It used to be a bowl of oatmeal. Now it was just crusty. It laid there, next to the sink, for 3 weeks. In a house of 6 roommates, there were clear expectations about washing your own dishes. However, we had a slacker. Many times the rest of us picked up the slack, but enough was enough. We all needed to pull our own weight, and this bowl was the breaking point. So it sat there, and sat there, and sat there. She may not have remembered it was even hers, but the rest of us knew. The frustration festered. After 3 weeks, we had an informal house pow-wow in the kitchen without the code-of-conduct violator. What should we do about this bowl? I wanted to do nothing, because I was afraid of conflict. However, we all know that had gotten us nowhere in 3 weeks. Finally, the roommate who initiated the standoff decided to place the crusty bowl in front of the door to her room upstairs. So she did. The next day the bowl disappeared. Nothing was ever verbally addressed. The problem was solved.
At our wedding, one of my husband’s roommates, Korey, shared some hilarious stories from his time living with Nate. Korey created a chore chart to make sure they didn’t live in a pig sty, but they also had some unwritten expectations about pitching in. Apparently, my husband was a garbage slacker. The two guys he lived with finally had enough and decided it was Nate’s turn to take out the garbage. The trashcan duo vowed not to break down and just take it out, no matter how gross it became. After at least a week of playing “trashcan Jenga,” Korey came home to an empty can one day. “Dan, did Nate really take out the trash?” he asked excitedly.Shaking his head dejectedly, Dan responded, “No man, I’m sorry but I had to do it. There were maggots.”
Sharing these stories helped me realized that it’s like we were being prepared for each other. I was the super clean freak roommate who made the chore charts, and he was the slacker one who didn’t realize that his mess was inconvenient. From our roommates, I learned to relax in the chore chart department, and he learned it upsets people if you don’t live up to the unwritten expectations. It was in many of these unexpected, and sometimes awkward, life moments that we were molded and pruned for a successful marriage.
Thankfully we both had roommates and friends to help us become less polarized and gain practice in dealing with someone who does things differently. I learned how bad and awkward it can get if I don’t confront the nasty bowls of oatmeal in our lives, and so I do my best to let him know when I feel taken advantage of or if something is really upsetting me. I try to insert humor when I can, like when we joke about the “fairies” that magically do his dishes. And, I also learned from the story at our wedding that he has a willing heart and wants to help, but he often doesn’t seem to see the mess. He told me he actually likes “honey-do” lists! So we do that, or I just point out the issues he could help fix.
We have both come a long way, and today these are just funny memories. We’re thankful for our earlier roommates who put up with us and we’re glad we stuck with them, even though it wasn’t always easy. Relationships are far more important than a clean toilet or a pile of dishes, but these little details prioritized incorrectly can ruin relationships. Although we’re still learning how to do this well, our past roommates helped teach us about keeping the relationship as the priority.