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Males and laundry: know when to fold 'em

Tammy Swift, columnist

When scientists explored the male genome — searching for the reasons why men are pathologically afraid of both crying females and asking for directions — researchers stumbled across another native trait.

It was called the "Real men don't sort" gene, and it was directly tied to a biological aversion to laundry.

OK, so maybe that's a slight exaggeration. The male clerks at the GAP fold T-shirts every bit as well as the female clerks do. And I am aware that even as I write this, there are men out there who are ironing their socks, fastidiously sorting their laundry according to "white," "cream" and "ecru," and carefully hand-washing and hand-blocking their cashmere sweaters.

I've just never had the pleasure of personally meeting one of these laundry Ninjas. In my personal journey, I only seemed to run into males who liked laundry as much as they like talking about Their Feelings About The Relationship or to their own mothers about "the change of life." (And no, that doesn't mean the adjustment period after football season.)

I remember guys in college who went home for three holidays a year: fall laundry, winter laundry and spring laundry.

Then there was the old boyfriend who washed his clothes at the coin laundry. He drew the line, however, at paying to dry them, as he felt 75 cents per load was highway robbery. Instead, he persisted in storing his wet laundry in his laundry basket, where it hardened into one mildew-y igloo.

Back in my married days, I was always baffled by my then-husband's eccentric approach to laundry.

For instance, he had no qualms with throwing clothes in the washer. He would even transfer clothes to the dryer. But the following ritual — the art of bundling together socks or folding T-shirts — completely eluded him.

Instead, he piled unfolded laundry on the counter and layers upon layers of clean jeans over the top of the door. It was like a denim lasagna.

He also had a habit of washing only his clothes. Whenever I called him on it, he would throw up his hands in horror. "I'm not touching your stuff. I'm afraid of ruining it."

Let me clarify that I wasn't wearing ermine ball gowns to work. I usually wore blue jeans. There was almost no chance of muddying the whites or causing colors to run. At that stage in life, I wore so much black that I made Robert Smith look like Lady Gaga.

Still, the poor man seemed completely overwhelmed by the prospect of female laundry. (I suspect part of this was the convenient helplessness that we adopt when hoping a conveniently located codependent will take over our most-dreaded household chores. Like when you pretend like you don't know what a measuring spoon is.)

Admittedly, he did occasionally put away my clothes. Well, if by "put away," you mean that he left my clothes in a lopsided pile atop my dresser, then ran screaming out of the bedroom as if he might be cornered and forced to fold all my nighties into origami cranes.

And it wasn't like I was Joan Crawford. I wasn't going to whack him with a wire hanger if he accidentally put the undies in the sock drawer. Even so, it obviously freaked him out.

I still remember bemoaning his laundry habits to my sister, who promptly cut me off at the knees.

"Girl," she said, "I don't know what you're whining about. You do NOT want him helping with the laundry. Earl washes everything — jeans, colors, whites — in one load. Once, he even washed my leather coat. It had a FUR COLLAR! Absolutely everything goes in there — and sometimes he even remembers to add soap. I used to complain, but since he's turned all our clothes gray, I've found it surprisingly easy to get dressed in the morning."

Touché. It just goes to show you: You can lead a man to launder, but you can't make him sort.

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at