The vacuum makes the heart grow fonder

If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then the way to a woman’s may be through the toilet. That sounds bad. Let me try again.

If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then the way to a woman’s may be by cleaning the toilet — or, perhaps, by taking the vacuum and doing manly battle with that dust bunny in the living room the size of a Mini Cooper. There, that’s better.

Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal recently wrote a terrific article about a study in the Journal of Family Issues. Nearly 7,000 married couples were interviewed. The researchers found that when men help with the housework, they are a whole lot more likely to get lucky in bed. Now, this won’t surprise any guy who has been married more than a week. It certainly won’t surprise photographer Susan Anderson and the Cambridge Women’s Pornography Cooperative. Anderson and the CWPC are responsible for the 2007 book “Porn for Women,” which is filled with photos of handsome guys doing … laundry, vacuuming and offering to go to a craft fair. They’re wearing clothes.

Since then, there have been all kinds of “Porn for Women” sequels, such as “Porn for New Moms” and “Porn for the Bride.” Again, the guys are demonstrating a highly evolved desire for cleanliness. They are sensitive and thoughtful and kind.

My sense is that most men know that women want us to help with the housework. Most guys have a pretty good idea that scrubbing the tub is a low-cost aphrodisiac. And yet most men still dump the lion’s share of the cleaning on women, regardless of how many hours the woman works outside of the home. This, in turn, suggests that one of two things might be true:

1. We are just not very smart as a gender.

2. We hate cleaning the toilet even more than we love having sex.

Speaking as a male, I can tell you categorically that it’s No. 1. There is nothing we won’t do if we think it will result in our having sex. Unfortunately, we are also just not the brightest bulbs in the tanning bed when it comes to some things. I’m an educated guy, but almost daily I know my mouth is moving and saying something spectacularly stupid. And yet I am powerless to stop myself. To wit: The other day I was sitting on a regional jet across the aisle from a young mom and dad and their 18-month-old daughter, Libby, who was sitting on her father’s lap. I am writing a novel right now that has a scene in it of a plane ditching in water, and so I actually heard myself asking this very nice young couple, “If we ditch in Lake Champlain, which of you will be taking care of Libby? And did you know that they have special flotation devices for toddlers?”

Why was I asking this question? Was it because I was trying to make the mom turn pale with terror or because I was trying to make the dad slug me to shut me up? No. I thought I was conducting relevant research for my book. In reality, of course, I was asking the question because I simply wasn’t thinking. It comes with being male. Sometimes, men just talk because that part of the brain that filters ideas must be more highly evolved in women.

Which brings me back to that study. I don’t know whether it’s having a clean house that is the aphrodisiac for the female or the reality that the male shouldered his half of the load for once and actually transferred that skyscraper of plates from the sink to the dishwasher. But it’s clear that if the woman is working as many hours outside the home as the man, then the guy needs to step it up in the kitchen. The moral of this study, guys? Turn on the dryer if you want to turn on your wife.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on November 8, 2009.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

One thought on “The vacuum makes the heart grow fonder

  1. Don Jackson says:

    Today I had the vac out ready to do the floors…I always do ALL of the floors. Wife said “oh you read C’s column!” (that is THE C).Casually I replied “No”. Then I did the floors, took a break with coffee and THE column in hand. Whadaya know, there we were “on the same page!”)

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