Negotiating SanityPosted: June 2, 2010
Who would’ve thought it would be so difficult?
Not me, that’s for sure.
It’ll be fine, I thought. J and Flatmate know I’m doing exams; they’ll cut me some slack, I reckoned. I’ve told them that I’m not doing housework, so someone else will do it, I assumed.
The washing built up. And built up some more. And some more. Flatmate went and bought new underwear, but didn’t think to wash the dirty underwear in the basket. J got down to his manky, I-need-to-do-my-washing underwear. I didn’t care. I always have at least two weeks’ worth of clothes. The floor remained grimy. I didn’t care. I walk around barefoot, but I just wiped my dirty feet on the huge pile of dirty washing accumulating on the floor of our bedroom.
J tried to cook new and exciting dinners. Even more excitingly, he tried to make up his own recipes. Those conversations went like this:
J: Can I talk to you about dinner?
Me: [pausing my revision] Sure. What were you thinking of making?
J: Roasted vegetables!
Me: What are you going to serve them with? You can’t have a whole meal made entirely of roasted veg.
J: Um. I don’t know. Paninis?
Me: Ok. Well, you’ll need to go and buy them, then.
J: Should I do something else?
Me: If you don’t want to go to the shops, yes. Why don’t you have a look in these cookery books?
…[some time passes]
J: What about rice?
Me: You could do. There’s some in the cupboard. What are you going to do for protein?
Me: Protein. You know – meat, fish, eggs, nuts, beans… protein.
J: Oh. I don’t know. Do you have to have it?
Me: [deciding that the nuances of this argument can wait] Yes. You have to have some protein. I know we don’t have any meat in, so how about you use a tin of kidney beans? You could cook them and mix them in with the rice.
I started to care. I had an exam that afternoon. The discussion about food, and what components you need to make a meal, took up a good couple of hours. True story. J had the right idea – that cooking dinner for me after my stressful exam would be a nice thing to do – but went about it badly; and, to be honest, the thought that I might come home to be presented with a plate full of roasted vegetables, and nothing else, was far more stressful than any exam. Actually, the really stressful bit was the thought that I’d have to appear grateful for it.
I mentioned this conversation to A, a female friend of mine who was also taking the exam that day. She looked at me in horror. “Didn’t anybody ever teach him basic nutrition?”, she responded, shocked.
“No,” I replied bitterly. “Why would anybody think he needed to know? He’s a man.”
These past weeks, I’ve been trying hard to set boundaries, to retain the vestiges of my sanity, or at least to save my emotional energy for fretting that I’ll never get that first that I want so badly. And yet – it feels like squishing a balloon. You can try to make a dent in one place, but all that seems to happen is that the problem pops up somewhere else.
I set a clear boundary that says “I refuse to come home and have to plan and make dinner for all three of us after an entire day of studying and sitting an exam. If you want to eat together, you’ll have to cook for all of us. If not, you’ll have to cook for yourself. And I’ll have a sandwich.” And I end up giving an improptu lesson on the different elements that make up a meal. I might not have done the cooking, but I’ve sure as hell done the thinking. I would’ve thought less if I’d just cooked the damned thing myself, in fact.
Yesterday, J had a day off. I did not, because revision is relentless. J had chosen to clean the floors as his big chore for the week. And he chose to do this in the middle of the day, which made sense, but while I was trying to revise at the kitchen table, which did not make sense. He hoovered around me, and I ignored that, although it isn’t a very sensible way to get the dirt up. But then he tried to mop around me as well. And around every other object in the room – guitar, chair, amp, tea chest – that he hadn’t bothered to move.
I cared. Oh, how I cared. But I had almost no emotional energy left to give. For the first time since he’d arrived five weeks ago, I shouted at him. I felt myself losing my temper. I saw him pouting. Taking it personally. I started losing it faster. When I felt tears of rage in the corners of my eyes, I tried to stop. Turned away. Took deep breaths. Tried to make my body language less aggressive. He didn’t stop being defensive. Didn’t try to listen. I tried to stomp on the rage, but only compounded it.
You’re the one who keeps talking about how high his standards are, I snarled. You’re the one who wanted to mop the floors every week. But you don’t know how to do it properly, do you? No wonder you keep talking about how easy it all is! You only do the easy bits! You’ve lived in a house with carpet your whole life. I’ve had a bedroom with wooden floors since I was ten. And my parents didn’t clean it for me! If you’re going to interrupt MY studying to clean the floors that YOU spilt compost over yesterday, then you will listen to me when I tell you that what you’re doing IS NOT MAKING THE FLOOR ANY FUCKING CLEANER!
In the end, I “helped” him. I refused to let him mop until we’d moved all the moveable furniture out of the room. I showed him how to mop effectively. I refused to move the furniture back in until the floor was clean. Start to finish, it was an hour and a half of prime revision time, gone. I point blank refused to eat dinner with J or Flatmate, even though Flatmate hadn’t done anything wrong, and made myself noodle soup, which took me ten minutes to cook and used only one pan and a wok. And I calmed down by reading the archives of Blue Milk, because there’s something very comforting about knowing that other people have these kinds of arguments too, albeit about different problems. And after they’d eaten and cleared the table, I caught up my lost hour and a half of revision. I stopped at 9 in the evening, when my brain turned to mush.
Now I’ve got nothing left. I’m more emotionally drained than I’ve been for weeks. The straw that broke the camel’s back turned out to be an argument about mopping the floors, of all things. Tonight I’m going to make sure I eat before J and Flatmate get home. I don’t care if I have to eat four meals today, just so long as none of those meals is for anybody except me. I’m home alone today, and even though I’ll do a solid day’s revision, it feels like a holiday. I’ll even commandeer my desk back. J’s been sprawled out there playing on his computer, but today he can’t get there before me. Where negotiation fails, unilateral decisions win. And today, I unilaterally decide that I am the most important person in the house, and this means that everybody else will just have to work around me. J and Flatmate can come home to a dirty kitchen, which I won’t have noticed because I’ll be at the desk, having moved J’s keyboard and mouse to the floor, playing angry girl music, singing to myself and revising.
This is the point at which I stop trying to negotiate for my sanity and start demanding it.