Scene: After putting my kids to bed, I come to the master bedroom and grab my laptop to do some work. My husband is in the room too — he’s just begun folding a load of laundry. That’s right, he started folding that laundry because he recognized it needed to be done, and I didn’t have to ask him. I don’t want to be an asshole and just sit down to work while he’s folding, so I join in to help.
He folds one more thing and then picks up the TV remote and starts flipping through Netflix. He can’t decide what to watch. He’s flipping and flipping and flipping and flipping, and while he’s flipping, I fold two-thirds of the laundry. He finally gives up flipping and resumes folding. When the little pile in front of him is finished, he wanders away — to shower. There are still a few things in the basket that need to be folded, but the folding is mostly “done.” Except…there are piles of folded clothes all over our bed that need to be moved to the baskets for the kids to put away tomorrow, and there are dryer sheets, bits of lint, and unmatched socks on the floor that need to be picked up.
My husband either doesn’t notice these details
he does notice them and assumes I will take care of them.
My face is hot. I want to be mad. I am mad — but I shouldn’t be. Right? This is petty, right? I’m petty. I should be grateful he made any effort at all.
Especially because he did it without any prompting.
But wait a minute here.
WAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIT. A. DAMN. MINUTE.
Why do I think there is something wrong with me for being mad about this rather than that there is something wrong with him for not doing his fucking share?
But. But…but…but. It’s a single load of laundry. I should let it go. I shouldn’t be mad about something so small. So trivial.
I once read somewhere, in a book about how to be happily married, that it’s detrimental to a couple’s happiness if one of them is an “accountant” — if one keeps score of who does more. It’s bad to do that. Keeping score means you’re petty. It means you’re ungrateful. It means you’re destroying your marriage. Your job, as a loving wife, is to accept whatever his contribution is because he’s trying, and also make sure you have sex with him because men get grumpy if they don’t get enough sex. “Physical touch” is every man’s love language, come on ladies, DO YOUR PART. DON’T BE A SLACKER.
I would bet my retirement account that the one who said we shouldn’t keep score was a man. A lazy man who wasn’t doing his fucking share, and knew it, and didn’t want anyone to keep a written record. He put this stupid little nugget of “advice” in a fucking book, and everyone, including women, including lots of psychologists, nodded their robot heads in creepy Handmaid’s Tale unison like “OMG YES, IT IS SO PETTY TO NOTICE WHEN YOU’RE THE ONE DOING MOST OF THE WORK.”
To be clear, my husband isn’t lazy. He wants to help. He truly, honestly, with every fiber of his being (and because he likes having sex with me), wants to do his share. He is a good man, for sure the top 5% of husbands, and I love him and appreciate his efforts, I really, really do. The amount he does around the house is all the more impressive because he was raised in an environment where they had nannies and full-time housekeepers and men didn’t have to lift a finger. He has come so far. But sometimes his “help” looks a lot like flipping channels while I do the bulk of the work, and then wandering away when some invisible switch in his head alerts him he’s hit his “helping out” quota.
Still, though, the laundry thing, my anger over it, isn’t really about my husband. It’s about me and all the reasons why I’ve been too afraid to call him out on not doing his share. After I fumed impotently for several hours, I realized I should have done exactly what he did — walked away when I felt I’d done my share, or better yet, not touched a single sock. I was putting off actual moneymaking work in order to help him with a chore he is perfectly capable of doing 100% independently. If he had been working on his laptop, I wouldn’t have expected him to stop and help me fold clothes. That would be ridiculous. I would recognize he was working and had deadlines to meet, and I would do the laundry myself. And he sure wouldn’t snap his laptop shut and hop up to help either — let’s be clear about that.
Because men, in general, don’t think about this shit. At all. (CALM DOWN, I said “in general.” If you or your husband is part of the 10–20% who’ve managed to evolve beyond this point, I’m not talking about you. Please accept the truth that you are an outlier, and don’t hate-email me about how what a sand-packed-vagina feminist I am.)
You know what this is? I’m labeling it. It’s micro-laziness.
It’s a subtler form of the more overt, unforgivable laziness of previous generations, though it’s maybe even more frustrating and malignant because it’s harder to complain about. Stop whining, at least he’s trying. We’ve come so far. But at potluck dinners, men aren’t helping with the cleanup. They’re all watching the game, or with their head tipped against the back of the couch, mouth agape, snoring off their sugar high while the women retreat to the kitchen.
And we’re supposed to be grateful they manned the grill (while the women made 12 side dishes and watched the kids).
When they do the dishes in the sink, but leave the dirty pots on the stove to cement overnight, we’re supposed to be grateful they at least did something.
When mom is away for the evening, and they let the kids destroy the house, eat shit for dinner, and fall asleep wherever they may fall rather than carrying out the bedtime routine, we are supposed to be grateful that they flew solo for a whole four hours.
We’re not supposed to notice micro-laziness, because these days, men change diapers and do dishes sometimes, or even a lot of times. We’re encouraged to thank today’s men for doing so much more than their predecessors. We must not make fathers the butt of jokes, must not say anything that would make them look incompetent, or embarrass them, or show a lack of gratitude.
This is societal gaslighting: He’s doing more than his or your father ever did, so you should just be grateful. If you can’t see that, you’re crazy. You’re a nag. You’re a bitch. You’re an accountant.
But we need to keep complaining because we’re not done yet. Complaining won’t ruin your marriage, ladies, if your only gripe is that you want to share a more equal workload. You’re allowed to expect this of him, and he’s strong enough to handle it, and your marriage (and life) will be better for it.