Every few years, there’s a new relationship theory that’s supposed to solve all of our dilemmas. The nineties were dominated by heteronormative ideas that now seem outdated, like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (men’s brains are like waffles, and women’s brains are like spaghetti, apparently) and The Rules (rule 3 is “don’t stare at men or talk too much” – oops).
The noughties brought us He’s Just Not That Into You – first in book form, then a movie – from the writers of Sex and the City. And in 2018, I thought I’d hit the jackpot with my new relationship theory: “Treat me like a sexy flatmate and not your wife, Jeff!”
The Sexy Flatmate relationship approach sounded exciting, modern and foolproof. It could apply to all relationships – not just men and women – because flatmates come in all shapes, sizes, genders and sexual orientations.
Sure, I felt like coined the relationship theory of the millennium, but did it actually work? Well, tell the publishers that we can stall on my book deal, as well as the spin-off movie. I started this relationship theory with the best of intentions, but as the Friends theme song says, “your love life’s DOA”. My Sexy Flatmate relationship theory was indeed Dead On Arrival, and no clap-clap-clappy theme song could ever save it.
Let’s go back to the days when I thought I was a relationships guru, shall we? Before I realised that I was a failure, before I even started? Thanks. It’s all I have right now.
I was sick of my husband, Jeff, being gross and lazy around me. I won’t go into detail, but imagine every single cliché about husbands and wives living together, and add on the tropes that come with having two young kids, and you’ll have our situation.
Mess everywhere. A lack of privacy. Me picking up after everyone. Arguments about why my car had such a bad smell. Watching Netflix in separate rooms every night. A blurred – nay, erased – line between what is too gross for a partner to see, and what should be kept private. More confusion about what deems good personal hygiene.
Speaking of relationship theories, this three part relationship theory that will change the way you think about life…
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“Enough!” I declared. I was sick of being trapped in the ‘wife’ role. I mean, come on, the word ‘wife’ doesn’t exactly conjure up images of glamour, does it? Unless you’re Meghan Markle, Amal Clooney or Lara Worthington, the word ‘wife’ is rarely associated with a life of luxury and indulgence.
Instead, it usually means laundry, cooking, cleaning and being the butt of jokes (“I’d go to your footy night, but sorry mate, the ‘boss’ won’t like it.”). And when two kids are added to the mix, it becomes less about association and more about domestic reality.
“Can you just treat me like a sexy flatmate, and not your wife, please?!” I asked Jeff, in a moment of exasperation.
And that’s when I began fantasising about going on speaking tours, because I was the genius who had transformed her marriage with ‘one simple trick’.
Think about it. If you had a sexy flatmate that you were attracted to, wouldn’t you try everything and anything to get their attention? You would want to impress them and please them. You’d cook them sensual meals (oysters?). You’d dress up for them, You’d let them find you lying casually on the sofa, wearing your best underwear, with a box of chocolates that just ‘happen’ to be there, inviting your sexy flatmate to eat them and then fall in love with you. You would keep your house tidy, you would not be boring, and you would certainly NEVER expect them to do your laundry.
As I told Jeff this, he nodded and agreed. Yes, he said, he’d treat me as a Sexy Flatmate. Yes, I had a point. Yes, I had won! (Well, he didn’t say that last bit, but it certainly felt that way.)
Several days later, nothing had changed. We were both still being slobs at home. Weeks passed. Jeff said that the smell in the car was my fault, because I have a little bag in there for rubbish. I threw the bag out and got one of those dangly scented tree things for my rearview mirror. More weeks passed, and I told Jeff that I was writing an article about my Sexy Flatmate relationship theory.
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“Hello, can you hear me?” I asked, as I waved my hand in front of the iPhone he was staring at. “I said, I’m writing a story about the whole Sexy Flatmate thing.”
“What Sexy Flatmate thing?” Jeff said, looking at me with the glazed eyes that come from reading every single article and tweet on the internet about his favourite NRL team.
“You know,” I said impatiently, “my idea that you should treat me like a Sexy Flatmate, so that our house doesn’t look disgusting all the time, and so that we can have a bit more romance in our marriage?”
“That’s ridiculous,” Jeff said, as though he was hearing this for the first time. “You’re my wife, not my flatmate!”
He had forgotten about my moment of insight. No wonder nothing had happened!
“Don’t you think I’m sexy?” I asked, digging the hole even deeper.
“Yes, of course, but you’re also a mum now.”
“WHAT THE F*** DOES THAT MEAN?!”
Okay, so I didn’t exactly say that. Just something similar that was a little less aggressive and swear-y, but nonetheless outraged.
Jeff explained that he didn’t think it was particularly sexy when I was wiping the kids’ bums, for example. I conceded that was a fair point, because I also didn’t think he was sexy when he was picking our toddler’s food off the floor – I just felt sorry for him, instead.
“What about when you saw a baby come out of my vagina, or when my stomach was cut open and blood oozed everywhere when I had my caesarean?”
Strangely, these very medical (and graphic) life events were put in the “neutral” basket, as in, neither sexy nor unsexy, just amazing. We both smiled for a moment, then continued our argument.
Jokes and birth stories aside, I do know why my theory didn’t work. There’s a bunch of reasons. Firstly, no long-term relationship can be fixed with a buzzy idea, catchphrase or mind games. It takes boring stuff, like hard work, compromise and sacrifice, as well as the gentler stuff like listening to each other and intimacy.
Secondly, Jeff and I had never actually had flatmates – we married young and have only lived with our parents or each other. When living together, we never had that sexual tension that can happen when you live with someone hot, like in the movies or on TV (Joey and Rachel in Friends, anyone?) – and that’s because we already knew how our relationship would turn out, because ta-da, we were married!
And now for my final reason, which is horribly hard to admit. The Sexy Flatmate theory didn’t work because I didn’t treat Jeff like a sexy flatmate. I couldn’t expect Jeff to completely change the way he treated me if I wasn’t going to change, too.
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Here’s some things I would never do to a sexy flatmate: leave a pooey nappy outside the front door so that they could put it in the outside bin when they get home from work, because I didn’t feel like going outside into the cold Canberra air; yell at them for not making eye contact with me during every conversation; roll my eyes when they ask me a question; walk past the TV and sneer, “Why are you watching such a stupid show?”; not shower for two days and then claim not to have body odour; eat all the dinner and not leave them any. I do all of those things to Jeff, and sometimes I can fit it all into 10 minutes of torture.
I was not treating Jeff like the handsome, funny, clever and intriguing – and okay, sexy – man that he is. I was treating him as my ‘dumb ass husband’, the guy who I would make the butt of my jokes when hanging out with my girlfriends. We had both fallen into a trap of being a husband-and-wife cliché, and I wish I could say it was entirely his fault.
As a human being, I crave respect. In my quest for Jeff to be the perfect husband, I forgot that he is also a human who deserves respect – a human before he is a husband. Perhaps that could be my new relationship theory: Humans, Not Husbands. But before I get too ahead of myself, I’m going to shower and try not to be nasty, because I’m far from perfect all the time.