March 25, 2023

Verity Johnson is an Auckland-based writer and business owner.
OPINION: “Verity, did your boyfriend make you lunch again?” asked a colleague curiously, staring at the third neat, colourful salad I’d unboxed for lunch this week.
I froze. I stared down at the elaborate salad nicoise in my hands, and tried to think of how to de-escalate this balsamic-based bomb situation.
Normally, I hide the fact that my boyfriend makes me lunch (and dinner) every day. It doesn’t go down well in offices. But I hadn’t been in an office in ages and was out of practice at salad subterfuge.
* In troubled times home cooking is on the boil
* Showing up early for dinner is way ruder than being late
* 27 is the age of ‘what next?’

I breathed in, bracing for impact, but then she went on curiously, “How do I make my boyfriend do that?”
I blinked. This isn’t how I’m used to this conversation going. Normally, if women find out that my boyfriend does all the cooking in our relationship, I get a lot of stick. So I never normally talk about this. But yes, I’m part of a secretive club of women in straight relationships whose male partners do the majority of domestic labour. (I do other things, but in terms of cooking and cleaning, he does the lion’s share.)
There’s actually more of us than you think in this secretive club. My mum is in it, as is one of my best friends, and a chunk of colleagues I’ve had over the years. We just don’t talk about it much because we feel guilty for being so, well, lucky.
And we’re not dumb, we know how raw a subject this is. The “I do more domestic labour than you” debate chafes against the inner thighs of every straight relationship. And girls are right to be salty. The overwhelming evidence is still that women still do the lion’s share of domestic labour in heterosexual couples. And no, Covid didn’t change that. In fact, the latest US research suggests it actually made it worse.
I could hear this pain in my colleague’s question. She was desperately looking for solutions. And I knew this day would come eventually. One day, our cover would be blown and our frustrated friends would turn to us for tips with retraining their partners.
It’s a slippery question, though. Having a boyfriend who is happy to cook isn’t the same as making a boyfriend who’s happy to cook. We’re not lion tamers who’ve branched out into suburban manchildren in marketing named Steve. (And you could argue that anyone who is prepared to date undomesticated women is probably more egalitarian by nature anyway.)
But I still understand the question. She wants to know if there’s anything at all to learn from our silent secretive sect … and there’s just one thing I can think of.
Every woman I know in this group is comfortable with an uncommonly low level of domesticity. And it’s often lower than their boyfriends’. For example, I’m happy to eat toast for every meal; my partner finds that barbaric. So basically, it forces our partners to evaluate what they want at home. And realise that if they want it, they need to provide it. Otherwise, it won’t happen.
It’s not magic, it’s just that we have incredibly low standards – often lower than the other partner. And that forces each party to realise this is important to them and negotiate.
So if I could give one tiny tip, find something you don’t really care about. Then stop. And stop for as long as it takes for your partner to recognise they miss it. This prompts a negotiation process to restart it. And I don’t know if it’ll work. But at the very least, it will make them start thinking about what their own standards are.
And that’s the beginning of a whole new conversation.
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