I love you, but you're covered in the hand germs of the masses.
June 1, 2008 11:18 AM   Subscribe

How do I get my boyfriend to wash his hands without nagging him?

I wouldn't describe myself as a germaphobe, but I was raised to have a certain awareness of the things that I touch (and get touched by a thousand other people), and to wash my hands upon coming home, especially before doing something like eating or touching all up on my face. Grabbing onto the poles and straps on public transit really skeeves me out, as do bathrooms and public computers. If I'm carrying anti-bac gel with me, I'll do that as soon as I'm done, and/or I'll make sure to wash my hands the next time a sink presents itself. I tell you this so that you know I'm not some crazy wash-the-hands-till-they-bleed person.

Anyway, the boyfriend hasn't been instilled with this ability to notice potentially gross things. He'll full-handledly grab onto a rail on a bus, touch his face, pick something up off the ground, touch his mouth, open a door, and then sit down and start eating. He also often doesn't wash his hands after peeing. None of this seems to register with him. If it were just him, I'd sit back and watch in horror as the scene played out, but when he tries to hold my hand or touch me or (gasp) put his hands anywhere, excuse me, but no.

When we sit down to eat, I'll (always nicely) ask him to wash his hands first. If we're at home he'll usually comply, but if we're out, it's almost always a no-go. And I don't sit there like his mom and say "go wash your hands;" I'll get up and say, "be right back, going to go wash the bus off my hands," and give him a look. I know he knows what I'd like him to do, he's just being difficult. Same goes for the bathroom and everything else. Also, I worry that when I refuse to hold his hand (and tell him it's because his hands are dirty), he thinks it's because I don't like him (because he's just like that).

Long story short: How can I get my boyfriend to wash his hands with regularity, without nagging him constantly?

p.s. He is almost 22 and should know better.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (52 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You can only control what you do and don't do, and touch and don't touch. If that means you don't touch your boyfriend unless he has cleaned himself to your satisfaction, then that's your choice. However, you can't control what your boyfriend's choices anymore than he can control yours, and nagging him or shooting him meaningful looks will only aggravate both of you. You are both adults and can make your own choices. He probably thinks you're being obsessive-compulsive or germophobic, but you're not going to stop washing your hands because of his opinion, are you?

For what it's worth, I don't really get why washing one's hands before eating is necessary, unless one is eating with one's hands. Personally, I usually use a knife and fork, and as long as they're clean, I'm good to go.
posted by amro at 11:30 AM on June 1, 2008 [4 favorites]

If you can't get him to wash his hands when you're out, could you get him to use the anti-bacterial gel? I know some people say it's bad and just breeds super-resilient viruses, but I figure the benefits outweigh the risks, really.
posted by InsanePenguin at 11:32 AM on June 1, 2008

I wouldn't describe myself as a germaphobe
I would. But I'm a guy, FWIW.

Everyone's different. For me, what would probably work is a slightly sexy "wash your hands this instant, you dirty boy." Take the edge off the nag (that's what it is, sorry) with a bit of lasciviousness. Usually does the job for me.
posted by Aquaman at 11:33 AM on June 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: How about rewarding him when he does wash his hands, and ignoring him when he doesn't? A little bit of praise or extra physical affection may go further in encouraging good behaviour than nagging or disgusted looks. I'm referencing the immensely-popular NYT article "What Shamu Taught Me About A Happy Marriage" here.
posted by hellopanda at 11:35 AM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

You can't. This is your phobia, not his.

You either need to learn to live with it, or else find someone else to date who's as fussy as you are.
posted by ook at 11:36 AM on June 1, 2008 [11 favorites]

Yeah you're a bit obsessive, and your boyfriend is on the other side of things, maybe not obsessive enough, who knows. Explain to him calmly that it makes you uncomfortable and you know that maybe you're overreacting but that it'd make you much more comfortable if he'd wash his hands more regularly and that you'd really really appreciate it. He should at least make a small effort to accommodate you.
posted by beerbajay at 11:36 AM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't describe myself as a germaphobe

That makes one of us. What you describe is not what most people do. Most people do not carry antibacterial gel to deal with touching a subway pole. Most people do not get skeeved out from a public computer.

Note that your boyfriend, despite all of this, is still healthy. That's because our bodies are capable of handling all of this themselves. In fact, all that antibacterial gel and handwashing is probably helping bacteria to evolve into superbugs for which those things don't work anymore.

You are asking your boyfriend to act like someone with the same obsession you have, but he doesn't have that obsession. Either you can date people that don't have the same obsession you do or you can't, and you need to figure that out. But expecting other people to pick up your obsession to keep you happy is unrealistic.
posted by mendel at 11:38 AM on June 1, 2008 [39 favorites]

Something like this is something you get instilled with at a young age and it takes quite a lot of effort to make it into a routine once you're 22. I suppose if you were to sit him down and tell him what you've told us here, he can decide to make that effort for you. Nagging him isn't going to help, nor is patronising him with "you should know better". What I'm basically saying is that he must want to change in order to change. I would also seriously recommend that you reconsider you own stance as well. The ability to compromise and willingness to change are good traits to have when asking someone else to do the same.
posted by slimepuppy at 11:40 AM on June 1, 2008

Does your boyfriend get sick a lot? Does he seem to suffer any negative effects from his "gross" habits? If not, then what's the problem?

I very much doubt that you will get him to comply with what he surely sees as your over the top cleanliness. Further, you should consider that fact that in his mind it's likely that you are the one that needs to change her habits. He probably thinks that you are the one whose behavior is outside of the mainstream. In fact, his willful defiance may be his way of getting you to see that you are going too far.
posted by oddman at 11:42 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is he constantly sick? Is there any proof that his lax hand washing (by your standards) has harmed him in any way?

I probably wash my hands more than most people I know (for at least 20 seconds each time) because my job requires I spend a lot of time in public computer labs around students. When they bring back their laptops at the end of the semester I'm constantly reaching for the hand sanitizer.

But yeah, I agree with amro. You aren't going to get your bf to change his habits, especially if he sees no benefit to it. And there's actually some negative too. My hands are constantly dry, even now when the Illinois days are starting to get humid. You're just going to have to accept that he's not perfect but that you love him anyway. And he should accept that you have your limits and personal contact will require a little more cleanliness.
posted by sbutler at 11:42 AM on June 1, 2008

Best answer: Yeah, you sound kind of out there to me. Unless your immune system is compromised in a major way your level of caution is excessive.

Probably your chances of success will be higher if you approach this as "Could you please try to accommodate my somewhat unusual quirk" rather than "You should know better."
posted by myeviltwin at 11:43 AM on June 1, 2008 [6 favorites]

phunniemee, I'm going to echo the others and say that while you listed a bunch of things as evidence that you're not a germophobe, they pretty much scream GERMOPHOBE to me. Carrying around antibacterial gel to use immediately after touching a pole or a subway strap?

I humbly submit that your boyfriend isn't the one with the problem, it's you.

He's not being difficult; you are!
posted by Justinian at 11:53 AM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Since the guy you are dating sounds almost identical to me, I think you're in for some trouble.

I can't imagine you will be able to get him to change his habits if he hasn't already, especially with the efforts you have already described.

It's possible you will be able to learn to live with someone who doesn't have the same irrational fixation about germs that you do. Perhaps there are some Mefites out there who used to be a little germ crazy and they can give you some advice about getting over your issues. [And that might be a good future question for you to ask here.]

As a last resort, you can give him an ultimatum: he becomes a clean freak like you want him to or he loses you, but be prepared for the end of your relationship. [And do you really want to be dating someone who would choose germs over you, anyway?]
posted by andoatnp at 11:58 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

The only point at which you have some right to be skeeved out by the fact he touched something and then didn't was his hands, is when he touches you. That's the only point at which germs could be passed on to you. If he wants to lick a subway pole and then eat a McDonald's, that's his right. It might not be a good thing, from your point of view, but your point of view doesn't matter in this instance. It's his body, and he can do or not do with it as he likes. How would you feel if the reverse were the case - if he demanded that you rub your hands against a doorknob before you ate your food? And for an extra flourish, he gave you "a look". You have a right to control your own body and cleanliness habits, but so does your boyfriend.

So, the only point at which you have reason to demand that he washes his hands is when he's touching you. To get him to wash his hands before he touches you, just tell him that if he wants to touch you, he has to wash first. And then don't let him touch you until he's washed. If he wants hanky panky, he's got to go shower first. Simple.

I get that you find it irritating. I grew up with someone who to this day will not use any kind of public toilet, carries hand wipes and uses them after every bus journey, etc. If she wants to do that, that's entirely up to her, and I have no power to make her stop doing that. Just like she has no power to make me start doing it. She might not like it, but being as I am, a grown up, she doesn't get to control it any more. No matter how distasteful she finds it.
posted by Solomon at 11:58 AM on June 1, 2008

Best answer: You sound substantially more germ-vigilant than what I've observed to be average and he sounds slightly less than average. So just recognize the relativity involved. I'm not saying there isn't a logic to what you're doing, just that it's not at the top of the bell curve.

I agree with others that you'll never get him to be like you in this regard. If that's the way he is used to being and doesn't have a real need to do it your way, it's not going to happen. So if he wants to eat his sandwich with subway hands, I think you have to leave him to it.

But I don't think you have to become like him any more than he has to become like you. So when it comes to holding hands with him, or any other situation where his comparative grossness is going to affect you, I think it's perfectly OK to lay down some ground rules with him. You get to control what you do.

As others have said, I think you can tell him some of the same things you're telling us, but then you can say, in your own words, "I'd love it if you would keep the same level as cleanliness as me. But I won't bug you if you don't want to be that way. But when it comes to things like holding hands with me, or preparing dinner together, or other things like that after you have been out on the subway (or whatever) all day, I can't do it unless you wash your hands. It makes me too uncomfortable and drives me to distraction." You can let him know that doing that one simple, quick thing will allow you to relax and be fully with him.

Be very clear that it's not a judgement of him or an indication of your feelings for him, it's your personal feelings about germs, and could he help you out?
posted by Askr at 11:58 AM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Probably your chances of success will be higher if you approach this as "Could you please try to accommodate my somewhat unusual quirk"

exactly. I was the bf in this scenario, except she wanted me to clean my apt, which was not up to her standard, but not gross; actually average or better for a single guy.

if she had approached it as "I know I'm a little nutty about cleanliness, but could you do me a favor..." I would've done it in a heartbeat to make her happy. As it happened, she started lecturing me, as if her standards were the universe's and I was a filthy slob. We got in a big fight, almost broke up, and the apartment is still as "messy" as it ever was.

you want him to do something unusual to accommodate you. You are asking for a favor. Approach it that way.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:04 PM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Perhaps there are some Mefites out there who used to be a little germ crazy and they can give you some advice about getting over your issues. [And that might be a good future question for you to ask here.]

OP didn't ask others to solve her issues. Just because the average person doesn't actually wash their hands after going to the restroom, prior to eating, or after using public transportation doesn't mean it isn't an appropriate thing to do. Those certainly are not in the boundary of crazy, to me, they are healthy.

Now, I would agree with those who said that all you need to be concerned with is when he attempts to touch you without washing. If he can't accommodate one hand wash to get his hands on you, then he's the crazy one.
posted by Asherah at 12:07 PM on June 1, 2008

This is so not about hand washing. This is about learning how to negotiate with each other.

Forget the people who are saying that your preference for clean hands is weird or bad or wrong. You prefer one thing, he prefers another, and you're gonna drive each other crazy unless you work out a compromise — that's the important part.

So far, it sounds like you're just making demands of each other. Maybe you've offered to scale back your demands a little. But it doesn't sound like either of you has offered to rethink your own position or change your own behavior. That's where you need to start.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:19 PM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

The only time I care is when he's going to be touching me, and inserting a nag into sexytime isn't, well, conducive to sexytime. That (and that I think washing your hands after using the toilet should be reflexive) is what I'm asking about.

Now you're contradicting yourself. You went on for alomost a paragraph above about how you try to get him to wash his hands before eating.
posted by amro at 12:24 PM on June 1, 2008

The problem here is the judgment about what he "should" do or already know how to do. If he is amenable to making you comfortable by washing his hands when you deem it necessary, just tell him whenever it comes up (note: this is different from nagging) and off he goes to the sink. To me, this is no different from kissing your mate goodbye every morning for 25 years and saying, "Got your phone?" What makes it nagging is the judgment that he "should" learn to automatically incorporate your habit into his life.

Additionally, if he's open to incorporate your habit in order to please you, then there are mnemonic devices that could help him take it on. Things like linking hand-washing with other habitual things. My mate washes his glasses every morning with a glass spray, so he was able to attach wiping the water from the sink to that action by using the same paper towel when he was done. At a restaurant, the pattern might be: sit down, order food, take turns using the bathroom to freshen up before the meal arrives. At home, it might be: put down keys, plug in phone, wash hands, hug.
posted by xo at 12:32 PM on June 1, 2008

Ah, on non-preview, I agree that you've got a stronger right to make demands when it comes to sex — it is your body and not his. So yeah, it's totally reasonable to say "no nookie without a shower."


So okay: think positive feedback. "Mmm, you smell good" when he's nice and clean. "So... you might want to get a bath before bed ifyouknowwhatimean" when you're feeling frisky. If he starts thinking "it turns her on when I'm clean" (rather than, say, "she's so uptight about dirt") I can't imagine he won't put two and two together.

That said, a lot of this is still gonna be about compromise. There's probably a reason (rational or not) that he's refused to budge so far. You might want to find out what that reason is, and see if there's any way you can meet him halfway on it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:33 PM on June 1, 2008

Just a point of clarification: the "he should know better" bit is in reference to his not washing his hands after going to the bathroom. Seriously, who does that after they're 5?
If people needed to wash their hands after touching their naughties, no male would make it past age twelve.

I'm not saying "don't wash your hands after you pee". I'm saying:
  1. The actual need to do so is vastly overrated;
  2. Sorry, but yeah, frankly, you're the one with the problem, not him.

posted by Flunkie at 12:34 PM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

in reference to his not washing his hands after going to the bathroom. Seriously, who does that after they're 5?

Me. I know you're not asking for a show of (erm, "dirty") hands here, but I grew up in the country and just didn't do a lot of hand-washing and I still don't. I date someone who is pretty much equal on the cleanliness scale as I am (shower a few times a week, rarely wear deodorant, crawl around in the dirt a lot) and that works for us. I used to date someone who wore deodorant to bed. This is better. I agree, this has not much to do with cleanliness and a lot more to do with either 1) learning to set boundaries with your partner and/or 2) learning what is or is not a deal-breaker for you.

It's totally okay for this cleanliness thing to be a deal-breaker for you, it's your life and your body you are concerned about him touching. However, the results in this thread might give you pause that you might have a harder-than-average time finding someone who shares your cleanliness habits and preferences. You seem to be basing your personal preferences in what is "normal" [your "who does that?" question seems to be an explicit appeal to normative standards] and I think the responses you've gotten may indicate that the normative "how much cleanliness is too much" lies someplace between your boyfriend and you.

Generally speaking, I've heard of plenty of couples who have a "let's clean up a bit before getting dirty" approach to fooling around and that may be a better approach than anything that 1) seems vaguely like nagging 2) seems like "hey could you please be NORMAL??" which, as drjimmy11 says above, is not likely to go well.
posted by jessamyn at 12:36 PM on June 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Stop trying to change the person you're in love with. It'll make them miserable and you not love them anymore.

Honestly, I think you need to decide whether this is a deal breaker for you or not. If not, then talk to him and just ask him to wash his hand before touching you, as it's the only part you can reasonably control.

Everything else just sounds like a nagging mother. Really.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:42 PM on June 1, 2008

Have you tried making antibacterial hand stuff more available? Pump bottles in the kitchen, the bathroom, wherever. Whenever I see an open pump bottle, I use it, just because it's there.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:46 PM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just a point of clarification: the "he should know better" bit is in reference to his not washing his hands after going to the bathroom. Seriously, who does that after they're 5?

Almost everyone. Here is an article from the British Medical Journal that gives observed handwashing rates in a public restroom as low as about 34% for men. Other articles that I found via Google had very similar numbers -- from about 30% up to 60%, depending on who was being watched and where they were.

Even sending your boyfriend off for 4-8 years of specialized training in healthcare won't help -- hospitals have tremendous trouble trying to get doctors to wash their hands between patients:

In 1996, Tibbals reported that only 12% of physicians in a pediatric intensive-care unit washed their hands after patient contact (Medical Journal of Australia, 164, 395, 1996). Even after an intensive program of education, monitoring, and feedback, handwashing rates rose only to 17%. When another sample of doctors were surveyed about their behavior, they reported that they washed their hands from 50-95% of the time; but when they were surreptitiously observed, their actual rate was as low as 9%. source

I'm not defending those who aren't handwashing in the bathroom or before touching patients. But I think your idea of what is "normal" is kind of skewed, and your boyfriend is far more normal (meaning, his behaviors are similar to most people's in the population).

Yes, handwashing after urinating is a good idea -- not so much because your crotch is covered in disgusting germs (after all, people put their mouth down there all the time, and rarely catch any diseases from doing so) but because doing so ensures that you will wash your hands a few times every day. And yes, washing your hands in between grabbing that subway pole and eating a hotdog is probably not a terrible idea, either. But not doing so is honestly very unlikely to cause you any major damage, and excessive use of anti-germ products does lead to bad outcomes in terms of resistant germs. So there's a balance to be sought -- your hands should be washed from time to time, but washing excessively is not in anyone's best interest.

All that said, this is the kind of thing that should be negotiated and communicated between you and your boyfriend. Dirty glances don't count as communication -- you have to talk about it, and find a point of agreement that you can both live with. Nothing we can say here is a substitute for you guys sitting down and hashing this out, however long it takes. Or you can go the sneaky route and use the Shamu-training approach, which probably will work ok as long as he doesn't figure out what you are doing.
posted by Forktine at 12:47 PM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to note that you are probably getting some kinda of harsh responses (myself included) from people less "clean" than you in this thread because I think you're reminding some of us of the nagging we used to get from various people in our lives (usually parents) about washing up. I'm not sure how this comes across in-real-life with him, but I think you really want to avoid him thinking you are nagging him, that can be killer for a relationship.

My guess is that he got plenty of this from his parents previously, and that obviously didn't work on him, so I'm not sure what ability you will have in the situation. That being said, there was some good advice from people about when to ask him about washing, how to phrase it, and the best way to look at this problem.
posted by andoatnp at 12:54 PM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is truly a "pick your battles" sort of situation.

Stop asking him to wash his hands before he eats. Stop telling him you are going to "wash the bus of your hands" and then following it up with a nasty look. Both are equal to mother-like nagging. Whether or not he washes his hands before he eats has no serious impact on you (other than conjuring up nauseating images for you). You really can't/shouldn't try to change his behavior in relation to things that impact only him.

Here is what you can do: any time you encounter the "hand germs of the masses" (public transport, public computers, public bathrooms, whatever), pull out your anti-bac of choice and offer him a squirt/wipe/spray. Don't do it in a "I really want you to do this for me" sort of way, just offer the same way you would offer gum, mints or whatever else you pull out for yourself and offer to others out of politeness. If he refuses, just shrug. Eventually, when it stops mattering so much to you, he might just want a squirt/wipe/spray for his own reasons.

If he doesn't get into the anti-bac or hand washing, you can always just treat hand-holding the same way you would public facilities and wash/anti-bac (subtly) when you are done.

When it comes to inserting dirty fingers into your body (sorry, blanking out on a more polite way to put that), this is where you can put your foot down. This is the only instance where his refusal to wash his hands could become your problem, as it does create increase your risk of UTIs or other infections (this is just a seemingly obvious guess, maybe someone with a medical background can confirm this). Before this happens, ask him to wash his hands. Is it unromantic? A bit, but we all have our quirks. After a while, he might just start washing his hands beforehand so not to ruin the moment.
posted by necessitas at 12:58 PM on June 1, 2008

* just to put the above into perspective, I AM a germaphobe. I wrap wipes around public transit poles and handrails, pull out wipes after touching interactive exhibits at museums, etc.
posted by necessitas at 1:01 PM on June 1, 2008

The simple, logical and rational way to handle this situation would be to find some well supported evidence that whatever you're scared these germs will do to you is true and present it to your dearly beloved, thus proving that you're not a crazy germaphobe (proving your fear is rational and therefore not a phobia is how your prove you're not a crazy germaphobe - not telling us all how you carry anti-bac so as not to be infected by the germs of the masses)

Chances are he, like most people in this thread, thinks you're crazy and even if he could change his habits, probably wouldn't. Is this a deal breaker for you? If you limit yourself to only partners who are equally obsessive about hand washing as you, you've got a very small pool to choose from.

The easist thing for you to do would be to get some therapy to deal with your germ 'issues'. Firstly, because thats something thats in your control and doesn't involve trying to change someone elses behavior (remember, his behavior is just as ingrained as yours) and secondly because statistically speaking, this relationship wont last forever and chances are you'll have to go all through this with the next one (and the next one...etc). This problem already seems to be putting a strain on your relationship - you're nagging him, he's being 'difficult', he feels rejected because you wont let him touch you - these kinds of behaviors do not lead to happy lasting relationships.

Theres nothing wrong with wanting to be clean and washing your hands before dinner is a perfectly civilised thing to do (but that most people don't bother with - as previously mentioned, we don't eat with our hands), but there are a couple of points that IMO cross the line, 1. carrying anti-bac with you to use after touching public 'stuff'. 2. Thinking 'ew germs' when you should be thinking about sex.

ps. on the peeing thing - healthy human urine is sterile.
posted by missmagenta at 1:34 PM on June 1, 2008

OK, I'm not a big hand washer. (But I have a killer immune system and I attribute it to all the hand washing I DIDN'T do!) But my new boyfriend is. And he can't win all the time, but he'll mention it often enough (Hey honey, aren't you gonna wash your hands?) that I wash my hands more often now than I did before. He's not exactly nagging, but we're kind of meeting in the middle. I wash more often, he gets a (slightly) cleaner girlfriend more often. But it can't happen all the time, also because we just have different habits and we have to compromise and meet in the middle on some of them.

(Side note: he doesn't close the shower curtain after a shower and that drives me BATTY because mold builds up so quickly on a shower curtain. I've closed it when he's still in the bathroom or I've mentioned it a few times, and now he does it every once and a while, but...compromise, right??)
posted by cachondeo45 at 1:39 PM on June 1, 2008

The only time I care is when he's going to be touching me, and inserting a nag into sexytime isn't, well, conducive to sexytime. That (and that I think washing your hands after using the toilet should be reflexive) is what I'm asking about.

For the sex-part, make it clear that you won't partake unless he washes. As soon as he obliges, make it worth his while. "Train" him well enough, and he'll be eager to wash up at home.
posted by jmd82 at 1:54 PM on June 1, 2008

Best answer: i think the real issue is, why won't your boyfriend do what he can to make you comfortable? no matter what the situation, why would he willfully make you uncomfortable? that may be a bigger issue worth exploring, but if you ask him to do something for you -- which this is -- and he says he won't .. maybe that's something to consider.

as far as i know, you're not going to find any educated person (doctor, for instance) who will say your being excessive hygienic. a compromise where you both only wash your hands before a meal "every other time" doesn't make sense. but maybe there's another compromise you can reach. for instance, if he wishes you would go out to sports events with him more often, maybe you can make a deal that you'll do that to make him happier, if he washes up to make you happy.

btw, in my opinion :) the people in this thread who blame you for being "too picky" are trying to justify a laziness in their lifestyle that they don't want threatened. that drives me crazy. it's these people who make the rest of us have to work extra-hard to keep things reasonably clean.

the argument by some people that humans are naturally built to fight off diseases ignores the fact that it's unnatural for humans to live in such densely populated city and share the same tools. the way i think of it, close-quarters city life wouldn't be possibly without good hygiene and sanitation, which includes hand washing. a few people who chose to ignore aren't going to bring our cities to their knees, but they're not helping either.
posted by phoeniciansailor at 1:57 PM on June 1, 2008

excessive use of anti-germ products does lead to bad outcomes in terms of resistant germs

That depends. Products which use alcohol to lyse the bacteria aren't going to contribute in any meaningful way to resistance. See previous answers here and here.

If any of you are using products that use antibiotic drugs to kill those bacteria, please stop. MRSA and other drug-resistant pathogens are far more terrifying than your perceived dirty hands.
posted by chrisamiller at 1:58 PM on June 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

(and for him to appreciate the grossness of frequently touched things).

Stop trying to change the people you love. It'll make'em miserable and hate you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:07 PM on June 1, 2008

Maybe providing nice hand soap would help?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:09 PM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here is what you can do: any time you encounter the "hand germs of the masses" (public transport, public computers, public bathrooms, whatever), pull out your anti-bac of choice and offer him a squirt/wipe/spray. Don't do it in a "I really want you to do this for me" sort of way, just offer the same way you would offer gum, mints or whatever else you pull out for yourself and offer to others out of politeness. If he refuses, just shrug. Eventually, when it stops mattering so much to you, he might just want a squirt/wipe/spray for his own reasons.

I would say you could do this a few times, but if he always refuses, constantly offering will be obvious and annoying - if he never ate mints you'd stop bothering to offer those.

Do switch from antibacterial to alcohol gel. The triclosan may or may not be a problem-causer, but why risk contributing to this potentially huge problem when alcohol sanitizer is available and bacteria will evolve a resistance to that about as much as we'll evolve a resistance to bullets.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:38 PM on June 1, 2008

Mod note: do not derail with talk of dick cells PLEASE. Take it to metatalk or email, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:42 PM on June 1, 2008

I'm not a 'germaphobe' either (My thing is dirt. I hate dirt and filth.) but as I read on I had a little chuckle to myself about your statement and thought yeah you are :) Technically no (for either you or myself) but on the scale it's up there.

Touching you, your things or things in your house with crusty hands is gross and I would clean his hands before the commencement of any of those type of things. Exactly like you would for grubby little kids, which is more of an affectionate or gentle gesture. Rather than "Ugh!! Would you wash your nasty fucking hands!!"

He doesn't care, so leave him alone. As long as he's not putting them on you or on your stuff it's none of your concern.
Btw I'm kinda stubborn so shooting me dirty looks - would make not doing what you wanted me to, extremely satisfying. Washing hands just can not compete with that level of satisfaction and I LIKE to wash my hands...
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 2:51 PM on June 1, 2008

This seems like a small thing he could do to show respect for you - like a chronically late person being 5 minutes instead of ten minutes late. Just making an effort.

That seems troubling but it's not clear if before eating is the only issue, or carefree BF thinks nothing of having a nice long and loud race-horse whizz, no apre-pee hand washing, and then comes to lovingly stroke your cheek with the scent of amonia....

Cuz that's beyong thoughtless.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:36 PM on June 1, 2008

I have nothing to add here, except that if injuries on his hands are not healing correctly and he seems more susceptible to infections there? He might be diabetic and not know it. His doc should definitely hear about that.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:45 PM on June 1, 2008

posted by phunniemee at 4:46 PM on June 1 [+] [!] :
1) I am not wrong or crazy. I've taken enough science classes to know that I am not crazy. I'm just not normal.

Wow. If you take enough science classes, you can self-diagnose mental illness? So, no scientists are delusionally mentally ill, from that thesis statement.


Of all the people you know, you are the least qualified to objectively determine if you are one or not.

I vote that you are a germaphobe. But my opinion, and that of the several who agree with me above in this thread, won't change your opinion. So let's concentrate on your perception that your boyfriend has a problem:

posted by oddman at 2:42 PM on June 1 [1 favorite +] [!] :
Does your boyfriend get sick a lot? Does he seem to suffer any negative effects from his "gross" habits? If not, then what's the problem?

DING-DING-DING! We have a winner!

Since you've taken so many science classes, you should understand the importance of objective data to validate theories.

Does your boyfriend get sick much more often than the average person?

It doesn't matter if he gets sick more than you; you two have different immune systems, and are only two data points. Ratios between two data points produce ridiculous results.

It doesn't matter if he gets sick somewhat more often than average person. Statistical deviation is expected, and won't prove anything whatsoever for a single datum.

His behavior is only a health problem if (1) he gets sick much more than the average person, or (2) one of you has an immunological disorder (in which case all bets are off, but you probably should have mentioned this in the OP).

The rest is just your own, internal feeling of what is "icky".
posted by IAmBroom at 4:48 PM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've been wanting to post a similar question, but I knew that there would be a landslide of replies saying that I'm totally in the wrong for wanting my husband to change a habit that disgusts me. So yay for your bravery in asking this!

I agree with those above, that this is more about respect for and wanting to please your partner. I have no good advice however. I'm slogging along as well. I've tried asking in plain language, teasing gently, explaining why it bothers me, why I think it'd be better for him, snapping at him in anger. And the using sugar thing? I know most responses suggest something sexual, in your case because it's a being touched issue with you, but trading a sexual action just seems degrading somehow.

And I don't think you are abnormal in the least. But then I'm in healthcare, and apparently one of the ones who do wash their hands dozens of times a day.
posted by Jazz Hands at 6:15 PM on June 1, 2008

Washing your hands frequently is pretty good for your health and the health of people around you. You're less likely to spread your germs. Alcohol-based hand disinfectant does not cause bacteria to become resistant.

He doesn't wash his hands before eating, and he's quite unlikely to change. He isn't convinced that it's important.

Who cooks? I like my food to be prepared by someone w/ clean hands. (yes, I know that lots of food-preparers are less than pristine; I'm not phobic, I just have preferences) Does he wash up before getting intimate? You might be able to incorporate extra washing into sex play, with lovely results. I'd be reluctant to carry on w/ someone who cooked w/ dirty hands, or didn't usually wash up before sex.

The rest of it is your distaste for his habits. Can you get over it? I don't think you're screwed up, and I don't think he is. You have to know if you can tolerate his differing level of germ-tolerance.
posted by theora55 at 6:35 PM on June 1, 2008

I would say you could do this a few times, but if he always refuses, constantly offering will be obvious and annoying - if he never ate mints you'd stop bothering to offer those.

Actually, if I am with others when I pull out wipes (I only use handi-wipe type towelettes, I'm mainly concerned with getting the grimy feel off my hands. I don't need a hardcore disinfectant/anti-bac gel), I'll always offer them. I don't expect or care whether or not they take it, and 9.99% of the time, people don't. I don't stop offering, nor would I stop offering mints. The gesture isn't that big a deal, so it seems like it would be rude or selfish to not offer.

The suggestion wasn't intended to be a passive aggressive.
posted by necessitas at 6:41 PM on June 1, 2008

I agree with those above, that this is more about respect for and wanting to please your partner.

Then why shouldn't the phunniemee's partner and your husband expect the two of you to show respect and please them by not bugging them about this and just letting it go?

When couples fight about money, they're often fighting about power and control. Fights about hygiene are similarly loaded.

Like jessamyn, I grew up in the country, which means not just lots of dirt but lots of animals, as in litters birthed indoors, possibly even in your underwear drawer. My ex was raised by a mother who made him strip down in the foyer and put his clothes in a plastic bag every day when he came home from school. (The shoes stayed outside in the hall.) It's not a huge exaggeration to say that our different standards of cleanliness made our marriage impossible.

Neither of you is wrong in your standards. Both of you may be wrong (or unrealistic) in your expectations that your partners will ever change because of anything you say or do to make them change.
posted by dogrose at 7:10 PM on June 1, 2008

Best answer: You need to draw a distinction between those things that you may observe but that do not impact you, and those things that do actually effect you.

His hands, his food - whatever. His hands, your vagina - totally different matter. Bacterial vaginosis is decidedly un-fun and has the side effect of basically benching him from bedroom games, so try framing that in terms of your well-being and his booty quota.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:01 PM on June 1, 2008

I'm with the majority here in that, by my definition and perspective, you are a germaphobe and you need to work on this too, not just your boyfriend...

But I must ask that you please do not follow the second piece of advice in the first "best answer" that you marked and ignore your boyfriend when he doesn't wash his hands. Being extra affection or nice when he does is fine, but ignoring him when he doesn't sounds so awful and more like a passive-aggressive temper-tantrum to me....

I was in a relationship with a guy who sounds like you, though his main issue was animals. He didn't like animals, he thought they were dirty regardless of how well-cared for or groomed they were. When it came to my cats, I always considered them to be very clean and I would not necessarily wash my hands after touching them unless I was about to eat. He made it VERY clear that I was never to touch him after touching an animal. I would always respect his wishes and wash my hands immediately whenever I was with him and had touched an animal.

But in general, I did not change my ways. I just didn't see the world as dirty as he did or as you do.

Your best bet in my opinion is to compromise. Stop making comments or giving looks in regards to him washing his hands before eating or anything else that doesn't involve him touching you. That's his business, not yours....and you will have to accept that he doesn't see the world as dirty as you do. But I do think you should be clear about his expected level of cleanliness when it comes to touching you, and hopefully he will respect that.
posted by Squee at 9:45 PM on June 1, 2008

Dogrose, my issue isn't with hand washing it's much, much more disgusting. I've actually gotten him to realize that putting the dishes away with freshly washed hands is a good thing.

I'm just wondering what the line is, is it changing someone if you would like your wife to stop clipping her toenails in bed? The husband is supposed to shrug and flick the clippings off of his pillow and say to herself, "Oh that cute, wonderful gal !"?
posted by Jazz Hands at 3:54 AM on June 2, 2008

I'm just wondering what the line is, is it changing someone if you would like your wife to stop clipping her toenails in bed?

In this scenario, it's up to the wife to decide if it's changing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:20 AM on June 2, 2008

I don't (nor have I ever) given him a dirty look. The look I referred to is a smile, since I am happy when I get to go wash my hands. I want him to be happy about washing his hands, too.

(emphasis mine)

Could you settle for his changing this habit because it makes you happy? Or do you want him to change what makes him happy? Because, to me, the latter is dangerously close to "I want him to want to go to the ballet with me instead of watching hockey" or "I want him to want to spend Christmas with my parents and their fifteen alcoholic poodles instead of with his family". And, in the words of the immortal Rocket J. Squirrel: That trick never works.
posted by shiny blue object at 6:38 AM on June 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

This might have gone better if you had framed the question around your BF's popping his zits and them getting infected and the swollen puffiness of the cuts and scratches on his hand. By putting of an emphasis on the gross health issue, you would have conveyed your point of view in a manner more easily understood by people who are not like you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:48 AM on June 2, 2008

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