A delightful viral thread of a woman, Miss Potkin, going on chore strike rang bells globally, with nearly 200,000 likes and earnest foreign news reports, as she documented, gleefully, the deteriorating hygiene situation in her home.
It’s a strategy endorsed by the relationship therapist Esther Perel. “If you really want the other person to take out the rubbish,” Perel says, “you have to be able to spend two weeks not doing it. You don’t say anything. You just wait until the other person finally notices.”
Eventually Miss Potkin’s partner clocked the teetering mountain of dirty dishes and cleaned the kitchen, but not before resorting to a tiny plastic weaning spoon to stir his coffee.
Although the sight of him piteously scraping hardened cereal residue into the bin was deeply enjoyable, I noted with familiar disappointment that he did not empty the metal filter for catching sink detritus. “That’s my job, apparently,” said Miss Potkin in one video, a phrase I know I have hissed, word for word, this week about the exact same task.
I have been both of these people. Now I am the sink basket scraper, but I used to be a plastic spoon criminal. I once maintained with absolute confidence that the vacuum cleaner didn’t work, when actually I did not know how to turn it on. Partly, I thought I was taking a feminist stand against my gender destiny, but mainly I was lazy. I know what it’s like to not notice squalor, then be baffled at the heat a few days of slobbishness generates.
People change and roles reverse, but chores and the mismatch in how much any given cohabitants care about them are tragically eternal. However watertight our rotas or enlightened our division of labour, we will always be locked in a dance of resentment versus bewilderment over tins left “to soak” and unrecycled cider bottles (completely random examples, natuurlik). That’s where the Perel/Potkin strategy falls down: if you can ignore an overflowing bin for a fortnight without losing your mind, it wouldn’t be bothering you in the first place.