making room for ugly

I brushed my teeth, but not my hair.  I’ve been wearing the same clothes, exactly, for the past two days, and I have left the apartment! No make up.  Threw on a bra, just to show I care, then we went lamp shade shopping.  The Suitor has an antique set of lamps (which were originally vases, turned into lamps, and as he reminds me continually, "they were very expensive") he cannot live without, yet somehow has lived without using, ever, since they have no shades since he bought them with his ex-wife.  He was married, too.  She picked these up for them.  I don’t want them in our home.  It’s much less to do with the fact that they’re her taste and more to do with "they’re not my taste."  They belong in a sitting room, at The Breakers in Newport, where visitors pass through, catching glimpses of rooms behind velvet ropes.  They don’t belong in a home, where people actually fart. 

On our ride to the lamp shop, he asked, "So, like, what’s a lamp shade go for these days? Twenty, fifty bucks?"  I had no idea but suspected it was closer to the latter guess.  We carried the lamp inside, leaving its twin home.  Then we paced the store, holding up different shades to see what suited the lamp best.  My eye was drawn to the more contemporary lines, while he chose more traditional, bell-type shades.  Everything looked fucking ugly, and I wanted to leave.  "I’d never even pick this lamp," I said aloud to the saleswoman.  I hate having to compromise.  When I don’t get my way, all I really feel like doing is pouting until I do, but it never works, so I just become silent, and mostly agreeable, hoping my miserable mood will pass.  Ugly lamps.  So not my taste.  And don’t talk to me about that show "Design For The Sexes" where they merge his candle collection antique look with her West Elm nightmare (I love some of West Elm’s stuff, I must admit, but my true favorite mailer is William-Sonoma Home).  My ideal decoration style appears in the movie "Something’s Gotta Give."  It’s Erica Jane Barry’s house in the Hamptons.  Each room looks comfortable, elegant, like a brand new cashmere turtleneck.  I want that.  But I won’t say so again. 

A001_1 I’m a traditional girl, yet I’m not.  I have no problem trying to get pregnant before getting married, yet I believe the woman should get to choose whichever china pattern she’d like.  I mostly prefer Anna Weatherly or Bernardaud’s "Constance" designs.  He wants all white square plates in funky shapes.  Minimalist.  I want what he calls "too busy."  I understand, believe me I do, food is its own design, so save the white funky shapes for our casual everyday china, where there’s time to assemble each plate.  With formal family dinners, like thanksgiving, it’s all about the spread of the table, not what each plate looks like once there’s food upon it.  What’s so hard to understand?

I like ribbons; he wants no part of it.  He already knows I hate the color pink, but I do want some things to be girly.  Not our bedspread or living room, but our china pattern, well, yes.  Guys just shouldn’t care and should defer to what she prefers, because it should matter to her more.  Call me sexist.  It’s what I know.  That’s my modeling.  My father didn’t care how my mother decorated the house.  "Whatever you want," he’d say.  And she’d pass things by him before purchasing, just to be sure she wasn’t spending too much.  He’d then chime in with a "how much are you paying for that plate?!"  Then she’d roll her eyes and tell him that’s what fine china goes for.  "If you love it," he’d say most of the time.  But overall, he let her choose.  He didn’t fight her and make her compromise on every room of the house.  "Just let me do my own desk," he complained after she purchased an antique French desk with two small drawers.  The china, bedding, living room… it was all up to her.  As long as the den had a big enough television, he was content.  I wish I had that, a man who deferred to my taste and simply said, "I’ll look at what you’d like me to, but I trust your taste, so whatever you want."  It’s the girl’s job.  Men just shouldn’t care. 

It’s hard having to merge, to make room for what he loves, despite it not feeling "like me."  "It should feel like us," he would say if I told him this.  But it doesn’t.  Maybe it’s not the lamps.  We’ve only had sex once since we’ve been here, though that might have a little something to do with my showering, or lack thereof.  It’s a symptom, though, this lack.  Stress.  Sure.  But it seems lately all our power struggles are being emphasized.  He tries to be helpful, which reads to me like condescending. "If I want your help, I’ll ask for it," I’ve said.  And when I do ask for it, when I plead with him, "I need your help with this," he becomes stubborn and retorts, "I’m not your father.  I have needs too, and my needs are not to do things your way.  So figure something else out.  I do enough around here."  And he does.  He absolutely does.  "But buying a car is a major decision," I plead, "and I don’t want to go alone to test-drive one.  Can you please come with me?" 
"No, I’ve already made up my mind.  If you want to go test-drive something, and you love it, I’ll come back to see it." 
"I don’t want to go alone.  I get shy, and you ask better questions than I do.  I need your help with this." 
"You’re a big girl.  You do not."  This is usually when I cry and prove that I am not at all a big girl.  Then he starts in, but I cut him off. "Can I finish speaking?" he says.  But I speak over him, knowing the next words he’ll say.  "Why don’t you just speak with yourself, if you always know what I’m going to say?  I don’t even need to be here."  But I know him that well.  I know what he’ll say.  I don’t need to hear it.  But when he feels like he’s not being heard, he gets louder.  Or frustrated.  Or fed up.  And I feel it.  So I have to work on not interrupting him, and trying to make room for an us.  He has to work on realizing it’s never okay to take his frustration out on me with sarcasm or yelling. 

It’s just a pair of ugly lamps.  I have an ugly drawing of Barbara Streisand on my desk, a line drawing that resembles a tulip.  I guess that’s what you do in real relationships, you make room for each other’s ugly. When I get upset like this, in my "everything is ugly and why am I with you anyway?" mood, I think back to when I first fell in love with him.  It makes me easier on him.  Puts things into perspective and makes me remember that I love him.  Even with his uglyass lamps that everyone else seems to think are beautiful.  "Yeah, that’s because you don’t have to look at them each day," I think but do not say to these people.  I’m doing a lot more of that, thinking without speaking.  You wouldn’t know it though, listening to me go on.



  1. My mother spent all of last summer trying to make her Martha's Vineyard house look like Erica Barry's, she even started wearing all white. I told her I would stop speaking to her if she started wearing turtlenecks (and "funny hats") while driving around in her C70. I love that movie…

  2. Steph, how about a photo of those ugly lamps? I'm intrigued. Hopefully they are so ugly and so wrong that they are right. It does suck that the Suitor needs to have so much input on decorating. My husband generally likes whatever I do and doesn't care. He just likes to be consulted and I can count on him to pull me back from any truly wacky unworkable ideas, like hanging an oil painting on the front door. I also promised that we will purchase only new appliances. This promise was made after I bought 2 vintage stoves (not at the same time), which did not work and which we couldn't get reapired. They were so cool looking with chrome details and 50s cadillac curves. Both weighed about 400 pounds but both times he lugged them home from yard sales with very little grumbling.

  3. Our parallel lives continue. Am on a rebound spring cleaning. Donated ugly clothes. His. We never made room for each other's ugly. (Perfect! Less IS more). Stopped recycling negative creatures. Said "Something's Gotta Give." Like the movie. You know what? Turtleneck those bottleneck lamps. Can you just hear Jack, "What's with you and the turtlenecks?"

  4. Right now, my boyfriend and I are getting to see each other's ugly on the inside. It seems that you have already passed that stage.

  5. i've noticed the same thing in m.i.d.. it's like they've embraced this whole metrosexual movement (and, these guys seem like they should fall at the far hetero end of the spectrum). it's everything from decorating, clothing, to even weddings. a girl just expects she'll have the last, make that the only, say in such matters. the only time it wasn't an issue was when a m.i.d. and i had such similar tastes. perhaps, rather, it was his mother and i that had such similar tastes. that's not easy to find when we're taking animal prints and lucite. too bad our musical tastes were disparate.

  6. the prospect of merging sucks. as my bf and discuss living together, i make mental lists in my head about what has to be done in each room to remove any presence of his ex-wife and to make the house mine. starting with the wallpaper in the bathroom and border in the kitchet. it's got to go!

    luckily, the master bedroom is a blank slate!

  7. "Even with his uglyass lamps that everyone else seems to think are beautiful." So perhaps the real reason for your strong dislike of the said lamps is that they belonged to the ex-wife once and not their inherent ugliness? Which is a valid reason in itself, in fact, much more valid then "I think they are ugly, let's get rid of them."

  8. "It's the girl's job. Men just shouldn't care."

    Congrats. You've just set women's lib back 100 years. I agree 100%, but once you start delineating what is a girl's job and a guy's job, you've just opened up a whole can of buts. Still, why and how could a guy care about any interior decorating outside of his chair, his office, and his remote control?

    On the car thing, I sometimes get the feeling that the only time my wife wants my input is when she thinks she'll need someone to share the blame should something go wrong. Just my idle wondering, but are you maybe taking control of a lot of decisions, but on a $30k car you're thinking in the back of your mind that you'll one day say 'but I asked you about this and you said it was okay'?

  9. I agree with Kim P… get the ugly lamps to mug for the camera. Perhaps Linus will lift a leg for the occasion.

    I actually went on a hunt for web photos of Erica's fictional home for deco inspiration. Didn't find though. That and the deco in Melinda Melinda.

    I totally agree agree with you about the woman decorate home, man deal with car thing. Totally. That being said, letting go, taking the high road can also feel satisfying; being laid back.

    The most important: the Suitor cherishing you by showing respect, meaning zero sarcasm and yelling. That anger comes from somewhere in him though, and is not about you. It is something I really really hope he is working on to pinpoint and extinguish. So much more important than anything else, for your future.
    all the best, Stephanie,

  10. The only thing annoying about "Somethings Got to Give" is that Diane Keaton did far to much screeching…WHAT was up with that?

  11. I think my husband and I have as equal a partnership between a man and woman as possible. We each work full time as corporate attorneys, together maintain the house (me) and yard (him, although he does all the laundry), and are raising our 9 month old daughter together (although I handle breastfeeding and night duty… fair, given he works longer hours).

    At times, it's a nightmare. On the one hand, contributing fully to the household gives me the sense of entitlement to call shots many of my friends don't venture to call: this usually amounts to a deciding vote on important expenditures and life choices. Such as when and where we decide to move, work, or send daughter to school or childcare, or not. I love that.

    On the other hand, when I say things like, "In a few years, when the kid(s) are in school, I'd like to downshift to part time" …to be there when a nanny is less able to replace the unique role a parent needs to play in a school-age child's life (i.e. helping with homework, attending sporting events and clapping loudly for a big win, pep talking after a big loss, etc.)," my darling responds with things like, "When do I get to go part time?" Exchanges like these drive home the fact that what I really want is equality when I want it, and traditional patriarchy when it's comforting or convenient.

    Equality is hard. Sexism can be both sexy (because of the power thing) and cozy (because it's nice to feel small). But I guess on balance I'd give up that lamp decision any day in exchange for an equal vote in the rest of our lives.

  12. Past tense…very curious to know how you guys worked this one out. I've had a bad experience with a MID & eventually broke up. Now someone special has entered my life & I could use all the help I can get.

  13. The lamps now have shades and are in our apartment living room. When we purchase a house, they can go in "his office," where all the other things he likes can go. "Is my office going to be in the basement?" Oooh, good idea.

    No. We'll need to have his and hers offices. I want a framed Hermes scarf above my desk, a spot for an oversized ribbon memory board, and naturally a place for all my crafts, including a crafting table.

    Of course, this wasn't agreed upon orally. But it seems fair to me. As for the china patterns, we're still fighting it out. Though I hope he'll come to his senses.

  14. If merging lives requires that much compromise, me and him will definitely need separate living quarters.

  15. When I was married to the bad man – every excruciating detail of decor mattered tremendously. When he went away – I decorated my current house in my very own taste. That was 6 years ago. Now it is covered in skate boards, soccer uniforms, old water bottles, school papers and dust. And I couldn't care less. Odd. But good.

  16. "When do I get to go part time?" Exchanges like these drive home the fact that what I really want is equality when I want it, and traditional patriarchy when it's comforting or convenient."

    It's a funny world on the guy's side also. When it was just me working and my wife raising the kids, I heard a lot about how easy life was for me when deep-down inside, I'm pretty sure life is no easier or harder for either of us. Now that my wife is working, she knows full well that not only am I more than willing to take care of the house, I'm probably also better at it. I have no problem with equality, but I honestly believe that women in general gave up more than they got on this deal. A lot more.

  17. It sounds like you are depressed rather than streesed – not showering is a pretty classic symptom.

    You contradict yourself again and again – first, he wants traditional, you want modern, then the exact opposite. You say the ex-wife bought the lamps for him and also that they bought them together. Man, I feel sorry for HIM for having to deal with YOU. Women bitch and moan that men aren't interested in anything, don't help out, don't help make choices, and then the men that do get nothing but flack and pushback!

    I also don't understand why you are trying so desperately to have a kid. You're only 30, you haven't even known him a year, you're not even married (not that that matters). But it's just a sense that it's not right and won't be until there's a kid. Classic kiss of death! Best of luck!

  18. Why didn't his ex-wife take those lamps after their divorce? And more importantly why is he so attached to them? You're right though, he shouldn't care that much about the decorating, but he should have a little say in it, like for instance if you wanted a pink bedspread (not that you would) he should be able to say no, too girly. THAT'S design for the sexes.

  19. I'm echoing Karen Dennehy…figure out the fights worth fighting otherwise you'll beat each other up over every little thing.

  20. wow. i don't usually do much drooling over writing, because, well, you already know you're good, and besides, you don't need to be, because this is a journal.

    but that last line, the "I'm doing a lot more of that, thinking without speaking. You wouldn't know it though, listening to me go on"… it caught me off guard.

    beautiful, not like beautiful writing, but like a full breath of crisp air. like you had been talking and had just sheepishly smiled after.

    thank you. i like that.

  21. I find it interesting that you'd want the suitor to be with you when you test drive a car or when you negotiate. My husband & I each have our own parameters when choosing a car & each of us is happy not to have to deal with the other in this respect. He couldn't care less what the interior looks like or how luxurious the accoutrements; I want things just so & once rejected a car because of where the CD changer was placed. On the other hand, I've been so happy with my last few cars that I phoned in the order for the one I'm presently driving & didn't see it until the day it arrived.

    As for decorating…I'm one of the lucky ones whose husband is happy to go along with my choices, even willing to be surprised when the room is installed. Now his office….that's another story entirely. It's his domain & if it's a mess he expects me to keep my mouth shut. I don't always succeed, but I try. It'll work out, Stephanie. You'll close your eyes to those items you think are ugly, eventually moving them to another room, & he'll loosen his attempts at control once he's gotten his way initially.

  22. Tarina,

    Excellent post! It's true that we women want a patriarchy when it is convenient to us, and often balk if the shoe is on the other foot.

    Stephanie, I have a book recommendation for you and TS: "Saving Your Second Marriage Before It Starts: Nine Questions to Ask Before (and After) You Remarry" by Dr. Les Parrott III, Dr. Leslie Parrott. The book comes with his and her workbooks.

    My fiance and I are reading this book and doing the exercises as recommended by our couple's coach/therapist. We're doing pre-marital counseling to make sure we learn the necessary communication and problem solving tools before we remarry. We want to make sure we get it right this time; it's really helped us.

  23. "This is usually when I cry and prove that I am not at all a big girl."

    I'm glad I'm not the only one.

  24. He works from home, right? So I'm not surprised that he'd want to have some input. It's not just his home; it's his office.

    What kind of vehicle did you settle on?

  25. um, it's interesting that you see your parents' interactions and relationship (at least in this context) as ideal… since they got divorced, right?

  26. People divorce for different reasons. In many ways I see the flaws in my parents' marriage. I also see the good. Either way, I can choose to replicate, or I can reject things. They certainly didn't divorce over money, or decoration, or male and female roles. This I know.

    We grow up believing things should be a certain way, then we re-check things and hold it up against our lives. I want traditional when it works in my favor. I'm also full of contradictions. And imagine he still wants to marry me? I'm human; I'm not a math equation.

  27. JoeyB hit the nail on the head. You can't even get this guy to go car shopping with you, he yells and throws fits and talks about his "needs" (did his shrink teach him that?), AND he's attached to his ex-wife's lamps. This is one time when you SHOULD throw the baby (idea) out with the bathwater!

  28. Out of curiosity, is there anything in your home that you bought with your ex-husband? A chair, a book, a piece of art, anything? Or did you make a completely clean sweep of it when you divorced?

  29. "When I get upset like this, in my "everything is ugly and why am I with you anyway?" mood, I think back to when I first fell in love with him."

    Thanks so much for the reminder. These days, I really need to focus on the time I first fell in love with him too.

  30. I grew up in a "traditional" household in the suburbs- complete with warm cookies when I got home from school. My husband – divorced parents in NYC where both parents worked full time. Now we both have rebelled against that upbringing and he wants me to stay home with the kids and I know it would make me want to poke my eyes out. We both learned from the mistakes of our parents – the grass is always greener and all that…Also-he has full input as to how we decorate our first "us" house. Adjustment and compromise is what it's all about. It's what being a grown up means. Sounds like you are getting that-it's tough to do but worth it….

  31. I can't help but feel it's natural the guy would want some input… he has to live there too. I don't like my guy's taste in furniture – most of the time (dead ugly carpets). And he doesn't always like mine (antique elephant foot as flowerpot). So what? We just buy the stuff we both like. There's more than enough out there to choose from.
    Oh, has anyone seen the episode of 'Married with Children' where Peggy paints the bathroom pink when Al is away? Muhaha.

  32. My husband and I generally collaborate on everything from paint colors to decorating schemes to mowing the lawn. I make more than he does; he cleans a little bit more than I do (not because of the salary thing: he is just WAY better at it and LIKES doing it). I don't think that decorating is a woman's job, or that mowing the lawn is a man's job. I think they're the homeowners' jobs, and if your name is on that lease/mortgage, then you get input, too.

    I'm personally glad for his input into our home. I think his ideas make it a more beautiful and eclectic place. Thankfully, he never had anything that I considered "ugly," though there were a few things that didn't mesh with my style. We compromised on the things we didn't like (he sure didn't like a couple of the things I had!) and now we both love our home.

    Always focus on the good. It's a lot easier that way. I, too, would like to see a picture of the lamps.

  33. "I'm human; I'm not a math equation." Now you're talking honey. My (very) analytical man looks at everything as X+Y in order to find the Z. It can be so maddening!!

  34. Beautiful writing–love the last paragraph!

    I certainly have a thing or two from my marriage. Now divorced 13 years, I realize that it wasn't about wanting a particular thing from the marriage, but the sense of victory in getting it — it's a trophy from a fight that I never thought I'd have with someone who never cared about the Thing while we both owned it.

    As for the dishes: it sounds like you cook and throw parties as much as I do. Trust me, you will own many sets of dishes (I think I'm down to 4). Register for both china patterns.

  35. He sounds like a jerk, but of course you can't see that. I have a friend who also likes jerks. I'd say to break up with him, but honestly, the next one you hooked up with would be the exact same. Grow up, Stephanie, before you bring a child into the world. The two of you would be better off sparring on reality TV than as parents.

  36. There will likely be no basement in Austin. I guess you haven't done that much house-hunting yet. Being from the north originally, my husband just wants a "man-cave" basement to be very cold, dark and filled with games. They aren't common here. Sadly, the suitor's office will probably not be as tucked away as you'd both like. You've referred to basements in other postings, so I thought it was time to face the sad basement-less fact.

  37. Bobette is right. Register for both. You'll own many sets of china over the years, some of which will be incomplete due to breakage. I think I have 7(!) including my mother's, my mother-in-law's, & those I couldn't live without.

  38. You're doing it, girl! It's never easy or un-messy. I appreciate the honesty of this entry. It sounds like he is man enough to help you to mature and that is HUGE. We all need a mate who loves us enough to help us navigate becoming big girls.

  39. Man, if you think you've got an opinionated metrosexual on your hands, just wait until you start planning th wedding. Speaking from experience.

  40. If (god forbid) he wasn't there tomorrow, I bet you'd move those lamps onto your nightstand.

  41. my husband and i have been together since before we had a chance to accumulate too many personal/material possessions. but we brought our own ugly into the relationship – things from our past – baggage if you will.

    its like the double negatives you talked about. and two people's ugly can make one combined beautiful. way to give a little.


  42. Be thankful it isn't the Labatt’s mirror that he got in college… He is 45 now. That being said, he keeps it in the garage. Along with the other signs that he finds *funny* and I find distasteful.

    Regardless of our age, relationships or upbringing, we all bring *ugly* with us. My husband wasn’t married before, I was, but we both have ample ugly. It becomes less important every day … especially now that we have children together.

    I find it surprising that so many are willing to judge your relationship with the Suitor. Isn’t this your *free* space? The place where you can just blow off steam? If everyone heard me talk about my husband they would assume that he was a *jerk* too, and some days he is … ME TOO! But mostly he is just human … and when I talk about him I generally fail to mention the good stuff or better yet, MY bad stuff.

    You seem to be very intelligent and GOOD … you and he will be just fine!

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