Monday, January 20, 2014

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My Wife and I are Frenemies

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I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, folding laundry in the living room. There were three baskets around me, all filled with clean clothes. It was after nine, so the kids were in bed. Mel was sitting on the sofa reading a textbook. She looked up, took note of my progress, and said, “I can’t stand the way you fold the laundry.”
“What are you talking about?” I said. “It’s folded just fine.” I held up a wadded pair of Tristan’s Spiderman underwear as an example of my folding ability. “See,” I said. “It’s folded.”
“It looks like a crumbled piece of paper,” Mel said. “You fold the laundry like you don’t care. Like there isn’t an art to it.”
“Gosh, Mel,” I said. “Tell me more about the art of laundry. Teach me your ways. You want to help, pull up a basket.”
Mel rolled her eyes. Then she put down her book, pulled up a basket, and started folding.  And as she folded, she did it with grace and beauty. Each fold was spot on. Department store good. The pants were folded so that they would pull from the drawer wrinkle free. Clearly someone had really shown her how to fold laundry. In contrast, my Grandmother (who raised me) tried to show me how to fold laundry, but I didn’t listen. Instead I made it a point to do a really bad job folding laundry, knowing that Grandma would get frustrated and let me out of the job. 
Sadly, this method doesn’t work with Mel.
As Mel folded, she gave me a crusty look.  A look that seemed to say, This is how things are done you moron. It’s really not that hard.
And I, in true sporting fashion, looked at Mel with cool calculating eyes, lips in half a grin, and wadded up one of Norah’s church skirts and placed it in my pile of folded laundry. Then I raised my eyebrows, cocked my head to the side, my face saying, What do you think of them apples?
This silent, snarky-look, argument went on for about 30 minutes. The kids were asleep, so we couldn’t put the laundry away without waking them, so the laundry would sit in the living room over night. So once the laundry was folded, we placed our baskets next to each other on the living room floor.
I compared the baskets.  Mel’s basket was evenly folded. The clothing inside fit perfectly. Each article of clothing was a different shape and size, and yet she’d found a way to fold everything so that it fit in the basket like puzzle pieces creating a whole. My basket looked sloppy by comparison. Like something you might expect from a laundry-folding novice.  Mel was looking at the baskets too, and then we looked up at each other and she said, “I’m better at folding laundry than you.”
She said it with strength and certainty. Her eyes never broke contact. It was a statement of aggression. Then she raised her eyebrows and cocked her shoulders, her body language saying, Bring it. 

“Great! Congratulations,” I said. “Seeing as how you are a superior laundry folder, I am going to pass the laundry folding torch on to you.”
She glared at me. And I glared back. And although it seems tense, it was all playful. Then we went to bed.

 This is not the first time we’ve had a passive argument over the laundry. We’ve been married for nine years, and we always fight about the laundry. Although I must say that it’s rarely really a fight anymore, more just snarky looks and backhanded comments.
The problem is that Mel hates the way I fold the laundry, and yet she hates to fold the laundry herself even more. This has resulted in a dysfunctional management structure. More or less, Mel tries to tell me how to fold laundry, while I keep doing it the same way I always have (wadding it up). It’s been going on for years and shows no sign of stopping. But I suppose that’s not the point I’m trying to make here. The point is the way we address the topic of folding laundry.
I know that the way I fold laundry drives Mel nuts. And frankly, I don’t care. I have absolutely no intentions of changing the way I do things. Why? Because it drives me nuts that I fold the majority of the laundry. This is not to say that Mel doesn’t do other things around the house. She’s good about doing the dishes, and she’s great with the kids. She’s also really good about cleaning out the fridge, which is something that I despise. If I had to pick between cleaning out the fridge and drilling a hole in my head, I’d take the hole. But in the moment, as I’m hunched over a basket, holding a sock in one hand and searching for the other in a void of white laundry, I don’t think about what Mel does well. I think about how it is utter bullshit that I am the only one folding laundry every weekend. So I refuse to change. I refuse to do things her way because I am pissed and acting childish and feeling picked on.   

On the flip side, I can only imagine how infuriating it is for Mel to look in her underwear drawer and find wadded socks and a t-shirt. Or how irritating it is to always have to get her jeans wet and then throw them in the dryer to get the wrinkles out because I stuffed them in her dresser like a jackass. And she could, easily, take over the laundry, fold things neatly, and the problem would be solved. But I think 90% of the reason she refuses take on the job of doing the laundry is because she knows I hate it. She sees it as a way to get back at me for folding her laundry like our six-year-old stuffs his backpack.
Even though we both hate our situations, and we blame each other for our misfortunes, we keep the fight going out of spite. It’s a strange circular argument that’s been going on for years. It’s filled with passive aggression and angry murmuring, and I can say with all honesty, that I don’t think it’s ever going to go away.


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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Huffington Post, and The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University.