Getting ready for their conversation, Genna settled into the chair at the head of the table and said, “How about we start at the beginning and work our way through the items. We can talk about each one as we go. What did you say for the first item, Neatness?”
Sally, “Really? This house looks so tidy!” She raised an eyebrow and looked quizzically at Genna.
Genna took a sip of tea, “I cleaned up a lot to show you the house. I always do that before guests come. In fact before you arrived I looked around and realized I hadn’t seen it so clean since Christmas, when my kids came home. I do like a clean and tidy house, but the truth is I don’t always pick up. And, honestly?” She looked at Sally, made a face and said, “I did dump some things in my room because I couldn’t figure out what to do with them.”
Sally laughed, “I’m good at figuring out where things should go. So what does it look like normally? I do like the way it looks now.”
Genna, “I get piles of things. Mail that comes in, books I’m reading. Projects I’m working on. That sort of thing. My excuse is that I’m working on them and it’s a waste of energy to put them away only to take them out again. It’s generally the dining room table and the kitchen table that I use.”
Sally, “Well it’s your house. What did you say to the next one?”
Genna takes a look at her paper, “Oh this is Cleanliness. I said ‘I dust and vacuum when I start noticing dust bunnies and gritty floors.’” What did you say?”
Sally, “‘ I dust and vacuum on a regular schedule, at least once a week.’ Actually it is once a week on Saturdays. I fell into it when my kids were little and find that I like having a regular routine for cleaning. I finally found a vacuum cleaner that I love. I like the regular routine.”
Genna, “Hmmm, I was thinking about suggesting that we could share the cost of having someone clean, maybe twice a month?”
Sally shook her head. “I don’t mind dusting and vacuuming. I’m assuming we’re talking about the rooms we’d both use? Living room and dining room? We’ll clean our own rooms, right? And bathrooms?”
“Yes, that’s what I thought. Really you don’t mind? Are you sure? You are volunteering to do this?”
Sally nodded thoughtfully and said, “Yes, the dining room and living room. I’m not volunteering to always clean the kitchen. In fact the next item is about kitchen cleanliness. My answer is that I never leave dishes in the sink, I always wash them or put them in the dishwasher. I really hate seeing dirty dishes. What did you say?”
Genna grimaced, “Uh-oh! This is our first real difference. I said I leave them in a pile and get to them when the pile is too big. And it’s true.” She looked at Sally who was staring at her paper. When Sally finally looked up the excitement that had been in her eyes was gone. She said dispiritedly, “Maybe this isn’t going to work out after all.”
Genna, incredulous, “Just because of dishes?” Sally nodded.
“It used to be a battle I had with my husband. It drove me nuts how he expected me to wait on him and do all the kitchen and housework. The dishes were always a fight. I guess I’m pretty scarred. After our divorce and living on my own I’ve delighted in being able to walk into the kitchen and always find it clean.”
Genna, “That’s funny in a weird way. I have the opposite experience. For me the freedom of not being married is being able to let things go a bit. I swear my husband was one of those obsessive types.” They both took a sip of their tea. They were silent, Sally looking down and Genna looking out the window. Then Genna said, “I can’t believe dishes are a show stopper.”
Sally said softly, “Me neither. I never would have thought of it without this questionnaire. I would have seen this kitchen and assumed it is this way all the time. I just know myself, dirty dishes would drive me nuts.”
Genna said hesitantly, “If it matters to you so much, maybe I can learn to put dishes in the dishwasher. Would that work? ” She cocked her head and waited for an answer.
Sally, “Maybe. Would you really remember?”
“I think so. I did keep a very clean house while I was married. If I know it matters to you it’s much more likely that I’ll do it. And you’ve just offered to do the dusting and vaccumming.”
Sally nodded, she relaxed. “Okay. Let’s keep going and see what else we discover. We’ve only covered three items so far.” They both looked at their papers.
Sally, “The next one is about kitchen use. I said I cook almost all the time. And you?”
Genna, “That I occasionally cook a meal. Usually I cook when I invite a friend to join me. I love to have company for meals, it’s boring to eat alone, I like the conversation and companionship and for me not so much fun to cook. I like cooking for others.”
Sally, “Me too. What do you like to make?”
Genna, “Well I guess it depends. I do love to make curries.”
Sally surprised, “Curries?” Genna nodded.
Sally, “I don’t like curry.”
Genna, “Really? That’s too bad. Is it the heat?”
Sally, “Yeah, way too hot. Actually I’ve only tried it once. I’ve managed to avoid it ever since. That one experience was really painful.”
Genna, “I wonder if you ate a pepper. Would you try one again if I made it very mild?”
Sally, “You can make it mild? I thought curries are always hot.”
Genna shook her head and asked, “What about you? What do you like to cook?”
“Let’s see. For company I love to make lasagna. It’s such a lot of work that I won’t do it for myself. I make pasta. Salads. Soups. I seem to have a knack with the soups. I guess I just cook normal stuff, nothing fancy. Lately I’ve been trying to eat less meat and more vegetarian meals. I bought myself a few cookbooks. Speaking of which that’s some impressive collection of cookbooks you have!” She motions to a shelf she can see.
Genna looked at the shelf and said, “Yeah, actually I should get rid of a bunch of them that I never use. I do love cookbooks though I find more and more I’m looking for recipes on the internet.”
“I know what you mean. Me too. We do have some of the same cookbooks. Maybe…” She stopped. “Never mind. Let’s look at the next item. Oh that’s about routines. What did you say to that?”
Genna, “I found this one hard to answer as I’m not used to thinking about how much I’m at home. I said I’m home half the time.” She looked at Sally and waited.
“This one was easy for me. I go to work Monday through Friday. Weekends are open and can be quite different. I don’t expect to retire until I can get full Social Security. Fortunately, I like my job.”
“How did I miss the fact that you are working? What do you do?”
“I’m the bookkeeper and grants manager for the animal shelter. Been there for five years. I’m so grateful to have the job. Job hunting was really hard. I encountered a lot of age discrimination. When they offered me the job I couldn’t believe it. It’s a good group. I like it.”
“That’s neat. I’m surprised you haven’t brought home any animal.”
“Yeah, I know.” She chuckled and said, “Actually when I saw that you can’t have cats due to allergies, I thought ‘good, I won’t be tempted anymore.’ But you are retired, right? What do you do when you aren’t here? Oh wait, I know this. You run the food kitchen for church, don’t you?
“That’s right. That’s one day a week. I keep myself busy. I volunteer at the hospital. I work out at the gym. I have a regular water aerobics class. Things like that. But I’m home most evenings. That’s why I’d love to share meals.”
“Yes, I like the idea of sharing meals too. Just maybe not the curries? What’s the next one? Oh, pets. I don’t have pets, you don’t have pets. We can skip this one.”
“Wait, not so fast. Because I said, ‘I’m willing to live with one.’ The truth is I love dogs and have always had a dog. My Betsy died last year, she lived to the ripe old age of fifteen. I really miss her and I miss having a dog. I might want to have another — I keep wondering if it’s a good idea. What do you say to that?”
Notice how working through the Compatibility Assessment leads these two people into a deeper and fuller conversation about who they are and how they might live together?
The idea that dirty dishes can really be the deal breaker comes from an interview I did the Writer’s Voice. You can hear it here.
I’d love to know, does this story seem realistic to you? Can you see how having a checklist of categories and possible responses helps guide the conversation? Do you think it would for you?