A Broom of His Own
My girlfriend of six months could be a "keeper." The only thing dividing us is housekeeping issues. She's a neatnik and I'm ... not. She rents a small, easy-to-clean apartment; I have a house with a yard and pets. I'm a busy guy, so the housecleaning gets neglected. This freaks her out, and she won't spend time at my place — which doesn't bode well for us sharing living quarters in the future. I've already had one failed relationship with another neatnik. Is there any hope for this one?—Dust For Life
Maybe the music was a little too loud on your first date. She thought you said, "We could grow old together," not "We could grow toxic mold together."
Love, just for the record, does not conquer all. At best, it conquers some, and negotiates an uneasy truce with some of the rest. It does especially poorly against life's tiniest irritations; in this case, the bacterial kind. You're not just a man, you're a microbe farmer — one who happens to love a woman whose kitchen floor probably compares favorably, for lack of life forms, with cauterized surgical steel. When she isn't up all night sterilizing her grout, she's probably lying awake wondering why the health department has yet to install an electronic billboard on your roof (like those tracking smoking deaths), to broadcast the moment-by-moment microorganism count at that split-level petri dish you call home.
How would you describe the visual theme of your house? "Recently Robbed"? "Gently Ransacked"? Whatever you call it, it can't be a pleasing aesthetic for a woman who probably slacks off in the housekeeping department by leaving a single unwashed martini glass in the sink. Like you, she might have trouble seeing a future for your relationship — especially with all the Swiss Alps-like piles of your dirty laundry blocking her view. If only she could see the big picture: it's not just your home; it's your gift to the archeologists of the future.
Is she a little nuts? Perhaps. If so, she's unlikely to get un-nuts. You're equally unlikely to get permanently in touch with your inner Joan Crawford, or acquire a hobby involving incessant household scrubbing with ammonia-soaked rags. That said, she still might be a "keeper" — but only if you hire a housekeeper, fast. But, but ... the expense, the aggravation, the (insert other lame excuses here). How much is it worth to you to have love in your life? $50 a week? $75? Regular maid service is a huge savings over other relationship-preserving options, such as remodeling Salmonella Central in wall-to-wall cement and molded plastic so you can clean it by hosing it down. Best of all, your payment won't just clear a path for love; it should also chip away enough unsanitary crud so you can find the bathroom sink, eliminating the need to shave outside under the sprinklers.
Ultimately, the people best suited for living together are those devoid of irritating habits. Know any? Me neither. Regarding the little "idiosyncracies" that seem so endearing when you first fall for someone — down the road, they're the stuff murder-suicides are made of. That's why I'm a big advocate of the two-family home — for the single family. If you and Princess Clorox insist on cohabiting, each of you should, at the very least, have a bathroom and a room of your own: your special place to keep as fanatically sterile or violently unkempt as your heart desires — providing you don't let any of those half-eaten 7-Eleven burritos get big, green, and furry enough to reach out and drag your partner in.
Yesterday, at a fast-food restaurant, a guy I'd been checking out came over and asked if I'd like some company. Taken off guard, I stammered "no." Immediately, I wanted to go after him and take it back. Instead, I just sat there. Now I'm wondering if I should return and try to run into him again, apologize and invite him to join me, or will I look like more of a flaming idiot if I do?—Grilled Chicken
To be human is to be a flaming idiot, with intervening moments of dignified-looking adulthood. Why live in fear that you're walking around with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your life? Embrace the flaming idiot within, and free yourself to take advantage of romantic opportunities in fast-food establishments and beyond. There are limits; for example, staking out this particular venue in hopes of a repeat encounter (this crosses the line from apparent flaming idiocy to apparent flaming obsession). If, however, you do run into this guy somewhere, seize your opportunity to look like a tectonic plate-shaking fool, and try again. You have nothing to fear but the chance that he'll respond by yelling, "Gong! Sorry! One offer per customer!" And what kind of flaming idiot would say something like that?