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Cleaning Lady

Emily Flake

By Mink Stole | Posted 10/31/2001

I have been seeing a woman who is very neat. Her apartment is immaculate, everything in its exact place, which never changes. As soon as we finish eating, when I would like to linger at the table with coffee and conversation, she's up to clear and do the dishes. I feel guilty if I want a second cup because she can't relax until everything is clean. She's intelligent, witty, and mostly fun to be with, but now she's even taken to inspecting me before we go out, clipping any loose threads and taking a lint brush to my clothes. I'm not a slob, but I don't care nearly as much as she does about these details, and this neat-freakishness is really beginning to turn me off. Do you have any advice?

Casual Bob

Dear Bob:
I don't consider myself a slob either, but I am a confirmed dribbler, by which I mean that as I come into my house I start dropping things: my purse, my keys, shoes, jacket, mail, books, cat food, whatever else I might have been carrying in. I'm particularly casual about shoes; on a recent routine pickup trip around my living room, I found seven pairs that had not yet made their way to the closet. I made peace with this aspect of my personality long ago, and have grown rather fond of it. I certainly feel no need to change.

I did make the mistake a few years ago of sharing an apartment with a very neat, very good friend. It didn't work. He found my behavior intolerable. I would find any stray shoes, books, or other personal items I might have left in other parts of the house in an angry little pile outside my bedroom door, where I was a virtual prisoner because it was the only place in the apartment I could be comfortable. He resented feeling like he had to clean up after me, and I resented not being able to relax in my own home. It took a full year after I moved out for us to speak to each other civilly and another full year to regain our former closeness.

This is not to say that my friend is a bad person; on the contrary, he's a great guy. We're just totally incompatible as living partners. As, I'm afraid, are you and your lady friend. In order for the two of you to maintain a happy equilibrium, one of you would have to change, and unless she's willing to undergo treatment for compulsive cleanliness, she ain't gonna. And even if she were happy and willing to do all the work necessary to maintain it, you would still have to cope with living in her shrine to good housekeeping. If you want to continue seeing her, try staying at your place sometimes, or going to restaurants where the customers are politely discouraged from busing their own tables. Hotels with room service make great getaways too. But unless you're willing to accept the DustBuster as your personal savior, I don't hold out much hope for your future together.

As soon as my fiancé and I set our wedding date, I asked my future sister-in-law to be a bridesmaid. She graciously accepted, then declared her intention to "set me straight" on the perils of real life. She's 10 years older than I am and says she has had much more experience than I've had, and that I'm kidding myself if I think I'm going to be happy forever. She's never been married herself, so I'm not sure exactly what her experience is. But all her friends' marriages have busted up, and she seems to think that makes her an expert. I just wish she'd keep her negativity to herself. Is there any tactful way I can get out of having her in my wedding?

Sorry Sister

Dear Sister:
Awful as she may be, it would be truly tacky for you to disinvite her to be your bridesmaid, not to mention insulting to your fiancé's family and really, really bad manners, so you're stuck with keeping her in the wedding. But you don't have to listen to her. Even if she actually believes she is doing you a kindness, unless she knows some terrible secret that should prevent her brother from marrying you, she should keep her big mouth shut.

Spend as little time as possible with her. If you must be together, stay as pleasant as possible (even when you're just itching to haul off and slug her). And tell her you appreciate her concern for your future, that you know she means well, but that you're not stupid, you know marriage isn't all fun and games, but you love her brother and believe the two of you can make it work. Then change the subject. If she persists, tell her that even though you realize there's no such thing as happily ever after, you'd like to pretend that there is at least until the honeymoon is over. Then change the subject. Eventually she should get the message.

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