We all know the honeymoon stage…everything seems perfect. They go out of their way to make you smile and even occasionally cook and do laundry for you. They are there whenever you need them. No favor is too big to ask. However after an indefinite period of time ranging from 3 weeks to several years (the average amount of time you wait for an AC repair man to show up in Miami), things get comfortable. Courtesies are exchanged for higher expectations. A sense of gratitude is trumped by a sense of entitlement. (Not sure if we’ve written about this before, but see previous blogs just in case or for pure amusement)
Don’t worry loved ones, we’re not talking about you, we’d hate to jinx the honeymoon you are still on. Nope, this isn’t about matters of the heart, although sometimes it feels all too familiar. We’re speaking of the awkwardness associated with ending relationships with…people of no emotional significance: cleaning ladies, gardeners, handymen, and pool guys, particularly when they start to hit on your wife.
It always seems to play out in formulaic fashion. Much like romantic involvement, the evolution is strikingly similar. The initial romance leads to a period of comfort where personal needs are overlooked and each party begins to take the other for granted a little more each day. Eventually seeds of antipathy are planted and an awkward silence precipitates over the fertile ground bursting with buds of problems.
Let’s start with the cleaning lady, whom we will call Maria, since all Miami cleaning ladies, by law, are called Maria. If you are anything like us, you begrudgingly agree to hire Maria on a trial basis fully knowing that there is no such thing as a trial basis with a cleaning lady. As soon as they take one step into your house and open up the Pine Sol, not to mention rearrange your carefully unstacked newspapers, the social contract has been sealed. It’s till death do us part. So you ambivalently copy a door key and grant full access to your personal space including home office, journal, piano and your slightly embarrassing underwear drawer.
The sad reality is that the cleaning lady comes to our house more than most of our best friends. And what started out as 4 hours of solid elbow grease, has now regressed to 2 hours or as long as she can wait without satisfying her urge for Pollo Tropical. The amount of time she works is inversely proportional to the amount of liberties she take. For one, she stopped using all the cleaning products you asked her to use and has gone back to using her native soaps never certified by Proctor and Gamble from Honduras, Nicaragua. Even worse, occasionally she mops up the floor with a pair of old granny panties. The invasion doesn’t stop there: talking on your phones, eating in front of the TV, and blasting Salsa music on your stereo which, of course, she has never dusted. Not only does she leaving a little earlier now, she may have even complained that there aren’t enough Swiffer anti-static wipes, mainly because she stole them. Recently she tripped on her way to the bus stop, and now holds a grudge against you. This is our marriage with Maria.
The gardener who usually goes by the name Jose, Juan or Roberto is first hired under the premise that he knows significantly more than the previous gardener and wants to do things right. He’s got a Ph.D in Agronomy and a Masters in Landscape Architecture. You trust his every word and believe in him, because to you his green thumb is the size Shrek’s head and he seems willing to taste the dirt to test its geothermal phosphonutrobolicious half life. Your faith in him relates to everything including your bushes, your flower beds and even that nasty jock itch which he swears comes from a plant near your water softener.
The only nuisance he cannot solve is a little shrub called reality. It takes the gardener 3 weeks to figure out when you won’t be at the house including your vacation plans. And that’s precisely when he comes, unless of course he’s your neighbors’ gardener who comes promptly at 6am every Saturday morning. But your gardener comes and goes as he pleases now, and you notice that the hedges that he once trimmed to perfection now look unkempt. Rather than speaking to you about the latest fertilizers in the backyard while sharing a cold one like you used to in the honeymoon days, he just drops a bill in your mailbox along with the empty beer bottles he stole from your kitchen. His prices have gone up steadily over time because of the rising cost of fuel, even though he drives an electric mower. The same pattern plays out for handymen, pool guys and even doctors and dentists.
So what’s causing this pattern? Is it human nature to get too comfortable and to then take our relationships for granted? Are the people we let into our most intimate spaces such as yards, bathrooms and bedrooms moving in with us in a strange kind of Freudian way? And since they are family now, is it normal to silently feud much like a marriage after 10 years and a few kids. Is it time to call your attorney to discuss divorce? What complicates the matter is that a potential split has appendages. They probably first of all work for you neighbors and if not, at least a close friend or family member. Odds are your paths will cross again by next Tuesday.
This brings up the issue of how exactly we part ways with “the help.”
Route 1: Don’t call. This is what they do in middle school. The assumption being if I don’t call you, then you are no longer my girlfriend. This is passive and probably the least complicated approach, but lacking somehow in upholding your end of the social contract of supporting your gardener and his overweight wife and 4 kids.
Route 2: Email or text them. You can break up with a cleaning lady this way, but you’d better have a good command of Spanish and be prepared for some textual retaliation. Chances are this is how high schoolers do it. So how can you step up your game? After all, you’re over 40 years old now, have a mortgage, a few cars, and shouldn’t model the behavior of the teeny boppers on Glee.
Route 3: Direct communication. You can, after a long 1 and half hours of cleaning (I mean 45 minutes of cleaning and 45 minutes of watching her favorite telenovela), tell Maria that you no longer need her services. You can also tell her this in person or over the phone, but in person is probably the right way to go. After all, she’ll likely respect you more if you have the guts to do it face to face, but you might back out of it at the last second and instead offer her the job security of a Supreme Court Justice and all the canned goods in the pantry. The conversation often goes something like this:
Homeowner: Hey Maria, sorry about last week and not responding to your texts.
Maria: It’s ok senor, everybody is busy. Maybe you told me you were out of town. I can’t remember exactly, it’s just I save Thursday morning for you and my 16 year old daughter is pregnant with twins and can’t clean anymore…at least for the next 7 weeks while she tries to finds the daddy.
Homeowner: Umm…uh….actually…it’s not you…it’s me….my wife…my dog….uhhh….(I actually live alone)….sisters….are going to come over this weekend and do a….we’re Jewish….it’s a religious ritual called….Avinuvation….we all get together to bless and purify the spirit of Yahweh in the house. So we won’t need you this week.
Maria: Ok senor, so I come next Tuesday in that case?
Homeowner: Actually…on Tuesday…we have a book club meeting and one of the…ahh…participants is allergic to anything on the periodic table so no…not next Tuesday either
Maria: Ok senor, so I see you next Thursday in that case.
Maria comes that Thursday and every Thursday for the next 4 years. You get to know her granddaughter, tutoring her on the SAT, developing a deep appreciation for Salsa music, telenovelas and Pollo Tropical, and every now and then you cheat on her by cleaning the house yourself. After all “nobody solves a problem like Maria.”