I’ve been married a long time now. 11 years last August. Okay. Not a long time in terms of, say, dinosaurs roaming the earth (165 million years) or even those Old West marriages where people married at 12 and stayed married 70 years provided they didn’t die of influenza, rattlesnake bites or their prairie skirts catching fire. Still, 11 years is impressive if you consider the fact that I’m carrying on a marriage IN Los Angeles… D-I-V-O-R-C-E central.
That’s all a long-winded preface to my point that – after a few years and a few kids, married couples usually get pretty complacent. And in fact, pretty much start going through the motions by rote. Yes, even sex. And it isn’t until life tests them in some way that they get a true sense of the foundation upon which the marriage is built. Tests such as job loss, the death of parent or furniture requiring assembly.
Any of these things can make or break a marriage. Especially the latter which is why, I’m convinced, most couples after marriage, stop shopping at IKEA.
Randy the perfekt husband and I did. Post-nuptials we began buying our furniture at places like MACY’s or ETHAN ALLEN where they deliver things FULLY ASSEMBLED – at a greatly increased price, natch. But hey, we were responsible grown-ups now. Besides, the marriage was fresh. Too soon for any major tests.
Well, flash forward to 11 years later. Recently, just before the holidays I fell in love with and BOUGHT a dining room set from, of all places COST PLUS.
Now let’s be frank. Cost Plus is simply the Ikea for tonally darker tastes. Instead of blonde furniture with names like Mitvig and Bjorkvalla, the furniture comes in colors like Espresso and Black with names like Sourav. Instead of Sweden, the items are manufactured in India. Instead of being translated from English (which all the Nordic countries seem to speak with fluency) the instructions are translated from Hindi to Chinese to English, which ultimately means jibberish. But for all intents and purposes, when it comes to price, lack of delivery options and necessity of assemblage by purchaser, these two places ARE THE SAME.
Putting together this dining room set, with sideboard and 8 chairs was a daunting and emotional test that, truthfully, could have gone either way.
We’d had a near-miss furniture assembly life-test a few years back. We had purchased a bed for Julia from, yes, IKEA. I know. I know. You’re thinking. I thought they swore off Ikea! Well, we’d just had a baby. A baby that cost us a helluva lot more than we thought it would. I mean how many diapers can a new baby go through in a year? Turns out it’s around 10,000.
Anyway, we were trying to save money. We were weak! We found ourselves roaming the the convoluted aromatically meatballed walkways of our old haunt and actually purchasing a bed.
After we got it home (ourselves) and opened it up, my immediate thought was “why don’t we just draw up the final divorce papers already?” I mean, what is it with the Swedes that a simple bed has over 400 pieces? Is it the bleakness of their landscape that makes them crave complexity? Isn’t having to figure out the meaning of Bergman’s “Cries and Whispers” challenge enough?
I’ll admit, at the time I wasn’t secure enough in myself, my marriage or my ability to hold a slat straight enough to please my husband who, in addition to being perfekt, is also a perfektionist. Also, I still hadn’t lost my baby weight which made me really cranky.
But alas, the marriage was to continue, untested. Because as it turned out the assembly of the bed coincided with a visit from Randy’s folks to see our new house which meant Randy could recruit his father BILL, whence the perfektionist gene had originally sprung. And let me say, it was a grueling 8 hour marathon of bed building that nearly ended their multi-decade relationship. They’ve only just recently been able to look at that bed without old animosities bubbling to the surface.
So it was back to REAL furniture stores for for us. Until I saw that dining room table. And my desire for it outweighted any fear I had for my marriage. Call it maturity. Call it devil-may-care. Call it “I was of a certain age” and DESERVED that set. But the fact was that the furniture assembly test I had managed to avoid all these years had finally come. And I couldn’t get out of it this time. Randy’s dad had no plans to visit anytime soon. And even if he did, he had long since sworn off furniture building. So I had to put up or shut up because I CHOSE that dining room set. The one that took multiple trips to get home. The one that had the words HEAVY FURNITURE – TEAM LIFT REQUIRED stamped all over the boxes.
Despite my resolve to HAVE THAT DINING ROOM SET, once I opened the boxes, I got really scared. The dining table and the sideboard weren’t so bad. Except for the part where I didn’t hold up my end of the 120 pound table and it ended up on Randy’s toe. But he has ten of those, so I was good. But then there were the chairs. 24 pieces of hardware x 8. That’s 192 pieces!
And wanting desperately to make the whole process go as smoothly as possible, while Randy was at work I took all the chairs out of their boxes. Put all the bottoms in one pile. All the backs in another. So we could do it assembly-line style. BIG MISTAKE! Because “handcrafted in India” actually means each chair is unique in its, shall we call them, mistakes? The screw holes varied from chair to chair. So we spent hours trying to line up backs with bottoms that belonged together. This caused much irritation on Randy’s part and considerable defensiveness on my part. Two big buttons that should NOT be pushed simultaneously. But ultimately, to my surprise, even Randy had to admit, having grown up in a cookie cutter society, that he hadn’t foreseen this problem. I told my attorney I’d call her back.
Once we got the tops and bottoms back with their original partners, to my great shock, things went amazingly smoothly.
In fact, somewhere around chair 3 Randy and I became like a surgical team. He – the surgeon. Me, the surgeon’s very attractive head nurse. I was anticipating his every move. I knew which part he wanted even before he knew it. I was so there. WE were so there. Working, screwing, as one. Well, you know what I mean. And we put all eight of those chairs together and there was a great sense of accomplishment… and relief that we had survived such a grueling test.
And a thrill discovering that after all these years we were not only up to the test, we were yin-ing and yanging each other. We had forged an unspoken bond. The kind usually only found between mother whales and their calves or college roommates during a game of TABOO where they only need to throw out a one word hint to get their partner to guess it.
During the 11 years of our marriage, Randy and I had unknowingly formed that bond. And, I’ll admit it, it was a turn-on. And the result was that our new dining table wasn’t the only bit of furniture that got a LOT of use that week.
Okay. So it’s a little goofy that the booze and clandestine meetings of our youth have been replaced by “furniture assembly” as an aphrodisiac in our relationship. But then as you get older, your tastes change. You go from blonde wood to dark. From fear to surprise. And from complacent to assured. I think THAT’S what they call maturity.