Not another relationship questions!
July 8, 2012 6:33 AM   Subscribe

Really, I'm NOT a princess. Successfully navigating the living style/lifestyle differences in the beginning of a relationships. How?

i'm in that limerance phase of a relationship, first two months where everything is really rosy, i love so many things about this man, we communicate well, we laugh often, sex keeps getting better, we connect on a bunch of levels (not all though), we enjoy the same things, share common friends, and pretty much want the same thing for the future (family, house, etc.). bottom line is he is a really kind, gentle person - but we haven't had any conflicts or tough conversations but i am kind of feeling like we may have to have a few and would like them to go well.

the rub is that we don't share all the same values. he lives a more spartan lifestyle, i live comfortably - and what that means is i have nice towels in my bathroom and keep my place pretty clean. he lives as if he is right out of college - like he's in a frat dorm. he's middle 40s, i'm middle 30s. i get grossed out every time i go to his place, its so slobby and messy and i really think i am not sure that I could live with this man so why am i falling in love with him? this morning it was weighing on my mind, and i kind of broached the topic - he's in the middle of painting his kitchen and bathroom (has been in the middle of this project for like a year, but has been procrastinating finishing it up so there's paint cans and junk all over the place). My question is, women, how do you broach these lifestyle differences with someone you are dating? clearly women have been civilizing men for ages ;) (ok, kind of joking here) but how do you do it so that you aren't offending them? His procrastinating of finishing the project bothers me, and rather than cleaning his place, he prefers to do things like hang at the pool - how do I tactfully deal with the procrastination/add issues I'm noticing? is this incompatibility or something we could work through?

i mentioned his towels this morning and he didn't understand at all where i was coming from and he got defensive - but his towels are really ratty, old, sandpaperish and i mentioned it would really make me more comfortable at his place if he got some new ones. i am sounding princess like here - how does one ask for what one needs without getting the "you're a princess response?" we both make the same amount of money, i spend mine on things that make me comfortable he doesn't spend his money, really on anything at all. is this a major red flag and does it have to be addressed before we get any deeper in this relationship? Men, would love to hear some suggestions to you on how you may have received feedback from your wife/girlfriend that was helpful rather than putting you on the defense. i.e. what did she say that made you understand her point of view on this score?

i'll just reiterate that i do really like this guy - because i see on so many ranting mefi questions folks are often asking, do you even like this person, the answer is yes and i'd love some suggestions on how to overcome these differences.
posted by BlueMartini7 to Human Relations (29 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
He's mid 40's? He's not going to change. You might win some hard fought concessions here and there, but he has some sort of comfort with how he lives or he would have changed already. If you ended up living together, you could likely get some cooperation with changes you would make around the house, but he is who he is. His priorities about house keeping and spending money are different from yours. You both would need to give some on these issues to make this long term. I'm sure you don't want to end up being the partner that nags the other about house keeping and such all the time...don't.
posted by txmon at 6:43 AM on July 8, 2012 [17 favorites]

The first thing I would do is stop thinking about it as a gendered thing, because it's not - not even a little. Both women and men can be clean or messy.

Second, I would try to distinguish between asking for things that require zero effort on his part / are not asking him to change, and things that are asking him to change. For example, you can and absolutely should ask him if you can bring over some soft towels (I wouldn't ask him to get new ones - you're the one who doesn't like them - you should get the new ones).

But, then there are the things that require changing him - asking/telling him to finish a project, and I wouldn't recommend doing that at all.

In the middle are things like asking if you two could spend an two hours one afternoon cleaning up his place a bit. I wouldn't tell him to clean up, but I think it's fine to ask if you can do it together.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:45 AM on July 8, 2012 [18 favorites]

I suggest framing your requests in terms of what you want for yourself (softer towels) rather than as a judgment of him and his choices.

There is nothing wrong with wanting new fluffy soft towels. Personally I find them less absorbent than older, line-dried, rougher towels. Both choices are valid.

The same with how people choose to spend or not spend their money, and how they decorate (or don't decorate) their homes. There was an AskMe just the other day from a woman who couldn't wrap her head around the way her SO spent money, the opposite perspective of yours.

People are princessy not because they want nice things, but because they get judgmental about people who don't also want nice things, or give them nice things, or anticipate their needs, or accommodate their preferences, or expect them to lower their standards, etc.

His procrastination on home fix-it-up projects at his home really aren't your business though. Down the road, if you start talking about cohabitation, then yes you both need to be on the same page about projects. But hanging at the pool instead of cleaning sounds to me like a nice way to spend a weekend day. Does he actually have ADD or are you just casually diagnosing him by calling it a "procrastination/add issue"?
posted by headnsouth at 6:46 AM on July 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

Buy him some new towels. Offer to cook him dinner in his kitchen as soon as kitchen in finished.

I've honestly only ever dated dudes that were a little bad at keeping house. It turns into a compromise, eventually. Going to his house was out until I didn't step on garbage in his living room. The trick is to remember that it is his place, he doesn't have to clean it because you don't like it. He doesn't have to buy you towels. It would be nice, sure. But it's his space. You are telling him he is doing it wrong, while a guest in his space. Don't do that.
posted by Blisterlips at 6:51 AM on July 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

This isn't a princess vs simple-living problem or a man vs woman problem. This is a messy and dirty and lazy vs nice and clean problem. I'm a woman, and some say my life and style is Spartan or minimalist. I don't have lots of unnecessary belongings. I like to be able to fit everything I own into my car. I also have no money. But I am in no way messy, dirty, or the owner of nasty towels. And unfinished home projects annoy the heck out of me.

If all the stereotypes you're using here are ones he also subscribes to, then you might have a way to talk to him right there - something about how he's been a frat-boy bachelor so far, but now that he's with you, he needs to reform his wild and crazy ways. If he doesn't subscribe to them, start by changing the way you think about them. I don't think they're going to help here.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 6:51 AM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Eh, I would not make this a Big Topic, don't start in with the We Have To Talk. This early on, just don't stay at his place if it grosses you out, for starters. And if you do, bring a bag with your creature comforts. Continue to get to know him, and who knows, you may figure out the right way to navigate this topic later, when you're doing it with him-who-you-love, not generic Messy Bachelor.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:04 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty into feminism and would be one of those mothers who bought dolls for my sons and trucks for my daughters, if I were to have children. But in my experience, which is only one person's life, way more of my guy friends than girl friends had messy homes once they moved out of their parents' houses. So as much as it sucks to say "girls do this and guys do this" I do understand where you're coming from on that.

When I met my boyfriend he lived in a house with two other dudes. Boyfriend's room was usually clean, but the rest of the house wasn't. My apartment was ALWAYS clean, bed made, nice towels, etc. I think after a few years of dating, Boyfriend realized, "Hey when I'm at my own house, it's kind of gross, but when I go to my girlfriend's house it's all nice and comfy." Now we live together and both of us work to keep the house clean, the towels fluffy, etc.

I guess that will only work for you if your dude actually thinks fluffy towels are nicer and is just using the old ones because towel-shopping isn't a thing that occurs to people like him. If he actually PREFERS crappy towels and a messy house then I don't think there's anything you can do about it. For now if it's really bothering you, I'd just have all your dates at your own house!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 7:04 AM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

The stuff that stands out at this phase of dating is going to be the stuff that makes you absolutely crazy later on, once all the initial excitement wears off. It's up to you if these differences are the sort you can live with- because a man in his 40's is pretty unlikely to change much (same for women).
posted by bquarters at 7:18 AM on July 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Is he going to judge you as silly for prioritizing material things?
posted by amtho at 7:34 AM on July 8, 2012

It's not clear from your question if his place is actually dirty or just messy. Some people prefer mess/cluttered to tidy. Maybe he likes having a project to tinker with, and maybe he likes thin towels. If you do talk to him, you need to be really clear in your head and with him that you're not right and he's not wrong (unless the place is actually filthy). Also, if you want to ask for what you need without getting a princess response, asking him to buy new towels for you was probably not the best way to go about it. If fluffy towels are really important to you, ask if you can bring some over for yourself.

As for red flags, that depends on how much you're both willing to compromise on these issues down the road. At this point, it seems like you're assuming he should be the one to change, but that's not obviously the case from the question. For example, I really don't get why the unfinished painting project bothers you. (Since it may be relevant to you, I am a woman.)
posted by Mavri at 7:38 AM on July 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

He's never going to change. One either starts projects and finishes them or they have paint cans in their kitchen for a year.
posted by fixedgear at 7:38 AM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: One thing I would think about is why his house is in such a state. Is he depressed and feeling overwhelmed and would appreciate some help with it? If you suggested a work party where you help him finish the painting, would he see that as helpful or pushy? Some people have messy houses because they don't care and don't even see the mess, but some have messy houses because they don't know how to keep them clean, aren't organized, or don't know how to start to change things. My mother used to say about my father that it would never occur to him to clean things up, but he always liked having things clean; my partner is like that, also. When I met him, his house was a disaster; it bothered me, so I cleaned up some things (I think, in general, if it matters more to you, you should be the one cleaning it up). That got him moving and we worked together on fixing things up a bit. Now that we live together, we still have a situation where he doesn't see messes or think to clean them up, so I ask him specifically to do things (I wish I didn't have to do that, but that's what it takes, so I do) or I do them. And he's very appreciative and thanks me all the time for that.

If what you're seeing is a reflection of his real personality--he likes his house that way--you need to give up any hope right now of changing him. It's not going to work and it's not fair to ask of him. The two of you could probably come to a compromise if you moved in together, though, like he cooks and you clean, or he pays more in rent and you clean, or something like that. One thing that helped us was that when we chose our house, I made sure that it had a separate office for him (and one for my craft mess) so that he had his own space that he didn't have to worry about keeping clean and I didn't have to look at. This is not an insurmountable problem, but I would be careful about turning it into a "you need to be just like me because you're broken the way you are" sort of battle.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 8:11 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just asked Mr. Murrey for advice on this one that I could share with you since he seemed exactly like your SO before we lived together...all the way down to the paint cans --and in Mr. Murrey's case, scaffolding in the living room for 6 months while he tried to "find the time" to get the painting job done. I was also like you in having nicer things in my home and never started a project I was not prepared to finish ASAP since clutter drives me nuts. We were approximate the same ages too! As a data point, we have lived happily in the same house for years now and he has never annoyed me once with clutter--if anything, he is now less "cluttery" than me! Here is his advice, which he said is, of course, dependent on the personalities of the people. But here is his point of view:

"Do not tell him what to do in his house or not do. Do not tell him to buy towels. If you want nice towels there, you are free to bring them over yourself. You have every right to tell him that you are not comfortable staying at his house and to stay away from it, but do not tell him how to keep his house. If you want to clean his kitchen or bathroom, go ahead. Bottom line: let him live the way he wants and you have the option of spending time there or not. You have the benefit of 2 households, so stay at yours if his is horrible to you."

I also asked Mr. Murrey how he went from being totally cluttered and messy to where he is now, totally clean, meticulous about keeping clutter to a minimum, etc. In all honesty, I was terrified about sharing a home together because he was so damned comfortable in the chaos of his house. But we were having a child together and we didn't have a choice. I completely believe him now since I have lived happily with him without one complaint on his housekeeping, but had he said this before we moved in together, I doubt I would have believed it. Here is what he said:

"Although I was comfortable living in the clutter, I always wanted the projects completed eventually and thought that once they were done, I would start living differently. When we moved in together into a newly remodeled home, I had the chance for a fresh start and chance to live the way I always wanted to live. I also have lived with people in the past and realize that compromise on these matters is critical. She needs to ask whether her boyfriend has ever lived with anyone and get his thoughts on whether he sees the need for compromise."

My story with Mr. Murrey had a very happy ending, despite my deep fear that he was going to bring the chaos into my living space. Mr. Murrey did not. But I now I have a 3 year old Mini Murrey who feels the need to pick up his dad's slack in the chaos department!! OOF.
posted by murrey at 8:12 AM on July 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

"Messy and dirty" is not the same as "comfortable with old towels." The second one is an issue of priorities and is easily solved by you just bringing over some new towels. The first one is more of a problem, and if he's defensive about it it's not a great sign.

I'd suggest addressing it, but casually. Like on a Saturday morning while you're planning the day, suggest that before you go out you guys take half an hour to tidy up because it'll be so nice to come home to a clean house. See how that goes. If he's resistant, well, that tells you something unfortunate but important to know.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:17 AM on July 8, 2012

Best answer: I'm giving in a vote for not buying him new towels. I've been in relationships before where someone wasn't pulling their weight on the hygiene and cleanliness department, and being told "well, if you don't want to sleep in sheets that are full of dirt, gravel and crumbs, YOU wash them" (said in a situation where we were not living together) or "if you don't like my brown ratty stained underwear that is little more then an elastic waistband with a strip of fabric, YOU buy me new ones" is basically him telling you to be his mother.

Do you want to be his mother? Some women are fine or even into that, others aren't. Don't clean his house for him if you don't want to be cleaning it for the rest of your relationship.

You might want to have a frank discussion about your differing standards of cleanliness. Ask him if he'd ever be comfortable with a higher standard, whether that means more effort on his part or his hiring a cleaning staff. If his attitude is "you want it cleaner, you deal with it", then decide if you're okay with that.

It's a little early in the relationship to be handing down ultimatums, but this could be an opportunity to discover how well you two can communicate over differences.
posted by Dynex at 8:30 AM on July 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't think any of your concerns mark you as a "princess", but keeping things in perspective, you've been dating for only two months. I do think it is a bit early in the relationship to start with cross-examinations of housekeeping habits unless you have immediate plans of moving in together. In particular, I'm having a hard time seeing how something like the delayed painting project should really be a concern of yours at this point.

If you guys decide at some point to cohabitate, a heart-to-heart regarding lifestyle habits, cleanliness and household project completion expectations is obviously fair game, but putting myself in your boyfriend's shoes, I would find it a bit jarring this early in a relationship.
posted by The Gooch at 8:34 AM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

My partner (male) civilized me (female). I didn't entirely like the process and there is still some friction surrounding it, and I was only living on my own for a few years. He's been living on his own for decades.

If you really like him, seriously consider this relationship moving forward as one where you won't ever share the same living space. Perhaps separate bedrooms, perhaps separate apartments. If that won't work for you, then I would ask why you're still dating him--falling in love is, at this point in the relationship, something you can still avoid.

If he calls you a "princess" for wanting nice towels in anything but a joking manner I find that uncool. Of course, you asking him to change his towels at 2 months in is a bit of a ridiculous request (sorry). Bring your own towels!
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:24 AM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's only been a few months. Just hang out at your place more and cross that bridge when you come to it.
posted by Sara C. at 9:28 AM on July 8, 2012

Best answer: I think there are many different ways to resolve this - there are several good ideas above. I don't think there's any one "right" way to negotiate the clean/dirty living space thing -- buy him some new towels, help him finish projects, decide that you can live with a bit more disorder, etc.. Nthing that it's hard (especially once one is past 30 and has had time to settle into some real patterns) and Nthing that it's not necessarily a gender thing.

For my part, it's a little more troubling that he would respond so defensively (did he literally call you a "princess"?) to something as minor as towels. There are lots of measured responses to that request that fall between running right out and getting new towels and insulting your girlfriend.

And I don't quite get why he wouldn't be into getting some new towels. I mean, presumably, you taking showers at his place is a behavior he wants to facilitate and support, no?
posted by pantarei70 at 9:42 AM on July 8, 2012

This is a messy and dirty and lazy vs nice and clean problem.

Thinking about it like this is unlikely to be helpful. It's a messy (or possibly dirty) versus clean problem. You're not nicer because you keep a neater house. He's not lazy because he keeps a messier one. All you know is that keeping house is less of a priority for him.

Thinking about it as a moral or value-as-a-person issue, as you're implying, seems very likely to bleed into that "being his mother instead of his girlfriend/partner" problem. Even if it turns out to be a deal breaker, it's just an incompatibility, not an issue of "I am a good and decent person and he is not."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:47 AM on July 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

This isn't completely responsive to the question as asked, but when I read this, it made me go hmmmmm: we haven't had any conflicts or tough conversations but i am kind of feeling like we may have to have a few and would like them to go well

Of course you will have to. What exactly do you mean by having them "go well"? Here's the thing about conflict -- it is always uncomfortable. Tough conversations are tough. Stay present, communicate clearly, do not say hurtful things just to be hurtful or score points. Things will go as well as they can.

Don't make conflict where there is none; don't try and have a fight to see if you're able to fight well. If you want, you can talk about how you each have handled conflict in the past, and compare what you each think your fighting styles are. My domestic partner in crime and I greatly enjoyed strategizing about how to have good, productive fights early on. Friends thought we were weird; therapists thought we were awesome; I think we really just are addicted to introspection, but it's worked very well so far.

It's new and you love it and you're scared it will go away. It might. It's okay. Relax.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 10:52 AM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think that some defensiveness is pretty normal when someone tells you, effectively, that you're doing it wrong and/or that your way of life isn't good enough for them--even if those things are totally objectively true, or if that's not what you're trying to say. I'm not at all saying that you shouldn't mention it, I'm just pointing out that the initial conversation--and his knee-jerk reaction--almost certainly won't be "Oh, hey, you're totally right, I'll get right on that!"

That said, I'd totally bring over your own towels. If he says anything about it, just say that you really like your towels, or you have sensitive skin and prefer softer towels, or whatever.

Regarding the cleaning, it's probable that he doesn't even see the mess right now. I'm a crappy housekeeper, and I go through lengthy phases where unless someone points out to me "Hey, there are dust bunnies growing fangs under there," I won't notice it. I'm doing other things, and, frankly, spending an afternoon at the pool is a lot more important to me than vacuuming the living room/doing the dishes/scrubbing the bathroom grout. The cleaning isn't just that important, even when I'm aware that I should probably clean things.

IMO, this doesn't have to be a deal-breaker in a relationship...unless you make it one. My partner and I both go through occasional bouts of clean all the things, and the deal is pretty much that the one who cares about it right then does it. Things that essential and can't be skipped--cat litter, dishes, clothes washing--get divided up by who hates them the least and who has more time to do them. Everything else falls to whomever feels that it's a priority. Sometimes he cleans the bathroom, occasionally I get down on all fours and scrub the kitchen floor. And both those things are ok! If we have to do major cleaning for whatever reason--you know, if the Queen's coming over or something--we bitch and whine, but get it done. Choosing not to clean doesn't mean he's incapable of it.
posted by MeghanC at 11:38 AM on July 8, 2012

You're not nicer because you keep a neater house.

Oh for the love of Pete, I meant the house looks nicer. Not that cleaner people are better or kinder. Maybe he feels houses look nicer when messier or dirtier; ok, fine. It's still a question of their differences in cleaning choices, and not of whether she's a "princess." And it should be dealt with as a difference in cleaning choices, and habits, not whether or not she's spoiled or he's not spoiled or whatever character traits are involved.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:23 PM on July 8, 2012

Another slob chiming in. I have considerable shame surrounding my sloppy tendencies, although I'm less hard on myself than I used to be. I prefer clean surroundings, and it's embarrassing how difficult it is for me to achieve that. When people bring it up with me, it's often with the presumption that keeping tidy and organized is objectively easy for everyone. I feel like I'm being treated like an idiot, and sometimes it seems like people are implying that I'm willfully ignorant of lazy. Your SO might be similarly embarrassed about it as well, whether he knows it or not. Keep this in mind when you discuss things with him.
My partner and I made this topic easier to discuss by viewing sloppiness as something people have varying degrees of skill with. Staying out of debt and exercising regularly come very naturally to me, and I had to learn to be less patronizing to people who have more difficulty with those things. Similarly, when people aren't patronizing about my sloppiness, something that doesn't come naturally to me all, I am way less defensive, and more willing to compromise.
posted by yorick at 12:28 PM on July 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

You know, sometimes people literally need to be given the data "What? No. Grown-ups do not live like this." With that information, some folks will say "Oh, okay, fair enough" or they will dig in and whine for their right to live like a college student. This is a fairly critical relationship tell.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:43 PM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

If he longs for tidiness but can't figure out how to achieve it he might be open to suggestions as to how to manage this, you can only make suggestions though, God forbid I ever clean anybody's house but my own; it could make him expect it all the time.

If he likes being a slob and thinks that being a slob is a moral imperative, your only choice is to become a slob too. Just as rock crushes scissors, slob crushes snob. The messier person in any shared space dictates how the space will look.
posted by tel3path at 5:05 PM on July 8, 2012

Yeah, this is sort of normal. Husbunny had piles of NY Posts, no food and only one bowl when he was a bachelor in NY.

I saw that the situation was serious so I took him to Ikea. I kept my mouth shut though about what I thought he should buy.

It's his house and ultimately you don't get a vote until HE wants you to have one. Trust me, the second Husbunny asked me for help, he got it in spades.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:26 PM on July 8, 2012

It's not gendered. I've been the tidy one (male) several times. People differ.

In my experience this is almost impossible to change in a person. It's just something you negotiate your way to a mid point over, and learn to treat as the compromise that it is for both people.
posted by ead at 8:06 PM on July 8, 2012

One word: DUPLEX. Kidding. Not. Seriously, you WILL NOT CHANGE THIS. If it makes you crazy, and you think you might want to share a life with this guy some day, you have to accept the options of:

1) Separate living spaces. Duplex, adjacent condos, house with a Brady-bunch-esque tape line down the middle. You know how some people have separate bank accounts and one house account? Space can be partitioned that way too. Negotiation about public spaces should be honest and specific.
2) You clean up his shit all the time, which neither of you likely wants because you will inevitably become stompy, huffy, and resentful.
3) You stop being bothered by the mess, which is probably just as unlikely as him becoming bothered by it.
4) Maid! (inserting this in the spot usually reserved for the standard askme war cry of "therapy!")

FWIW, Mr. SinAesthetic and I have remodeled many houses while living in them, and only occasionally does the insanity of having project shit all around the house get to which time I explode in a childish tirade, we laugh together at my ridiculous behavior, and then we do a massive cleanup. A couple of practical things that help: have a big armoire/cabinet that all of the project stuff can get loaded into without having to take everything back to the garage/workshop etc. Shoes get kicked off into a nice big basket by the front door.

Bring your own towels.
posted by SinAesthetic at 10:12 AM on July 9, 2012

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