Real talk: I’ve never vacuumed our home. The reason: It’s my husband’s chore. His mother bought us a fancy high-tech Shark that intimidates me, not unlike our Blu-ray player and multiple remote controls. (Please say I’m not the only one who has an aversion to gadgets.) Also, my husband loves to vacuum and each time he completes the chore, I’m called in to look at the astonishing amount of pet hair that was magically sucked up in the device. It’s disgusting to me and a source of pride for him, so why mess with the system?
On the other hand, Nate does not make dinner. It’s become my task that I happen to really enjoy. Taking out the garbage? That’s him. Making social plans? All me.
With the exception of the vacuuming, which I file under Tech, not Housework, our division of household chores strikes me as old-fashioned and perhaps too gender specific. What would happen if we swapped for a week? I wondered it if would be good for us to step out of our roles and do the other spouse’s “jobs” for a week. We gave it a whirl. Here’s how it went.
Delegating cooking detail was destined to be a fail, and then…it was a total fail.
I cook dinner every night—unless it’s something on the grill, which my husband loves to do and is very good at. I often finish my workday and look forward to prepping dinner—zoning out to ’90s R&B and stirring quinoa. When Nate gets home, he takes a seat at the kitchen island and we catch up before sitting down to eat.
I’m just going to put it out there: I don’t like when Nate cooks. It’s not because he’s bad at it. It’s because it feels as if it’s my husband’s first-ever time in our kitchen. He tears through the cabinets and refrigerator looking for ingredients. “Where’s the red pepper? Do we have butter? Does this need butter? What is turmeric?”
For this experiment (like those times when I’m on a tight deadline), Nate did all the cooking and I was as stressed and distracted as if I were the one at the stove. I’d rather just do it myself and spare us both the frantic energy.
He did the cleaning while I tackled house repairs.
I spent one entire afternoon cursing because I put together a bookshelf. This is something I’d usually hand off to Nate, but decided to take a stab at it myself. Three YouTube tutorials and a bottle of wine later, I’d assembled a piece of faux wood that I’m not totally convinced will hold our books. However, I am convinced that the word Ikea means “divorce” in Swedish.
Nate reciprocated by cleaning the cat puke; the feline seems to strategically upchuck a vomit rope on the white stripe of our rug.
Taking out the garbage is such an easy chore, but I never do it. I dutifully emptied the trash—for about four days. The garbage bag broke and I was not pleased to realize that the job requires rolling the bin out to our curb twice per week. TBH, I felt thankful that Nate takes on this task and have made a concerted effort to roll in the bin for bonus points.
Nate took over dusting the house, and I was jealous. It is something I’ve always done; I find it weirdly satisfying and the smell of Pledge is intoxicating. I wanted to tell him to give me back my duster.
I gave him control over the social calendar.
In a nutshell: This swap was a disaster. From the beginning of our relationship, I’ve handled all plans, trips, and social engagements. There are even days when Nate will ask me his work schedule. Even when putting forth effort, it felt impossible for Nate to plan our life—and it wasn’t totally his fault (especially when your friends leave him off emails). He did improve by adding appointments to his iPhone calendar and planned a really great date night.
And I temporarily took over our finances.
Nate and I both work full-time jobs and split our bills accordingly. But he handles the execution of payments and I simply add money into our joint account. At one time in our marriage, I paid all the bills and realized that it was not my strong suit. Apparently, it’s still not. I could never remember the passwords to the utility company and forgot to get stamps to mail a bill.
While this task works better with Nate at the helm, I did one useful thing. I started a new spreadsheet, documenting every purchase we made that week. It gave us a big reality check as to how much we are spending on ancillary items like sushi happy hour or frosé, and we’re currently working to budget better as a duo.
The result? I’ve realized that after nearly 15 years of marriage, we’re secure in our roles.
Sure, they might be antiquated, but it works for us. There are certainly things I wish Nate would do more of around the house and I’m sure he feels the same about me. But for the most part it works when he does his things and I do mine. And as for our shared responsibilities, like emptying the dishwasher and laundry, we will carry forth taking turns with grunts of annoyance.
Swapping household chores taught us that when we need to pick up each other’s slack, it’s doable. Last weekend, I was out of town on assignment and Nate unloaded the dishwasher, walked our dog, and cleaned the cat puke; plus, I came home to a clean pile of laundry. I’ll do the same when he’s away for his annual baseball weekend. Just don’t ask me to put together a bookshelf.
Anne Roderique-Jones is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in Vogue, Marie Claire, Southern Living, Town & Country, and Condé Nast Traveler. Twitter: @AnnieMarie_ Instagram: @AnnieMarie_