I walked out of my bedroom this morning in a half awake stupor and headed over to the door to walk the dogs. On the way to get the leashes, I stopped short in the middle of my living room. The recent changes have been so subtle, and I've been so stressed out, that they hit me all at once and left me feeling unsettled.
As I contemplated the gleaming (completely clutter free) table top and let my gaze roam around the room to the neatly folded blankets, freshly vaccumed carpet, and (the coup de grâce) the pillows arranged on the corners of the couch as pretty as a picture, a sense of unreality washed over me.
This vision is a stark contrast to my usual apartment norm of dog scattered pillows, heavily trafficked carpet, wrinkled blankets, and table top cluttered with everything from school books to empty coffee cups. Obviously, I'm not a clean freak by any means. I was raised with the mantra, "my house is clean enough to be healthy and messy enough to be happy" and that didn't change when I moved out on my own. (In fact, there was a noticable decline in cleanliness when I was in college, as my old roommates can probably attest.... Things have since improved slightly :-)
But the apartment before me was...clean! Neat! Orderly! What?!
In the last couple of weeks, something lit a fire under the boy's rear end, and he's really been helping out around the apartment. When before I used to have to beg and plead and yell to get anything done, it seems that he has now embraced my "Just do ONE little thing per day and it would help me out SO MUCH!" plea to the fullest extent. The apartment looks great!
And I feel bad. I feel guilty. I feel like I'm less of a woman.
How ridiculous is that?
It's all about gender roles, if you think about it. How many guys feel insecure when their girlfriend/wife/partner makes more money than they do? Guys feel all this pressure to be the provider, and when they don't play that role many feel emasculated. On some level I understand how they're feeling, but many times I just brushed it off with a "Welcome to the 21st century guys. Let's keep up with the times here."
And now, when I feel like a worthless female for not being able to handle my load of responsibilities AND keep a decent household, those words haunt me.
On one level, I know that I can't possibly handle classes, work, studying, sleeping, and volunteering, and still keep the apartment clean - not even to my previous level of "acceptable messy." I have enough trouble getting the dishes and the laundry done and those are the necessities. But I just can't accept that. On another (much deeper) level, I feel guilty that I can't do everything. I mean, there must be SOMEWHERE that I'm wasting time. It's gotten to the point where I feel guilty when I get home from class at 8:15pm and decide to read for 30 minutes before passing out cold. I wake up the next morning and think, "Darn. I could have dusted the living room last night. Do I really need to sleep for seven hours per night? I can probably get up earlier on Sunday and get some cleaning done before studying, right? I can do this." It's my responsibility to keep the apartment "visitor-ready" should anyone just happen to drop by. (Does this even happen anymore? And if friends dropped by, would they judge me on my apartment status??) I mean, I'm the female. I'm the homemaker. That's my job, right?
On the other hand, if we lived in a house and I knew the boy was super busy, I would have no problem mowing the lawn or taking out the trash or handling any of the variety of "boy chores" that he usually takes care of. If he was busier than I was, I would pitch in and help him out...which is why I was having such a fit when it didn't seem to work the other way in his mind. As the apartment got messier and messier, and I stressed out more and more, I would nag and nag and nag to get some help.
And now? Now that I'm getting the help I begged for? I feel guilty. I feel like a failure. Funny how that works, right?
It makes sense that he's helping me. And I'm (secretly) so relieved. The apartment looks great, and the fact that it was messy was weighing on me more than I cared to admit (as noted by the weight that slipped off my shoulders this morning.) There are two of us in the apartment making it messy - it makes sense that two should pitch in to clean it up. After all, when I'm on my own, the apartment will stay neater just because I'm not there very often, and the messes will be smaller and easier to handle on the weekends... but still - this guilt...
I've always thought of myself as atypical. I don't decorate my apartment with Pottery Barn, or Crate and Barrel...or even with any distinguishable color scheme. I don't hang curtains. I don't paint my walls. My home is the place that I sleep - if I feel comfortable there, who cares what others think? (Hence the slightly messy.) I spend my money on travel instead because that's important to me. I don't want a family - but I want to save the world. I can't cook and while I sometimes felt the urge to "take care of" my man, those times were more the exception than the rule. Basically, I refused to accept what I thought a woman "should be" and wanted to be who I am.
But maybe I'm not all that different. What is it that makes women think that we can handle everything? It's been discussed at length, but we want it all - a great career, a family, a beautiful home...and we feel like we should be able to handle it all, right? But let's face it - there just aren't enough hours in the day. I used to think that women were better equipped to ask for help (and receive it) than men, but I'm beginning to believe I need to rethink that.
I guess the best we can do is be happy with the choices we make and the lives we lead. For now, I'll gratefully accept the help around the house and thank the boy profusely. I'll accept that the choices I've made will not allow me to be who I want to be around the house - but remember that this is temporary. It's not a failure, it's a choice. And I'm lucky I have the support to continue with the choices I've made.
Maybe I'll cook him dinner or something to say thanks. But is it really a "thanks" if I won't have time to do the dishes afterwards? :-)