Is Your New Love Interest Partner Material?
Four questions that help predict an equitable relationship
Who made your bed this morning? Who did your dishes last night? Who was the last person to deep-clean your shower, go to the grocery store and make dinner? And who’s responsible for making sure you stay in touch with family and friends?
In the average American household, the answer is usually the same: the woman of the house.
Though men often believe they do their fair share, the data tells a different story. According to analysis from Oxfam, in the U.S., women do a little over four hours of unpaid work a day, while men do just over half as much. It’s the same story even when both people work full time, regardless of who earns more. Women take on the lion’s share of organizing their social lives, arranging activities or childcare, and all the other bits and pieces that make a home run.
Pew Center data suggests women are more likely to do daily tasks, like cooking, cleaning and laundry, while men might take on more occasional jobs, like mowing the lawn or taking out the trash. (Same-sex couples tend to split domestic labor more evenly than their heterosexual peers.)
But an unequal split needn’t be a given. If you’re just getting serious with a new partner, there are red flags to look out for. Here are four questions to ask yourself about your new partner.
Can they take the initiative?
You come home from work to find the house in a tip, an empty fridge, and your partner lost in a book (or video game). When you ask what they thought you two might eat for dinner, or how the house got so messy, they answer honestly: “I just didn’t think.”
Domestic labor is as much about planning as it is about knuckling down to the tasks themselves. Professional projects usually involve an overseer, who identifies what needs to be done, divvies up the work, and makes sure it’s done to a satisfactory standard. Workers actually do the tasks.
In your own home, there are only two of you to do the work. If one person is also expected to take on the mental load of working out what needs to be done, the balance isn’t being split evenly. After a certain amount of time, the onus shouldn’t be on you to ask your partner to do their fair share, or to serve as their eyes if they can’t, or won’t, spot the mess around them.
Will they do the work?
If you’re considering moving in together, check in on what you both think is a realistic expectation for things like cleanliness — and who ought to be responsible for what. If your partner fully expects to do their share, great. Sense some roadblocks? Pump the brakes.
If your partner isn’t used to doing their share, ask them to take responsibility for some of the work. “Could you please clean the bath?” isn’t nagging, it’s a reasonable request. With any hope, they’ll approach the task with maturity and grace — instead of huffing like a teenager. A to-do list might seem retrograde, but it may make all the difference.
One of you might be a fantastic chef; the other a whizz with a vacuum. The way you allocate tasks can reflect that, so long as you’re both doing something. (If your new partner is equally lousy at both but you love them anyway, see it as a teaching opportunity, rather than a lost cause.)
Can they take criticism?
You asked your partner to clean the bath, and they did. Sort of. Well, some of it, anyway. Now, you’re left with a question: Do you ask for a do-over, do it yourself, or hope they’ll improve with time and practice? You should feel able to respectfully tell your partner if their bed-making or bath-cleaning skills aren’t up to scratch, without fearing that they’ll descend into a sulk.
Most of us aren’t good at everything straight away. But a willingness to learn and a positive attitude about sharing the labor is a promising alternative. A partner who doesn’t respond well to gentle criticism may not be the right person to share your life with.
What else do they have going on in their lives?
You should not be your partner’s social secretary. With any hope, they have a full and interesting life, with friends and interests of their own. But if, after a few months together, you notice your partner relies entirely upon you to bring joy into their life beyond ESPN, have a quiet word about expectations. You shouldn’t bear all the responsibility of planning vacations, outings with friends, or even date night. Make your expectations clear and stick to them.
At the same time, be prepared to be flexible. Your partner’s idea of a great night out may not exactly resemble your own, or what you’ve come to expect as the norm. Try to keep an open mind, even if it means seeing monster trucks instead of going to the movies. A more equitable relationship may mean making compromises for both of you.