How can I not be the "default parent" in my relationship?
March 9, 2015 5:28 AM   Subscribe

How can I not be the "default parent" in my relationship?

We are not actually parents, but the concept of default parenthood really resonates with me, because I see it happening in my romantic relationship.

I've been dating my boyfriend now for about 4 months. It's going really well, and he's a great guy. But I find myself being in the position of the default parent, and it's making me resent him.

1) We spend most of our time in my apartment because his room in a shared apartment is not great. It's incredibly messy and cluttered, and I hate spending time there. But...he won't really clean it up, either.

Because we spend most of the time in my apartment, I have to spend a lot of time cleaning for his visits. I also usually end up cooking, but he'll clean up afterwards with the dishes. He has cooked for us in the past, though.

2) He doesn't have a lot of friends in the area, while I do. So I'll often get invitations from my friends to do things together. Since the invitation came to me and therefore I "own" it, I usually end up organizing us to actually get there--what time we'll meet, how we'll get there, etc.

However, this is pretty stressful for me as I end up doing all of the work that is involved. I was pretty frustrated about this the other day, and expressed this. He said that he had assumed that since I was organizing, I'd take care of everything.

The problem is that I usually end up having to do the organizing and decision-making regardless: where we'll go, how we'll get there, where we'll eat, etc.

We did have a talk about this, and he did say that he would make more of an effort and for me to ask more. But as irrational as it is, I don't want to have to ask. I want him to take over some of these default decisions without my having to prompt him.

We've now gotten into this pattern where I end up organizing us because he doesn't really think about it.

Basically, I'm just really tired of doing all of this decision making and organizing for us. I feel like I am our social secretary. I want to be the one who gets to have a rest from this. It's kind of stressful and I often end up taking time out of my day to do all of this when I'm already working a *very* stressful day job. I'd also really like a break from just being the one who makes most of our decisions.

It would be incredibly nice if I could just show up one day at his apartment, eat a nice home-cooked meal.

How can I stop being the default parent of our relationship? We're both in our mid-30s, living in San Francisco.
posted by so much modern time to Human Relations (46 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
But as irrational as it is, I don't want to have to ask. I want him to take over some of these default decisions without my having to prompt him.

If you want to stay with him, work on this. He can't read your mind. He doesn't know what you want him to do. Men* work really well if you go to them and tell them "I need x" or "I need you to do x for me." Then you've laid out the problem and how you want them to solve it.

You might want to read about Ask vs Guess Culture. You want him to Guess, but he functions better under Ask.

And you really need to stop thinking of this as a parent/child relationship. If you must, think of it as a leader and follower relationship.

(I am generalizing here and realize that men are all unique. I mean no offense)
posted by royalsong at 5:39 AM on March 9, 2015 [8 favorites]

A few months of explicitly asking may lead to him better recognizing what you want and taking it over.

I would immediately tell him that you want a break from your place and would like him to invite you over to his clean place for a meal once a week. If he's not willing and able to do that for you, well, that may be a sign you should rethink this relationship.
posted by metasarah at 5:49 AM on March 9, 2015 [19 favorites]

1) We spend most of our time in my apartment because his room in a shared apartment is not great. It's incredibly messy and cluttered, and I hate spending time there. But...he won't really clean it up, either.

Because we spend most of the time in my apartment, I have to spend a lot of time cleaning for his visits.

Why are you cleaning up for his visits? You're not doing that for him (he's obviously fine with clutter), you're doing that for you. The question really is why do you feel like your home needs to be spic and span before your boyfriend sees it?

The organizing events thing does sound annoying. But other than that, it doesn't sound like you're the "parent"; it sounds like you want things a particular way and he doesn't mind either way. What you're really asking is that he be more like you.

We've now gotten into this pattern where I end up organizing us because he doesn't really think about it.

Just stop organizing. See what happens. I bet one of two things will happen: he'll start to organize things, or thing require less organization than you think.
posted by spaltavian at 5:50 AM on March 9, 2015 [27 favorites]

Is this The Guy? I think everything hinges on if this is The Guy you want to spend your life with.

If you want to spend your life with him, you have to relax. Why are you cleaning like crazy before he comes over? Stop, do the bare minimum you would have done for yourself anyway. Why are you organizing stuff with his friends? Forward the email to him, ask him to figure out. Tell him stuff like, hey, Friday night is free, I want you to plan a date night for us. If you want to be with this guy, you have to manage your own resentment; no one can do that for you because your boundaries are involved and even the perfect partner can't read your mind.

If you don't want to be with this guy, dump him and find one that you feel is pulling his own weight. It never fails to amaze me when I hear people talk about their lazy spouse, and then they're surprised that lazy spouse becomes a lazy parent once they have kids. Having kids isn't going to change your relationship! Get it right at the beginning and you'll save yourself a lot of grief going forward.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:51 AM on March 9, 2015 [13 favorites]

In general, it's a bad idea to expect to get what you want without asking for it, especially four months into a relationship. This is true whether you are dealing with romantic partners, bosses, parents, children, or the staff at the DMV.

I suspect part of your frustration is that he gets these things without asking, and so it'd only be fair if you did too. However, you're assuming that he wants those things as much as you; the fact that he isn't seeking them out tells me he doesn't.

I would tell him this. "Boyfriend, I love spending time with you but it's tiring for me to host all the time and make plans for us. I can't do it every time. I'm only going to do it x times per month from now on."

If it turns out that he doesn't invite you over, or you're spending all your time in a messy apartment, or you never go out, then you've learned something about him that should influence how invested you are in this relationship.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:53 AM on March 9, 2015 [10 favorites]

But as irrational as it is, I don't want to have to ask.

You've been together 4 months. That's nothing. You guys barely know each other. You're going to have to ask. Expecting this guy to take equal share of the planning is one thing, but expecting this guy to read your mind, to anticipate your needs and wants, after only 4 months together, without you telling him...that's unfair and unrealistic. Refusing to tell him is going to sabotage your own happiness in order to make some kind of point, and that's super dumb.

You have to tell people what you want in life. Have to have to. If you want to show up at his apartment to a home cooked meal, you say, "I want to spend more time at your place. How about this Saturday you cook dinner?"

For the last few years, my place has always been the default apartment in my relationships. I actually love it. I have a huge place, all of my stuff is here, I have a dog to take care of, I'm more comfortable in my own apartment. But it's never felt like a burden to me, largely because I don't give a single shit about how my lifestyle is perceived by the person I'm dating. I never try to be something or someone I'm not. Want to come over? My apartment is a mess, deal with it. Want to come over? Awesome, what are we eating for dinner? Want to come over? Cool, either you come walk the dog with me or maybe you can wash the dishes while I'm gone. If a dude can't handle that, well gee, he is probably not someone who will be happy dating me for all kinds of reasons. So far it's never been a problem.

If you want something in your life to be different, you're going to have to assert yourself.
posted by phunniemee at 6:04 AM on March 9, 2015 [12 favorites]

I don't think this sounds like you being the default "parent". This sounds like you are going out with someone with lower standards of tidiness and who is more introverted (and thus has fewer friends & social activities). Whether or not this is a deal-breaker is up to you. But be warned - once you move in together the tidiness thing will be a big deal unless one or both of you can compromise.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:05 AM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Just stop doing anything you don't want to do. If he wants to do it, he'll eventually pick up the slack. If he doesn't, then it turns out neither of you really want to do it.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:11 AM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

For all of you saying the OP is expecting the boyfriend to mind read, please note they said:

We did have a talk about this


I was pretty frustrated about this the other day, and expressed this.

The dude knows, but hasn't decided it's worth doing much to change his behavior.

OP, I've been you. You have to decide if you can tolerate being the default parent, or if it's worth ending the relationship over. These kind of behavior patterns (letting the other person clean/fix/organize everything) are VERY hard to change, IMO.
posted by pantarei70 at 6:11 AM on March 9, 2015 [26 favorites]

We don't know how long it's been since that talk (she expressed her frustration just "the other day"). So, without follow up from the OP, there is no basis for saying he "hasn't decided it's worth doing much to change his behavior".

She only recently asked, and she's upset about having to ask; that's the point the other posters are making.
posted by spaltavian at 6:20 AM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just bail. Seriously. The person you see at the beginning of a relationship is the best version of that person. Don't waste your time building towards a long term thing with someone who is going to make you do all of the driving through your life together.

But also: stop cleaning for his visits. And stop organising all the things.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:21 AM on March 9, 2015 [23 favorites]

Have you asked him how he would feel if you just said "hey Boyfriend, we got invited to a movie tonight, see you there if you want?" Put it on him to either figure out how to get there or make a plan for you to go together.

When you end up at your place all the time, are you inviting him, even if tepidly? So cut back on doing it, and TELL HIM it's because you really need to cut back on being the default host, and then you'll see if he wants the dynamic to change or if he's happy just waiting for a summons, and if YOU'RE happy with that.

If he's inviting himself, even in a casual "I'll just stop by after work" way, then you need to be more assertive in saying "OK, but I'm just having canned soup for dinner" or "I really can't cook tonight, can you pick up takeout if you want to eat?"
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:24 AM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

as irrational as it is, I don't want to have to ask. I want him to take over some of these default decisions without my having to prompt him.

I don't think that's irrational. It's a thing that you want; you get to want that. Whether he can and wants to give you that is another matter. It sounds to me like he might not.

In any case, it's probably worth it to spell out (one more time?) that this could actually be a dealbreaker for you. Be very clear about your wants, your needs and what you are and aren't willing to offer. See what happens.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:29 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am like you, OP. I do not want to be with a person who needs to be asked to maintain (what I consider to be) basic standards of tidiness and invite me to do fun things that they put some thought into. Even if after four months that fun thing is "just" watching a movie they think I'll like while we eat pizza and drink wine, or walking through the park because someone recently spotted a red tailed hawk there and maybe we will too.

This means that one of the ways I screen guys is I check out their apartments. And another way is I listen carefully when they talk about who plans their friend hangouts, and what kinds of things they're Actually doing on weekends (as opposed to Aspirationally doing on weekends.)

I've recently met a guy who is GREAT on paper. But he has openly stated that he's looking for a woman who will motivate him to cook and clean and manage his time better. And I don't want to be a motivator for those types of activities. I want a guy who already has those habits.

And this is where I share with you my new mantra:
That guy is out there already. Go find him and stop wondering/worrying what you need to do to change this guy into that guy.
Because you don't want a mind reader. You want a guy with different habits.
posted by bilabial at 6:35 AM on March 9, 2015 [40 favorites]

We did have a talk about this, and he did say that he would make more of an effort and for me to ask more. But as irrational as it is, I don't want to have to ask. I want him to take over some of these default decisions without my having to prompt him.

If asking is too much for you to do, then you're not going to get along with anyone who doesn't take the initiative in situations. It doesn't sound like he does and that is a fundamental incompatibility. It's up to you to decide if that is a deal breaker for you or not. I think for most people, this early on, it would be.

You can't make him be someone he is not. Recognize that. If he doesn't seem like he wants to change and he won't do things just to please you (the tasks you need done don't seem to have the same importance to him), then you might want to look towards the door.
posted by inturnaround at 6:38 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like this is how you are choosing to see and interpret events more than the actual state of affairs. Do you often find yourself feeling burdened to be "the responsible one"? Do you feel a lot of pressure to live up to (what you think are) others' expectations of you? If this is so, maybe you are dumping past resentment (of having to be responsible) on to your boyfriend, when he doesn't deserve it. As long as he's able to pay his rent, do his job, deal with his feelings and manage his relationships, then he's adult enough and "parenting" himself just fine. The rest is just social and environmental preferences.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:52 AM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah "just stop cleaning! Just stop organizing stuff!" is bad advice. I mean, I know MeFi has a tendency to be like, "I'm okay, you're okay! Being a slob and being neat are just lifestyle choices. It's not a parent-child dynamic, you're just two different people!"

But I kind of disagree. I'm sorry, but I think "learning to clean your apartment, occasionally cook, and manage your time well" are just basic hallmarks of adulthood, not lifestyle choices.

If you stop organizing things, it's not likely to make you happier. Then you'll just have a messy apartment and you're highly likely to piss off your friends (if they are the planning type and you just start "maybe showing up" and the party/activity bombs due to lack of planning, which is entirely possible.)

What I would do is talk to him. (I know you already have.) Be very clear with your stress and displeasure or he won't "get it." If that fails, then I would stop having him over as much and start going out without him. You need time to unwind, too. That may help him "get it" if talking it out does not.
posted by quincunx at 6:54 AM on March 9, 2015 [14 favorites]

"Babe, the sexiest words you can say to me in the next 6 weeks are:

--I'll take care of it, and
--I've got this.

I promise you, I will [insert favorite sex act, to make this whole exchange humorous] enthusiastically and often, the more often you find opportunities to say it.

I'm sorry - work is complicated right now and I just can't do all the logistics for home life right now."

This works on three levels: incentivizes him, puts the onous on him to realize the myriad of opportunities he could take to step up, and emphasizes the, ahem, adult nature of your relationship (not a parent/child relationship.)
posted by vitabellosi at 7:04 AM on March 9, 2015

I'm really sorry you're in this situation and that so many of the answerers are saying "well duh, just ask!" (Or, on preview, suggesting to reward with special sex, which, ew.) As if it's that easy, as if having to ask every damn time for him to figure out the logistics of getting to an event or to clean his apartment isn't ALSO taking on a parental role. As if having to remind him to make his own friends or come up with a plan for dinner isn't also taking on a parental role.

This is a very common gendered split in relationships, where women do a lot of the emotional labor of maintaining the relationship and the couple's social life, in addition to often doing more housekeeping, cooking, etc.!

I just want to say that I get it. And there's nothing wrong with asking for advice, because while yes he may not be a spontaneous, take the initiative kind of guy at his core, when you start a relationship with someone you BOTH start to form patterns of behavior and response that become harder to change the longer you let them go on. Kudos to you for recognizing a pattern that you don't like early and asking what your role should be in changing it.

I hear you that you have already had a conversation with your boyfriend about this. I think you should have another and be really explicit about what the issue is and that while you will remind him/ask him to do things occasionally, that he also needs to take initiative to do it himself sometimes in order to resolve this relationship issue fully.

You do need to take responsibility to not play the martyr and let resentment build up. If you are feeling burned out and not able to handle logistics for attending an event, even if it's one organized by your friends, it's okay to just tell him "hey, i really want to go to this thing tonight but i'm swamped at work. i'll forward you an email with the details, can you figure out a dinner and transportation plan for this so we can get there by 7? thanks babe!"

There's a fine distinction between asking for what you want and feeling like you're nagging. I think if you set it up with a conversation that makes it clear that sometimes you're going to ask but other times you also need him to step up and offer, and frame the asks as "hey i need you to do this, thanks!" you can get there without feeling like a parent.

Good luck. This can be really hard and if he doesn't step up, it can be a legitimate dealbreaker.
posted by misskaz at 7:06 AM on March 9, 2015 [21 favorites]

This works on three levels: incentivizes him, puts the onous on him to realize the myriad of opportunities he could take to step up, and emphasizes the, ahem, adult nature of your relationship (not a parent/child relationship.)

By the way - this worked for Mr Vitabellosi and I -- I am the person who wasn't stepping up.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:06 AM on March 9, 2015

If it were me, I'd try telling him (with at least five or six days' notice), "OK, this Friday [or Saturday, or weekend] the planning is on you, and I don't want us to be over here. Let me know where to show up and when." If he didn't plan anything, then I'd know he's unlikely to step up in the future and that I'd have to continue mommying him if I stayed in the relationship.

If it did go well, then maybe I'd try working out a schedule. "Hey, this weekend was awesome! How about you take over planning on Fridays and Sundays and I'll handle Saturdays and weeknights?" (or whatever makes sense). But I'd want it to be a regular part of the relationship, not just a once-every-few-months thing.

I think that putting the entire responsibility for a given time period on him would force him to think about the work that goes into planning without being able to rely on you to micromanage each step, which it what it sounds like he's asking for right now.

I have found that a lot of people don't quite get that being "laidback" and never making plans or stating preferences doesn't make them easygoing, it makes them someone who creates a lot of work for other people. These same people tend not to be great in dealing with any normal relationship conflict, either, and I'd be extremely wary about dating them at this point in my life.
posted by jaguar at 7:18 AM on March 9, 2015 [16 favorites]

Yeah "just stop cleaning! Just stop organizing stuff!" is bad advice. I mean, I know MeFi has a tendency to be like, "I'm okay, you're okay! Being a slob and being neat are just lifestyle choices. It's not a parent-child dynamic, you're just two different people!"

But I kind of disagree. I'm sorry, but I think "learning to clean your apartment, occasionally cook, and manage your time well" are just basic hallmarks of adulthood, not lifestyle choices.

Ding ding ding! This exactly.

Look, the problem with "just stop cleaning! Just stop organizing stuff!" is that it puts you in the position of being miserable, and you as female get judged more harshly for being untidy, or--while your partner gets to not care about the judgement (which is not falling on him), be comfortable because mess doesn't bother him, and continue to not care that you're upset and frustrated. And--and!--you have to do the additional mental work of knowing what needs to be done and reminding him to get off his ass to do the damn thing, or to go to the social event, and keep the mental schedule and calendar in your head. This is admittedly way more of a problem when you've entangled your lives more--when you move in together, or if you have children you're trying to coparent--but it's also one of those things that tends not to get better once habits have been set. AND it's a very, very gendered dynamic, because women do get enough external pressure to do this shit that it's very common for them to start pressuring themselves to do it internally.

Think about what this dude is going to be like ten years down the line--I promise you, he's not going to suddenly change everything and step up his household responsibility game without notice. You had an explicit talk with him about it. Good! He promised to do better. Good! But frankly, promises in this field are something I don't trust--either he will decide that your comfort is important enough to him to take on some of this responsibility or he will continue to slack off. Words are easy. Changing your patterns of action without prompting is hard. If you see actual marked change--say, he does the planning for a joint social event or does the dishes on his own or whatever, by all means notice that and affirm it! But it's very easy and very common in my experience for dudes to say "yeah, I see why you're upset, I will totally be better!" and then go on to do nothing. Repeatedly. For years.

All of that said: OP, I'd encourage you to maybe step back a bit from the effort and energy you are investing in this dude. I'm not saying dump him right now--I'm sure he has lots of good traits!--but it sounds like you are putting a lot of effort into making his life easier and more interesting and not getting much benefit back from him. Try to back off a bit from investing in him until you feel like you're getting as much good stuff out of this relationship as you're putting in. Do not ramp up in any way in commitment to this dude until you feel like he's got your back in the little stuff, like keeping your shared spaces tidy and keeping track of engagements. If he notices, definitely explain what you're doing--and I'm assuming you've given him some time to demonstrate his commitment to stepping up with his actions, not that you had this chat yesterday--but otherwise... eh. See where you wind up when you feel like you're putting in just as much as you're getting out, and then think about whether that's enough for you to stay.

ETA: You may also find this post, which discusses the effort of having to do the organizing and planning and decisionmaking by default, to be interesting and relevant to you.
posted by sciatrix at 7:28 AM on March 9, 2015 [19 favorites]

I'm hardly one to recommend DTMFA, but I don't think he's going to change. I dated this guy for five years--five years!--expecting more, working on our communication, going to counseling, the whole thing. And he never changed. And now he's with someone who is perfectly A-OK with his habits, and I'm with someone who is a full-grown adult man with skills and responsibilities. I think you can do better, and I think this will only bother you more as time goes on. There are more responsible, tidier, more mature men out there. You don't have to settle or compromise on something that's important to you.
posted by witchen at 7:38 AM on March 9, 2015 [10 favorites]

Yeah you shouldn't have to incentivize this stuff for him in my opinion. Look, you are four months in; unless you are deeply in love with this dude or suspect you definitely will be soon, it seems silly to waste time trying to change him when you could just find someone else, since you're not in too deep. Resentment in a relationship after four months to me is a sign to peace out.

Otherwise I don't know what you can do except to keep asking; hopefully that would pan out but it could end up just turning into nagging and further cementing this frustrating dynamic. He's mid-30s not early-20s. These habits are cemented unless he wants to change for himself.
posted by hejrat at 7:48 AM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

You're asking how you can get out of this role in this relationship (not whether you should stay), but I've got to say it's entirely possible he will not change.

This kind of passivity at his age is worrisome. Learned Helplessness is a real thing. Changes he makes because of bribery, etc. will likely be short-lived.

If you really, really want to make this work, which again simply may not be an option, talk with him again and learn his feelings about the situation. Is he intimidated because you like things to be "just so" and wouldn't be flexible if he did take initiative and make plans in a different way than you would have? (Don't offer this as an excuse for him to latch onto; it's just an example of something you might learn if you hear his side.)

In that conversation, don't use language about a parent/child dynamic. Do tell him you want more clearly defined roles and that you don't want your role to be that of sole social planner, etc. Ask what he wants his role to be. Then give him a month and see if anything changes, bearing in mind that short-term changes are no guarantee.

As others have said, this stands to get so much worse if you progress to the point of living together and/or having children. It is not a matter of Ask/Guess when it comes to running a household or raising children.

The worst part? You already resent this role while he gets to enjoy it, but if this goes on he may resent you for being "controlling" just because you took the reins on things he wasn't doing and/or "nagged" him about such things. By then it won't matter that you felt cornered into a role you never wanted; resentments on both sides will be solidified and extremely toxic.

I'm sorry. I know that's not what you want to hear.
posted by whoiam at 8:18 AM on March 9, 2015 [11 favorites]

You go over to his place and clean...unless he's very slow, I can't imagine how he would t be able to deduce that you aren't comfortable hanging out in a filthy place.

just stop cleaning his place, and tell him,"I wish we would hang out at your place more, but it's just so dirty."

If he starts getting pissy about it instead of wanting you to comfortable, then I guess you'll know ahead of time that should you two go the distance, you'll be the one tasked with cleaning chores in your free time.
posted by discopolo at 8:19 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

(1) Right now, he doesn't feel ownership of his shared apartment enough to care what it looks like, and may become cleaner once he moves into a more "grown-up" living arrangement. Also, if his roommates are equally messy, there's no incentive for him to be clean -- in fact, being the one clean person in a messy apartment can be exhausting and alienating, and its easier to flow with the status quo.

(2) How long as he been living in the city? It's a problem if he's been there some years and still has no friends, but if he's new, he probably just needs some time to find a social circle. I can't tell whether his apathy towards making plans is his general nature, or specifically because it's awkward for him to interface with your friends who he doesn't know well.
posted by redlines at 8:47 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've dated several versions of this guy and in my experience, he doesn't change. In fact, he gets worse, and my self-esteem suffers.

It's incredibly deflating to be with someone who rarely makes an effort. His behavior says, "Ceiba's not worth much of my energy. I'll just coast." Worse, my putting up with his behavior says that I don't value myself enough.

You deserve someone who *wants* to be with you and is willing to make an effort for that to happen.

If you want to try talking to him again, you might raise the stakes, as others suggested. You might also make clear how his lack of initiative makes you feel. Not so much "This is too much work for me" but "I don't feel valued in this relationship" or some version of that, if you want a serious relationship with this guy.
posted by ceiba at 8:59 AM on March 9, 2015 [10 favorites]

While I agree with all the sentiment of "if you're not feelin' it a few months in..." it may not bode well, I wonder if there's an alternate perspective that might help.

OK, so you're frustrated that you have the sole Social Organization responsibility. I can see why that's annoying. But isn't part of the reason you're doing it is that 1. You're good at it and 2. It's important to you?

What if instead of doing these small negotiations of "Boyfriend, we are 50/50 on Social, so please organize a comparable amount of social activities..." It's more like "Boyfriend, I am 100% on Social. You be 100% on something comparable, how about Food?" And from that point on, he gets the groceries, cooks, gets takeout, etc. And you plan the social stuff.

Does that sound appealing at all? I find that total division of labor appealing for the following reasons:

1. It removes these micro-negotations. You negotiate once (You: Food / Me: Social) and be done.

2. It removes resentment. There's no more "Aw man, why isn't he asking me if I need help with this planning." With total division, no one is obligated to offer help (though it's always nice :) ) – but you can always ASK for help and your partner is on top of it. So if he's handling food and he had an ultra busy day he can shoot you a text, "Argh, crazy work today! Would you mind ordering something from eat24 and I'll go to the market this weekend?"

3. It's efficient. Ideally, the person who is actually good at or enjoys the particular responsibility gets that responsibility.

4. It's specific, not vague. If you asked him to organize 50% of social stuff, he may not even know where to start - he wouldn't know the specifics. It's also vague in that - what is a shared balance of the Social Stuff? Do we organize the exact same number of events? Do we trade off weekends? But with total division, there's no questions about balance. For example, with me I know my partner is handling all the Social / Food / Cooking / etc stuff and I handle all the Cleaning / Money / Insurance stuff.

I do think these negotiations and balances are sometimes hard when you're maintaining two living arrangements. Not that you should move in together! But just to give you both some time to fall into a balance and pattern.

I think if you like this guy a lot, communicate whatever strategy feels right to you, and then see how you feel about the relationship balance in 2-3 months. If you still feel unbalanced, hey, you've given it a shot, you can part ways. But maybe it'll be improved and headed in the right direction!
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 9:21 AM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

You have to ask yourself, what am I going to do to prompt this person to become mature and independent that 30+ years of life experience hasn't done already?

If you find yourself being a parent or therapist to your relationship partner, that is almost always, consciously or subconsciously, by the design of that partner.
posted by incolorinred at 9:22 AM on March 9, 2015 [11 favorites]

I think in this situation I would ask myself whether this is a recurring relationship dynamic for you.

If this is the first time you've dated a guy and had these issues, I would suspect this is just a bad match in terms of expectations for a variety of things (cleaning, cooking, social organizing, etc.). You can try to change him, doesn't often work to try and change people on things this basic. And yes, I do think things like "messy/neat" or "willing to cook on a regular basis versus pick up a burger on the way home" are pretty set by age 30 and unlikely to change unless the person themselves really, really wants to make the change. (For reference, I am a messy person who lives with another messy person, sorry all you people on your high horses, but we are also fully fledged adults with full time jobs and friends who do manage to survive perfectly fine in our cluttered apartment! We just shouldn't be dating neat freaks, and we're not.)

If you feel like you run into this mommy/kid dynamic in many or most relationships you've been in, then I would do some deeper examining, both in terms of your choice of partner (what draws you to guys, is there something about this "follower" dynamic that initially attracts you to people but then gets old fast, what happens if you experiment with making a few dates on okCupid with people who totally don't fit the mold of your old boyfriends, etc.?) and/or your behavior in relationships (i.e. things like feeling the need to have control, saying you want the other person to take charge of things but then criticizing how they do it, etc.). If this is the sort of thing that keeps constantly happening to you, it totally COULD be bad luck and/or systemic gender norms problems, but it also could be something to work on on your end, either in therapy or just kind of thinking through things, talking through this with friends, and experimenting with different ways of being/people to date/etc.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:51 AM on March 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

This has been a problem in previous relationships for me until an awesome partner came up with the phrase "Who's driving?"

Sometimes you want to drive. You get to be in control, make all the decisions and have everything just so, but it's more work and concentration and involves all the burdens of the leadership role.

Sometimes you want to be driven. You get to put your feet up and not have to think about what to cook for dinner tonight or where to go for fun, but you don't get to decide everything that happens and things won't necessarily be done exactly the way you want them.

Each role involves tradeoffs, but it's a lot less stress if each partner is at least willing to drive 50% of the time.

I think some people (I include myself in this) long to be taken care of and to be driven, but find it hard to relinquish the control/moral superiority involved in driving. That's my thing to learn and it may be yours too. I used to fume about passive partners until I realized to my dismay that often when a partner did show initiative, I unconsciously worked hard to undercut them or wrest back control.

My partner and I now negotiate regularly about who gets to drive. Sometimes he asks to drive if it's something he's particularly fussy about, like choosing speakers. Sometimes I ask to drive if I REALLY really want to eat Korean food tonight. Sometimes I ask to be driven because I'm too tired to do the dishes or just don't have strong feelings about, eg, which shade to paint the kitchen. But if I ask to be driven, I don't then get to say that he's washing the dishes wrong or he picked the wrong color.

Perhaps you and your boyfriend could experiment with this concept?
posted by stuck on an island at 10:55 AM on March 9, 2015 [17 favorites]

You want your boyfriend to be something other than who he is. He gets to live the lifestyle that he chooses, and that lifestyle comes as part of the package of Boyfriend. Whether or not other people think he's a slob or untidy or a child or whatever is completely irrelevant, because those people are not living his life, they're just judging him for it. What you need is to accept that this is how your boyfriend is, and then deicide whether or not that's OK with you.

The first step was to ask for what you want. And good on you, you did that. The next step was to see if he ever steps up to the plate and does the things you asked him to do. If he doesn't, then the step after that is to decide whether to continue a relationship with someone who won't give you what you want. he's not a "great guy" for you if he won't do that. Fighting against reality and demanding changes and insulting him in the manner that some here are doing won't get you the results you want. He has to want to change and put the effort in to making that change. There's not much you can do to force the issue.

This person is who they are. Trying to change another person is really disrespectful to that person and their life choices. Get out there and find someone you can accept as they already are. It sounds like you want a relationship with someone who is different to your boyfriend.
posted by Solomon at 11:05 AM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some people are planners are some are not. It's possible that you have different plan-ahead levels, and you either have to relax or be the one doing most of the planning.

But if you want him to do more planning, you have to ask him to do specific things: Can you please pick a restaurant? Can you please figure out when we need to leave, and where to park? Can you please pick up wine at the grocery store for the dinner party?

If he's a smart dude, he'll eventually pick up the pattern, and start asking you: Should I pick up wine? I was thinking we'd take a taxi. Etc. And if you generally go along with his plans (even if they're not quite as optimal as yours) and act appreciative, then he'll gain more confidence and do more of the planning.

At least, that's generally how I learned cooking. Now, given enough time, I'm willing to attempt recipes on my own.


As far as the apartment thing goes, it's different for everyone. If you feel like you're doing extra cleaning just for him, maybe stop doing that?

I know I stayed over at my now-husband's place a lot before we moved in, and he cleaned extra and did the cooking. And most of the grocery shopping. I did the dishes. But it worked for us because being "staying home" was also a huge boon. So he was willing to work extra so he could stay at the place he was comfortable with (and had an easier commute with). I was willing to not stay at my home because he gave me these perks.

Maybe this is your boyfriend's thinking, too? Or maybe he thinks that you prefer to clean extra and stay at your place, than to stay over at his place. (Which, it does sound like, unless he cleaned up majorly. But in this case, I'm talking about the whole "home sweet home" thing rather than whose place is nicer.)


Also echoing that I don't think there is anything parent/child like in this response. You're only 4 months in. You're still figuring out how your lifestyles match up together. That's just part of the getting-used-to-each-other thing. (Or decide it's-a-deal-breaker thing.)
posted by ethidda at 11:19 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

You negotiate once (You: Food / Me: Social) and be done.

I love that Uncle has such a positive outlook. Truly, and if this works, great!

Still I gotta say that while it helps to spell out division of labor, it's not too much to ask that a partner notices what needs to be done on a day-to-day basis.

I'm not suggesting you move in together either, but if/when you do, there will be so many things that fall outside the lines of any who-does-what arrangement. Social and Food are just two things! If household maintenance could be boiled down to bills paid, light bulbs purchased and changed, attention to plumbing, cleaning the bathroom, etc., this would be fine. But what about the unexpected arrangement for appliance repairs, even if it's just a few phone calls?

My point is that so much of one's standard of living is dealing with the unexpected. Things crop up that are not foreseen, and to me it sounds like when that happens, you want someone who will sometimes say, "Hey, I've got this." You need to be able to believe that's true, thank the person, and put it out of your mind. It doesn't seem to me that will be possible with this guy, no matter how much you love him. Maybe he'll prove me wrong--I hope so.

(This post does not begin to touch on what needs to be done when you're not just a couple, but a family. If you have hopes of children in your future, I strongly advise you to run far, far away from this relationship.)
posted by whoiam at 11:23 AM on March 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

Haven't read anything above, but be aware that men (and women) are somewhat socialized to this dynamic whether by their parents or their previous relationships. Many a married man or even one's in LTRs have the "let me ask the boss" about what our plans are, etc... ingrained into their psyche. Keep talking to him about it, though. Also, have you given thought to the possibility that he doesn't have the urge to be that social? Maybe doing "nothing" whatever that entails is preferable to him.
posted by teg4rvn at 11:27 AM on March 9, 2015

I've been there. If you feel like his mom after only four months, I doubt it will get any better. He deserves a partner who actually wants to mommy their partner like this and you deserve a responsible partner who you can trust to carry his own weight. At just four months in, you should still both be trying to be your best selves for each other, and that he won't even make a baseline effort to clean his room to have you over isn't a good sign at all.

If it's only been a few months and he's already abdicated all responsibility for social occasions, cleaning, and cooking to you, he's probably not going to be a full partner, and you'll find yourself dragged down 'nagging' him about basic life skills when you guys could have been doing amazing stuff as a team with somebody who is on your level. I wouldn't waste your time unless you are completely head over heels for him - you deserve to honor your high standards. There's an opportunity cost of staying with "fixer upper" guys like this: you're missing out on meeting good men who already know how to take basic care of themselves.
posted by dialetheia at 11:28 AM on March 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

You have to ask yourself, what am I going to do to prompt this person to become mature and independent that 30+ years of life experience hasn't done already?

If you find yourself being a parent or therapist to your relationship partner, that is almost always, consciously or subconsciously, by the design of that partner.

So much word. Don't think of it as anything other than a parent-child relationship, because that's exactly what it is. I was in a relationship like this, and it was 100% because that's how my partner wanted to be. He wanted to not do anything, let me take care of literally everything, then complain about how he was "submissive". He surprised me with a birthday trip, and I had to do 100% of everything. EVERYTHING. He did nothing in preparation for, or on the trip.

I did talk to him about it pretty early on. I told him that his laziness and complacency didn't work for me. He said he'd be more proactive. There was a marginal improvement, but if your BF is like this, it's because he wants to be. It's okay to move on. It will likely save you a lot of resentment.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 1:03 PM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Honestly? Messy, passive men in their 30s who lack the "notice shit" gene simply do not change. You already know exactly what your future with this man will be like, or you would not have asked this question. Sorry.
posted by hush at 2:59 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

You wrote: "his room in a shared apartment is not great. It's incredibly messy and cluttered, and I hate spending time there."

First, the fact that this is a man in his MID-30s who is still living in a shared apartment and cannot be bothered to keep his ROOM clean (for you or for himself) is a huge red flag. Your relationship will only get more complicated after the 4 month stage. If he hasn't been keeping it clean in the first four months of your relationship, when he should be on his best behavior, I wouldn't expect that to change.

Second, you "hate" spending time in his room, your words. Look, I've dated messy people, but I never hated spending time in their rooms because there was some redeeming quality to the way they had organized their stuff and their lives. How a person keeps a room tells a lot about him and how you feel about his room tells a lot about your compatibility with him. If you continue to date this person, move in together, get married, your home will be, at some level, a place that you "hate," or at least a place that you hate in part.

This is not a good start to a relationship. You're not demanding too much. Honor your needs here.
posted by luckdragon at 5:13 PM on March 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

If he's like this in his mid-30's and it bugs you, just get out now. It's highly unlikely to improve from there unless you do a whoooooooooooole lotta nagging, and then you feel even more like his mother.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:10 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think "learning to clean your apartment, occasionally cook, and manage your time well" are just basic hallmarks of adulthood, not lifestyle choices.

This. He sounds like tofu. He needs to grow up. It's only been 4 months, time to get out?
posted by Toddles at 10:11 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I know you've gotten this answer up the line. This is not a parent/child relationship. The guy's more of an introvert, possibly self-absorbed, ergo oblivious to what your needs might be, and less tidy than you are. You're 1) putting too much effort into being the perfect gf and couple so understandably you're burning out. 2) Not asking for what you need. I was in something similar and this is not sustainable unless you change both 1 and 2. Or find someone who is more in tune with what you need (not self-absorbed, if that's the case) so you don't have to ask for it.

In my last relationship I had to constantly assert my needs. They were pretty much ignored otherwise. That gets tired fast and it's unsustainable if the SO doesn't see your needs as as important as his (which was the case with me). You're situation is different so give it a shot if you see a future with this person! Because bringing a kid into the mix will definitely put you over the edge if you don't believe he's pulling his weight now and asking him to doesn't change anything.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 6:14 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

[One comment deleted. Please address answers to the OP, not to other commenters, and please keep it constructive and helpful. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:28 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

First, the fact that this is a man in his MID-30s who is still living in a shared apartment and cannot be bothered to keep his ROOM clean (for you or for himself) is a huge red flag.

OP and her boyfriend live in San Francisco. Have you lived in San Francisco, or other comparably expensive cities? A person in his/her mid-30s living with roommates says absolutely nothing about anything in a city as expensive as San Francisco.

She says his room is "messy," but she does not detail how messy it is, so it really could be anywhere from "total pigsty" to "this is messier than I would have it." Also, paradoxically, I've found that it is easier to keep your place clean when you have your own place than when you have roommates. It's just one room, but your roommate(s) may have lower cleanliness standards than yours, which encourages laxity ("I'm sick of cleaning the bathroom all the time and I'm sick of nagging him about it so I'll just do it less often"), and there are precious few places for your stuff. His room could very well be cluttered or messy because it is a room, and there just aren't very many places to put things.

There is A LOT of projection going on this thread. There is simply not enough information here for us internet-strangers to surmise that this man is some kind of irresponsible man-child who expects his SO to be "the boss," or do all his cooking and cleaning for him. That could be the case, but we do not have nearly enough information to jump to that conclusion.

With that in mind, I have two concrete suggestions for you, OP:
-Stop changing your cleaning schedule for him. Clean when you would normally clean, and how you would normally clean, regardless of whether he is coming over or not. If you have been seeing this man for four months, and you view him as your partner, it is time to stop thinking of his visits in terms of "guests are coming over, I need to clean."
-It strikes me that you do most of the social organizing, because most of your outings are with your friends, because he has few friends in the area. This is how it works with most couples I know - you organize the outings with your own friends, especially early in the relationship. That said, you can certainly nudge him to figuring out the details more often. "Hey, SO, x wants to do y on Friday. Can you figure out the details? Thanks."
posted by breakin' the law at 7:33 AM on March 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

My ex was in many ways an excellent human, and a mostly good husband, but he would not rouse himself to "drive" to save his fucking life. It was too easy to let me drive, and as a bonus, all responsibility for success or failure fell on me. Along with all of the effort.

Resentment built, and built, in spite of many conversations about it. Through my work, I arranged for us to be in Paris for our tenth anniversary, which coincided with a major birthday (mine). I "drove" business class air, a sweet comped apartment, chic French dinner parties at the homes of local colleagues. I asked him, as my gift, to "handle everything" for our last night there, which was my birthday.

And when awesome husband couldn't be arsed to realized that a full moon summer Saturday night in fucking PARIS required more than dragging his hypoglycemic wife around three hours to increasingly less appetizing restaurants because whoops! you need a fucking reservation!, I DTMF at the Eiffel Tower. No regrets.

TL:DR: This dude is not going to change. Save yourself a lot of time.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 8:25 PM on March 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

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