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Friday, April 15, 2011

Why can't couples agree on the best approach?

By Dick Hirsch

Yes, I realize there are some topics that are rarely mentioned in polite company. And, yes, I’m well aware that the self-imposed embargo applies to commentators, both male and female. The men are reluctant to discuss it because it impinges on their freedom and reflects on their ability to perform in an acceptable manner in a familiar domestic situation. The women shun the subject because any conversation would be likely to portray them as assertive and single-minded, two characterizations they wish to avoid.

Thus, I have reservations. While I am not here to stimulate controversy, I have reached the stage in my career where I am willing to contend with whatever criticism results. This is a male-female issue and I have never claimed much expertise in that area.

Years ago, when I was younger and less familiar with worldly matters, I felt there were only isolated cases of this controversy. How wrong I was. This is a dispute that goes to the very heart of domestic relationships. There have been no published studies of which I am aware, but I’ve collected enough anecdotal evidence to indicate it is a far more widespread problem than many people realize. That status is the direct result of the abject failure of people to communicate their concerns.

I’m hoping this column will shed enough light on the topic to stimulate dialogue that will lessen tensions and eventually lead to a solution.

For starters, consider the emotional testimony of one friend who claims he has been denied his domestic rights for years. He explains:

“I am a college graduate and have a pretty clear understanding of the problems I might face if I became involved in this situation. It is an enigma. I am not permitted to even touch it.”

Touch what?

“The washing machine,” he replied. “My wife believes I am so incompetent that she won’t allow me to go near the machine. She thinks I not only don’t know how it operates, she believes I would somehow wreck the machine, which is no longer under warranty. I have never done anything with any washer that I regret or am ashamed about.”

I was stunned when I heard that story because it was comparable to my own experience. My wife, Lynn, years ago restricted me from the operation of our washing machine. For years I had freedom of use until it was discovered that I employed a washing tactic of which she disapproved. I never attempted to conceal the fact that I mixed darks and whites. Lynn says that is unacceptable. Of course I was cautious when confronted with intense colors----a maroon or black sweatshirt, for example. I knew such items needed to be laundered with other darks. It was the old policy of separate but equal. In most cases, however; my loads were integrated. I washed without concern about the colorful aspects of doing the laundry.

That approach resulted in my laundering being limited. I am allowed to take out the garbage, rake the leaves, dry the pots and handle other routine assignments, but I am considered ill-prepared for washing and, thus, precluded from the most significant task that takes place in the laundry room. I am free to use the dryer, however, because that is a less complicated device. Although I occasionally yearn to launder---especially when my supply of socks dwindles---I believe I have accepted my role with equanimity.

The mixing issue is dominant. In selective interviews, I have found that men naturally adopt a mixed load philosophy while women insist on separation.

“My trouble developed when she (name deleted for purposes of confidentiality) discovered I was mixing fabrics,” one man explained. “I was doing well with the colors. In other words, I was aware of the policy of having white loads and dark loads, and I adhered to that procedure.”

The man never realized there was a need to separate fabrics, creating loads for cottons and different loads for certain synthetic fabrics. That is where the issue of fine undies and delicate lingerie entered the discussion. He admits that his background on such articles was definitely limited.

“It was a mistake and I apologized,” he recalls, “but still I was banned.”

These are homely stories but they reflect the growing gap that exists over the laundry issue. Is there room for compromise? That’s the question many have asked. There has never been a serious attempt to educate the men and reassure the women. Most men believe there should be provisions for mingling in the laundry room.


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