2) No, it's really me, and it's reasonably insulting to claim that. The fact is that there are certain things I will not put up with even from Gini, and it's my boundaries that establish that.
Now, it's her agreement that limits are good that allows this relationship to continue work, but to claim that that it's "mostly" Gini is a way of sabotaging the power that comes from saying "no," and makes it sound like if I never said "no" then things would be hunky-dory. Which is patently wrong.
See, I stayed silent because 1) I'm out of the habit of commenting and 2) I completely agreed with you.
There's a difference between leaving the cleaning to the other partner because you can't be arsed and leaving the cleaning after a certain point to the other partner because it has already reached a reasonable standard of clean. I expect to be helped when I'm vacuuming, tidying, dusting, wiping down counters, etc. If I suddenly gained an interest in scrubbing the tiles grout, I would feel that it'd be okay if my husband gave me a side-eye and left me to it. Similarly, I don't ask him to help me to organize.
Recognizing your level of interest in any given activity and being able to effectively and honestly communicate about it is a necessity.
It's easier to understand that with hobbies, because hobbies are not responsibilities. However, I think a better comparison would be that I ask my husband to shop for computer gadgets, while I shop for kitchen gadgets. These are our purviews, and we don't have to be engaged at the same level for our relationship to be functional.
I guess my problem with your equating this to Gini telling you she can't handle your constant need for reassurance is an overarching moral framework of core values which tells me "cleanliness is good" and "needy dependency is bad" so I am intrinsically inclined to favour Gini's side.
Though I guess it is a matter of degree (how clean is clean and how much reassurance is too much).
You say "cleanliness," I say "obsessive-compulsive behavior"; you say "needy dependency," I say "wants some interaction from his partner." Tomato.
Of course, Ferrett has freely admitted he tends toward needy dependency, so the analogy fails somewhat in this case.