Doing Sheryl’s Laundry

Guys, don’t be a load — do a load

Jeffrey Denny

Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In author and movement founder, not to mention Facebook chief operating officer, has been touring her new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. It’s a poignant reflection on the sudden loss of her beloved husband, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, and her journey with their children to heal the grief. Option B is worth reading for those who need.

Also helpful, Sandberg’s latest book tour revives the Lean In story of “Sheryl’s Laundry.”

You may know it. As she described:

“The data shows that when men are more active partners in their marriages, their wives are happier. Happier couples have more sex. So I’ve been telling men all over the country and the world: ‘If you want to have sex with your wife, don’t buy flowers — do laundry.’

“Sheryl’s Laundry” is now a thing. And I think a sweet tribute to Goldberg, who happily shared laundry duties.

Best of all, Sheryl’s Laundry launched a wave of men who leaned into the Maytag, hoping a little time doing the sheets might lead to more spousal time between them.

Guys being guys (sorry, guys), many turned Sheryl’s task into a transaction.

As Sandberg recounted,

“A friend of mine told me that she asked her husband to do a load of laundry. He turned around and asked her, ‘Is this Sheryl Sandberg laundry? Is this foreplay? Because if this is foreplay, I’m in. But if this is just laundry, there’s a game on.’ ”

No word on whether the guy ever, you know, conjugated with his wife again. Maybe game off.

***

Sheryl’s Laundry came up when I was talking to a friend close to Sandberg and her Lean In organization.

I regaled how I love doing laundry. Even as a single guy with no kids, no pets and no dirty jobs, somehow I wind up cheerfully loading the Bosch almost every day. (And no Cheer or Tide for me — only the Laundress Signature Detergent. No dryer sheets ever. No Febreze anywhere, any time. You don’t smell fresh. You smell Febreze. Like a New Jersey Uber.)

On baring my laundry soul, this exchange ensued:

Her: You would do your woman’s laundry? If she said, “Mind throwing in a few things for me?” you would?

Me: Of course! Absolutely. Love to.

Her: Really? Because you think you might get lucky?

Me: Ha. Hm. Not really. That would be great. But I’d also do her laundry just…because.

Declaring this, I stepped back to ponder some better reasons to do Sheryl’s Laundry than the chance to…conjugate:

1. Because she likes it

She might show her appreciation any number of ways. But that’s not the point of doing her laundry.

You love her. Love, we know, is about giving and sharing for each other freely, casting the proverbial bread upon the water, neither seeking nor expecting anything in return. The giving is the gift received. “The heart that gives, gathers,” an ancient sage said.

Guys, she’s doing a lot for you. Perhaps more than you’re doing for her. But even if roughly equal or differently delivered, step back to notice, appreciate. And step up. Learn how she likes her laundry done, and do it that way. You’ll learn about her. Laundry is love.

2. Teach the children

It shocks to hear how many guys have no idea how to do laundry.

Not just fusty old baldies born into the ’50s Leave It to Beaver culture when June happily pressed Ward’s shirts. Way worse, a new generation of well-raised, well-educated, even well-woke young men, hovered over by their helicopter moms, is perpetuating the old gender paradigm while graduating costly Seven Sisters colleges with majors in gender studies. Feminist mom is still washing the fine cashmere socks she bought him. Feminist son depends on her for that, not getting the irony.

Washing your clothes is like washing your dishes or your body, or cooking and cleaning. Basic life tasks every child should learn and adult should know.

But a lot of guys grow up (so to speak) with their mothers doing their laundry. Even through college, young men bring their fetid hazmat bag of stink home on break, and hand it off to mom who’s more than gleeful to wash, fold and stack. (“He’s home! Yay!”)

These guys never learn how to do the laundry. What they do learn is that women do the laundry.

Or they become men so clueless about this simple life task, and screw it up so badly, that their mates roll their eyes in loving disgust and do the laundry themselves. Or the guys strategically screw up the laundry so they can hand it off, taking 30 Rock character Tracy Jordan’s advice to Kenneth the Page: “Do a sloppy job and they’ll leave you alone.”

Result: Brilliant data geeks who make six figures writing code so you can control your smart internet-of-things washing machine from an iPhone app don’t know not to throw the $1,700 wool-blend Brunello Cucinelli sweater shirt that mom bought in the washer or dryer.

But we can flip the old script for the love of our kids and contribution to the cause. Teach these boys about Sheryl’s Laundry.

Dads, if your sons see you doing laundry well, chances are they’ll learn, respect and embrace doing laundry well, and not grow up thinking it’s not their job, it’s a woman’s job.

If your daughters see you doing laundry well, they’ll also see it’s not a woman’s job.

And if your son eventually has a boyfriend or husband, at least one partner will know how to do the laundry.

3. Laundry is fun and relaxing

On this point, I’ll leave out the part of the conversation that a man doing a woman’s laundry means he can freely handle her most delightful unmentionables when nobody’s looking. Which not only indulges that pre-teen boy living within every guy who thrills in touching women’s undergarments, but also our aesthetic sensibilities: Their stuff is way more interesting than ours.

I’m not even talking about lacy, racy stuff from Victoria’s Secret (a favorite oxymoron because it’s no secret when the scantiest whatnot is plastered on their storefronts). Even a woman’s basic Macy’s granny high-waist is much more thrilling than mens’ baggy boxers or tidy whities.

My point is that doing laundry — including but perhaps especially hers — can help men reach that Zen state arising from the healthy, relaxing, stress-relieving practice of doing one thing at a time, doing only that one thing, and being fully present in doing that thing.

Achieving Zen is hard now, and thus especially needed, when multitasking is celebrated even if the multitasks are done sloppily, iPhones command attention, and the crazy-quilt of multiple choices the luckiest among us have brought to ourselves overwhelm our ability to prioritize and decide.

No wonder so many yoga studios have sprung up and yoga-wear maker Lululemon surged from a startup to a Nasdaq stock to watch.

We all want a Zen break. Doing laundry gives me that.

I put clothes, towels or linens in the washing machine. I take them out, separating the air-dry Nike tennis hats and AG Jeans, and put the clean wet laundry in the dryer. Then I take the dry laundry out and fold it.

When I’m doing laundry, laundry is all I’m doing.

It’s a gender cliché and probably true that while women are juggling life — fragile family china plates, screaming chain saws, flaming batons, bowling pins and fresh babies (which seems dangerous but mothers make it work) — guys can only do one thing well at a time.

If true, then guys: Do the one thing you can do, and do it well. Do Sheryl’s Laundry. Not for the conjugation — though if conjugation should ensue, great! — but for the love, kids, fun and just to relax. No football game is better than that.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer

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