The most clichéd problem among married couples is whether or not the toilet seat is left up or down. Advice columns and bulletin boards offer “solutions” to this ongoing “problem” without offering insight into why this is something couples bother to argue over.
This is a somewhat difficult issue for men to win in a “logical” debate. Women will assert that closing the lid is important for “sanitary” or safety reasons as if many a woman has fallen into the bowl and broken off her tailbone. The weaker argument of how aesthetically unappealing it is to gaze into the unsightly gaping maw of the toilet bowl is sometimes employed.
Neither of these arguments really holds much water. The biggest sanitary issue comes from the flush which sends microscopic water particles into the air or from the bowl itself if you don’t clean it regularly. The aesthetic issue is a pretty subjective one. A toilet isn’t going to look great whether the lid is up or down. The only argument that works on any level is keeping it closed if you have a dog that likes to dip into it for liquid refreshment.
The truth is that this argument is about women asserting dominance in household matters and applying their values to men. In fact, it’s probably the earliest indication in a relationship that there might be arguments about housework later on. The reason I can say this with some confidence is that I’m a woman with relatively high standards for neatness, cleanliness, and order. While my husband and I have never had an argument about the toilet seat (we each can manage to put it up or down as needed without suffering great trauma), we did have issues early on in our marriage about housework.
After arguing about what my husband wasn’t doing to help out enough for several months, we finally reached some conclusions and started communicating productively about how we could both reach a state of satisfaction with the situation. The most important step was realizing that it wasn’t fair to apply my standards to him. Except in cases where health or safety are an issue or external factors affected our situation, there was no reason my husband should have been pressed to comply with what I wanted. For example, I like things kept tidy all the time whereas he prefers to pretty much keep everything where it is most convenient for him to access and put away. Rather than nag at him to keep cleaning off his bedside area, I just let it be or clean it up myself.
When we had similar issues with the timeliness of his assistance with household chores, we discussed why he wasn’t getting to it. Part of the problem was a forgetful nature but a bigger part of it was his energy levels were different than mine throughout the day. We both worked and came home tired but I was able to start taking care of household chores much more quickly than him. We worked out that I would cook dinner and he’d clean up afterwards so that he could rest for a longer time after work before tackling his half of the housework.
Once I started understanding and accommodating his needs and I stopped trying to force my standards on him, he became more cooperative and we were both much less frustrated. Unfortunately for most couples, this is a rather difficult compromise to reach. Since a good number of women feel they are judged by the homes they keep, and many of them are, it’s very difficult for them to back away from their standards. It’s also difficult for them to accept the idea that keeping a home which is as tidy and as clean as possible isn’t the “right” thing. After all, we are socialized to believe that an immaculate living space is an indication that one is a refined person who has good living habits and a messy, dirty living space means your habits more closely resemble those of swine.
There is dirty and there is unsanitary. There is messy and there is unnavigable. There is disordered and there is unfindable. For some men, the former in each case isn’t a big enough problem to waste time on fixing, especially if they work a lot. Some women, even those who work full-time, feel a great deal of stress to do it all every day. If they’re married, they transfer some of the stress on to their husbands and the nagging and fighting begins.
Women with high household standards should try to accept that the way they prefer to keep house isn’t the “correct” way to live. Lackadaisical men need to accept that there are some things that absolutely need to be done and fifty percent of that type of work is their responsibility in a cohabitation situation. The best way to avoid becoming a tedious male or female stereotype when it comes to housework is to map out which tasks are necessary and which are a reflection of aesthetic desires and split the former down the middle and let the concerned party do the latter on her (or his) own.