Thursday, July 23, 2020

Turning Out the Lights

From our extensive study of advice columns we have come away with the impression that American marriages are being destroyed by issues surrounding household chores. If this does not wipe some of that optimism off your face, nothing will. There is no more division of household labor-- a certain ideological crusade put an end to it-- so no one knows who is supposed to do what. Given how easily certain spouses are triggered, certain other spouses take every occasion to get a rise out of them.

Anyway, we welcome the addition of a new advice column, by Elizabeth Bernstein of the Wall Street Journal. If you must write in to an advice columnist, she will surely be vastly superior to Ask Polly or even Carolyn Hax.

In order to provide an amuse bouche for her new column, Bernstein offered up a letter and a response as an addendum to her weekly Bonds column.

Check it out:

Dear Bonds,

My husband leaves the lights on in the bathroom when he leaves. Every. Time. Is it acceptable, after having asked nicely for him to remember to turn them off (for 19 years), to smack him in the head with my slipper?

—Lit in L.A.

You do not even want to imagine what certain other columnists would say. Bernstein shows herself to be sane and sensible.

Dear Lit,

Put down your weapon. As satisfying as it might be in the moment, smacking your husband is not going to help you achieve your goal, which is to be heard. After all, your real irritation isn’t the light being left on, it’s feeling that someone you love is ignoring something that matters to you.

It’s time for a chat. (Notice I said “chat” and not “talk.” Chats are light and breezy. Talks are what you do with your lawyer.) Wait until you’re both relaxed. Then say, “Hey, I’m just curious: Why don’t you ever turn off the bathroom light?” Let your husband explain himself. Maybe he’ll have a good answer—his hands are wet and he doesn’t want to muck up the wall. (I know, I’m stretching here.) Chances are he’ll have no excuse—he just doesn’t notice that the light is on. Once you’ve given him a chance to speak, calmly explain that it is a big deal to you, which is why you keep bringing it up. Tell him why it matters—you’re the one in charge of the electric bill, or you’re tired of changing the lightbulb or every time you see that light burning for no reason, you hear your dad’s voice, admonishing you for leaving your childhood bedroom light on. Explain that when he leaves the light on, after you’ve asked a million times, it makes you feel like he doesn’t care. And then say: “Sweetie,”—or whatever term of endearment you use when you’re really happy with him—“would you please try harder on this?”

Now for the tough part. You are going to try your best not to bring up that light again. Because you’ve said your piece and been heard. And when you stop nagging, your husband is going to try harder to turn it off. (Trust me on this.) If and when he forgets, you can knock it off yourself in a fraction of the time it takes to get mad and bicker. Remember: There is a whole lot of power to be had in deciding not to let something small bother you, especially these days. Now, take that slipper, if you can find it, and use it to pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

The important point is to defuse the conflict. And that Bernstein does, admirably. 

For my part I am not so sure that he doesn’t care. For all I know he might like agitating her. Or he might be getting back at her for some other reason, having to do with household chores. 

And, yes, she is entirely correct to suggest that the woman in question should drop the issue, and stop nagging. What wonderful advice.

If I might make another suggestion, I would like to know whether you can go to the hardware store and buy a light switch that turns itself off after a certain period of time. Television sets do it. Computers do it. It must be possible to connect a timer to a light switch.

If such a self-extinguishing light switch exists, wife should buy one, have it installed and send her husband the bill. That will solve everyone's problems.


urbane legend said...

Motion sensing light switches can be purchased at any decent sized hardware store. Aggravating, though, if you have pets that roam the house. If she can use a screwdriver she can probably install it herself. It will have instructions. I'm not being condescending; I know men who can't do it, but it is easy.

whitney said...

You just get the light on a sensitive motion sensor. You walk in the room and light comes on. Easy peasy

Giordano Bruno said...

I leave lights on because electricity is cheap and I can afford it. LED bulbs last indefinitely. It makes me happy to exhibit such conspicuous consumption. My father wouldn't even run a fan at night to save on electricity. I live well, while others may simply live. I am the ne plus ultra of technological excess and I will not apologize or conform. Off to buy a third refrigerator and a bigger truck.

I would love to have a chat with the nice lady.

urbane legend said...


GB, you kill me!

Sam L. said...

I dislike having to go to another article to see what it says, and then see it's not a free site. But I don't complain, NOOOOOoooooooooooooo I don't. I just sit here quietly seething.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Given my high degree of sensitivity I quoted all of the relevant sections of the first article.

Anonymous said...

Leaving a light on.....pfffffffft. I should have such problems.