I just moved back to the United States at the end of the summer. That means new adventures and much excitement around finding a place of my own here. It also means after 6 years of traveling and not owning much more than two suitcases full of stuff, completely furnishing a 1,400 sq. ft apartment in a 300-year-old building. Mega high ceilings, hardwood floors, gorgeous period windows, and two fireplaces have my creative juices flowing!! So, to deal with all that extra creative energy, my BFF (with whom I am currently living, is my soul-mate and partner in crime, not to mention life partner) and I went furniture shopping. Now, if you’ve never been furniture shopping in the USA it is something to behold. I never knew until I traveled around the world that our “furniture warehouses” are a “thing” and very North American. It’s a phenomenon I haven’t seen anywhere else.
This past weekend, I experienced an overwhelming reintroduction to the world of furniture shopping – USA Style. Good lord, did we have a lot of fun! The first bit I just wandered around, mouth open, shocked at the abundance. But then we settled in and started ticking things off the list of items need for this new apartment of mine (AKA EVERYTHING!) It was fun and exciting to think of new beginnings, to plan for a new life, consider starting over. When we were finally done, wiped out from all the excitement, we had to walk through the last part of the showroom, an area we had not yet perused. As we walked, exhausted and happy, kind of a “post-party high,” I saw a leather reclining love seat, with a cup-holder in the middle. We decided to sit in the seat for a minute and rest before heading out
“You know, my ex and I bought a set almost exactly like this when we were together,” I told my BFF.
Then a flash of realization hit me, “I should have known it was the end!”
The “love” seat was a leather two-seater where each seat reclines and there is a large armrest with cup holders in the middle. The couch it replaced was a super cozy small apartment-style sofa, with big soft cushions, wide enough for sleeping, and especially comfortable for snuggling. Until then we had spent many an hour close together, snuggled on the couch living out life together. But now, we were in trouble. We were buying a house, moving from a perfectly comfortable two-bedroom apartment to a full house with a yard and all that comes with homeownership. Negotiating the way we were going to live our lives when we weren’t in a downtown Minneapolis apartment, but a suburban home wasn’t going well. Our ideas of what I should manage because I was home all day- working from home- and what his responsibilities would be, varied wildly. Our inability to have a child and fill that house was weighing on us both, and his drinking was spiraling rapidly.
Looking back, I can see that even though we said that the new couch was to put in the family room at the new house, it really was a way to have a bit of separation in our current life. He was usually pretty insistent that I spend all of my “free-time” in our home in the same room or area he was in. So if he was watching TV, I was expected to join him on the couch and watch TV too. I couldn’t be on my phone or do my own thing, or he felt offended. (I did a lot of texting when he went to the bathroom just to stay in touch with friends and family.) This was fun and felt loving when we were falling in love and our relationship was solid. But now? It was incredibly stifling.
The new expensive leather loveseat, (which I was paying for, with my money- we kept our money separate) would literally give me space away from him while we were hanging out together. No more feeling bad because I wasn’t cuddled up next to him because I couldn’t get close now with the armrest between us. No more using my legs as a barrier or try to keep my glass in the hand on his side so he couldn’t get close. This loveseat was a literal physical way to keep separate us from one another, a sign that things were not going well in our little neck of the woods. I realized this past weekend, sitting there with my BFF, happy, and full of joy in my life, the loveseat was a physical manifestation of the walls I had been constructing in my marriage.
As I shared this revelation with my BFF, she just laughed out loud and said, “OMG me too! When we went from a sofa to two recliners, it was all over from there!” She had the same experience with her own ex-husband. Going from being comfortable sitting close to one another, breathing the same air, bodies touching, to separate seating spaces was – in retrospect- an indication of the health of the relationship. Their relationship didn’t last long past the purchase of the separate chairs, just like mine didn’t make it long past the love seat.
Sometimes a furniture purchase is just a furniture purchase, but sometimes it’s a portent of bigger issues. I think I knew, even then, buying the loveseat was a way for me to gain some separation from my husband. I needed some of my own space. (I already had built a body pillow wall between us in our California king bed.) However, we were moving resolutely forward, despite both of us having some misgiving about the home purchase, and furniture was something we needed, so it “made sense.” The loveseat allowed us to continue the illusion that everything was ok and we didn’t have to face the issues in our relationship or make an effort to fix them. But I think everyone does that in relationships to some extent, we pretend, we move forward regardless, we make everything look good and seem ok, even when maybe not even so deep down, they aren’t.
If I had been more aware, maybe I could have expressed that I had a need for more independence. Maybe I could have tried to make plans to do more things on my own. Though I now know his abandonment issues were so deep and his self-esteem so low, that any attempt I made to carve out space for myself was met with resistance and eventually abusive anger and more isolation. But maybe, if I had tried to take some of my autonomy back earlier, I would have been able to leave the relationship earlier and not after we had already done everything we needed to buy the new house, except sign the paperwork. (Thank god we were able to get out of it, just a few more days and it would have been impossible and I could have been stuck in that relationship, pretending to be ok for a lot longer.)
I think it’s important to be self-aware, to constantly evaluate where you are in any given moment, within a relationship, within yourself. One of the things I learned after my divorce and in the rebirth of my life, is to know me, know what I want and I am always learning how to better express those thoughts and boundaries. An expensive furniture purchase that I didn’t need, might never have happened had I been more in touch with my own feelings and not trying to ignore the problems in my marriage. Relationships can be tricky, failing ones even more so. When to say “enough is enough” is a difficult decision no matter what your circumstances. I wish I had been brave enough and aware enough to recognize that trading our sofa for a two-seater was just another sign that it was already over.
Has something like this ever happened to you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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