Smotherhood: Husband Habits That Inspire Hatred

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I am no Martha Stewart: Let’s get that out of the way right off the bat.

As a teen I stored my entire wardrobe, be it clean or dirty, balled up under my bed. I do not now relish, nor have I ever relished, cleaning for its own sake. Having reluctantly grown, as an adult, to realize my dad was right when he lectured that being tidy is in fact easier than being messy — in that it ultimately requires less effort — I feel qualified to judge that my husband is the laziest functional parent I’ve ever met.

This is no garden-variety laziness: it’s a cartoon. As I write this he’s snoring from the confines of his office, where he sleeps most nights because of a voluntarily late bedtime and the aforementioned snoring, measurable on the Richter scale. While we moved house over a year ago, his office is still in chaos, unpacked boxes and unhung pictures blocking his ability to pull the couch futon into a bed. He sleeps on this narrow ledge, directly on the futon cover, because he’s too lazy to use sheets. If I put sheets on the futon, he’s too lazy to change them.

Because the office doubles as a laundry room, he’s surrounded at all times by a sea of clothing. But it’s not everyone else’s clothing, which is contained to their laundry baskets, for the most part; it’s his own, clean and dirty mingling, discarded everywhere except on a shelf or in a closet. The floor is no longer visible, unless my rage occasionally moves me to scoop armfuls of it back into the three separate laundry baskets I’ve provided him with.

When my husband walks in the front door, he takes off his coat and deposits it directly on the floor — not on the coat hooks within arm’s reach or in the two closets at his disposal. He unpacks his pockets and leaves their contents — garbage and receipts, mostly, that eventually pile up and fall to the floor — on a ledge meant for mail. He leaves his shoes in the walkway, not in the shoe cabinet provided for his convenience. He does the same for our kids’ coats and shoes, and leaves their lunchboxes — full of discarded sandwiches and leftover banana — there to rot.

When he needs to recycle a milk carton or a cereal box, he piles it on the minuscule kitchen counter — using up half of the tiny space it offers — unemptied, unwashed and unfolded, a mere six inches from the closet that contains the recycling bin.

Many nights he forgets to run the dishwasher before he goes to bed, but if he does remember and, miracle of miracles, decides to unload the dishes, he puts everything that is not a simple glass or plate on the kitchen counter for me to put away. (Granted, our five-cupboard, twelve-square-foot galley kitchen can be a confusing place. And who can figure out which Tupperware container goes with which lid?) I recently returned after a four-day trip away with the kids to find that he hadn’t yet emptied the load I ran right before I left.

If a toy or book or item of clothing is on the floor — unsurprisingly, the kids have started adopting his habits in my absence — he will step over it. Tests have shown that he’ll do this for weeks on end, as though his son’s worn underwear is simply part of the natural landscape.

Laundry is a blog post unto itself, because here he has made an art form of deliberate incompetence. So I offer a highlight: If he does a rare load of my son’s laundry (for which he’s nominally responsible) and I ask him to put it away, he will pick up each item of clothing and fold it in half — inside out — then toss it indiscriminately into one of my son’s drawers. Why, he reasons, should he turn it right side out when you’re only going to have to do that when you put it on?

Now I know what you’re probably thinking: “What, you didn’t notice this stuff when you met?” In fact, we didn’t move in together until we married — the single biggest argument I can imagine in favor of shacking up before marriage.

You’re probably also saying to yourself, “Geez, give the guy a break, no doubt he has good qualities or you wouldn’t have married him.” Indeed: He’s a lovely dad, fun and emotionally generous and demonstrative with his kids. In his professional life he’s brilliant and organized. As a partner he’s emotionally supportive and progressive in his views.

But that’s where the record needle screeches to a halt. Talking about women’s equality only goes so far. His laziness is indiscriminate; I’m certain that if he moved in with a man next week there’d be no change. It enrages me because it is a tacit declaration that it is my (or someone’s) job to clean up after him, and the end result is that I have far less “spare” time to spend doing fun things with the kids or working on my career or heck, just relaxing with a good book on a couch that isn’t covered with his smelly discarded socks.

Just hire a cleaner, I hear you expostulate. Why yes, that was my initial desperate solution, never mind the expense. After five years of marriage and several failed therapy adventures, I hired a cleaner who, every week in the space of two short hours, partly restores my love for my husband. In fact, on the rare occasion that I’m home alone when she leaves, I have been known to lie down in the middle of the living room and breathe in the calm that attends the order, no matter how fleeting.

Until I discover the next sodden towel on the bed, or trip over the sixteenth shoe he’s left in the hallway….

(Photo: Christopher Robbins)