It Came From The Search Terms: It’s Gonna Be May

Hello, it’s time for the periodic feature where I answer the search strings that led people here as if they are actual questions, no context, all snap judgment! 

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, partly because the more I do them, the more the same search terms come up in my search terms as a self-reinforcing cycle. But I finally have enough of a new batch, so, here you go. 

First, as is traditional, a song: 

Technically it is already May, but you know me and deadlines. ;-p

1 “Is it right to return gifts after a breakup?”

This really, really depends. Once given, a gift belongs to the recipient, and it’s probably good to assume that nobody can really obligate or force anybody to return a gift. Exceptions to this are such stuff as first year law school exams are made on. 

Still, off the top of my head, I can think of many examples where offering to return a gift or asking for it back is reasonable, even if it’s not technically owed, and even if the person might refuse. Say, Person A is planning to break up, but Person B doesn’t know and buys a very expensive gift, or gives A an irreplaceable family heirloom, or books a (non-refundable) vacation or big ticket event together. Person A can’t be compelled to give whatever it is back, but we invest in relationships differently when we assume they’ll last, and if Person B had had the same information Person A did they wouldn’t have given the gift. In that case, asking “Can I please have my Grandma’s antique harpsichord back?” doesn’t make Person B a jerk. 

Or, say you break up with someone who gave you lots of things, and now you want all of it out of your house. If the stuff is useful and/or valuable, and you’re still on good terms, giving your ex the right of first refusal before you sell, donate, or regift it *might* be a nice thing to do. But if it’s still useful and valuable, and you want to keep it and plan to use it, then keep it! It was a gift. 

If you’re the gift-er, and you want to ask for something back, treat it as what it is: An ask. If you’re the gift-ee, and you know in your heart of hearts that giving something back is the most ethical and kind thing to do in a given situation, then you know what to do. But there’s no one rule to rule them all. 

2 “Is it disrespectful for a friend to invite themselves on a family trip?”

I love phrasing like this, because it highlights both the uses and limitations of manners and concepts like “disrespect.” 

Is it rude for people to invite themselves places? Sure, maybe, sometimes. I recently read an epic Reddit story where a lady planned and paid for a romantic getaway with her husband, told him explicitly “No, your Mom cannot come with us” after she tried to invite herself along, showed up at the airport on the day, saw her mother-in-law standing there with a bunch of suitcases anyhow, and turned around and went home. I do not think that marriage is long for this world. But there are also many relationships where saying, “I’ve always wanted to ____, can I tag along next time you go?” is a question and “Sure!” The more the merrier!” or “Not this time, but let’s plan our own excursion” are possible answers. 

Much more importantly, do you feel annoyed when people invite themselves along to things you’ve planned? When a specific person invites themselves along for a specific trip, do you wish they hadn’t asked, and do you want to tell them “no”? Are you more compatible friends with people don’t invite themselves along? If so, an “impartial” “yeah, that’s rude” judgment from an Etiquette Authority might help you feel more justified in saying no, but the part that really matters is the part where you don’t want to because that’s a good enough reason to decline.

3 “Feeling not good enough for not being married.”

I hate this for you. The toxic pressure to get married by a certain age or milestone or else you’ve failed is the cause of so much misery in the world. How many people are grinding away in absolutely miserable relationships with someone totally wrong for them because they’re afraid of being single? I don’t know your gender, but when I think about how much of young women’s time, energy, and ambition is wasted on feral cishet dude rehabilitation because of pressure to find The One, it makes me want to scream. 

Look, you may be a total asshole, but it’s far likelier that you are pretty great, perhaps downright terrifyingly amazing. If you do in fact want to get married someday (not a given for everyone), the fact that you haven’t met and connected with someone who is compatible enough with you –someone “good enough” for you — isn’t a sign that something is wrong with you. You just haven’t met anybody worth giving up being single for. You haven’t met anybody where the timing and geography and sheer luck of the draw all worked out. Or, more accurately, you haven’t met anyone like that yet. 

This is an encouraging book: It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single, by Sara Eckel 

4 “Best answer for ‘why are you not in serious relationship?'” 

“I haven’t met anyone I like more than I like being single.” “I’m incredibly picky.” “I might someday if I were to meet the right person, but it’s not a goal I have.” “I was in one, but it didn’t work out.” “I’d love to be in one, any ideas on how?” “I’m aromantic, so, not really my thing.” “I’ve already dated all the [people of my orientation] in a 100 mile radius, and they’ve all paired off with each other.” “No clue. Why do you ask?” “Ha, hilarious question, Aunt Nosy! Why are you ________?” [Insert topic she is sensitive about.]

The best answer is almost always going to be whatever is true for you in that moment. Don’t play guessing games about what the person asking this wants to hear, or try to do that job interview thing where you try to rebrand all of your greatest weaknesses as “Oh, I just can’t stop myself from being a team player with meticulous attention to detail who loves to work hard and play hard in fast-paced environments! My problem is that I just love working Too Much!” 

5 “If someone ask you can you be my fuck buddies*? what is an answer?”

A. “Yes, I’d/*We’d love to, at least in theory. Can you tell me more about what you have in mind?” 

B. “Thank you, but no!” 

The truth will either set you free or get you laid. 

6 “I tell an experience and that person tells me theirs.” 

Sharing a story in response to a story can be a very powerful way to communicate empathy and solidarity. “I’ve been there, you’re not alone!”  When there is a respectful peer relationship where everybody trusts that they’ll both be heard and get their say, cooperative story swapping is awesome! 

It can also be really alienating and frustrating when you run into a Story Topper (“Oh, you think that’s rough? Let me tell you about the time something even more dramatic and interesting happened to me!”) or it feels like the other person spent the whole time you were talking thinking of what they wanted to say instead of actually listening to you.

What’s acceptable really depends on the specifics of personality, relationships, and power differentials, but I think you can almost never go wrong with asking people what they need before you weigh in on their story or share one of your own: “Are you wanting advice, a sympathetic ear, a distraction, or something else?”  “Oh, I dealt with something similar, do you want me to tell you about it?” 

It’s also why pauses, check-ins, and resets are so useful. Derails happen, but they don’t have to be permanent. If sharing stories is lively and the mic is truly bouncing back and forth between you, then, great! [Frankly, this is why hanging out with fellow ADHD-ers is so relaxing. Excited “Ooh, ooh, that reminds me!”  interruptions and jumping around to topics three hours or three weeks later is fine, no worries that we’re accidentally steamrolling each other.] On the other hand, if a person tells you something and stops participating when you tell them something in return, it’s a very good sign to change course: “Sorry, I got carried away for a second, your situation reminded me so much of something that’s been on my mind. Please, can you tell me more about ______?” 

If you feel like you’re being talked over, try something like “Oh, thanks for sharing that, but can we go back to my situation for a minute?”  [The dear Commander Logic can say this with words and also with her eyes. ;-)]

7 “Partner insists on lingerie and no socks in bed, controlling.”

I wish this were about your partner wanting to wear lingerie all the time and skip the socks, we could just be like, “Rock on with that, buddy! You’re the boss of you!” and get on with our day. 

That said, you are the boss of you and you should wear what makes you comfortable.If you loved wearing elaborate lingerie, you’d wear it all the time of your own accord. If your partner would stop pressuring you, you’d probably be way more into some occasional dress-up.

Unfortunately your partner has left you no choice: From now on, every time they pressure you about lingerie, add one more of these to your wardrobe and roll on this fetching homage to the Baba Yaga’s hut each night so you can make a quick getaway. 

8 “The guy you are dating his home is disgusting and dirty.” 

I suggest that you do not spend time in environments that you find “disgusting.” It’s either your place or no place.

If the relationship gets more serious, I suggest that you do not combine households with someone who is incompatible with you around cleanliness and housekeeping, unless you plan to sign up for a lifetime of resentment, arguments, “nagging,” weaponized incompetence, and having to clean everything yourself. 

It’s okay to like someone, love someone, be attracted to someone, think someone is a good & worthy person, have empathy for reasons they struggle, and still have standards and dealbreakers about what you need to be happy. Love conquers sometimes; the strict vegan and the carnivore, the ace and the hornivore, the atheist and the devout, the tidy and the un-, and assorted Mays, Decembers, cops, robbers, grasshoppers, ants, nightingales, and larks pair off sometimes and have lasting, happy relationships sometimes. My theory is that when it works it’s because all parties know that they’re signing up to play on Hard Mode and go in with eyes open about what that means. 

So take a good, long look, and remember: People change slow, if they change at all. Don’t bet that they’ll do it for you. 

Comments are on for a change, because, what the heck? Sometimes I really miss all of you. ❤  The spam filter remains as hungry as ever, so if your comment doesn’t show up right away, it probably got sucked in. Don’t worry, I’ll be checking the thread periodically over the next few days and I’ll liberate it as soon as I can. 

 

183 thoughts on “It Came From The Search Terms: It’s Gonna Be May

  1. My favorite feature!

    Finding the notification for this in my politics-and-spam-filled inbox is like discovering a twenty in the pocket of the ratty raincoat I haven’t worn since last spring.

    And finding that comments are on is like finding a ten rolled up inside the twenty.

    1. I am big-time digging on those chicken leg socks. Thanks for introducing me to a new money pit 🤪

        1. They tend to get wrapped around my legs, and if you have flannel sheets, they stick to each other!

          1. No no…cotton sheets, flannel nightgown, and warm, fuzzy socks…heaven!!

  2. Love reading your column! Such diverse topics and straight forward answers. I liked this especially.

  3. My favorite answer for ‘why are you not in serious relationship’? – Because none of humanity’s champions have yet been found worthy.

        1. I unironically love nightgowns. My current favorite is microfiber with little snowy owls. They’re amazing.

    1. Man someone asked me thus question just last night and I wish I’d thought of this response! Totally stealing to use next time though

    2. All the contenders have failed the Challenges Three and their bones lie, sunbleached and moldering, outside the Dragon’s Lair.

  4. Everyone start responding to questions like “Why aren’t you in a relationship?” with a baffled look that lasts two beats longer than comfortable, and “What…what kind of answer are you expecting??”

    And then come back and report on what kind of answer they were expecting because, really, what kind of answer are they expecting? How do they think it might be conversationally productive?

    1. My dad used to encourage me to focus on school by saying, “It takes a damn fine husband to be better than none.” A slightly more generic version would be, “It takes a damn fine partner to be better than none,” and applies across the board, because it’s true!

    2. My vote goes for ”because I am completely and irretrievably unlovable, is why. Now, your earrings are DARLING, where did you get them?’

  5. I’ve had a few run-ins with the “being talked over” issue mentioned at the end of #6. Alas, I’ve had to either drop or keep at limited frequency of contact a few as friends due to it being severe and persistent – that often nobody else could even finish one sentence before being interrupted.

    1. Oy, there’s one person that lives in my neighborhood that I made the mistake of engaging with one (1) time on the bus. They launched in & didn’t stop until I got to my stop. Next time we crossed paths, they launched in without bothering to engage my attention first. I now give them a wide berth whenever I see them. (My secret nightmare: that *I’m* like that. I don’t think I am, but I worry.)

      1. The ”talked over” thing is a biggie. I knew a genuinely sweet and kind person who… just could not stop themselves with this, particularly re Tales of Woe. Been mugged? They were murdered. Had a difficult labour? They have the rarest, always fatal, hideously tragic set of circumstances. And on and on and on. Now. I’m a talker and quite ADD too, so I have no problem with exchanging stories and going off on tangents at all, but this was next level. It went very wrong when my mum died very suddenly and unexpectedly and I was heartbroken ”yes I know, at least she didn’t suffer like MY DAD DID WHEN HE DIED OF CANCER WHEN I WAS 21” (both of us are in our 40’s), forgetting completely that MY dad died of cancer when I was a young teen. Then I thought ”wait, this is the pain Olympics, isn’t it?” and decided to withdraw substantially from the friendship.

  6. Haha, hornivore. I had to look that one up to check it meant what I thought it meant.

    I’m in my mid 30s and female and don’t get asked why I’m not in a relationship (I’m a happy being single ace). I think it’s probably my autistic vibes 🙂

    1. I am sending my chicken owning friend those socks RIGHT NOW thank you for the advice and bringing cool socks to my attention!

  7. “Derails happen, but they don’t have to be permanent.”

    This hit me just right today. In almost every scenario, in almost every relationship, in almost every big life change: derails happen, but they don’t have to be permanent. Thank you.

    1. Beyond that – if a train actually derails (they do! sometimes we do it on purpose to protect people working on the tracks – the device to derail a train is called, surprisingly, a derail) it’s only a few hour fix. Send out the special crane, lift the train back onto the tacks, run a safety check or 10, and go on with our lives. IRL Derails sometimes dangerous, mostly not, always annoying, and always something that just has to be fixed so service can resume.

      1. I know this is wildly off-topic, but this concept of deliberate derails *fascinates* me. Is there a “safe speed” below which train derails are just unpleasant to experience? Is it just cargo trains to which this happens, or passenger trains as well? Is this a way to stop runaway trains – and are runaway trains even that common? I have so many questions!

  8. #6 came up in another context so I’ve been thinking about a bit recently.

    I think there’s a third category- those who want to show how they relate to the experience, but don’t pull that off. My whole family falls into this category.

    We also finish other people’s sentences. I think the two are related.

    My brother and I have both tried very hard to eliminate both these habits.

    1. I think this is a neurodivergent thing because my family is also like that and there’s not a single one of us who is neurotypical.

  9. I wince when anyone starts a question with, “Why aren’t/don’t/didn’t you….?” Sometimes they get a rant about conformity and being judgmental. Usually I just write the asker off as the kind of conventional thinker I could never be friends with.

    OTOH, I will sometimes pretend I didn’t hear the judgement in “Why ARE/DO/DID you…?” Because then I can happily go on about all my reasons. I love to talk about ME!

    1. It can be a conversational habit. My mother starts EVERY suggestion she makes with “Why don’t you…”. Which automatically puts me on the defensive: instead of considering her suggestion, I have to justify why I haven’t implemented it already. It’s exhausting.

      But I think she doesn’t even see it that way. She’s making a suggestion, and she doesn’t get that her phrasing is overbearing. Perhaps there’s a whole culture where people suggest things that way all the time, and I’m just not part of it.

      1. My mom does that too. I think she thinks that’s a “softer” delivery than what she’s really thinking, which is “You should” etc. I agree the “why don’t you” adds an extra layer of aggravation when it’s a suggestion I don’t want anyway. Especially when she’s assigning a chore. “Why don’t you go over to those strangers and introduce yourself”… argh.

        1. My dad’s “soft” suggestion was “maybe you’ll . . .” (or, to my mother, “maybe the kids will . . .”, or, to the room, “maybe someone will . . .”), and it drove me *up a wall.* He never managed to understand that what he meant, and what we wished he’d say (and we didn’t hint at it, we told him directly) was “would you please . . .”.

          1. My dad does a lot of ‘Do you want to do x’ about chores and it still really bugs me! Noone *wants* to do the washing up, just say ‘can you do x’ instead.

          2. I got “We’ll let Mel do the dishes” etc when my mother visited friends and dragged me along. Alas, replying with “I wouldn’t dream of taking that privilege away from you” would not have gone well…

      2. I think it can be an attempt to soften “I think you should”, which can feel pushy (especially if you’ve been socialised to frame ideas as something the other person (man) has of course already considered). There’s a lot of linguistic sleight of hand in using negatives to soften language that people don’t realise they’ve embedded into their language.

      3. Yeah, this is a fairly common idiom, and taken literally it does sound pushy. I don’t think it’s usually meant quite that literally (actually demanding a justification), but I think it does give a sense of “this is my advice”, whereas saying “You could…” might be just noting a possibility.

        1. I do occasionally ask people “why don’t you?” or “why do you?” — mostly people with whom I’m close enough to share a mutual understanding that we don’t intend to be judging or pressuring each other so if something comes out sounding like that it’s safe to assume it was meant another way.

          When I ask, I literally would like to know their reasons for not/doing something which seems incongruous or surprising, because I assume they have good ones, and knowing their reasoning is likely to reduce problems based in rote application or misunderstanding.

      4. Oooh you could always try this:

        “I guess I could.” Tiny shrug.

        I guess you could try eating nothing but bananas and hotdogs for two weeks*, or spend you life savings funding Uncle Davy’s Kickstarter, or wear a shirt that is two sizes too small and has armpit stains to a job interview. Doesn’t mean you want to, just that you could, theoretically, in a particularly boring and pointless corner of the Multiverse.

        * Actual diet idea a classmate suggested in all seriousness in middle school. **

        ** Even in middle school I knew that diet was a bad idea, so please put it straight put of your mind.

    2. ” How can you NOT believe in God??” in slightly whiny, very aggrieved and confused tones from mother-in-law or EVEN BETTER ” was it because your dad died when you were young?”, which was a huge boundary breach and told me a lot of what I needed to know about our relationship going forward, ie tell her as little as possible, justify nothing that doesn’t directly affect her personally, keep it very light and bland and never, ever get into phone calls without a clear exit strategy. It’s served me well for nearly 17 years.

    3. One of my sisters responds to at least 70% of any stories I tell her about my life with “you should…” or “you should have…”

      I’m just trying to lightly chat about my day and hear about her day, and suddenly my 2 minute anecdote about how the plumber showed up at 11 am instead of 9 turns into a instructional session about the “right way” to schedule and manage people with multiple examples of her long(er than me by 2 years) mastery of adulting.

  10. “If the relationship gets more serious, I suggest that you do not combine households with someone who is incompatible with you around cleanliness and housekeeping, unless you plan to sign up for a lifetime of resentment, arguments, “nagging,” weaponized incompetence, and having to clean everything yourself. ”

    This cannot be overstated. I was in this relationship for YEARS. It did not improve. 100% do not recommend.

    1. Yes. I still have regular sexy dreams about the 5-years-ago ex. Whom I loved utterly and wanted to build a life with. The one who was funny and kind and driven and creative and wonderful in a thousand ways. But we could NOT get past our incompatibility around domestic cleanliness and clutter. It stressed me out to no end. Thanks to CA, I made myself apply the Sheelzebub principle and faced up to the fact that even getting through another week at his place was making me panic, to say nothing of a year or 10. So we broke up. And it’s super sad. And I miss him a ton.

      But then after one of the sexy dreams, I call up the memory of chaos and pests and garbage everywhere (and the tension around it all) and feel so much relief at not having to fight that fight anymore.

      My current partner is also lovely and kind and funny and creative too. And we happen to be compatible in this area. It is really good when people can be at ease in their space. I’m thankful every day that this is not our struggle.

      1. I hope it’s not putting salt in a wound to point out (for you or the general readership) that there is a functional option for relationships in which everything is great except household compatibility: keepthe relationship and don’t live together. You can live close, even in the same building (two units of a duplex, two apartments in the same building) to keep many of the advantahes of sharing a living space without actually sharing a living space.

    2. My parents’ relationship has lasted for nearly 40 years despite this, mostly because they PAY A CLEANER to come every week and clean (and do the ironing). If they didn’t have the budget to do that, I probably wouldn’t exist.

      It also probably helps that my father is aware that my mother’s standards of tidiness and cleanliness are higher than his, and will put in the effort to get things back to her standards if she’s been away (if only with the incentive of getting to spend time with her as soon as she gets back rather than watching her tidy up). He is also happy to do his fair share of the cooking, which also probably helps

    3. My parents’ relationship has lasted for nearly 40 years despite this, probably because they PAY A CLEANER to come every week and clean (and iron). I probably wouldn’t exist if they didn’t have the budget for it.

      It also probably helps that my father has some awareness of my mother’s standards of tidiness, and will tidy up the house when she’s been away (if only with the incentive of spending time with her when she gets back, instead of watching her tidy). He also does his fair share of the cooking, so it’s not like she’s the only one doing any kind of housework.

    4. 100% agree. I just left a relationship that had a huge mismatch in standards of cleanliness (I am the decidedly more tidy partner) and living under those conditions constituted the WORST three years of my life. It was so demoralizing and I was so profoundly unhappy. (I’m literally and figuratively in a better place now.)

      I was constantly undermined – if I would clean the kitchen, minutes later he would feel inspired to cook a multi-pan 3-course meal and leave all those pans in the sink, sauce splashed onto the walls, etc. – and would make fun of me for “being inauthentic” when I tidied up if we were expecting guests, because it wasn’t reflective of the general mess and disarray he was constantly generating (?? is my best guess??). The corners of each room were filled with things that would ordinarily be stored in a closet (brooms, drying rack), because the closets were full of all of his hobby items and other belongings. Everything was always covered in dust and pet fur, because it was impossible to clean around the clutter, and putting anything away would cause a huge fight about how disrespectful it was to move his things without permission.

      There was a lot more going on in that relationship than just the cleanliness, but even when the relationship was still in its honeymoon phase, I was still constantly stressed out trying to stay on top of things and not live in clutter and dirt.

      I saw how he lived before we moved in together and quailed, but I naively thought that we could reach some sort of compromise, in that I would try to relax my standards a little and he would step up his game a little, but it never happened. I grew to loathe him.

      If anyone out there is considering moving in with someone with whom there is a noticeable disparity in standards, I’d say use the Sheelzebub (sp?) principle – how long do you think you could stand living in your partner’s natural environment? How long do you think you could tolerate the constant cleaning and resentment? How would you feel about the constant fighting? How much would it cost you to have to move out and back into your own place?

      (This comment turned out to be a lot more bitter than I thought it would be, I’m sorry.)

      1. Not really bitter, but a true expression of genuine pain. People downplay how much living in an environment that skeeves you out cleanliness-wise harms one’s mental health. My partner is probably not as bad as your ex, but I still get anxiety from the constant war against clutter and dirt.

      2. Really doesn’t sound bitter to me. You have hard-earned wisdom and thank you for sharing it. I am sorry it was such a bad experience.

  11. Absolutely love the Lanz nightgown!! Miss wearing them from when I was a kid, and then learned in my tween years to think that they were only for children or old ladies. Reject the patriarchy and wear that comfy flannel floor length sleepwear!

    1. Indeed. If it pisses off my misogynistic ex, it can’t be that bad, can it?

  12. Giving back certain gifts you think they may want can be a very nice thing to do. Just don’t be like me and leave stuff you know they DON’T want back in a trash bag outside their door to ~send a message~ about how you don’t want to keep anything from them. That was very petty of me and I cringe a little to think of it!

  13. Hi, been following you for some time, I love it when your emails appear in my inbox. This post gave me a sudden epiphany – I’m single and have always been, apart from a couple of longer relationships, but I’m not really interested. I realised (an embarrassingly short time ago, at my age) that I was aromantic. Ok, explained a lot, but anyway I’ve always been a bit low-key worried that there’s something wrong with me that I prefer being single. I’ve never married and people do side-eye you sometimes when they find that out – there must be something wrong with me, right? Everyone gets married don’t they? Your answer in #4 why aren’t you in a serious relationship of ‘I’m aromantic, it’s not really my thing’ – it wasn’t a light bulb moment, more a blinding arc light suddenly came on. OMG that makes so much sense! I had no idea those two things went together (I’m not terribly bright, myself, obviously). Thanks for that – I feel SO much better! Keep up the good work 😉

    1. Hey, it’s not that you’re not bright, it’s that internalised cisheterosexism is one hell of a drug. Please cut yourself some slack, and congrats on finding a word that works for you! /offers congratulatory cake in best ace-spec tradition/

      1. YES! ^THIS!^ Thank you for saying that! It’s an excellent reply to ALL of us who figured out our sexual (or non-sexual) orientation/gender presentation later in life! Works for neurodivergents too!

  14. I don’t think I’ve commented in years (sorry) but I’m procrastinating from a work deadline…

    Anyway, just thinking about the marriage thing, and hope it’s okay to share our story:

    I magically (luckily) found my best friend and soulmate at age 18, moved in with her at age 20. (I am also she/her, just for reference.) We have always been friends, nothing more, and so there was this constant expectation on us that our living arrangements were a “temporary” thing until we found the Right Partner(s) to marry and settle down with.

    And even though we were perfectly comfortable as we were, and even though neither of us was really all that interested in romantic relationships anyway, this was literally the only thing we were ever told or ever saw in media or whatever, and so we both internalised it. Even when people joked about how we were so close we seemed more like a married couple, it still didn’t click. For YEARS. DECADES even.

    But I’m happy to say that after 20ish years of listening to other people’s close-minded opinions, we FINALLY realised that we love each other as best friends and that’s enough. And that we have no interest in or intention of spending our lives with anyone else. So we started changing our expectations (for the better), and started talking about each other as “partner” and when marriage laws finally changed here and made it possible, we got married. And we’ve been happily married for 4 years now and I genuinely enjoy getting to refer to her as my wife.

    It’s been freeing in so many ways, and reassuring too, and we’re both grateful that we did it. It was the right choice for us. And not everyone gets it — a lot of people are just completely “???” about the idea that we’re married but not romantically or sexually involved. But that’s their problem, not ours.

    Nobody has to get married, and nobody should be pressured into it, and nobody is “better” for being married. I fully support every person who doesn’t want to get married.

    But I’m also just here to say that marriage can be and mean so many different things, far beyond the version that’s presented to us by mainstream society.

    Marriage doesn’t have to be romantic, or sexual, or to create kidlings, or whatever else people claim it’s limited to. If you do wanna get married, marry for whatever reason makes you and the person you’re marrying happy!

      1. Oh gosh, thank you! 😀 and thank you SO much for this article! I love it! I feel very seen reading this!

        I’ve only come across one article before about platonic marriages, some years ago, and it was quite dissatisfying, as it didn’t have anyone like us, or like the people in this article. I came away with this impression that it was mostly people who’d married traditionally (romantically/sexually) and then fallen out of love but stayed married as friends, which… is perfectly fine! But still not very representative of all the platonic options.

        We are much like the couples listed in this article. We’ve lived together for 25 years, and we make our major life decisions together. We do shared taxes, and have joint bank accounts, joint health insurance, etc, and although I handle all the finances (because she has dyscalculia and I genuinely enjoy maths) we make our financial decisions together. We would have already bought a house together if someone would actually give us a loan. 😛 We also have furkids, which are the only type of kids we’re interested in, and we’ve been doing that even before we realized the strength of our relationship. We have separate rooms and separate beds, but we sleep very different hours to each other. Also she is quite touch averse and I know she’d never be able to sleep with someone else in the bed! Oh and we’re both fine with the idea of the other dating romantically if it ever did happen. I’ve dated occasionally in the past, and we’d discuss and adjust if anything felt like it was going to be long-term. But mostly, it’s just been unsatisfying because to me, noone else is anywhere near as fantastic as she is, and I apparently don’t need romance or sex THAT badly.

        She is the one person I am always excited to see, and who I never get tired of listening to, and who I always want to know everything she’s been doing, no matter how mundane. She’s the one person I can trust to be 100% myself around, and who I know feels the same with me. And we’ve grown so much since we first met, but we’ve grown together, and our relationship has only continued to get better with each passing year.

        Getting married has been really great from a legal standpoint also (which some people mentioned in the article too!) because it means the person who knows us best will be the one making any major decisions if/when things go wrong. (And as we are both disabled, we think about stuff like that more than abled people.) And it means that we can make phone calls, book appointments, pay bills, etc for each other and people don’t question us. Before, there was always pushback, or else we didn’t feel able to ask if it was “allowed”. Now, we share a surname (we chose a brand new one for our new family) and I just say “my wife” and people accept it.

        I hadn’t heard the term queerplatonic before, so thank you also for giving me another word to add to the arsenal. 🙂 I’m now reading some fun articles about it! We generally call ourselves platonic life partners. I think it was when I moved into a different line of work some 10 or so years back and started making friends with the very present and diverse queer community in that field that we really started to have our eyes opened to the idea that things weren’t so rigid. So I’m really grateful to all the younger queer folks I know who have just been so cool and out there and being their awesome selves.

        (We grew up pre-internet, we actually met on a BBS before the internet was a thing, and the few queer people I met in my teens convinced me I couldn’t possibly be queer… because they didn’t believe in bisexuality. So it’s taken me decades to undo that one, and it took the next generation of queer peeps to do it.)

        Anyway, I’m rambling, I know, but thank you so much for sharing this article and the terminology, I really, really appreciate it. ❤

        1. Full of squee for you both ^_^

          (And seeing platonic and/or queerplatonic partnerships get more visibility has been awesome.)

          1. Ahhhhhh, thank you, awesome person! ❤
            (I didn't realise you commented here! ^o^)

            The more platonic relationships I see represented, the happier I am!

        2. Reading your contentment and satisfaction with your platonic marriage and your delightful wife makes me so happy. Yay for people being happy together in whatever way works best for them, and yay for more representation of less-well-known options. ❤

    1. Congratulations! It’s wonderful to hear how happy you are, and I wish I could have had more examples like this as a teen.

      1. Thank you!! I really wish we could have had more examples like this when we were teens, too. That’s actually part of why I try and talk about it now, whenever I can. I want people to know it’s an option when they’re kids or in their teens or their twenties, and not wait to fumble into it in their mid-to-late thirties (or later) like we had to.

    2. I’m in a similar situation, although starting later in life. Twenty years in. We’ve both been married before and aren’t interested in further romantic relationships. We wouldn’t consider getting married or calling each other wife, as that doesn’t describe our relationship (as a shorthand to explain the situation to random strangers who don’t know us, we say we are sisters, which feels like a truer expression of our relationship), but we are business partners and platonic partners and expect to be for life. We have legal documents in place to deal with all of the blah blah. I’m really sad that this kind of arrangement is often dismissed in our romance-oriented culture as only something you might do when you’re young before you’ve met “the one” and started your “real” life. The companionship, security, love and laughter I have I wish more people could feel comfortable having access to.

      1. Thank you so much for sharing. I love hearing about other people’s relationships like this. I’m really glad for you that you’ve found something that works so well for you both, including having all the legal stuff in place, and a way that you feel comfortable explaining it to others that don’t know you, as well. I think it’s important for everyone to find the thing that works for them.

        I totally agree that I wish more people were aware of this sort of thing and realised it was possible and available. I guess all we can do is keep talking about it where people can see. 🙂

    3. I offer many many congratulations to you and your partner and wife for being yourselves. Thank you so very much for sharing this story.

    4. That’s the type of life partnership that used to be fairly well-known ”back in the day” when if a girl wasn’t married off by her early 20’s, she was almost always ”on the shelf” and often set up home with a cousin or dear friend. Obviously the nature of the various relationships would have been as varied as they are now, and of course Holy Matrimony wasn’t an option, but it was totally A Thing. If it works for the people concerned, it’s no business of anyone else’s.

    5. This is lovely! I have a friendship that could have gone this way, except that we both wanted to find romantic partners and eventually did. Sometimes when I run into an incompatibility with my husband, I daydream about how vacations, or chores, or meal planning would go in the alternate reality where I platonically married my friend, so I’m happy to hear how well that’s worked for you and your wife!

      1. I have a similar relationship with one of my best friends and long-time housemate throughout college and our twenties. He dated more than I, and we were both likewise looking for long-term romantic relationships, but we were (and probably still would be) perfectly compatible housemates.

        At one point, when he was a couple years in to his relationship with his now-wife, and I was single and unemployed, we seriously considered me moving in with them as basically a live-in butler/chef/maid, and I’d still consider something like that now if my romantic relationship falls apart (I have good work on my own schedule now, so I’d probably be doing less of the domestic work than the previous plan). I think we’ve lost sight of the value of communal living in our culture as the norm of the nuclear single-family household took over, whether multi-generational or with friends.

  15. Ahhh, #1 reminds me of when I went to a boyfriend’s house with the express purpose of breaking up with him and the first thing he did was give me a gift for my birthday (which had been a day or two before). I did end up keeping the gift as it was fairly inexpensive, he didn’t ask for it back, and the entire breakup process was SO AWKWARD* I didn’t really have room to think about anything else, but I assume he regretted buying it for me and I was filled with dread the moment I saw it!

    *he didn’t make eye contact, speak, or otherwise acknowledge what I was saying, and I didn’t feel like I could leave until he did (WHY, I should have just left!) so I wound up watching two episodes of ghost hunters with him and his brother before we went back to his room and I tried one more time to make sure he understood that I was breaking up with him. It was a very weird evening and I would love to go back in time 17 years and get the hell out immediately after the initial conversation.

    1. My sympathies! Maybe getting out on the interwebs will give you catharsis and/or closure?

  16. Is it rude for me to ask for a link for that Reddit story? That sounds epic. (And I may have already read it, but I can’t remember anymore.)

      1. Thank you!!!! I searched Reddit but couldn’t find it. And yeah, that is a doozy. DTMFA is right.

      2. Thanks! and OMG NTA. I hope she and her dog are very happy being unmarried to this dude. And a big one finger salute to her family who should have had her back.

        1. I found an update! She and her dog left

          (Add reddit url here)/r/AmItheAsshole/comments/ur2l3s/update_aita_for_walking_out_of_the_airport_when_i/

          1. Wow, thank you for this! I’m glad she’s getting out but wow, hubs is TOTALLY the AH and I’m so sad for her and for him that he can’t realize it’s all his (and his mom’s, of course) fault.

            Also this: “I just had pictured years and years of my life being lived like that and I was like no…I can’t do it.” Sheelzebub principle at work right there! 🙂

      3. I think I saw an update a couple of days ago, in which the OP confirmed that yes, she’s leaving him.

  17. I am 65 years old and I am amazed how many of my friends long for their offspring to marry and reproduce. They are sad when children break up with partners. I don’t get it.

    1. If something like being married or having kids is what makes you happy, it can be hard to understand that it may not be what makes your child or friend happy. It’s especially fraught for parents who really really want grandchildren and have a hard time accepting that they might not get any.
      I know I sometimes feel sad for single friends and then have to remind myself that they’ve indicated they’re happy that way.

    2. I get the impression that many parents feel that they’ve failed as parents if their children don’t marry AND reproduce. I feel for both the parents and the children in that case, but mostly for the children raised to then think they’re failing as children. It’s a horrible horrible cycle.

      1. I think in some cases, they’re just plain eager to be grandparents (have a cute kid they can claim as theirs but only do the fun parts with) and either didn’t stop to think about what that means for their kids or they don’t care (they’ve paid their dues (raised their kids) now it’s the kids time to pay back (via cute baby))

    3. The only time I would want my children to marry / reproduce is if they are genuinely wanting those things. I might be sad if there was an end to a relationship where I was fond of the partner or felt it was a good relationship for my child, but that means ”privately sad, but obviously supportive and not too nosey”. Yes, I’d love to one day be a granny, I really would, but… it’s not up to me! Part of what makes it special is that it’s literally a gift that you cannot plan or aim for, you just have to hope and then be thrilled if it happens.

  18. Chicken socks! I think i’ve just done my xmas shopping for the year!

  19. Re the chicken leg socks – for the full Baba Yaga effect it would need novelty lingerie or other garment like a house. Hilarious internet search ensues – results inlcuding “sex house” sweaters (maybe painfully ironic given #7 context) and “chicken daddies calendars”

    1. any luck? I wanna be Baba Yaga! not for halloween of anything. for reasons.

  20. I browse Reddit pretty often and so, so many stories are of people who did not do their due diligence on item #8. In all sorts of things. Cleanliness, work ethic, religion, expectations for children, finances, in-laws, pets — the list goes on and on. People will settle down and have 2 kids and the drama will be brewing in the background as the unresolved problems get worse and worse. It’s painful to watch.

    And then someone will say “well so-and-so got married at 17 and had 7 kids and one job while not speaking the same language and living in different countries and they all did fine” (hyperbole but you get the idea). As if they’re trying to invalidate the idea that you should discuss your expectations of everyday life with you partner/prospective partner. Yes, we’ve all seen it work, but why deliberately set yourself up for massive amounts of work, drama, and stress down the line?

    1. For the second paragraph, it tends to be a bad case of survivorship bias. You see the one person who got married at 17 to a person they met 24 hours before and had 65 years of wedded bliss, but you miss the many, many more people who impulse married in their teens to a near stranger and had it go badly. For examples, I do know multiple couples who live in different countries semi-permanently, but I know more people who eventually moved to be together, and many more whose relationships didn’t survive the international long distance thing.

      When it comes to questions like #8, ask yourself “Will I be happy with this person, just the way they are, without any chance of change.” If the answer is no, this is not the person you should be with, or if you want to be with them it should be under very specific conditions (say, you’re happy to date them and have them stay over a couple nights a week, but you will never live together). The other good question to ask, if you think you can make it work (you really love him so you decide you’re happy to do all the cleaning, for example), is how stable the arrangement is to outside stressors. I’ve seen too many cases in real life and advice columns where things mostly work, with one person fitting themselves around their partner’s needs/personality/issues, but it goes really bad when either the amount of work increases, or the accommodating partner’s capacity decreases. The classic one, of course, is having kids, and you’re still doing all the household work because your partner won’t do it, but the amount of work has quadrupled, and they will not step up in any way.

    2. My husband and I made a list of Important Topics (money, vacations, sex, whatever) that we thoroughly discussed and came to a consensus on before we got married. We did premarital counseling as well and that included a group event of maybe 40 couples and we had group discussions throughout the day. The number of people who had literally never discussed finances (joint account or separate?) or number of kids to have either as a broad topic or in minute detail blew. my. mind. You’re getting married! Forever! Good god, y’all. The side eye was great that day, my friends.

      1. So important! I’m not even remotely religious, but the notion of dedicated sessions with an experienced, non-judgemental facilitator to guide one through really big topics that are whole-life matters and very often can be deal breakers seems like a very sensible investment. But even that aside, who marries someone else, commits their entire lives, forever, to their relationship, and yet never quite discusses the fact that Bob Is Keen For a Football Team of children or Sandra is absolutely certain that only living off-grid in a self-built home, hunting and foraging to live is her ideal, longed-for life? Lots of people, apparently.

      2. Reminds me of when my spouse and I were getting married, and met with the minister beforehand for “premarital counseling”. He had a list of questions on really basic topics (have you discussed finances/kids/if someone wants to get an advanced degree (it’s a college town)/living arrangements/etc.) that we were like “wait, do other people not discuss these issues before they decide to get married???” His reply was essentially “you’d think so, but…not often.”

        We were both blown away that there are people who decide to get married before they discuss those basic things.

  21. Yay, I love search term posts!

    To riff on the “I’m incredibly picky” answer to #4, I find a deliberately humorous answer to questions you want to dodge can help send the “stop asking” message. Therefore, I think Cher Horowitz said it best:

    “You know how picky I am about my shoes, and those only go on my feet.”

  22. Oh! Thank you for this. What a treat!!

    PS I know that picking up a conversational topic again after a certain period of time has passed is not considered normal and appropriate. My brain is always functioning this way, but that’s beside the point really. Anyone with insights about why it is frowned upon, I am curious.

    1. Esme, I think that is a struggle I share as an introvert… I think conversation favours the extraverted, and that it is an assumption that once conversation “dies” on a topic it’s because it had exhausted everyone’s interest, and/or everyone had contributed everything they had to say on the matter. I think picking it up again may seem odd or be frowned upon because it is a failure to follow the conversational flow (the signals that “we are done with this topic now and have moved on.”) and so it’s not as companionable-seeming as following others’ lead?

        1. My take on your question is, that it’s to assist people who have short memories. Like, if the conversation turned from Topic A to Topic B some minutes ago, it’s burdensome to ask someone to recall Topic A. It’s kind of treating your conversation partner as a simple person who cannot remember the past. Not that I agree but that’s the nicest take I can think of.

          With someone you can trust to handle multiple ideas, it’s fine to turn the conversation back. Casually you can say something like “Let me go back to what we were saying about X, i had another thought.”.

          But it’s such a common situation that there is business-speak for it, the phrase “circle back”. That goes like “Can we circle back to X? I need to clarify something on that.”

          It is totally fine to direct conversation like this and you are allowed to add additional thoughts to a topic that seems “closed”. {Assuming you are not opening old arguments, but i don’t think you are, you just have more to say on something.}

      1. Oh, I’m an extrovert and believe me, I too constantly think of contributions only two topics later. Bloody neurodivergence.

      2. This is why I’m grateful for the folks who facilitate a book study I’m a part of. Before we end our sessions, they always ask if there was anything that we touched on that we haven’t fully shared our thoughts on; it’s great for socially anxious introverts like me who take a while to process our thoughts before sharing with everyone else.

      3. It’s fine in my circle, especially if you poke a finger in the air like pinning something and say ‘Put a pin in that thought, we’re coming back to it in a minute’.

    2. Sometimes if I’m in a group I’ll go blank and can’t think of anything to say until the topic has moved on…a social coach taught me to say ” just to get back to what we were saying” and it’s always been fine

  23. Thanks for turning on the comments! I’ve been reading since letter #5 & love reading them and getting to know the CA community. I love to learn from this great community. : )

  24. Oh, this is all such excellent and spot-on advice, I just love this category. Thank you so much for all you do, you helped me out a great deal 6 years ago when, thanks to this blog, I started realizing I was in relationship that no longer served me and got free of it and you continue to calibrate and fine-tune my relationship skills. All the love and internet hugs if you want them.

  25. Now I really want to wear lingerie *with* chicken socks. Perhaps I can find some odd holiday coming up where it might be(come) relevant.

  26. Does anyone have good resources on how to have engaging conversations that are not 100% story swapping? What other conversational rhythms are out there/how to find them? Sometimes the story swapping is zippy fun and sometimes I leave a hangout with friends feeling like we were all chatty ships passing in the night.

    1. I did a search on captainawkward.com for “conversation” and noted that #s 1168 & 1169 are specifically about that. “Captain Awkward’s Dating Guide for Geeks” was another fruitful search. Hope these help!

  27. Here’s my worst story about an ex giving back gifts:

    I broke up with this guy over the phone, and the next day he took the earliest possible morning train to my home city, without telling me. Well there, he showed up on the bus I was riding. (I still don’t know if it was a coincidence or if he had staked out my workplace and followed me when I left early – which I actually did because I suspected that he would show up, and I wanted a locked door between us if he did.)

    Halfway through the bus ride, he gave me the shock of my life by suddenly showing up by my right elbow, and proceeded to – in front of everybody on the fairly packed bus – give me back every gift I’d ever given him one by one. And I mean EVERY gift, from expensive birthday gifts to little trinkets and pretty stones I had handed to him after picking them off the ground.

    I ended up with a lap full of stuff, completely mortified.

    (And then he followed me all the way to my door, compulsively opening and closing his fists all the way. That’s when I went from mortified to terrified. Thankfully he left, after I gave him back some stuff I had borrowed from him. He did not ask for his gifts back…)

    If you decide to give back an ex’s gifts, please don’t be this guy about it.

  28. I will use the now-rare opportunity to say THANK YOU CAPTAIN AWKWARD!

    i read this blog/site/column for years, and i own so much of my current worldview on social skills to you. i read the big MeFi thread about emotional labor because it was recommended here! when i contemplated break up, i thought “what would Captain Awkward say?”, and then act by those recommendations.

    It’s nice to read very-very-long comments threads when i have the patience, and it’s nice to read short commentless answers, and i just grateful you share you wisdom with the world! thank you!

  29. LW7’s partner gives me the heebie-jeebies. Please dump his* controlling ass. No one should have to pass a casting on “how well do your nightclothes and body conform to my fantasies tonight” in order to go to bed.
    * Taking a wild guess here /eyeroll/

  30. I wish we could subpoena the partner of the Reddit author to find out why someone thinks having his mom surprise vacation bomb his spouse at the airport is a good idea. What goes through someone’s mind to come up with that as a great strategy for disagreements about the role of one’s mother/MIL in adult married life?

    1. I can guess. He thought if the pressure was strong enough the LW would capitulate. Her own family thought she should have capitulated. Let’s guess that he had experience with her voicing an objection, getting some pushback from him, then capitulating, in an ever escalating spiral. He’d learned that when she upped the objection, all he had to do was up the pushback/pressure. It worked before, so why not? I bet that’s what he’s telling himself now: “I don’t get it. It always worked before.

      If that’s not it, I have a second guess. He saw himself as being in the middle of 2 warring parties, and he was trying to be the appeaser, trying not to take sides without realizing that he did take a side.

      1. I didn’t get the impression that the AITA LW was prone to capitulating to her husband. After all, she called his bluff when he threatened to not go on the vacation if his mother wasn’t allowed to. Seems like hubby is the weak spine, giving in to his mommy.

        I think it more likely that hubby assumed she’d follow the “social contract” of not making a scene in public and would accept it as a done deal. Plus, the sunk costs fallacy.
        I hope she bought trip insurance, because her dolt husband just cost her a lot of money. Money that *she* earned and saved.

        1. Thankfully in an updated thread she mentioned that she’s now staying with her sister and was talking about separation or divorce.

          Personally I believe if she gets rid of him due to the circumstances, that’s some travel money well spent.

      2. I’ve now read the follow-up. I see where LW says that her husband’s mother “favors” him over his siblings. I’m thinking: If that’s favoritism, being the outcast child is a blessing. Further “Most of his siblings don’t talk to him and I 100% believe it’s because of his mom’s favoritism.” More likely, his siblings feel lucky to be out of this mess, thanks their lucky stars that their mother has never favored them with that sort of co-dependence, interference and manipulation, and don’t speak to their brother because it’s best to stay as far away from that shitshow as possible.

    2. I think i dated this guy in HS, and wow, the mom was extra. He married someone else and she divorced him d/t mom. Mom finally died and he is finally happily remarried, but YOW. Especially as we are all olds now.

  31. My wife is a morning lark, and I’m a night owl. We make it work, and work well, mostly because she has the magical ability to be pleasant and energized in the morning without being grating or irritating. Also, she make me espresso first thing and does not expect or ask for coherence until I’ve had time to drink it.

  32. Thank you CA for opening comments! I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed them until I realized how many I’ve posted! ::blush:: I did my best to make sure they’re all appropriate though!

  33. In case it didn’t make it into the official request queue: T-shirt with “This is not your feral cishet dude rehabilitation center.” Thank you again for your posts! -Tracy H.

    1. I copied that phrase from the post as soon as I saw it so it would be ready and waiting in my clipboard for commenting.

  34. Wear what you want – lingerie if it makes you feel good, flannel if it keeps you warm – but if you click through to the _other_ flannel nightgown, there’s a video. Listening to a Vermonter extoll the virtues of a flannel nightgown brought a second smile to me.

    “the most long selling, favorite nightgown of our customer, which is the Lanz Flannel nightgown. This is the traditional – uh – wallpaper pattern I think … this is the nightgown you give to your mom every Christmas, to you sister every Christmas, or your girlfriend or wife … you can’t go wrong with a Lanz Flannel Nightgown.”

    (My grandmother made me a nightgown like this when I had my first kid. Because they button down to the waist, you can pop some buttons to nurse the kid while you fall back asleep and not freeze your ass/shoulders off. Can attest, my kids should give me one every Christmas)

  35. My sister who’s single answers the question of whether she’s in/why she’s not in a relationship by saying, “I’m open to it. Have anyone you want to set me up with?”

    She says she’s totally open to being set up, but if someone is just being nosy they tend to leave her alone.

    1. How about having your sister up the ante and reply, “Thank you for offering to set me up with someone!” And delight in the asker’s horrified reaction.

  36. I’m so curious about how people deal with situations like #8! My beloved boyfriend lives in the kind of chaos that makes me want to crawl out of my skin. For context, he does have ADHD and struggles with “clutter blindness,” and he is the primary parent to a neurodivergent kid. The issue isn’t just a matter of him trying harder. I have coping mechanisms I employ when I spend the night at his place, which I do about 4 nights a week, but I can’t imagine having that as my permanent living condition. We’ve talked about living together at some point, and I’ve said that I would need it to be on the condition that we had weekly housecleaners, but is that enough? How have other people navigated this issue?

    1. I, too, am an ADHD clutter monster. I recently broke up, but when I had a live-in girlfriend we had areas where the clutter was acceptable and areas that simply needed to be clean and clear. She’s a very orderly person who keeps a stylish home. I wish I kept my home like hers, but I just don’t. The kitchen counters are not for clutter collection, because a cluttery kitchen makes her anxiety go wild. My craft table is a cluttered, ever shifting zone that is my own to deal with. It came down to just talking about what we could do to meet somewhere in the middle, and talking about chores and the state of things as we went.

      I have the best luck with maintaining a level of tidiness that I’m ok with guests seeing when I declutter and ensure everything has a specific place to be. Counterintuitively, I love to have organized drawers and cupboards. That way I know what’s inside them when I can’t see the stuff. Clutter out in the open doesn’t bother me much because I can see everything and know what and where it is.

    2. I don’t have many tips because I haven’t really solved this issue with my partner. Cleaning and tidying aggravate my symptoms, and they’re happy to live with no visible floor or counterspace. We really can’t live together until both of us are better at keeping house because the mess will add together and we’ll never be able to find anything again.

      Some things you could try:
      – point your partner to resources that he might vibe with. Struggle care, UFYH, Marie Kondo’s books
      – find ADHD friendly storage, like open buckets and clear drawers
      – try and figure out a reasonable goal, like “we always have clean counters and a clear path to the stairs” and go from there

      Good luck and if you manage to make it work let me know the secret

    3. Separate in your mind 2 issues: Neat and Clean.

      Neat is about decision making. Am I ever going to use this again? Could it be of value to someone else? What charity thrift store should I give it to? Or maybe which friend would like it? For the things I’m going to keep, where should it go in the house? What will I put on this table next to my bed versus that shelf in the bathroom?

      Clean is about learning how. What dishwashing detergent? Dishes rubbed with what sort of scrubber in what order? Brooms used like this or like that, or vacuum cleaner used like this or like that.

      The first thing I think of when someone says it’s not a matter of trying harder: Sometimes people, usually children and teenagers but could also be an adult, need instruction, not motivation. We walk around thinking that housekeeping is so easy that everyone automatically knows how to do it. It’s also possible that there’s so much baggage attached to being smart enough to clean a house that we don’t realize how difficult it is to figure out on our own. So my first suggestion is to see if your boyfriend would be willing to take responsibility for one part of housecleaning. Be transparent with where you’re going with this. Choose a task that’s driving you the most crazy. For me it would be the kitchen. Ask him if he’d be willing to be responsible for washing and putting away dirty dishes. Then show him how to wash dishes. Hang out while he washes some dishes. Correct errors in a normal straightforward judgment-free way. Pretend you were teaching him how to do the most complicated and unheard of laboratory or computer skill in which you explain, demonstrate, observe and correct.

      If you decide to hire a housecleaner, remember that housecleaners clean. They don’t organize.

      For many, organizing is harder, but organizing doesn’t need to be done as often, and it doesn’t usually have the “dirty nasty person” associations with it. The ADHD is going to come into play here. He may really be unable to do the sort of neatening you need, but you may be able to divide spaces into ones he never touches that are yours and ones you touch only when you’re together and you’re helping him put things away. A table that’s jumbled with books, clothes, computer parts, flower pots, personal care items, silverware, junk mail, plastic bags, important document, lamp, power cord, puzzle pieces, and hardware? Leave his table alone as long as he’s able to function with a table that messy. If he can find what he needs on it, and if you have your own neat desk, try not to see it. If it gets to where he can’t function with a table like that, you may have no choice except to go through with him putting all the items away.

      If he can’t keep himself from cluttering your hands-off neat spaces, and if you can’t stand to see his cluttered ones, do consider not moving in together. There may be no solution to the ongoing problem.

      (For me, it wasn’t a boyfriend. It was my mother.)

      1. Yeah… cleaning and tidiness are different, but very much related. And if you have watched your partner – actually watched them, cleaning and washing up, vacuuming, changing sheets, tidying, doing whatever, then it for sure isn’t a mystery and something that must be taught in great detail.

        Also! Even if that were the case, seeing that your partner or housemate is deeply stressed and upset surely means that there is at least some onus on the part of the person for whom How To Clean is a mystery to, you know, take responsibility and ask how to do things? It reminds me of how, in response to frazzled women trying to get their male partners to ”help” with housework and childcare, the advice is ”oh but YOU need to list out a chore list and carefully parse out how best to explain what you want and then praise them”. Hard no. A simple ”those dishes have been there 2 days, wash them” is as much explanation as most reasonable adults would need. No one needs to ”accept” helping a grown person learn how to put stuff away or understand what a broom is for.

        Yes, it’s good to compromise and not be super-uptight, give a little, not stress over a few dirty dishes or not scrubbing the floor with bleach every second day, but that’s not what this is.

        1. I interpreted Hates Chaos’s question differently.
          If the question was: Do I have to put up with this?
          My answer would be: Hell, no.

          But I thought the question was: I really like this guy and want to make it work. Is there something I can do, or is living together doomed from the start?

          My answer boiled down to: It might not be doomed. There are things you can try. If you’re willing to do the organizational part of the work, if you’re willing to play manager to his employee, there’s hope. This would mean he was willing to play employee.

          I’ve been manager to people with no organizational skills. My mother was awful about time management and executive function. She couldn’t prioritize to save her life. She was, however, good with customers and genuinely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about certain products. Put her on a sales floor, and she’d outsell anyone. As long as someone else rang up the sales and did the paperwork, she was a good employee. My brother is a lot like our mother. He’s reliable and hardworking at physical repetitive tasks. He’s been lucky enough to find work at a landscaping company. He can go in and trim trees all day or mow lawns, and he’ll do an excellent job at it as long as someone else does the scheduling and ordering supplies and set up the system as to exactly how things get put away at the end of the day right on down to a written list of what goes where. He could never set it up himself, but if someone else does the organizing, he can follow directions. It’s still best for him to have a co-worker with him when the truck pulls into the home base, but it works because his buddies know him to pull his share when they’re in the hot sun.

          So my answer is: There are things you can do. If you’re willing to do the organizing, and if your beloved is willing to be taught and isn’t just using ADHD as an excuse to be lazy, you can try setting aside a time each week for a clean-up session in which you’re in charge and he follows directions. You decide where everything goes. You keep the system the same each week. You tell him what to do, and he follows directions. Daily, when dinner is over, you tell him to do the dishes. Should you have to do this? Not if you don’t want to, but I got the idea you did want to give it a try.

    4. Here’s how my husband and I do it. Separate everything, basically. He has a separate area of the house where he has his bedroom and office. I don’t go there, I don’t look at anything there, I just don’t know about it. We have our marital encounters in my room which is as clean as I want it. I was almost 30 when we got married (practically expired!) and never got into sleeping with someone else in the bed so we established the separate bedroom thing early on. I’m happy to see him every morning after having a restful night’s sleep. We’ve been together 20 years.

      We have 2 kids age 13 and 6. I don’t look in the 13 year old’s room either. Every so often he brings a stack of dishes down to the kitchen. And he does his own laundry including his sheets occasionally. That’s as far as I go with having any idea about what his room looks like. I don’t think he’s building a bomb or anything.

      With the 6 year old I do keep his room picked up and dishes out and trash swept and sheets changed etc.

      Common areas are a disaster and I just accept that. Sometimes I get aggravated but for the most part I am the one who cleans the kitchen at all ever. I clean the bathroom enough that we’re not being taken over by mold but I’m not scrubbing a toilet after 3 guys so I just let that go except for a couple times a year.

      I used to hire a cleaner but it was a pain in the ass to “pre clean” for the cleaner. I also used to hate cleaning more but during the lockdown I started minding it less since it made my surroundings nicer.

      Now it may be important to note here that he does all the cooking. He does the dinner for the kids every night (obviously some nights he orders in). So he’s going out to get groceries and cooking the meals. I have a lot of food intolerances so sometimes he cooks for all of us and sometimes he just makes stuff that the kids and him can eat.

      He also never ever complains about the house being messy. He will cook with six square inches of open counter space. When I had a previous, much neater, partner, he would complain about the food I cooked and how neat the house was. I have none of those issues now. We have other issues obviously since we’re human but my husband and I do not have fights about cleanliness now that I have accepted he is a cooker not a cleaner and that I can find some enjoyment in cleaning.

      It’s not ideal but it’s not entirely dysfunctional either. The house is probably medium clean and we don’t have guests except for the 13 year old’s friends who probably think his room is totally normal.

      The bonus for my husband being unbothered is he also doesn’t complain. I like it better than a complaining neat freak. And he’s great in bed. And then he leaves. And we sleep peacefully and have coffee in the morning.

      So neatness compatibility is not the only thing to hang a marriage on. You have to make it work somehow but it can be done. Is he loyal and funny and able to hold a job and a conversation and does he make excellent polenta? That kind of thing is more important than who cleans the bathroom.

    5. Do not ever at all never never move in with him. Please.

      He’s perfectly happy to live the way he lives. His child is also happy in this situation. You – and I am 100% team clean also – have already got ”coping mechanisms” for handling it when you’re there. You deserve a better-matched partner. He is likely a genuinely fantastic guy and good dad, but if he is incapable of keeping his home environment to a level you find mostly-acceptable, then your relationship has a hard limit for happiness. It’s not a question of being judgey or nasty, it’s a major difference in basic core values.

    6. I’m the person in my household who with a MUCH higher level of tidy. I’m neurodivergent and my partner is a different flavor of neurodivergent. We’re both reasonable, responsible adults by most metrics — middle-aged, stably employed, happy multi-decade cohabiting relationship, on track to pay off the mortgage early, house is tidy enough for unexpected guests, therapy, cholesterol meds, yadda yadda.

      And (re: Caro’s comment in this thread) we both DO accept the need to help a grown person learn how to put stuff away or use a broom or basic cleaning tool, and we accept the need to help A Lot with the executive function of prioritizing and planning steps, initiating and rewarding effort in the direction we want to see. Especially when one of us is stressed — executive function become much more difficult for both of us under stress, in slightly different ways, and at its worst it’s hard to figure out where to start even with things that we ordinarily manage okay, let alone unfamiliar ones; and it becomes difficult to ask for help effectively, or receive it with gratitude and readiness to learn rather than overwhelm and the shame of internalized ableism.

      It’s true that burden of these expectations often is unfairly distributed along sexist or classist lines — a woman/femme partner is expected to carry the bulk of domestic effort for her man/masculine partner, or a working-class person is expected to carry their leisure-class partner, because they’re “better at it.” And anyone can individually take advantage, or feel taken advantage of, by nonconsensually over-relying on a partner/other to pick up the slack of responsibilities they are equally capable of but just don’t wanna. But just because this is often the case does not mean it’s always and only the case.

      But a blanket assumption that reasonable adults don’t need help, and that people don’t need to accept (*) the person they’re interacting with may not meet their expectations (whether from inability OR unwillingness or some combination) is
      (a) demonstrably inaccurate (reasonable adults evidently do need help with basic tasks of daily living; the entire profession of occupational therapist is all about teaching things like “use broom” and “wash dishes”),
      (b) recipe for blame/shame, resentment, insecurity and defensiveness that impede the very growth mindset one needs to build improvement, and
      (c) ablist.

      (*) I am using “accept” here to mean recognize, the opposite of deny–NOT like, tolerate, approve of, accommodate, enable. You can accept that a person has abilities, behaviors, limits, or whatever that are intolerable to you, and choose how you’ll interact with them on the basis of that awareness better than if you insist that reality shouldn’t be the way it is. If you can accept that a person struggles with tidyness –or whatever their personal idiosyncrasies or limitations are — in xyz specific ways, then you can negotiate about it. In this, tidiness patterns are no different than any other aspect of a relationship, like sex or financial planning or taking responsibility for kids or pets.

      What worked for me and my partner was to cut out the “should” dimension as much as possible, and get really honest with ourselves and with each other about what we each individually wanted/needed, what we were able or willing to do for ourself or offer to help the other person, what we could tolerate or get flexible or creative about, and what was a dealbreaker. We negotiated intensively around big relationship-status transitions like going from casual dating/fwb to dating seriously with frequent overnights, or moving in together.

      We came to an agreement on what each of us would be responsible for in the shared areas of the house, that each of us could live with — partner undertook to keep tidier than their baseline in a few specific ways that mattered to me, I undertook to do more than my “fair share” of both the executive functioning and the physical work of tidying things that I cared a lot about and partner didn’t; we got on the same page about the distinction between health&safety hazards (nothing can block doorways or windows, no breakables in precarious places, perishable foods and used dishes to be dealt with promptly to avoid spoilage and pests) versus appearance (clean laundry piled on the couch before folding, amusements piled on every horizontal surface=not a hazard). We arranged for each of us to have our own personal space that we could keep how we personally preferred (mine’s minimalist, partner’s is chaotic) in addition to the shared space, which served us both as a place for each to retreat and recharge in the environment that’s more comfortable for them without leaving the relationship, and a reminder/affirmation that having different tidiness styles is okay, neither order nor chaos is inherently better or worse (nor unhealthy except at the most heightened extreme) and neither of us wants the other to change their preferences or personality.

      The relationship would not have progressed without both the ability to negotiate about these things (“shoulds,” shame and internalized ableism make it hard at times) and *demonstrated* follow-through. IMO, it’d be unkind for either of us to knowingly put the person we love in longterm discomfort, whether the discomfort is from the physical surroundings or expectations that don’t fit.

      And we keep re-negotiating periodically, especially if something comes up. “Hey, the couch has disappeared underneath the pile of laundry waiting to be folded and put away, how did that get so out of hand? and can we tackle that soon? I’d like to be able to watch a movie without drowning in socks even if they are clean socks.”
      Or “Hey, another coworker’s out with Covid, we were already badly understaffed with big projects coming due, I’m working late, extra stressed, and when I get home I am out of brain or motivation, I’ll be letting some things slide and extra uptight about others, can you roll with it for a few weeks?”

    7. I’ve struggled with “clutter blindness” and always had an untidy (not dirty) room/apartment. I recently came across the “A Slob Comes Clean” blog and her approach to clearing the clutter in her home really resonated with me.

      Decluttering can be done without making a bigger mess by following her simple steps. And her method of putting things where they go immediately – even if it means walking back and forth a dozen times – means you can spend 5 minutes instead of 5 hours and still accomplish something. So if “organizing” overwhelms you, I highly recommend checking the blog out. Start from the beginning to get her full epiphany or dip in for specific processes. (Her recent posts are podcasts but the early ones are blog posts.)

    8. I have ADHD and a much neater partner I’ve lived with for something like 5 years. What has worked best for us was giving me space where I could spread out and let my natural piles accumulate, and giving him space that is always tidy where he can feel calm. So there’s the corner where the craft store exploded and my office is a glorious nightmare zone, but I put extra effort into keeping the kitchen and living room tidy to keep his stress low. That said, I generally don’t struggle picking up dishes/food from My Areas, so bugs and mold aren’t a major issue, YMMV.

    9. You make some suggestions about routines and organizational tools that would keep your shared home to an acceptable level. And that can be as basic as a box in every room to the whole showroom at The Container Store. And you accept that it still won’t be perfect. As someone with ADHD, I do like the whole idea of “a place for everything and everything in its place” but I am not great at maintaining it. Having a cleaner does give you some external accountability to straighten up ONLY if you care about the cleaner being able to thoroughly clean and not have to deal with your clutter and lots of people just don’t. There are cleaners who will happily chuck your clutter into a designated box so you may have to do that.

    10. I am the clutterer and my spouse is the tidier in our relationship. I think it’s at least partly a matter of how extreme the divergence between the two are, and how much/which space is involved. I know how to clean, and I can clean, and I do like when things are tidy. I just have a much, much higher threshold for clutter than my spouse, combined with childhood trauma associated with cleaning (I had an abusive OCD now-ex stepparent).

      We both have our own “spaces” in our house (craft room vs. basement) that we’re in charge of; mine can be as cluttered as I want, and his can be as tidy/empty as he wants. Shared spaces (kitchen, living room) are something we tidy up together about half the time, and he tidies up the other half of the time, and I make a concerted effort to not clutter those spaces as much. Bedroom/shared bathrooms, we each have our “sides” so to speak. We’re also helped by the fact that the cleaning chores I hate (dusting/sweeping/general gunk scrubbing) he prefers, and the ones he hates(vacuuming/changing sheets), I don’t mind. We play to our strengths as much as possible.

      Mainly, we both try very hard to be okay with the other’s mess/need to clean, because we care about each other. I try to not be careless about making messes, and step up to help clean stuff when I am mentally up for it; my spouse doesn’t get mad if I leave a mess, and only asks me to help him clean when he really needs my help (and most importantly for me, doesn’t demand that I stop whatever I’m in the middle of to help him clean).

      But again, the divergence between us isn’t huge, and I don’t *need” clutter to feel safe; my issue is more around being forced to clean, so it’s not as difficult to deal with as it might be for others, and also, we care about each other enough that we really do the work needed to make the other happy–if he’s away for a weekend, I’ll try to surprise him with a clean kitchen, or if I’m in another room reading, he’ll clean our shared spaces without telling me so I don’t stress about not helping him. It sounds like you’re already doing all of the accommodating in this situation; if your partner doesn’t know how to clean or isn’t motivated to keep things to a certain level of clean for you, it’s going to be much, much more difficult to combine households.

  37. For the person whose partner insists on lingerie and no socks… Are you a little scared of your partner? If you don’t comply with your partner’s request, are you worried they’ll get angry and make life difficult until you agree? You simply don’t have to feel that way with a partner. It’s possible to have partners who you are safe with. It is much better to be single than to be with a partner who is controlling.

    1. These were my immediate questions too… I was very alarmed by even the short search terms and wondered why the answer didn’t go in this direction

  38. “when I think about how much of young women’s time, energy, and ambition is wasted on feral cishet dude rehabilitation because of pressure to find The One, it makes me want to scream. ”

    YES. THIS. PREACH IT. I thought I had pretty good bullshit detectors as a young woman and STILL got sucked in. We need new life narratives.

  39. I love this site. I hope sometime soon you do an update post/call for updates, because some of these letters live rent free in my head (1148 in particular)

  40. Dear darling LW #8, it’s also okay to say you need to take a shower/brush teeth/clean whatever needs to be cleaned before we’re intimate/he climbs into your bed with the nice clean sheets. I may be making unwarranted assumptions but have also known people who resemble their home space, so ignore if not applicable. Also if you don’t want to always host, you can suggest meeting in public places which does put the kibosh on sexy times but presumably you like hanging out with this gent for more than just that.

  41. I’m so glad you turned on comments because the second I saw that Reddit summary I NEEDED the link. XD Thanks Captain, keep doing what you’re doin’. ❤

  42. Thank you very much for turning on the comments, Captain! I only stumbled upon your wonderful site after you had turned comments off and when going through the archives I do appreciate the perspectives and ideas everyone commenting gives. But I, of course, also understand that moderating comments is a chore that needs appropriate time, emotional/mental bandwidth, and energy – so no pressure from me, just appreciation 🙂
    Thank you for all you have written here, it is a tremendous help in figuring out my own life, thoughts, feelings, wishes, ….

  43. #6; thank you Captain! You so clearly outline the issues between myself and my ADHD friend, who interrupts constantly and almost never *responds* to my stories with empathy, demonstrating understanding, before relating her own tale. I am 60 years old this year, and I sure wish I had figured out earlier that it’s ok to ask “can we go back to my story?” and “something similar happened to me—would you like to hear about it?” WITHOUT having to be angry about it.

  44. Love the answer to #4 in particular! I am married so don’t get that exact question anymore, but I do have a sort of alternative style so I get questions about why my appearance is a particular way. Why I got that tattoo, am wearing that dress/coat/pants, have my nails/makeup like that, etc. Mostly from my mom (irritating) but occasionally from strangers too (rude).

    I usually give a big smile and say “Oh, I’m very vain.” It’s just confusing enough that the person rarely presses to continue the conversation (Are they supposed to agree or disagree with me?? Who’s to say?). Plus I feel like I’m (in a self-deprecating way) reaffirming my own values – yes, it does look great, and that matters to me, thank you!

    For the “why are you single” question, I think “Oh, I’m very picky” has the same effect. Yes, I do have high standards because I’m awesome, thank you!

  45. Re: #4, I once watched a cousin masterfully brush off this question with “You know, I took a Buzzfeed quiz that said I’ll get married in my 60s, and that sounds good to me.”

    I’m not sharing to suggest this script for anyone else, but from her it very quickly conveyed “I’m not putting any energy into this right now and I’m happy about that.”

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