Dear Prudence

My Girlfriend Doesn’t Believe Men Can or Should Do Chores

She thinks we should leave it to women to “do it right.”

Man washing dishes
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Dear Prudence,

My girlfriend, “Jane,” and I moved in together during the pandemic, since her roommate was an essential worker and I lived alone. We figured it wouldn’t last that long (yeah, yeah), and it would be better than being all by ourselves. We’ve fought a bit, but mostly in a way that confirmed we were good for each other, and overall things have been great. Except for this: Jane doesn’t believe that men can or should do any domestic chores. She thinks we should leave it to women to “do it right.” I drew up a chore schedule so we’d both know what needs doing, and she does my share while I’m working. Anything I do manage to finish, she redoes with a sigh. I realize “not having to do chores” isn’t much to complain about. But even though part of me is glad I don’t have to scrub the toilet, I still feel like it’s unfair. Plus, what kind of life can I really build with someone who thinks I’m genetically incapable of wiping a plate?

I’ve spent a whole pandemic trying to convince her I’m capable of basic housekeeping, but it hasn’t worked. I don’t see how I can continue to date Jane, even though this is our only real problem. It sounds stupid, but I would just feel like such a weird throwback. Plus my family would hardly respect this “lifestyle,” and that matters to me. Am I missing something? I didn’t live in a pit before Jane moved in with me. I didn’t have a house cleaner, either; I paid a neighbor’s kid $20 to water the plants and open the windows when I traveled for work. Everything else I took care of myself.

—No Cleaning, Please, I’m a Man

I don’t think what you’re concerned about is just not having to do chores. Your girlfriend doesn’t listen to you, overrides your attempts to divide and share tasks, and makes a production out of redoing your work with a Jim Halpert–style sigh directed at an invisible documentary crew. That sounds baffling, condescending, and frustrating, and I don’t wonder if it gives you pause. The fact that this is your “only” problem right now doesn’t mean it’s trivial or unimportant, and if you’ve spent six months trying to get her to listen to you to no avail, I think you’re running out of options. Even if she thought your cleanliness standards weren’t up to snuff, that’s grounds for a conversation, not, “Dish-washing isn’t something you learn—you’re either born with the gift, or you’ve got to get out of the kitchen.”

At this point, the only option you haven’t tried yet is to tell Jane just how close you are to ending things over this. You can tell her you love her but that her insistence on shutting you out of household management, that you’re incapable of having a discussion about which order floors should be dry-mopped and wet-mopped, has given you serious concerns about your future together. Either she’ll realize you’re serious and reconsider her stance, or she’ll double down and you’ll save yourself years of frustration. Imagine trying to build a life with someone whose approach to conflict is “You’re a fool and I don’t have to listen to you.” Even if she only uses that approach some of the time, it will quickly prove wearing and intimacy-destroying most of the time.

Dear Prudence,

I’m unexpectedly pregnant. I’m almost 40, and in my 20s I was told it would be practically impossible to conceive “naturally.” I met my husband, Charlie, 10 years ago. He was a single father to Lily, whom I’ve since adopted. I was worried he wouldn’t want a future with me if I told him I was infertile, but he was adamant about not wanting more kids. Lily’s mother abandoned them shortly after Lily’s birth, and raising her alone was incredibly difficult for him. This baby feels like a miracle to me. I want to keep it so badly. But I’m almost certain Charlie will ask me to have an abortion. And if it came down to it, I’d choose him and Lily, but it would break my heart. I choke on my words when I try to tell Charlie I’m pregnant, because I know one of the most difficult discussions of my life will follow. Where do I begin?

—Unexpected Conundrum

I can understand why you’re in no rush to start a conversation you have reason to fear will be painful, even agonizing. But you don’t have to start it perfectly, or even very well. You can start by crying, by blurting it out, by telling your husband you don’t know what to do next, by telling him you’re afraid of how he’ll respond. You do not have to task yourself with sharing this news composedly or with great poise. Just make sure that Lily is out of the house, or at the very least out of earshot, beforehand. If you need additional support before, after, or both, I hope you’ll consider sharing this with a trusted friend. Part of you may be tempted to spare yourself the grief of what you believe his response will be, to act as if you’d already heard him say “I want you to get an abortion,” and try to keep your pain to yourself. But whatever you and your husband decide to do next, whether you find yourself in accord or painfully divided in spirit, I want you to at least be able to discuss your feelings with him, instead of suffering in silence.

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Dear Prudence,

My roommate in my new apartment says she has pet allergies and that I can’t get a cat. I do not know her personally, as she is a subletter brought in by my former roommate. Previously I had received permission from my landlord to have a cat, and my former roommate had agreed to it. I went through the adoption process and was preparing to bring my cat home, but when I told my new roommate, she said no. I offered to keep the cat in my room and buy Claritin monthly. I am conflicted, because I want to respect her health, but I am also struggling to be told what to do in my own room. Should I give up and face deep disappointment, or put up a boundary and prioritize myself? I feel territorial because I own the living room furniture, and allergies were never mentioned in her sublet agreement.

—I Get by With a Little Cat Friend

I can understand your frustration, given how long you’ve been looking forward to bringing a cat home, but your roommate can’t help her pet allergy, and you can’t keep dander and other allergens confined to a single part of the house, even if your cat never ventures from your bedroom. (And what kind of life would that be for a cat?) The resulting haziness, itchiness, red eyes, and congestion and pain often can be unbearable. Over-the-counter treatments might make the difference between “completely unlivable” and “I can sort of make it through the day” for some people, but it’s a pretty serious quality-of-life issue and not something you should treat casually.

I imagine your new roommate never mentioned her allergies when she moved in because you didn’t have any pets at the time, so she didn’t think it would come up. The fact that you don’t know her personally, or that your previous roommate was fine with the idea, or that you own the living room furniture simply doesn’t enter into it. You know this woman is allergic to cats, and you shouldn’t bring a cat home while you two are living together. That probably means you won’t want to renew with her at the end of her subletting term, so be upfront about your plans to get a cat in the near future, so she can make her own arrangements to find a new place to live (or you can start looking for a different apartment). You can get your cat without making this woman’s life suddenly and unnecessarily harder. Be patient a little longer, and you’ll all get what you want.

Help! I’ve Had a Secret Lover for 15 Years.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by A.E. Osworth on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

Subscribe to the Dear Prudence Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Dear Prudence,

I recently became the supervisor of an employee who loves self-deprecating humor. This, combined with high anxiety, makes it difficult for me to know if she’s having a panic attack every time I assign her a task. I’ve tried to explain that it’s difficult for me to trust her with this attitude she has for herself. She continues to panic that she’s going to get fired every time she makes a mistake or thanks me for putting up with her all the time. It’s emotionally exhausting for me to feel like I have to pause my day to make sure she’s OK. I’ve tried giving her specific positive feedback, an employee appreciation prize, and publicly praising her in meetings. How can I be a supportive boss without suggesting she go to therapy or find a job that doesn’t cause her so much distress? She’s been with our company for over a year and her attitude hasn’t changed.

—Endlessly Epinephrinated Employee

You don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t!) suggest that she see a therapist or look for work elsewhere, especially since you’ve only recently started supervising her, but that doesn’t mean you have to start making up fake prizes to keep her from panicking that she’s going to get fired every week, either. Your problem right now is that you know way too much and are too personally invested in your employee’s internal emotional state. Since your ultimate goal is to pull way back, anything that invites greater emotional intimacy or prolonged back-and-forth is counterproductive. That doesn’t mean you should start treating her like a robot or snap at her when she displays vulnerability. If she starts to spiral when you’re in a meeting together or having an otherwise neutral work conversation, be polite but firm and ask her to stop: “We’ve talked about this before. If you need a minute to compose yourself, please take it, but I’m not going to have another conversation about something we’ve already discussed.” It might feel tempting to throw another brief hit of affirmation while you’re at it, like “Don’t worry,” or “You’re doing great,” but I think that just adds fuel to the fire (and it’s not entirely true). But don’t overexplain yourself either or say that she’s making it difficult to trust her—what you need is for her to find a way to regulate her own fears and feelings, not work through them again with you in a different framework. She just needs to stop.

If you don’t see any progress in a few more weeks, by all means ask your own supervisor or mentor for advice and consider putting her on an improvement plan, offering her an official warning, or whatever the next escalation might be. But I hope she can shed this nervous tic with your calm guidance.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“You will not do her any favors in her next job if you try to accommodate her this much.”

Danny Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence, 

I adore my best friend “Jordan.” We’ve been friends for over six years, used to live together, and have a very healthy relationship. But one thing drives me nuts about them: They litter. They throw cigarette packages on the ground and walk away and toss receipts onto the sidewalk once we leave a store. Recently they threw half a sandwich (still in a plastic bag!) out of a car window when we were in the parking lot. I got out and put it in a trash can in a huff. Jordan’s normally a progressive person. We’ve talked about this multiple times, from many angles—from environmental concerns, to Native American land stewardship, to the law, to simply looking like a good person in front of your friends. (I’m not very proud of that last one.) Jordan just argues that it doesn’t matter because the world is going to shit anyways and shrugs it off. What do I do? I love this person but this habit violates some really fundamental beliefs that I have about consumerism, the Earth, land, and respect.

—Litterbug

If you love Jordan, and you want to prioritize the 95 percent of your relationship where they’re not tossing garbage on the ground, I think there’s a viable way forward here: “We might never agree on whether the world going to shit justifies throwing garbage on the ground, but you know at this point that it really bothers me. So I’d like to ask you, as a personal favor, if you think you can see your way toward not littering when we’re hanging out together.” If they claim that even that small concession is too much for them, and you want to draw the line somewhere, I think that’s fair. If they do it again and you’re too frustrated to either clean up after them or speak up, that would make sense. Maybe if they realize what they stand to lose if they insist on their right to throw Subway sandwiches out of a Honda before all else, they’ll reconsider. But I think you’ve expended enough time and energy on this subject that now seems like a good opportunity to conserve your own resources.

Dear Prudence,

I recently moved into a tiny studio apartment with my partner. (We live in an expensive city and will only be here for a few months, as we are planning to move elsewhere after the pandemic abates.) I’ve always had a weak stomach, and I get easily grossed out by the noises and smells of even typical restroom use. My partner has a chronic illness that means they have to use the restroom frequently and for long periods of time. We are both working from home together, all day, every day. I can’t work elsewhere due to the pandemic, and I’ve tried to work outside, but logistical issues—like weather and spotty Wi-Fi—make this an untenable long-term solution. Do you have any recommendations for what else we can do to address this issue? I love my partner a lot, but hearing them use the restroom all day is making me feel less attracted to them, which I hate.

—Uncomfortably Eavesdropping

There are absolutely options available to you, all of which are relatively low-impact and inexpensive, although they do require you and your partner to at least occasionally acknowledge a “gross” reality in a frank, unflinching, nonjudgmental fashion. You can get a small white noise machine (or even download a white noise app on your smartphone) and set it by the bathroom door and ask your partner to turn it on before going in, especially if your bathroom doesn’t have a fan. (If your bathroom does have a fan, they should also flip that on!)

There are tons of odor-neutralizing products specifically designed for the bathroom, from the most “natural” of essential oil sprays to charcoal bags to candles to UV air sanitizers. Get as many as you like and see which ones work best for you. And don’t get precious or avoidant out of fear that drawing any attention to the bathroom will automatically upset your partner. You live in a very small apartment, they have to use the toilet often, and you’d like to minimize how much you have to hear and smell as a result. It’s that simple! You’re not asking them to stop using the bathroom or to wrap your home in a series of elaborate, reality-denying euphemisms or berating them for a medical condition they can’t help. You can address this! Good luck!

Classic Prudie

My mother has always had an unreasonable dislike for excess weight. She hardly eats and harangues her daughters and daughters-in-law each time they have a baby to lose the weight immediately. Three years ago, my eldest son brought home his bride-to-be, a sweet, lovely, voluptuous girl. My wife and I loved her instantly, but we worried about my mother’s reaction. Sure enough, she made some comments, to which my son calmly replied that if she was not polite to his beloved, she would not be invited to the wedding. My mother was furious, and my son ended up having a destination wedding to avoid the drama. Though we see my son and DIL regularly, he has not spoken to his grandmother since. They spend holidays with my DIL’s family. My mother will not promise to hold her tongue about my DIL’s “horrid fat.” In desperation, I at one point offered to pay for a personal trainer or even gastric bypass, but that only led to a huge argument with my son. Now, my mother has cancer and just months to live. I would love to have one final family gathering with every member in attendance, but my son will not attend without his wife, and he will not bring her if it means she will be subjected to unkind comments. I can’t persuade my mother to change her ways, but is there something I could say to my son to convince him to suck it up this once for the sake of family harmony and good memories?