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A few dirty plates aren’t the biggest problem in the world. But there are a lot of dishes in life, and those dishes stack up quickly. (Image by Tina Tiller)
A few dirty plates aren’t the biggest problem in the world. But there are a lot of dishes in life, and those dishes stack up quickly. (Image by Tina Tiller)

SocietyFebruary 22, 2024

Help Me Hera: My husband leaves his dishes in the sink and I can’t handle it

A few dirty plates aren’t the biggest problem in the world. But there are a lot of dishes in life, and those dishes stack up quickly. (Image by Tina Tiller)
A few dirty plates aren’t the biggest problem in the world. But there are a lot of dishes in life, and those dishes stack up quickly. (Image by Tina Tiller)

My bad household habits are objectively less annoying than his… aren’t they? 

Want Hera’s help? Email your problem to

Dear Hera,

I can’t cope when my husband, or anyone in my house ever, leaves a dirty dish in the sink. I don’t understand it. The dishwasher is so close to the sink (literally beside it). However, whenever I mention it I get told that I leave too many clothes and books on the floor. It’s not the same thing, is it?


Fed up 

A line of dark blue card suit symbols – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades

Dear Fed up,

Ah, the dishwasher. An invention which should make everyone’s lives easier, and yet it’s the cause of so much marital discord.

I don’t think leaving books and clothes lying around is as annoying as leaving dishes in the sink. Not just because clothes and books aren’t barnacled in ancient gravy, and not just because the sink is a shared utility. I’m going to assume that once the dishes enter the jurisdictional no-man’s land of the kitchen, there they remain, festering like the linoleum on the titanic, until you see fit to scrape, rinse, and stack them away. 

A few dirty plates aren’t the biggest problem in the world. But there are a lot of dishes in life, and those dishes stack up quickly. 

Your partner ignoring your entreaties puts you in an annoying position. Your options become: 

  1. Appoint yourself the dishes police (tedious, heteronormative) 
  2. Do it all yourself, becoming increasingly resentful (tedious, heteronormative, futile) 
  3. Wallow in filth until your partner steps up (disgusting)

It’s annoying to be constantly cleaning someone else’s dishes. But it’s even more annoying to be constantly annoyed about the fact you’re always cleaning someone else’s dishes, and expending mental energy on crusty forks, when you could be doing something fascinating and productive, like mentally listing all the Roman emperors in order of chin magnitude, or imagining a pig in a wide-brimmed straw hat. 

Whenever this question arises, people never fail to mention the viral essay She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By The Sink. Everyone loves this essay. They roll it out like Monopoly at Christmas. And every time I read it, I feel like I’m going insane.

In this groundbreaking piece of feminist journalism, a man details why his wife divorced him for leaving his dishes by the sink. At first, he couldn’t understand the issue. It seemed petty to him. But what he realised too late was that his chronic glass abandonment was actually “DEEPLY wounding his wife and making her feel sad, alone, unloved, abandoned, disrespected, afraid, etc.” In other words, it was never really about the glass. 

The author helpfully points out that men are just as capable as women of managing household labour, because, and I quote, “Men are good at things. Men invented heavy machines that can fly in the air reliably and safely. Men proved the heliocentric model of the solar system, establishing that the Earth orbits the Sun.”

The author admits he will never be able to care about the glass (“Ever. It’s impossible. It’s like asking me to make myself interested in crocheting”) but he comes to realise he should have put the glass away as a “sacrifice” because it made his wife feel “loved.” 

I don’t know about you, but I think he’s hit the nail on the head. As a woman, when I’m not busy making dolls out of used corn husks, my next favourite hobby is thinking about dishes. The dishes that were, the dishes that are, and the dishes that have not yet come to pass. Nothing makes me happier than entering a room and taking a comprehensive mental inventory of all the dirty cups and plates.

Sure, it’s not as good as, say, inventing skyscrapers or heliocentric models of the solar system, but it helps to pass the time between having my period and licking the basement wallpaper in the hope I’ll die of asbestos poisoning. Like all women, I just want a man who’s interested in my hobbies, which are largely sanitation based. 

I’m not saying women are perfect. It’s the 21st century and I’m sure there are plenty of men out there who are more fastidious about dish hygiene than the complex female characters they’ve elected to share their worldly assets with. In fact, this essay reminded me a lot of a similar situation in my own household. For years, my husband asked me to stop filling his office drawers with decomposing plant matter.

For some reason, he really didn’t like this. His reasoning seemed petty and vindictive. After all, why would he throw a tantrum over having his desk filled with wet leaves, sticks, and juicy slabs of moss? It only took him a moment each day to empty his drawers outside the window! I would happily remove said leaves, if we were having guests over. But after he threatened to divorce me for dragging several logs teeming with earwigs into his home office and drenching his computer in pond water, I realised his panicked entreaties had less to do with his horror of decomposing organic matter and more to do with his profoundly masculine need to impose authority and structure on his surroundings. At first I didn’t understand, because he lacked the mental capacity to comprehend his subconscious motivations and translate them into a cogent narrative. “Why is he complaining about the leaves again?” I’d think to myself every morning. “I never get upset when he does things I don’t like!”

But with patience and courage, I learned to read between the lines. I came to understand it wasn’t that I was wrong for unstitching the sofa upholstery each night while he slept, and filling it with heavy stones and chunks of rotting wood I borrowed from the local reserve. What mattered was that it was important to him, and that should have been enough for me. 

Anyway, you don’t want to be providing a remedial education for your adult partner. What you want is to have a clean kitchen and never think about this problem again. To this end, I offer you two solutions: 

1. Make one part of the job someone’s entire responsibility. One person loads the dishwasher, the other person unloads. You could even do week about. This way everyone knows exactly what needs to be done, and it saves you entering into a futile, plate-by-plate system of negotiation. You take the laundry, he takes the vacuuming. You clean the guttering and he leaves out a small table offering for the spirits in your attic, etc. 

2. Buy a large plastic tub, and put it in the sink. He can continue to leave his dishes there to soak. When you need to use the sink, you can remove the tub. And as long as you never put so much as a single teaspoon in there,  you can leave the lukewarm sauna of yesterday’s mayonnaise for your husband to deal with. In fact, while you’re at it, you may as well get a second and third tub, for your wayward clothes and books. That way everyone’s happy. Either that, or you could come to terms with the fact that your psychological aversion to cleaning someone else’s mess is probably some sort of unconscious female fear of abandonment, and go to bed with a box of Tim Tams until the mood passes.

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