Another question about domestic labour in relationships
August 13, 2021 6:33 AM   Subscribe

How does a cohabitating couple handle a big disparity in experience "adulting" without falling into a parent/child dynamic?

I (29F) have been in a relationship with a man (26M) for about a year, and we've been living together for 6 months. In most respects, I am really happy with our relationship - he is kind and loyal and sensitive to my emotional needs, we have similar senses of humour and similar interests. We are affectionate and laugh a lot and also find the time to talk about big things. But...

There is a big disparity in our ability to kerp track of what I view as basic life tasks - things like keeping the kitchen clean (or at a minimum sanitary), regular health checkups, car maintenance, etc. Now, I know that there is a huge gendered component to a lot of this stuff and there are plenty of dudes out there who will just never do the work, but I want to be charitable to my dude and assume he wants to learn, because of a few extenuating circumstances:
  • This is the first time he's moved out from his parents'. He did have what I think were completely sensible reasons: we are in an extremely high COL area, he was going to school, he worked part time and contributed financially to the household. But it does mean he had had someone picking up after him, figuratively and literally,his whole life.
  • He is the definite baby of the family (siblings are much older) and his folks, though lovely people, are a bit overbearing in a way we laugh a bit together about... But also I kind of agree with what they're nagging him about most of the time?
  • I am open to the possibility that there might be some executive function issues going on here, but at the same time - he is perfectly capable of managing his tasks at his white-collar job and at his hobby association (in which he has a prominent administrative role). He prides himself on remembering tons of historical trivia and keeps detailed notes on the books he's read/is intending to read. This seems to be more of a matter of noticing that the work is there/caring about it.
I, on the other hand, have been living on my own, moving from place to place for the better part of a decade. Over these years I've mostly figured out how to set up and maintain a household, take care of my own health, all the logistics of life we now apparently call "adulting". In particular, a lot of this development happened over these past few years, when I moved to a new country and had to navigate this stuff all on my own.

I worry that, in my having done this work, I am preventing him from doing the same by essentially taking the role of his nagging parents (and on a more fundamental level, I have no interest in being my partner's mother.) - but also, we share a household, and I don't want to have to go through learning all of this stuff "the hard way" again!

Is there a way to thread this needle of being patient and supporting him figuring this stuff out while not feeling like a surrogate parent, or should I just accept that maybe this otherwise great guy is just not fully baked yet?
posted by btfreek to Human Relations (46 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I’m not usually a gender essentialist but the data on this phenomenon is in, so I would tell him that millions of women’s sex drives have evaporated permanently because of this dynamic. Nothing will kill your sex drive faster than parenting / babysitting your lover.

So I would collaborate with him on a list of house tasks and their ideal frequency (just as you would with a roommate), divide responsibility for the tasks fairly* and according to who finds each task least annoying, set an ideal day when all tasks for the week are done so you get to enjoy a fully clean house at least one or two days a week — and then direct him to YouTube to learn how to do the tasks properly. And write the schedule down and stick it on the fridge.

*Also take into account who pays more rent, who cooks more, etc when deciding what the word “fairly” means in this case.

Personally I find it works better to put 100% of the responsibility for a task on one person - Lee Always Vacuums - rather than swapping back and forth. It’s just less to remember.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:46 AM on August 13, 2021 [28 favorites]

Does he know how big a deal this is?

I would show him this question and ask him what he thinks. You've written it kindly while still making it clear that you're trying to figure out whether to break up with him over the issue. It sounds like there's nothing keeping him from contributing to domestic labor other than him not valuing it.

(I'm on team "will never again clean up after a guy", and have been so since I was a teen cleaning up after my father, so this would be an absolute dealbreaker for me.)
posted by Metasyntactic at 6:49 AM on August 13, 2021 [20 favorites]

should I just accept that maybe this otherwise great guy is just not fully baked yet?

To some extent, yes, you're going to have to get used to this. People can and will change, but, as you say, it's not your job to be in charge of your guy changing, nor is it going to be a fast and easy process to change his attitudes overnight. Getting through this is going to mean picking your battles and accepting that, at the very least, it might always be like this. If that's a dealbreaker for you, then you need to address that.

I've had similar experiences with my partner. He's an only child, was raised by an indulgent mother who did everything for him, definitely has some form of executive dysfunction going on (we've both agreed he probably has ADHD to some extent).

When we first met, he was definitely the stereotypical bachelor guy -- only had one sheet and pillow, rarely did housework, didn't really keep track of the junk in his room, didn't do dishes/cleaning etc all that often, and so on. He lived like this because that worked for him. I'm the opposite in some ways -- I'm not a clean freak but I pride myself on keeping my space clean and tidy, I value my independence and being in charge of my life etc. I'm FTM but there's definitely a "raised with female expectations" element to it, which we've talked about and he acknowledges.

We've been together nearly 9 years now, living together for 7 of them. I will say that the best way I've found in getting him to do stuff around the house (which he does do now, mostly) is putting a value on doing it. Just nagging him to clean dishes doesn't work, but showing him how good it is to live in a space not filled with dirty dishes does. Now he's more fastidious than me in some respects. I do insist he does or helps with some tasks and I refuse to listen if he complains, but at the same time I've accepted that the best way to show him how to live like this is to show him the value of creating a home together.

As you've probably realised, this is a balancing act. It requires him to want to get his shit together. It requires him to be willing to do the work. It requires him to realise that it is work. Be patient, communicate, don't blame or resent or nag. Treat him like your partner and make this something you do together rather than a demand he has to meet.
posted by fight or flight at 6:53 AM on August 13, 2021 [11 favorites]

Make a list of all the things. Divide it 100% equally. Don’t pick things that you like better. You can go that route later. He’s a man-baby and being a man-baby is awesome….for the man-baby with a caretaker. Split things 100% equally. Do it for six months. Then evaluate your successes and failures. There was a set of PDFs done by “unfuck your habitat” with lists of all the things. See if you can find that and print it up as a starter.
posted by amanda at 6:54 AM on August 13, 2021 [7 favorites]

In this situation, I was roughly analgous to your dude. (Lived at home until getting married, never had to lift a finger with most household tasks except some home and car maintenance I did for the family.) I think that casting it as a simple issue of fairness was the most effective point my wife made. Her (your) time has value too, and if he's accustomed to things just magically happening he may just not be thinking about how much tedious grind is involved in keeping a house clean and running. Just letting someone else take care of things is basically saying that his time is more valuable than yours.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 6:54 AM on August 13, 2021 [12 favorites]

He does not want be viewed as a kid. Sounds like that's what's happening. So maybe be direct - something like "I'm starting to see you as a kid who needs guidance because of these specific examples, and you gotta do x, y, and z without me asking to snap me outta this. This is going to kill my desire to have sex with you if you don't deal with it".

And then also- you can let his failures to deal with shit be his responsibility. His car breaks because he doesn't take care of it is his problem. He doesn't go to the dentist and has to have a root canal, sucks for him.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 6:59 AM on August 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

This rabbit hole is deep. No way he has conscious awareness of this, but he's deliberately shirking his labor and acting stupid in order to justify extracting free labor from you and oppressing you. It's textbook patriarchal programming. He is 100% capable of bringing the same level of attention and care to your household as you are (see his career, as you say) and the only reason he isn't is because he is, at some level, choosing not to. He would do these things if he was alone.

Ask him if you deserve to be treated the way he is treating you, being forced to take care of him like a child, picking up his messes, wiping his figurative ass, etc. Ask him if you deserve the partner he is being to you. The unsettling truth is that deep down he does believe you deserve to be treated this way. He needs to bring this to the surface. Don't get distracted by him acting stupid, no matter how genuine he may seem about his, he does know he is cheating you and he is accepting this behavior in himself. That's where the conversation should go.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:02 AM on August 13, 2021 [36 favorites]

Just going to slide back in here to disagree with some of the answers: please, please don't use sex with you as a threat or as a reward for housework. Once sex becomes something to resent and hold over each others' heads, it can undermine all sorts of things around intimacy and physical closeness. Leave sex out of the equation; this isn't about sex.

And that's not to mention the fact that it directly plays into all of the horrible gross "men vs women" nonsense that you're trying to get away from here. You're not a vending machine that dispenses sex if he hits the right buttons, you're a person and his partner. Don't reduce yourself to anything less than that.
posted by fight or flight at 7:03 AM on August 13, 2021 [57 favorites]

I agree with the above. Sex, intimacy, desire can be affected by so many things including hormone changes and trauma. It can certainly be affected by being overworked and when you add kids to the mix, being overworked and over touched. But your own expression of intimacy is valid regardless of labor expended by your partner.
posted by amanda at 7:07 AM on August 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

"If you don't figure out how to pull your half of responsibilities inside the home, I will be moving out when the lease is up. I don't want to break up with you, we simply will not live together."

Because what you're signing onto is doing the work of two people, forever, unless he figures it out. Do not put up with it. If he wants to be a cohabitating adult in an equal partnership he can act like one.

And if he tries to pull some kind of crap about idk how to do it, tell him to google "how to clean a kitchen" there are literally thousands of useful results.
posted by phunniemee at 7:08 AM on August 13, 2021 [51 favorites]

If he's 26, he's not fully baked yet. My psychologist partner likes to point out that your frontal lobe isn't considered fully developed until 25. There's actually (still) a fair amount of maturing that happens for most people between 26 and 29.

So, he's not fully baked.

It's interesting to me that you've been with somebody a year, living together six months, and you're already assessing his health care routine and car maintenance. Whether the kitchen is clean, I get, but you're already into whether he gets regular checkups? After dating a year?

For items of shared responsibility / impact, have a conversation and agree on standards and hold him to them.

"He is 100% capable of bringing the same level of attention and care to your household as you are (see his career, as you say) and the only reason he isn't is because he is, at some level, choosing not to. He would do these things if he was alone."

Yeah... no. People don't all share the same standards of "clean" and so forth. My partner and I don't, and when she lived separately her house was dirtier than mine. Her acceptance, for instance, of dog hair is far, far, far greater than mine. Some people are fine with a dirty stove and it's not about "oh, I really want this but I know my partner will do it." It's just they do. not. care.
posted by jzb at 7:08 AM on August 13, 2021 [34 favorites]

Some stuff, like doing his share of the cleaning, you’re going to have to address because it impacts you, but other stuff…let him fail and figure it out on his own. His car breaks down because he didn’t do whatever routine maintenance? Sure, give him a ride to work, and he better thank you, but that’s thoroughly on him (I’m assuming your finances are still largely separate at this point). On the plus side, my doctor told me a few years back that generally healthy young men only need a physical like once every four or five years (that may have changed (in the US) now the ACA means that you don’t pay for an annual preventive care visit).

On the executive function front, I doubt anyone at work knows what a disaster I am at “adulting”. My kitchen is a disaster zone, I’m living on cheese sandwiches because that’s the extent my brain works for food prep, etc. A coworker asked me yesterday how I manage to be so productive! It may well be that everything is going into his job and the hobby group leaving home life to fall apart. It’s not your job to fix that or to pick up the slack, but don’t take his work life as a strong indication that there’s not a big obstacle at home.
posted by hoyland at 7:10 AM on August 13, 2021 [11 favorites]

I'm just spitballng here, but the one thing I notice (as a male presenting person) is that one of the tasks that ends up falling to women in a lot of situation is secretarial/admin work/keeping track of stuff, just because no one really wants to do it, but women are more used to doing it and end up being the ones volunteering when everyone's just awkwardly silent about it.

So what I might suggest trying is that when you're dividing up the tasks, explicitly make one of his jobs be the keeper of the list, not in charge of assigning tasks, but in charge of keeping track of what needs to get done, reminding you both when some infrequent upkeep thing needs to get addressed, and adding new tasks to the list when you find they need doing and divvy them up together.

I think this might help since when you feel the urge to micromanage and parent, you can explicitly tell yourself it isn't your job, and he'll feel more invested in making sure things are getting done. Also it sounds like taking notes and organizing things is in his wheelhouse
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:14 AM on August 13, 2021 [8 favorites]

The original point of the discourse over 'emotional labor' or household management was to point out that these things are labor, but not that it's inherently bad if one person does most of it. The discourse has shifted in the last few years, but personally I think how it started was closer to the mark. I think of it as similar to how in most cis-het couples, it's the woman who gets pregnant, gives birth, and does the bulk of the childcare in the first year. It's unequal, but not inherently bad if the guy appreciates that and compensates by doing most of the cooking/housework, etc.

Of course, you're allowed to decide you don't want to do most of the household management. But you're also allowed to decide that since this is a strength of yours, you'll be the one who does it, but only if your boyfriend acknowledges this as labor, and therefore compensates by doing more than 50% of the household tasks. And he needs to actually just take your assignments seriously and do them in a timely fashion, not as items to put off and thus putting you in the unenviable position of being "a nag."
posted by coffeecat at 7:16 AM on August 13, 2021 [12 favorites]

I had absolutely no idea how to do a lot of these things at 26, because they're honestly not obvious, my parents didn't teach me, and I didn't have an incentive to learn. There's a reason there are official "adulting" classes, and I hate that people look down on others who don't know everything. If he's like a lot of people, then he doesn't really have a good understanding of what is actually important when it comes to chore stuff. Work and hobbies are easy because the responsibilities are either explicitly demanded, or are optionally taken on. Everyday tasks are vague, open ended, and social so are way harder to start doing.

I agree that things like shared living space cleaning should be divided evenly, but I would try to frame it as things that need to be done instead of his inefficient process. He's probably very bad at cleaning right now, so needs to start learning how to do it the hard way. Then when he's started to do it and understands the process hopefully he'll want advice. For things like car maintenance, there are different ways to do it so I wouldn't say the more active schedule you see talked about by experts is really "better", as there's a lot of details and luck involved.

This is not a "fix right now" problem, but it's something he should start working on now. If he's not willing to try, then that's a red flag. But if he tries and gets discouraged at it being hard, that's normal. Remember that you picked up these skills because you went through that process of learning, and to avoid your advice sounding like a nagging parent you'll have to collaborate with him as he goes through learning to do it the hard way. But, you can definitely speed up that process by providing knowledge when it makes sense
posted by JZig at 7:36 AM on August 13, 2021 [11 favorites]

I may be jumping ahead ten or twenty years into your relationship but this made me think of this episode of Glennon Doyle’s new podcast:

Having seem this play out in my own family I think this dynamic may be mildly annoying now but can become a big source of resentment over time.
posted by cultureclash82 at 7:40 AM on August 13, 2021

Returning to your actual question, which was about your inner life... You feel what you feel about this! I encourage you to acknowledge and communicate your feelings rather than seeking a way to suppress them. Suppressing them is a relationship-killer -- and yes, relationship death on this model does (so saith the research, and my own anecdata concurs) frequently start with sex. (I disagree, by the way, that "this makes me not want to have sex with you" is the equivalent of using sex as a relationship weapon. It's just telling truth. Suppressing it -- if it is in fact what's going on -- is worse, trust me.)

Once you acknowledge that you feel like a surrogate parent, you can decide how you want to deal with that, and there's been plenty of advice about that in the responses so far.

But please, hear your feelings, honor your feelings. From deeply personal, unpleasant experience: squashing them down, venting about them without resolving them, and/or letting him skate because of your own feelings of dutyboundness and unwillingness to have the damn fight already -- none of this leads anywhere good.

You also get to communicate how you feel, without regard to whether it'll be effective in moving him where you need him to be. Maybe you discover he can't hear or heed you well enough to be the partner you need and deserve -- and that'll hurt, but better to break up now than too many cold, resentful years down the road.

(Um, sorry. I have a lot of feelings about this, obviously!)
posted by humbug at 7:46 AM on August 13, 2021 [11 favorites]

Idk if I buy the 'fully baked' thing entirely. OP has been an independent functional adult since her late teens. Women don't get the passes on this that coddled sons do.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 7:52 AM on August 13, 2021 [55 favorites]

As you can see from the above answers, possible reasons behind this behavior are all over the map, from simply being spoiled by his parent(s), taught that women should do this work in the household, executive function issues, differing standards, noticing and not caring, or not noticing at all.

Some of these are conscious choices, some are learned behavior, and some are developmental issues. Each of these presents its own set of challenges and timelines to bring the two of you more into alignment about reasonable standards and what you each think is fair. Some will take longer than others, and some of those timeframes / processes may be dealbreakers for you. All will require his sincere and honest dedication to addressing, and only he can make the choice to change.

Your choice is whether or not to continue to live with someone who doesnt participate in these types of tasks the way you prefer.

I encourage you to talk to him and see what's actually going on for him around this. If he readily accepts the idea that this is an area he needs to improve and takes active steps to do so with minimal direction and input from you, great! If he balks at accepting that household and personal upkeep are part of adult life, no matter how uninteresting or drudge-like it is to do, not so great. If he seems willing to change but then doesnt actually do anything differently, likewise not so great.

After you talk with him, set a maximum timeframe for when you expect, say, 80% of these issues to be resolved. If he has not improved by then, I strongly encourage you to make some very significant adjustments to your living situation.

Some people are capable of great personal change once the necessity of it is pointed out to them. Others seemingly have no ability whatsoever to guide their own development via conscious choices. Where your particular partner falls on any of these scales will affect so many things in a long term relationship, not just this. So try to get some clarity on that and make your own decisions accordingly.
posted by ananci at 7:56 AM on August 13, 2021 [10 favorites]

This may be a bit self-serving on my part, but I think there's a distinction to be made here between him just expecting things to be done for him and him just not caring whether it gets done or not. I lived on my own for 13 years before I met my wife, and she was still dissatisfied with how I keep house. I'm a messy person; things like putting laundry away or doing something about the dishes in my sink just don't occur to me. Back when working in offices was still a thing, I was the guy with huge piles of papers on my desk. I don't think that's because I'm irresponsible. I still pay my bills, I keep certain things (e.g. the bathroom) clean, I like to cook, etc. I don't think this is gendered, either, because I've known plenty of messy women. But my wife is a much tidier person than I am, and she gets frustrated that I don't clean more. Once she makes it known that she would like me to share the responsibility of doing the dishes or whatever, I make an effort, because that's what relationships are about, but she gets frustrated because I don't take the initiative. That's not me being an overgrown child, it's just a different preference for how clean a house ought to be. Compare it to cooking: my wife doesn't cook; even making Kraft macaroni and cheese is a struggle for her. But I like food and I like cooking, so I take the initiative to do the cooking. That's something that matters to me, so I do it. I don't ask my wife to do "her share" of the cooking, because eating home-cooked food is my preference, and I think it's weird to make her do something she doesn't care about because I do care. I don't know if that's what's at work here, but I want to at least raise it as an issue.

I also just want to point out that there's an economic class and mental health aspects to some of this as well. For a lot of people who grew up poor, going to the doctor often isn't really a thing. I still don't have a primary care physician. If I have a health issue, I go to urgent care. But just like "oh hey, it's been a year since I've seen a doctor, I should probably go see them again"? No, just not a thing. That's a long-ingrained habit that you don't just get over, even if you're no longer poor as an adult. And with both health and car maintenance, avoiding them can be a sign of anxiety. When I was just out of college and wasn't making much money, I never took my car to the shop unless it was undriveable. If I took the car to the shop just because I heard a weird noise, they might find something actually wrong with it, and then I'd have to pay to fix it, and I don't know if I could afford it, and maybe I wouldn't be able to pay rent next month, and then I'd be homeless, and... So yeah, a lot of of this could be avoidance.

So my advice is to figure out whether these things are actually things he wants to be doing, and if so, what's holding him back. That answer might be different for different things. Cleaning my desk and cleaning the refrigerator are two different things for me. Having a messy desk is entirely consistent with the type of person I want to be. I love seeing photos of old professors where the stacks of papers on their desks look like they could fall over if you tapped your fingers. Having a messy fridge is not consistent with who I want to be. When I learned to cook, there was an emphasis on mise en place, and so I like my kitchen to be orderly. So I make the effort in the kitchen that I don't make in my office. So yeah, part of it is going to be figuring out what's important to him. If he does want to live in a clean house, you need to make it clear that he needs to participate. If he's OK with the house being messy, and you're not, you need to talk about how to compromise.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:57 AM on August 13, 2021 [15 favorites]

I suspect I once again disagree with most people, but it seem to me these things are not all alike. Demanding that someone keep a shared kitchen clean is absolutely reasonable and you should dump anybody who refuses to do it. That's shitty behavior for a roommate, much less a partner. Paying attention to your partner's medical checkup schedule is none of your business. Regular car maintenance is something reasonable people of good will can disagree on.

Figure out what's really important to you. Walk away if it's not possible to meet those requirements.
posted by eotvos at 8:06 AM on August 13, 2021 [9 favorites]

You mention cleaning the kitchen, health appointments, and car maintenance.

The only one that seems to be directly affecting you is the kitchen cleaning, but I would guess there are other concerns-- bathroom getting cleaned, the bed being made, etc.. That should be handled as you would a roommate. If he is truly clueless, show him how it is done....I hope you are not doing his laundry! Are you doing all the meal prep, shopping? Who is making sure the rent and utilities are paid? My point is there is a lot more to running a home than just cleaning the kitchen.
For the household, you can and should address and hold him accountable.

The health appointments? Not your problem. If he is neglecting his his car, not your issue.

That said, if this is a long term relationship, eventually you both will need to work out what is important to the team.

You've been with him for a year, worrying that he doesn't get his oil changed is overbearing. Many people, especially younger adults don't need to see a doctor.

The greater question is can he learn and does he want things to be fair. The only way to know this is to talk about it with him. good luck.
posted by rhonzo at 8:12 AM on August 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm going to just give very actionable advice because I don't think past a certain point the landscape matters as much as whether a couple can move forward.


Get a book (for us it was the 1981 classic Is There Life After Housework) or a website/app like FlyLady or Unfuck your Habitat, and agree that whatever is written there will be your baseline for what needs to happen when.

Agree on roles and responsibilities and timelines. For example, for us way back we were both working late and we agreed that dishes needed to be done by the time we left for work the next day (or lunchtime on weekends), and we traded off nights (really mornings.) For laundry we agreed to fold it together on Sunday nights watching TV. We tackled weekly/monthly tasks on Sunday together. And so on.

By the way, this still didn't work but at least I had an agreement to point to. :) If I had not been already married and gone through a lot, I might have done exactly the lease thing above, "you have 6 months to get it together or I am leaving." (I'm glad I didn't, but honestly, touch and go at some points.)

Health: His body, his choice.

Car: If it's shared, agree on a schedule. If it's his, let him wreck it. I drove a car with a break in the tail light cover for 13 years because it didn't bother me, even if towards the end I had to replace the bulb slightly more often. I referred to it as my way of making sure people didn't parallel park too close to me out of fear.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:18 AM on August 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all for the answers so far. I won't threadsit, but I just wanted to clarify something since people are remarking on the health/car stuff - I'm minding my own business about like, regular checkup schedules and such (like, I don't even think I follow any of that??) but my concern is the bigger stuff that kind of does affect me?

For instance, this very morning I am taking time from work so I can drive him home from a tooth extraction, after literally months of me repeating, "dude, go to the friggin' dentist!" whenever he complained first of a slight toothache, then of a big toothache, then the literal disintegration of a molar. Or, the car stuff I am indifferent/ignorant to except for the risk of us breaking down while both of us are in his car. All of this stuff is generally survivable but unpleasant to deal with/watch him deal with so I guess I am more looking for advice on how to deal with my feelings about having to vicariously go through all the stumbling around of early adulthood again (what I refer to as "learning the hard way" in my original question).
posted by btfreek at 8:27 AM on August 13, 2021 [20 favorites]

Oh, and genuinely losing the desire to have sex with your partner because you’re tired/irritated at having to carry a bigger load of household chores/overwhelmed/resentful of them not helping you etc is not at all the same as withholding sex as a weapon.

However, I second what someone else said above about his own medical appointments being quite different from not doing his share of domestic labour in your joint home.
posted by cultureclash82 at 8:32 AM on August 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

There's so many people in this thread saying "26 is so young!" and like, 26 is an adult. He ought to be able to do this shit. You did it at 26. The world is full of 26 year olds raising children, managing cafes, leading infantry platoons. As you point out, he can manage his job and his hobby thing just fine.

Stop raising this man. It's been a year of dating and 6 months of living together, he could have made so much progress by now if he cared to.
posted by Hypatia at 8:44 AM on August 13, 2021 [18 favorites]

Well again all I sort of have to offer is my experience. It may show you what you DON'T want.

But for me, I did have to drop my resentment and weirdly, the more I did the more he stepped up (my husband had cleaning issues as did I, but we just reacted oppositely or something; he has always however cleaned up after himself.)

For things like the dentist, honestly, my husband and I have a deal where we just support each other in our various fuck-ups. When I was growing up, the whole idea of that was impossible because every step off The Approved Path was treated by my mother like the end of the fucking universe. Delayed a cleaning by a week? That's why you got a cavity! And yes, I resent that I am the responsible one at home, at work, with friends, with the pandemic, at times.

And yet - accepting this truth, that in a lifetime together we will both Fuck Up Perfectly Reasonable Things -- miss a tax deadline, have an avoidable fender-bender, ignore pain and injure something, put a ladder through a window, break the whatever -- has made me so secure and joyful, I can't tell you. (We don't miss mortgage payments or insurance though.)

That's the space I was never afforded as a child and I actually do consider it one of my Therapeutic Accomplishments that now I can give my family the space to fail from time to time. We try to only do it once or maybe twice. So here he is learning why you don't put dental stuff off, the hard way.

At times that has cost us a good chunk of Real Money and I recognize that we are privileged to not live on an edge where we can't afford it for real. (It's meant like, no vacation or second-hand couches.) That's a different situation and I guess in some ways, it means my husband and I are aligned because we've never crossed that baseline together.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:47 AM on August 13, 2021 [22 favorites]

Also once kids enter the situation, everything changes and you have to have your shit together.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:49 AM on August 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Don’t let anyone here invalidate what only you know as your truth. Some of the advice here sounds like it is coming from people who may understand one aspect of your situation but also have agency and power and reciprocity in their relationships to be able to negotiate what feels equitable to them, yet they don’t directly acknowledge this. It’s not intentional, I’m sure. But it upholds the system that tells women to “just be cool” with things rather than to authentically share a need and boundary, and ask partners to meet them half way to find a mutually agreeable solution. It’s not some sort of lack of effort or understanding or intention on your part for not being cool with where you are in your dynamic.

You need to be able to answer these sorts of questions for yourself: When you have stated a need in a clear, nonviolent way, does your partner inequitably prioritize their comfort or center themself? Or can they show genuine concern and use the skills they have to communicate that they understand the problem and offer concrete ideas for how you can figure it out together? If their response is anything but that, they are communicating to you that the arrangement works well for them and they don’t wish to expend more effort even to the detriment of you.

You don’t have to raise this man if you don’t want to, but you have to risk letting him go to find a more compatible partner. Or you can decide that the other things he brings to the table makes raising him worth it—for example, if kids would be a part of your future, will you have the resources to take care of dependents too while potentially being more depleted than now yourself? Just don’t count on him changing much in this area.

It’s ok for him to want the partnership that he wants. And just as equally OK for you.
posted by sunrise kingdom at 9:18 AM on August 13, 2021 [16 favorites]

For the dentist/tooth issue: hopefully this can be a learning moment for him. It's not quite the same, but there was a time when I wasn't handling the stress of a new job well, and I wasn't entirely cognizant of the extent to which it was impacting my partner. What it took was for him to explain to me all the ways my stress negatively affected him, and which of my coping mechanisms needed to change. So I'd have a talk with your boyfriend (after he's not in physical pain) about how his personal choice of dental negligence placed strain on you (having to hear him complain, being put in a position of nagging, worrying about the future outcome of all of this, having to take a day off work!, etc.) And I'd be firm that next time he gets into a mess like this out of his own choosing, you won't be so accommodating. If he balks at all about this, that's a red flag.
posted by coffeecat at 9:22 AM on August 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I know this may seem like a trivial issue to have a few counseling sessions over, either for him or as a couple, but hear me out: it models that the work of figuring out how to set up and maintain housework issues is actual labor that is worth paying a professional to help you figure out if you can't do it yourself. Now a lot of people like your partner would probably balk and say "that's silly, I know how to mop" but do you? Do you know how to do it once a week without being reminded? Do you know how to figure out how to juggle it with other tasks that adults should also figure out how to do without being nagged?

It's not shameful to not know how to do these things, especially since men often don't get explicitly taught these things because women do it for them. But it is failing to adult if you're not willing to either a) put in actual effort to teach yourself both how to do things and how to plan to do things without your parent or spouse nagging OR b) ask a professional for help.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:25 AM on August 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

I disagree about not caring about your partner taking of their health. Because if your partner refuses to get
a health issue checked out and not doing so makes it worse, guess where the responsibility falls to take care of them? (And your update speaks exactly to this) Similarly if they have an issue with their car and they don't get that checked out. Are they then going to ask to borrow your car, ask you for rides, or ask to borrow money from you to pay for the repairs, etc.?

assume he wants to learn
You assume this. Has he actually said he wants to learn?

accept that maybe this otherwise great guy is just not fully baked yet?
Don't accept that. He's 26 and fully capable of learning this stuff from the internet. The question is if he wants to. When talking to him maybe don't take the approach of "you're lacking knowledge/skills, I have to teach you" but talk about partnership, your life together, how you want that to look, and what you need to be sane and happy. It's definitely not ok if you say "I need a certain level of cleanliness otherwise I get stressed out" and he ignores that. Your partner is supposed to add to your life, not create more work for you.

Edit: just saw this:
posted by foxjacket at 10:47 AM on August 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

I’d highly encourage you to check out the work of Allison Daminger, which I’ve found really helpful for the next step beyond what you’ve articulated here. You’ve identified a gap? Now what? How would you characterize it?

In a nutshell, Daminger is a sociologist studying this and has her own newsletter. She breaks cognitive labor down into “anticipate, identify, decide, monitor” steps.

She has a great template for how to begin a conversation around this that you might wish to explore. Even if you don’t do all of these steps, it can be super helpful to start to map out not just that inequity exists, but what your partner’s contributions might look like. For example, it sounds like he’s not a great noticer of when certain routine tasks like checkups need to be attended to. So, in addition to getting him to work on tracking more things so you’re not always the one bringing issues to his attention, maybe you could set up your division of labor so that even if he doesn’t notice something, he’s still sharing the weight of responding to it.

A way I've found this helpful in my own partnership was realizing that one of us was a great "anticipate" and "identify" type but didn't take on as much of the following-up steps, so while we both felt like we did a lot of household labor, the one who did more of the monitoring felt like they were being nagged about things the other person had noticed but not dealt with. This framework helped us see that it's not just the amount of work being done but the type of work that can matter a lot.
posted by dapati at 10:53 AM on August 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

Not helpful, but: let this be a lesson to anyone wondering whether they should move in with an immature partner who can't hold up his end of the life-skills bargain, the answer is NO, ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NOT.

Taking care of a partner because they haven't had the opportunity to grow up or can't be bothered to dooms a relationship. It's extremely unlikely that the two of you will ever manage to be truly equals, rather than you having to quash some aspect of your soul to achieve some pretense of equality. This is a faustian bargain that patriarchy tricks women into over and over again (plus: bonus trick of convincing individual women that they're making these decisions with self-awareness and feminist ideals in mind). Are you planning to have kids with this guy? Who's going to keep the house clean when you're running on 2hrs of sleep after being up all night with a crying baby?
posted by knucklebones at 11:09 AM on August 13, 2021 [7 favorites]

Maybe you shouldn't break up, but he should move out for a year or so. He needs to learn to do this stuff on his own.

Is he someone who would actually step up and learn this stuff if you had a Big Talk with him? Or would he make conciliatory noises, make a few changes, then go back to the comfortable place of letting other people (women) take care of him? I bet you know in your gut which it will be. But you should still talk to him about it.
posted by purple_bird at 11:16 AM on August 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Since he is a spoiled adult man, he might never have thought about these things. Have him read She Divorced Me Because I Left the Dishes in the Sink and You Should've Asked. The second one is especially great because a lot of men think having their partner act as the household manager solves the problem.

Also since he is a spoiled adult man, it's fair and reasonable to expect him to put the work in to figure out how to maintain a home. You can help & guide him, but he's hardly the first person who needed to figure out how to clean a kitchen. There's a whole internet out there. He'd fire up google if he needed to for his hobby.
posted by Mavri at 11:47 AM on August 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

It's reasonable to ask him to learn the skills he needs to be a grownup. It's also reasonable to have "doesn't go to the dentist" a relationship dealbreaker. It's super easy for him to get the impression (from pop culture, family, peers) that coasting like an overgrown teenager is perfectly fine--and, to a certain extent, it is, from a personal autonomy point of view. But it's worth having a conversation that goes, "I like you very much and think you're great. What I want in a partner is both someone I really enjoy, and someone who roughly shares my overall approach to being an independent adult. Can we talk about what that means to me and figure out if we're compatible there?" Because it's ok to have different tolerance levels for mess, but you'll be miserable if you can't figure out how to collaborate on keeping the home livable for both people. Likewise, it's ok to have different priorities about how you each take care of your bodies, but you'll feel like a parent if you think dental care is important and he thinks it's normal to just always be complaining about a toothache. You're not choosing whether or not to date each other, you're choosing whether or not to continue making a home and a life together, so the questions end up being a little more practical and unsexy.
posted by theotherdurassister at 1:22 PM on August 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

All of this stuff is generally survivable but unpleasant to deal with/watch him deal with so I guess I am more looking for advice on how to deal with my feelings about having to vicariously go through all the stumbling around of early adulthood again (what I refer to as "learning the hard way" in my original question).

To a certain degree, not going through these feelings is part of what people are rejecting if they decide not to pursue a relationship with someone due to the person being "immature".

Everyone has dealbreakers in relationships, but what is talked about less is that some things are not quite dealbreakers but you still don't like them. You are in a relationship with the whole person, the good parts and the bad parts, and part of your relationship with this person will be seeing them figuring out how to deal with not living with their parents anymore.

Maybe you could try to see these fumblings in a more positive way? Maybe there is something wonderful, beautiful, brave about how he is figuring out how to live away from his parent's home? Celebrate successes, take joy in him figuring out things for himself for the first time.

But, it's also OK to decide that you aren't interested in living with him yet! It's ok to do this even if you feel he had sensible reasons for living with his parents. You should put in some hard thought about what living together means for your relationship, it's possible that it might be better for your relationship to live apart for a little bit while he figures out some things with less of your direct day to day assistance. You might consider seeing a relationship counselor to figure out what the best way forward is.
posted by yohko at 5:57 PM on August 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

OP, your examples about the tooth problem and the unreliable car shot me way over into DTMFA territory. Seriously, this man is not acting like an adult with his shit together. There is zero upside in you taking on the job of trying to grow him into an adult with his shit together. Zero. Also if you have ever even once thought for a microsecond about bearing this man's children: DON'T.
posted by Sublimity at 6:47 PM on August 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Let me expand on this for a second. Your SO is gainfully employed, carries responsibility in his hobby, has great capacity to remember details about subjects of interest. This shows you that there is no cognitive or executive reason that he falls short in other responsibilities. Whatever the blocks are here, are things that your guy is going to have to resolve for himself when he comes to a mature understanding that he needs to do things that have to get done, even if they are things that he doesn't want to do or doesn't like to do. Don't fall for the line about "not noticing". When someone says they "don't notice" a problem, what they're telling you is that this is not a responsibility they have internalized and taken on. No one comes out of the womb "noticing" that there's a pile of dirty dishes or dirt all over the carpet.

You cannot resolve those blocks for him. He has to get there himself. You are in a shitty situation where you either handle the mess he won't deal with, or if you put your foot down (try to enforce equity, refuse to bail him out when he fucks up), you will be the person who gets blamed for forcing him to confront whatever fear or shame or sexism or whatever is at root of those blocks. He's avoiding that stuff for some reason and will resent the shit out of you for preventing him from continuing to avoid it. Really, there is no upside here.
posted by Sublimity at 7:05 PM on August 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

I got married early (just before 20) from a family where my Mom did all that stuff; it was just the way it was - my Dad ran his own business doing car repair and some fabrication work and often worked long hours getting something finished for a customer, the rest of us were in school and/or had part-time jobs. When I got married my first wife did most of that stuff, and a lot of it when we had our first kid (though I helped with diapers, bathing, etc) but after our second child she still did most of it and I was then working as a programmer on an assignment which required a lot of hours of me. I came home for lunch one day and she _really_ blew up about it; after that I did dishes and laundry regularly - she had to teach me about laundry.

My main point here is don't seethe inside until you explode. Calmly, rationally, keep discussing this issue with him - letting it out keeps you from eventually exploding, and constantly discussing it might make him more aware and helpful way sooner
posted by TimHare at 9:41 AM on August 14, 2021

Another non-helpful contribution: when I was in my twenties and dating guys like this, I knew in some quiet part of my mind that I'd always have one foot out the door, despite how sweet things often were. It certainly didn't stop me from getting into 3+ year relationships while convincing myself I was taking it day by day, or month by month, and my god I wish it had. Why wasn't I better at listening to that quiet part of my mind, instead of forever avoiding confronting the reality of things? After a few years of serious monogamy, it really is hard on your spirit to be continually, dimly aware that you'll fully respect your partner. It's a disservice to your partner, yes, but it's just as significant a betrayal of yourself to actively suppress your intuition for such a long time.

It would have been different if we'd both been the type to lose our house keys, forget appointments, if we were both borrowing rent money from one another equally rather than it being almost entirely one-sided. But we weren't, and that ruined what could have been a warm, equitable mess of a relationship. Your partner sounds like he may be lovely and well-meaning (even if he's also absolutely benefitting from patriarchal lower expectations), but if your gut's already attuned to the maturity imbalance, don't drag things out. By which I mean, don't prolong your own learning experience because you're in love and things are sweet most of the time if you know in your heart that things aren't going to work.*

Footnote 1: Lots of people marry and even spend their lives with people they have this type of intuition with, but lots of people also have long and unhappy relationships that lack equity in chores, emotional labor, and mutual respect. Don't set yourself up for this if you're good at commitment. Commitment in and of itself doesn't solve the underlying problems; sometimes it entrenches you in them.

Footnote 2: One thing I've noticed after nearly three decades of dating is that the problems (or frustrations, or small red flags, or personality quirks, or notable lifestyle differences) you spot early on don't go away, as a rule, even if they recede for a while during the honeymoon stage of the first several years. They come back when the relationship becomes ordinary life, whether that's in year two or year six. Which is to say, assume this well-meaning partner will be avoiding dentist appointments and forgetting to pay his credit card bill a decade from now (perhaps when you're married and finances are shared?). Is the solution that you take over paying all the bills, that you make dentist appointments for him proactively when he first mentions a toothache? How does this added layer of responsibility detract from your own ability to be a fully actualized adult? (Ever think dreamily of writing short stories? Or even of playing video games more often? Having to be on top of someone else's life-admin seriously impedes both, especially if you're already juggling full-time work and perhaps parenting, which is pretty likely to be inequitable, too. Basically what I mean to say is that you're already experiencing the problem of his neglected responsibilities infringing on your own responsibilities and commitments and the relationship is barely a year old! What will it be like when your lives are far more intertwined, not just as friends and lovers but as co-owners of property or vehicles, etc? These types of things are easy to ignore and push below the surface of your subconscious now, but they'll never really go away.)
posted by knucklebones at 3:40 PM on August 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

Also just want to emphasize this thing: upthread Hypatia wrote There's so many people in this thread saying "26 is so young!" and like, 26 is an adult. He ought to be able to do this shit. You did it at 26. The world is full of 26 year olds raising children, managing cafes, leading infantry platoons. As you point out, he can manage his job and his hobby thing just fine.

We're not all equally capable when it comes to life skills or anything else, and that's fine. Like, it's not ideal that guy is messy as hell and doesn't yet know how to prioritize his dental health before it bites him in the ass. However it simultaneously also means that he's not a good match for you as a partner because you're someone who does know how to handle this stuff, and one big reason you do is because it matters to you.
posted by knucklebones at 3:55 PM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think what this all boils down to, is that this behavior is indeed plain unsexy.

I don't mean in the "withholding sex" vein, I mean, that no matter how many people are approaching this objectively -- he's still young, he needs to be guided, etc. -- it's that, you're already noticing it, and have already floated towards the parent role in this relationship.

I think this is especially hard as a woman, particularly in your 20s, being just that little bit older than your boyfriend too. You don't want a protege, you want a partner.

Your relationship is already inequitable, and any change going forward is going to mean so much more effort and labor and possibly resentment on your part. This is less to do with him, and how baked or unbaked he is, but rather, about you -- is he worth it?
posted by NatalieWood at 10:57 PM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Just talk to him like an adult about these things, regularly, without nagging. Some people are making this sound much more conceptually complicated than it is.

Also, I see much of the commentary here that encourages you to dump your partner to be off topic. The question is not about dumping or staying together.
posted by mortaddams at 4:10 AM on August 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

assume he wants to learn
You assume this. Has he actually said he wants to learn?

I would add: if he says this, do you believe him?

Is he the sort of person who says what he knows or thinks you want to hear, regardless of whether he can or will live up to it?

My ex outright admitted to this behavior. If I'd had any sense I'd have divorced him the first time. Don't be me.
posted by humbug at 4:46 PM on August 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

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