Yesterday, it happened again: While attempting to make breakfast, the kitchen transformed into a stage for my latest unintended slapstick routine.
It all devolved so quickly: While changing out the coffee grounds in my Keurig machine, the filter slipped through my fingers, unleashing a smattering of grounds to the floor. As I got down to mop them up with a paper towel, the oil that I'd been pre-cooking in the pan for eggs started sizzling. I left my coffee-cleaning duty to pour eggs into the pan; they immediately crackled and darkened, leaving a waft of smoke in their wake. As I madly waved away the plumes, I felt the remaining coffee grounds crunch beneath my feet. Meanwhile, the slice of bread in the toaster was quickly growing cold.
Burnt eggs, stale toast, a floor covered in coffee grounds and stinking billows of smoke . . . all before 9 a.m. Welcome to my life as a domestic disaster.
I should say now that I believe I have many good qualities: I'm kind to others, I work hard, I'm a master of puns, I can usually sing in key. It's just that domesticity, in any manifestation, is not on my list of winning qualities. I can't cook, I don't garden, and I've never delineated my laundry into piles by color. I don't throw those weird laundry sheet things into the dryer, and I can't put on a fitted sheet without it slipping from place, leaving me cursing the bed corner as if it could hear me. (In fact, I just had to Google the correct name for "the sheet that goes on bottom.")
I've been this way for as long as I can remember. Maybe it's because I grew up in a superbly tended-to home where both my mom and stepdad were so tidy, they would try to clear my plates away before I was done eating; a home where, if I removed something from the fridge, it was immediately returned before I could even use it. Their obsession with a perfect home both coddled me and, perhaps, inspired a rebellion. (There's also the fact that I have a curious lack of smell--which prevents me from, say, noticing the stench of rotting food in the fridge--and that I'm just generally really laid-back.)
For a long time, this flaw hasn't posed much of a problem; making my way through a series of apartments, the bare minimum of domesticity (do dishes, do laundry) has served me, more or less, just fine.
But recently, I moved into a house -- like, an actual three-bedroom house -- with my boyfriend. And suddenly, I've been feeling both distinctly out of place and deeply anxious about my conventional failings as a woman.
In the last few weeks, I've been gently reminded to hold the new toilet flusher down longer (for reasons you can imagine); to clean out the coffee filter more carefully, so as to avoid grounds scattering on the floor; and to put dishes on the right side of the sink rather than the left, in order to easily get rid of food scraps in the disposal. I hadn't even noticed that the toilet wasn't flushing all the way, or that I was littering our sparkling new floor with some regularity. And since when do we have a garbage disposal?!
There was a time when I owned this domestic haplessness in relationships as something distinctive, even charming. After all, I've never nagged my partners because I can honestly never think of anything to nag about. "You want to watch The Sopranos and open up a six-pack instead of do the laundry tonight? Me too! In fact, I already have two cold PBRs cracked open and the PirateBay queued up; that overflowing basket of dirty clothes can wait."
I think I'm a pretty fun girl to have around.
Yet on some level, despite my progressive ideals, I've always feared that my domestic inadequacies will prevent any man from wanting a real future with me -- when there are, presumably, Martha Stewart minions just waiting in the wings. That anxiety, once latent, has started to plague me. I wonder if my exes are all dating apron-clad domestic wunderkinds who know how to cook a pot roast until it's tender. Do they marvel at how bad the cuisine was when they dated me -- and all I "cooked" for them was my "specialty" of pasta with cheddar cheese microwave-melted on top, which they dutifully choked down?
I worry that my partner will one day come home to a smearing of peanut butter on the counter, a bowl of microwaved frozen shrimp for dinner, and a stinking balled-up towel on the floor, and decide right then and there to head back to OKCupid, where he will promptly search the terms "cooking," "cleaning" and "not a total sh*t-show."
And the thing is, I don't think it's entirely unfair to expect more from me. My boyfriend, after all, knows how to cook, clean and garden, but can also fix the dresser drawers when they've slid off the hinges, kill giant spiders as I cower in the other room, and reboot the Internet connection when it crashes. And anytime I see him tooling around with a wrench, or rejiggering the router with his sleeves rolled up, I turn into a proto-cavewoman, practically panting with feminine appreciation for his masculine ways. Don't I owe him a bit of conventional femininity in return?
For this reason -- but more so because I really do care about this new home of mine--I'm trying to be better at this whole domestic thing. I will hold down that flusher for five full seconds. I will dispose of food on the right-hand side of the sink. Maybe I'll even go crazy and buy a box of dryer sheets. But I'll also have to make peace with the fact that I'll never be a domestic goddess, spatula and Windex in hand, ready to cook a pot roast until it falls off the bone. (Or whatever it's supposed to do.)
And maybe that's OK; after all, in my opinion, that pasta with cheddar cheese microwave-melted on top actually tastes pretty damn good.