I get it. Giving feels good. Doing for others is what really makes us happy. Not things. Actions. Selflessness. I so get it. I do. But what happens months later, when you gave and gave, and now you’re stuck in some hideous room with texture and layering and repellent off-white yellows and beige and muted greens and browns that you hate to spend any time in because it’s what your partner wanted? It feels good to make someone happy, but it just doesn’t feel good to live in a house of sag and shag.
Had Marie given in and selflessly allowed Jess to keep his ugly wagon-wheel coffee table, would they now be in splitsville? See, she would’ve entertained more, had a lighter step, and a sunnier disposition had she not awoken to that uglyass coffee table day after day. Or would she instead have raised her eyes and focused on the kitchen instead? It’s all, after all, a matter of perspective, right? Keep your eye on what matters most… on who matters most: the partner you vowed to spend the rest of your life making happy.
Next up in the "what matters most" lineup is a harmonious environment: a place for he and she, both. Now what? Is the answer queuing up "Designing For The Sexes" on HGTV? Is it hiring a therapist or interior decorator? Is it divvying up each room. "If you get to decorate the bedroom, I get the living room." Or is it choosing pieces that aren’t offensive to either party? Is the compromise selecting items that neither person loves but can at least live with (please say no, because up until now it’s been just that), or is it about creating a balance? How would one go about creating a balance between complete opposites? If he wants ornate rococo designs, lush with well-appointed fabrics, and she wants bare, minimal, steel, how the fabric do you make it work?
I can say, without a doubt, anyone who’d offer his/her services as our interior designer would earn every last penny. Because it would be no small task. I have to imagine that successful interior designers must’ve minored in psychology. Because it’s not just about having an eye and listening, about setting up expectations and wowing a client (coming in on budget). It’s about really listening, about negotiation, and about compromise. If it were up to me, I’d hire one in a mad dash second. Not because I don’t think I have an eye, but because I realize the Suitor has eyes and tastes of his own, and we’re always at a stalemate.I like books our shelves. He doesn’t. I believe a living space should have a coffee table (or ottoman acting as a coffee table), whereas Phil thinks it’s unnecessary, and he’d rather have the empty space for the kids to run. He’s also not willing to relocate the rug to a different part of the house, as "everything is already YOURS as it is." Holy power struggle. And. At. A. Time. Like. This.
That’s where everyone wants to go. At a time like this you should be focusing on something else. At a time like this you should just want to make him happy. At a time like this, there are far more appropriate things on which you ought to focus.
To which I have to respond: a time like this you should realize that there aren’t any real "you should’s." Because this is how we deal. Phil gets a $2500 camera for Father’s Day. It’s what he wants, cheers him up, "helps me take my mind off my mortality." Then he asks me to please hurry up and decide on new bedding. Just order it already. But I want it to be something we both like, and it’s not so easy. This is how you continue to live. You make decisions, argue about the decisions, discuss priorities, then drink and figure out what you want for dinner. You go on as you always have. You don’t have long talks about heart transplant lists. Instead you make lists and comb through interior design mags.
An interior designer would have solutions (ideally that we’d both love). Perhaps they’d suggest more side tables, a sofa table in addition. Then guests would have a place for their drinks, and Phil would get his way of having no coffee table. Would it still look empty and unfinished without a coffee table? The designer would know. S/he would select a new rug, something more eye-catching. And that would be the compromise. No coffee table? Fine. But then that means a different rug: you choose. It would fix the symptom, not the problem. And I’m fine with that. For now.
It’s no secret that I believe the act of compromise is akin to donating blood with an intern and a hard to find vein. Intellectually, I know that making your partner happy should be your greatest goal, that the act alone of giving should bring you happiness. But when that happiness comes in the form of having to look at a kitchen full of rooster-themed objects and art until death do you part… it might just come to that.
Interior design, how we choose to organize all the crap of our lives (what belongs in the garage, and what belongs on a shelf), is tricky. It’s the age-old love story: a man and his battered chair. The wagon-wheel coffee table. Everyone thinks they have good taste. We know the story, and we know who always wins: the woman. Because men shouldn’t care. A happy wife, a happy life.