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Dear Amy,

I am writing to ask you for your opinion, as this is a very subjective matter and I do not believe that there is any conclusive answer. I want to know if you believe that it is genuinely possible to have an egalitarian relationship with a man? I used to think so, but these days I feel as though my feminist principles are often compromised. I've had a bit of a "click" and it is making me bitter. I have lived for three years with a pretty great bloke. True, we have had problems and some time ago, when things were bad, he had an affair. I subsequently left him for another woman, but came back when I realized that I we still loved each other.

Since then, things have gone really well. We have traveled together, worked together, written music together ... in all we have a good and balanced relationship. At least, we did until I came back to university. Since then, things have started to go a bit awry. I won't go into all the details, but mainly the problem is concerning domestic labor. For the sake of economy, we share our house with a mutual friend. A depressed, seasonal affective disordered pseudo-transvestite with every emotional and physical ailment going. I'm sorry if I sound unsympathetic, but just hear me out!!

This man is filthy. If I described the filthiness of his room to you, you wouldn't believe me. In the six months that we have lived together, he has twice cleaned the bathroom, even though all the duties are meant to be shared, and even then very badly and under a strong coercion. He has never once offered to help with anything domestic. He is entirely selfish and won't even empty a bin that he has filled or a cooker that he has dirtied. I even end up doing his dishes for him 50% of the time. Understandably or not, this bothers me more than it does my partner. I cannot sit or relax when there is housework left to be done. It puts me on edge and whilst I can handle a little disorder, this goes beyond the bounds of reason.

Today, my partner and I had an enormous fight before he left for work because our house mate had filled the kitchen bin and not emptied it. I know that this sounds petty, but it is truly making me unhappy. I had asked my partner to discuss this with our house mate, as I have tried on several occasions, both overtly (shouting at him) and subtly (dropping hints, asking gently, posting house rules). Every time he has ignored me and only pays attention to my partner. I think that he may subconsciously be an out -and -out misogynist. My partner did not speak to our house mate about this. Furthermore, (and this is the crux), he said that he didn't know what I was thinking of, bringing problems like this to him before he went to work. He said that he didn't understand what was wrong with me. To me, this smacks of sexism. "Problems like this"? I got the distinct impression that my partner was belittling domestic concerns - I know for a fact that he thinks they are beneath him, even though he does pull his weight. I am so angry with them both for this. I feel as though I am being disregarded by one man and treated like a skivvy by another. For economic reasons we cannot afford to throw this house mate out, although I would dearly love to do so. I appreciate that this is a very long and angry email and I apologize for that. I would just like to know your opinion, because I feel like a "hostage" of the 1970's, rather than a woman in my own right who is struggling to obtain a degree and hold it all together. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

With kind wishes,

Kelly.

Dear Kelly --

As you have probably guessed, your question is impossible to answer.

There is no one answer, of course, I can share my opinion. As you know yourself, every relationship and every individual is so uniquely different that it's pretty hard to generalize. I know from my own personal experience that I always approached relationships hoping/assuming that they were/would be equal -- but either I brought baggage to the relationship that made that impossible or society of the other person just wouldn't let that happen.

I have to say, however, that in my current relationship it feels pretty equal and yet, I think most of what I think that required on my part was to really assess everything that goes in to making our relationship work and then examining who does what and I think it's easy for me to assume that I am doing the bulk of the work to keep our household running, but that's because I was overlooking his contribution and I was mostly measuring it based on what I considered the priorities.

When we talk about our priorities, I realize that's where the give and take has to come in. I think that we each have different standards and our partners certainly have an obligation to meet us there -- but we also have to recognize them as desires, not as musts. I hope that's clear.

Good luck negotiating it all,

- Amy