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I am about to lose a wonderful woman because we have fallen out about my personal cleanliness - is this mess salvageable?

heart to heart The questioner's philosophy
I am catholic and I believe in live and let live. I do not judge others because I have no control over how others live their lives.
The questioner's hopes and aspirations
Basically all I want to do is find someone to share my life with.
I met a woman through an online dating service and things were really awesome. We had the most beautiful summer together. We did everything and it was unlike any relationship that either of us had.

My girlfriend is 48 and I am 41. She has this big beautiful house where in the summer she works outside on her landscaping. During the winter months she works on keeping her house clean. I mean clean to a fault. She cleans things that I don't believe need cleaning. But she always stopped cleaning when I would stop by. She was a very hard worker and I have the utmost respect for her.

Three weeks ago, as I was getting ready to leave her house, she asked if I would be sure to not wear any clothes to her house that I wore more than 2 times. You see I don't have a physically demanding job so I will wash my clothes after I wear them 3 or 4 times or if they would get visibly dirty. Well when she asked that I got very upset because I felt as though she was calling me a slob. I said, "back off" and without saying anything more I gave her a kiss goodbye and that was the last time I saw her.

She called a couple of days later. When I heard her voice I was upset all over again. So I didn't return her call for a couple of days after that when she said she didn't want to continue the relationship. I was crushed because I decided she was right and I wanted to explain that but she made up her mind not to listen. I called her once after that and sent one love letter explaining my feelings. So I figure there is nothing else to do but wait because she knows how I feel.

The thing is that I don't want to lose her and I don't want to do anything stupid. What can I do because I honestly love her and her family. It was a great relationship and I believe we belong together. I can not believe that we got sidetracked by my desire to invoke my right to be a man. I guess I drew the line in the sand because I didn't want her to inspect my house next. Is this mess salvageable?

Wallace's reply
Wallace I don't know if this mess is salvageable, but I do know the best approach you can take if you want to salvage it, and that is what I will seek to convey in this reply.

At the start it is easy for relationships to be happy and full of fun. However as relationships progress in closeness and as intimacy grows, differences will inevitably arise. When men and women first get together there are often differences in attitudes to everyday things like cleanliness. This is inevitable and to be expected. It is at these points of difference that love must come into play. This difference that has arisen is now a test of your adaptability, and your ability to forgive and communicate in loving ways, so that you can both move forward together.

In this particular instance you have spun a story in your head about your girlfriend seeing you as a slob and inspecting the way you live in your home. She has said and done none of this. This is all supposition on your part. Deal with the issue with which you are presented - personal cleanliness. It is common knowledge, to any man that is in even slightly aware of women and their needs, that in the context of a personal relationship, women need their man to be clean and fresh. That's because a clean fresh man is very attractive to a woman. Remember a woman's sense of smell is often way more acute than a man's. Personally speaking I find her request (assuming it is to do with undergarments, shirts, etc. and not outer garments like jackets and trousers) perfectly reasonable. Are you standing so firm on some bizarre belief on what makes a man a man, that you cannot grant her request?

I will tell you what you need to do if you want to have a chance to re-establish your relationship. You need to decide if you can live with your girlfriend's request regarding your personal cleanliness, and if you can to then write to her, apologizing for the stance you have taken, for not understanding her needs and for being so pig headed. Then promise that you will wash your clothes as she requests. Then if you get back together, follow through - be true to your promise.

If your relationship is re-established, you may (or you may not) have further issues around attitudes to cleanliness. With clear communication, forgiveness, love and understanding, if there are further issues they can also be worked through and a way of living with your differences arrived at. She may have a slight compulsion to clean - or she may not, I cannot tell - but together you may be good for one another in this area. With love and clear communication you may become cleaner and more respectable and she may not be quite so adamant that her home is just perfect. This would be good for both of you. That's how love works!

If she doesn't get back to you as a result of your letter, wait a few weeks (or months) and call her on the phone. If she really has given up on you after this, accept it and learn a lesson from this. You will then be a changed person and as a result will find it easier to attract (and keep!) another romantic partner.

Further Help and Resources
If you do get back together I encourage you both to use our website's Communications & Relationships Course to help you transcend your differences.

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