Real life got in the way somewhat over these past few months, but look! Once more, I exist on the internet! Hooray!
Since May, a few things have happened.
- I graduated with a 2:1 in mathematics; I ‘m now the proud owner of a slightly curry-stained degree certificate.
- Three days in to my planned week of idleness, I emailed my boss to ask whether I could just start working for her full time now, please? Much to my delight, she not only agreed, but managed to consistently find enough money to pay me each month.
- Three months after my graduation, I finally moved out of the tiniest flat in the world, and away from Flatmate.
I’ve had all sorts of plans for my evenings since I started working full-time – I flirted briefly with the idea of researching knitting in late Medieval England, for instance, and of course, I never forgot that I technically still have this blog – but mostly I’ve just been… living. My work is now mostly computer based (we’re an internet-based company, and I do an awful lot of admin), which means that I tend to avoid screens like the plague once I get home. But I recently discovered that my eyes have deteriorated again – it shouldn’t be such a surprise; I’m short-sighted and it’s been at least 6 years since I’ve had them tested. If I can get a decent pair of glasses (perhaps even a pair that isn’t all wonky from all the times I’ve wrenched them off my face), I suspect my tolerance for screens might improve. And clearly the internet has missed my ramblings, so I might start off by telling the tale of the house-move.
One of the many reasons I love my mum is that when I talk to her, I don’t need to modify the language I use in order to be understood. There are very few people in my life that that’s true of – Kirsten is one, but even J isn’t – so I value it.
This weekend, I did something that on the face of it looked incredibly stupid. In the middle of my exams, I effectively took 4 days out in order to have a long weekend at my parents’ house, where I drank many cups of tea, took my brother to see the new Pirates of the Carribean film and did an awful lot of washing up, because other people were cooking my meals.
So, why did I do that? It wasn’t just because my brother had insisted that I (and only I) should be the person to laugh over the exploits of (Captain!) Jack Sparrow with him, though that was important. In fact, it was mainly because I desperately needed some space. Recently, Flatmate’s behaviour has become… erratic. I’ve had people I don’t know calling my home phone, frantically asking whether Flatmate has got back yet, because they’ve unexpectedly lost contact. Because the person who called was genuinely worried, and because the situation was not of her making, I spent some time tracking Flatmate down, making sure nothing really bad had happened (it hadn’t) before getting hold of her again to let her know. When this happens on the one day off you’ve given yourself in a week full of revision, at a time when all you really want to do is go and swing a sword around with friendly people who won’t make any demands of you, this kind of thing is deeply infuriating. The last thing I want at this point in time is to have to be the person who knows where Flatmate is. (You see, even though I’m sometimes crap at calling my parents, they won’t worry that I’m dead, because I live with J. If anything had happened to me, he’d find a way to let them know. And vice-versa. But I don’ t want to be that person for Flatmate. I don’t want to have to be the person who calls the police, or the parents.)
Even worse, in my mind, is this: Flatmate is a friend, or I would never have suggested we get a flat together. But these last few weeks, I’ve been almost entirely uncontactable – I’m not contacting anybody myself, and my London friends know I’m in the middle of my exams and, if they try to get hold of me at all, will text me to check whether they can call. Quite often, I don’t call them back. Of course, I’ll make it up to them after these exams are finished – they know that. What this means, though, is that if Flatmate does something that means I need to take time out of revising (or relaxing, which is equally important, as far as I’m concerned) to deal with it, I’m not only angry at the intrusion, I’m also resentful, because if I knew I’d be using that time for friend-related activities, I could have called one of my long-suffering London friends.
I explained some of this to my mum when I saw her this weekend. She understood immediately, and said that it reminded her of the decision that she and my dad had made when J and I were first going out. They effectively banned him from my bedroom, not because they didn’t want us sleeping with each other (“you could do that at any time, and as long as you keep yourself safe, it’s none of our business”), but because they thought that I should have one space that was entirely mine, that nobody, not even J, had a right to be in.
In the flat, I share a bedroom with J. My desk is in the living room, which is also the kitchen. I simply don’t have enough space. So I went to my parents’ for the weekend, partly to see my brother, but mostly because it was the only place that I could have a room of my own.
When J first moved in with me, there was a brief phase during which he would come to me to tell me – with some pride – about what he’d done that day. Like, for instance, loading the dishwasher.*
Nine months on, J comes to me to tell me – with a lot of pride** – about what he’s done during the day. Like, for instance, telling one of his (young, male) colleagues that he, J, thought that the sacking of Sky’s football presenter Andy Gray for his off-air sexist remarks was absolutely justified.
According to J, the subsequent discussion about equality involved him asking his colleague – who lives with his parents – whether he did any housework, and why (not)?
This, my friends, is what we call progress.
That, and the beautiful sound of Flatmate hanging up the washing.
*It didn’t take long for him to stop that. Especially when I came in from uni one day and walked into the kitchen with the words, “Hi J, guess what? I’ve just walked in and taken my shoes and coat off, and emptied the washing machine and hung up all the clothes, and then put another load of clothes in to wash, and now I’m saying hello to you, and oh, look, the dishwasher needs emptying so I’ll do that, and once I’ve done that maybe I’ll get round to putting the kettle on, and if you’re really, really lucky, I might even offer you a cup of tea. You can ask me about my day now.”
**He was so pround that he ended his account of the day with “…you could blog that. If you wanted.”
Flatmate keeps wanting attention from me. I keep refusing to give him any, partly because I’m a meancruelevil person, and partly because even if he tells me about how he couldn’t find the motivation to get out of bed this morning another five million times, there is nothing I can do about that. I don’t think it’s indicative of a particularly healthy outlook on life, and I’d much rather that he felt better, but I still can’t actually help. I’m not even bothering to suggest things that might help, because you know what? He knows that things exist that might help. Probably, deep down, he knows that I’m not one of those things.
I live in the tiniest flat in the world. Seriously. I’m not very good with house measurements – I find it difficult to visualise, which sometimes leads to me lying down flat on the floor to work out whether the room is wider than 5’6″ – but for the internet, I tried. Our flat is indeed wider than 5’6″. But not by much. My bedroom (which I share with J, remember) is 7′ by 10′. The whole entire flat is probably 20′ by 30′.
This is fine, really. Well, mostly. Well, sometimes. Look, the problem is that my bedroom is surrounded by other rooms, effectively. On one side, we’re right up against the bedroom wall of the flat next door. And to my neighbours, I’d like to say: it’s ok, we weren’t throwing a toddler at the wall the other night. I’m sorry. That thud you may have heard, and that yelp of pain, that was me. I was trying to steal back the covers because J likes to try to gnaw them to shreds in the night, and then because I failed, I flounced over and hit my knee on the wall. One of the walls is an outside wall. We have a window and everything, although due to some fluke of nature, it doesn’t open at the moment. We share one wall with our kitchen, and the last with the bathroom. I’m hoping my neighbours didn’t hear me thudding against their wall, because according to the maintainance manual, that wall is fairly heavily sound- and fire-proofed.
But the “internal” walls – they’re not soundproofed. Not even a little bit. So from our room, you can hear the shower go. You can, if you’re really lucky, hear Flatmate singing in the shower. You can hear anything that involves the kitchen sink or the dishwasher, because they’re right up against the shared wall.
All of this is just a prelude to say that last night, J was trying to “fix” the printer. There was nothing wrong with the printer until he tried to make it wireless, and it clearly just didn’t want to lose the comfort of being connected to my laptop by a cable. So the printer basically went “well, go on then, MAKE ME PRINT!” And then it sulked. And after trying all the options there are in every combination until half past 11, J sulked too. So I demanded that we just go to bed and ignore the sulky printer.
No sooner had we fought for the bathroom, tripped over each others’ discarded books and clambered over the mountain of my knitting to get into bed, than we heard Flatmate cleaning the kitchen. At midnight. I don’t know what posessed him. Only two nights ago, I asked him not to run the dishwasher after 11. Only one night ago, I sent J out at 11:45 to ask Flatmate not to clean the kitchen because we could hear him. Did he forget? Again? Did he think that the annoyance of him doing the cleaning at midnight was less than the annoyance of him not doing the cleaning and then running away for the weekend? Or was he just being really passive-agressive? I have no idea. We could hear things clanking, and him singing, and because I was so tired, I didn’t even get angry, I just got the giggles.
Eventually I fell asleep – only to wake up at 6 in the morning with J draping himself over me and headbutting my neck. I don’t know why he thinks this is endearing.
Me: J, what are you doing? It’s really early!
J: Noooooooo, we have to get up! It’s getting-up time! I heard an alarm!
Me: [sits up to look at clock] No you didn’t. It’s 6 in the morning. We don’t have to be up til 8. You don’t start work til 11. Stop it.
And he rolled over and fell back to sleep. Thanks, J. To add insult to injury, when we actually did get up, J had no knowledge of what he’d done. So that was fun. And as he was heading out the door to go to work, he said “oh, I sent you an email this morning with that thing I needed printing. Can you go to uni and do it?”
No. No I could not. Instead, I went to the market and bought many jars of pickle, and some limes, and an aubergine, and Moroccan mint tea, and smoked mackerel. And then I came back home and uninstalled the printer. And then I reinstalled the printer, and this time I was really kind and understanding and let it keep its USB umbillical cord, because it clearly just wasn’t ready to be its own independent device. And now the printer works. So there. I may not be able to get a full nights’ sleep ever, and I may not be able to make Flatmate learn that the middle of the night is not an appropriate time to do housework. But I can access printer.
Last night, I was chatting to Flatmate about life. Work, routine, boredom – you know the drill. He’s got a job that he can do, and do well, without actually ever needing to think. So he’s got a hell of a lot of untapped brain-space, and is in consequence going out of his tiny little mind with boredom.
Because I’m helpful that way, I decided unsolicited suggestions were the order of the day. Plus, you know, I like to think that if I had the balance of money/free time that he does, I’d be doing So! Much! Stuff!! Really, this is probably a lie, like the way new mothers think that they’re totally going to be able to do everything perfectly, and also their new offspring will only shit rainbows. And then they discover what infant poo smells and feels like. The equivalent of this will be me starting to work full time again around this time next year, and then going “I am a work zombie. Aaaaaaaaaah. No art galleries for me until I find an antidote, or possibly gnaw somebody’s head off!”
Anyway, anyway. So we were looking through the helpful leaflets I keep getting (this is a character trait of my mother. It’s only a matter of time before we become one being) and guess what? I’ve found sod all that Flatmate is interested in, which is a shame, but what I have found is… something that I want to do! For free! Hooray!
So today (and every Friday until 27 August) I can walk 15 minutes up the road, learn how to paint with watercolours, be sociable for 3 hours, and not pay anything for the privilege! If I remember, I shall blog again to tell the internet just how well I’ve done at pretending to be a sociable person!
Last time I posted, I was just about as dejected as I ever get. (This makes me feel extremely lucky, by the way, because the way I felt then – although grim – was nothing compared to the way I felt when my granddad died, and nothing at all compared to the way some people feel every single day.) But, you know, for somebody who’s not depressed or recently bereaved, I was pretty fucking sad. And angry, too. Don’t forget angry.
It turned out that what I’d decided to do, which boiled down to taking back my space in the flat, both literally and metaphorically, was exactly the right thing to do. I told J what I’m doing, and why, in a conversation in the pub that involved two big gin & tonics and a lot of arm-flailing. And I haven’t told Flatmate at all, because I can’t be arsed to deal with the conversation about self-esteem that will inevitably follow.
(Our house rules are a little unusual:  food is not a moral issue.  your actions do not reflect on your worth as a person. This means that nobody’s allowed to talk about foods being “good” or “bad”, because really, shut the fuck up. And while you can say “crap, I didn’t do the washing up. That wasn’t very good of me. Sorry.”, you can’t say “crap, I didn’t do the washing up. I am a terrible person.” Flatmate is basically ok with , but has difficulty with .)
I was full of unholy glee as I deliberately ignored the washing machine, J and Flatmate. It was incredibly relaxing to hear and see all of those things that would usually infuriate me being directed at people who weren’t me. And it helped, too, that I’d done a couple of days of paid work. That always makes me feel better, because at the moment I work in a warehouse full of cardboard boxes, which as we all know, are brilliant for taking out your frustration on.
What have I learned from this? Well, quite a lot, actually.
Firstly, I have to work this summer. If I don’t, bad things will happen. But I kind of knew that already.
Secondly, it turns out that the easiest way to get other people to modify their behaviour is to modify your own. Because, you know, I talked with both J and Flatmate on multiple occasions about the housework, my impending exams, and so on. But it’s easy to listen to requests that you change the way you’re behaving, and easier still to listen and then not change your annoying behaviours.
In my case, the behaviour that I modified was the way I was saying what I was saying. By asking, I was giving them the opportunity to ignore me. By telling them, I denied them that option. For instance, asking them to remember that I was studying for my exams and to be considerate of that – that’s easy to nod along to and then forget about. Telling them that because of my exams, I was studying on the desk, that I’d already had dinner and that they’d just have to work around me – that’s impossible to ignore. I was where I said I’d be, doing what I said I’d be doing, and completely ignoring them.
When I say it like this, it seems obvious. And there’s a big bit of me wondering why on earth I ever thought that just asking them to be nice would work. And an even bigger bit of me wondering how I ever managed to take over the clothes washing so comprehensively without any of us noticing. But then I start wandering into the kind of territory where I blame myself because the men I live with weren’t considerate of my stress, and didn’t think in any sensible way about how they could help with that. And that there, that’s not right.
So, I’m just not going to fret. I tried an approach that didn’t work; now I’ve found one that does. Hopefully it’ll start to become a habit for all of us, and then I won’t need to even think about it anymore. Well. I live in hope.
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.
I am a grumpy bastard. Why?
- I’m bleeding.
- I’m trying to use more emotional energy than I actually have, resulting in tears before bedtime.
- My eating patterns are all out of sync, so I feel crap.
- Have you tried revising while hungry, grumpy and tearful? Not good.
- FOR THE LOVE OF CEILING CAT, J, I TRIED TO CARE ABOUT YOUR COMPUTER DYING, BUT YOU KNOW WHAT? WE HAVE BOOKS! READ A BOOK! (You also have models to make, and photographs to sort.)
- FLATMATE! CLEANING THE BATHROOM IS NOT SOMETHING FOR WHICH YOU SHOULD RECEIVE A COOKIE! (Also, I would have noticed it was clean all by myself. Because the dust was gone.)
Evolutionary psychologists would no doubt tell me that I “see dirt” better than any man, regardless of my shortsightedness. But evolutionary psychologists would also tell me that I like the colour pink, possibly because of menstruation, so I think we can safely ignore them.
On the other hand… I do see dirt. When I have my glasses on, I see dirt all the time. I think of it as my cleaning-brain. The one that tells me that I’m a disgrace to femininity. I’m hearing from it more than usual at the moment, actually, because revising at home means that you notice the cleaning that you haven’t done. And we have hard floors (as opposed to carpet) in almost every room. You really notice the dirt when it doesn’t get ground into textiles!
I live with a man. Not a man that I’m in a relationship with – he’s a friend; we have separate bedrooms – but a man nevertheless. And this creates a certain dynamic, whether I like it or not.
For instance, I get very touchy about how much housework we both do, because I don’t want him to revert to a stereotype. I don’t want to have to ask him to “help”, because it’s his flat too. And I don’t want to divide the housework by task, because frankly, I don’t care if he doesn’t like cleaning the bathroom, it’s a life skill that he should know. Likewise, I don’t always want him to do the washing up, partly because I can wash up my own damned plates, and partly because – cynic that I am – I don’t want him to have an excuse to not do other housework.
All of this is making life quite frustrating at the moment. I don’t want to do any more of the housework than I do already, but I keep seeing the dirt. It is a dilemma. Thankfully, not one that I’m spending too much time over. My mother’s excellent example has shown me that in the long run, exerting your willpower over your own cleaning-brain and refusing to do more than your fair share makes for a more equitable household. Even if it does get a bit dusty while the other party works out that there isn’t a magic bathroom-cleaing pixie.