So my block recently had a stoop sale, which is the Brooklyn equivalent of a yard sale. We’ve half-heartedly participated in these before, but this time I was determined to do a major house purge. Up from the basement came the massive plastic dollhouse with life-like doorbell sound, the de rigueur girly purple bike, pounds of clothes–including many darling toddler-sized dresses–and a stack of self-help paperbacks that have given it their very best. My 11-year-old and I arranged everything artfully and greedily awaited our customers.
Within a couple of hours, we’d sold the bike and all the cute dresses (over which a few moms almost came to blows). Talk about a win-win! People were handing over U.S. dollars to relieve me of burdensome crap. It was so intoxicating that I kept running into the house, frantically grabbing more things to sell–old chairs, redundant tank tops and jeans that never fit right and never will, bent forks, tired tablecloths. At the height of my frenzy, I almost dragged out our pets (2 guinea pigs; 2 cockatiels) and hung a price tag on them. (How about wedding photos, baby pix, kindergarten art work, my high school lab notebooks? Buy one, get one free!)
In the end, we made almost $120 (which I stupidly promised my kids we’d put toward a new TV), bonded a bit with our block-mates, and managed to spend only $10.50 on our neighbors’ cast-offs (ice cream maker, hand vacuum and kitschy angel statue).
But now I want more–I mean, less. Much less. I’ve become allergic to quantity. Opening my shirt drawer makes me feel ill. Who needs that many crappy t-shirts, all that dyed cotton? Even the word plethora repels me. I want to invest in a few “classic” pieces of clothing and essentially wear a uniform like the truly elegant older women do. I want to be loyal to one tasteful, beautifully-packaged organic brand of soap and shampoo and ditch the 30 or so half-empty bottles of gooey drugstore hair products that infect our bathroom. (Two teen/tween girls = Not going to happen) I look at everything in my house with a new eye toward goodbye. I am the anti-hoarder.
And then there’s that emotionally-loaded subset of stuff known as memorabilia. I am hyper-aware, almost phobic in fact, about the things my kids might find if something were to “happen” to me, as the euphemism goes. I have thrown out some old journals and photos, but there are more. Do my kids really need to read about that night at CBGB’s when I was 20? Do I? Would I feel more complete or less so if I tossed all of that in an effort to lose weight from my psyche?
Maybe our next event should be a bonfire.
This is not mine, btw.
This past weekend I decided to wear a bracelet that I haven’t worn in years. No big deal, really, except that the bracelet was from R, and for a long time I boycotted most of the jewelry he gave me in a misplaced, don’t-mention-the-war type attempt to protect myself from sentiment. (Plus, the books say that removing physical reminders of the spouse is necessary to heal and rebuild.)
The downside of my jewelry boycott (mancott?), though, is that I have been wearing the same wimpy handful of non-R-associated necklaces and earrings for two years now and I’m getting bored. About 80 percent of my jewelry collection was given to me by R, and,whatever one may or may not think about the man’s other facets (tee hee—get it, facets?), one can’t deny that he had excellent taste in baubles. In fact, it instilled in other females the kind of awe and envy that is usually reserved for that lone remarkable dad pushing his kid on a swing at the playground on a weekday morning.
My friends routinely expressed amazement. “R got you that? He picked it out himself? All by himself?” Then would come the sad stories of having to return–or, worse, keep–ill-chosen husbandly gifts of jewelry, or of having to actually accompany one’s husband to the store so as to avoid faking an “Oh, honey, I love it!” moment.
I never understood this stereotypical cluelessness among men, because it seems that if someone truly knows you, he also gets your style and sensibility. Right? It’s so simple. (The truth is that toward the end of our marriage, R’s jewelry prowess began to falter, and I ended up returning a pair of whimsical, but not wearable, antler-shaped earrings. Something was clearly amiss.)
At one point during those stormy pre-separation months, I weepily gathered every last bit of jewelry that R had ever given me into a tangly mass and chucked it into the wastepaper basket next to his dresser. Fortunately, a sliver of my rational brain was still functioning and knew I would regret that move. I dug it out and tossed it into a drawer instead.
And now that I’ve lifted the ban, it’s like I have all this new jewelry! There are a few key pieces that give me a pang, but it’s amazing how time has diluted most of the voodoo.
Once I found the bracelet, I started sifting through the other stuff. I even reluctantly opened the gray suede box that now serves as a tiny coffin for my wedding and engagement rings. I put the engagement ring—one of my favorite pieces of jewelry (and yes, R chose it all by himself)—on the ring finger of my right hand. Then I put it back in the box because that one’s still a little fraught, plus it seems wrong to wear a symbol of a marriage-to-be when the marriage is now a has-been. But IS there any real reason not to wear it, now that it’s not so much my engagement ring as just a pretty ring that happens to have been given to me during a prior engagement?
What do you think?
Once again, the blogosphere threw me a bone. Just when I was feeling low on inspiration, Sunday’s New York Times Magazine landed with a thump at my front door and begged for my attention. So, thank you, Elizabeth Weil, for writing Married (Happily) With Issues (and, btw, feel free to introduce me to your editor because I’ve always wanted to write for the Magazine; actually, I got close once, but then…oh, never mind.)
The article chronicles Weil’s foray into marital therapy with her husband–only they engage in it before they’re on the verge of divorce. According to Weil, by the time most couples enter therapy, they have been unhappy for six years, making the endeavor futile. So kudos to her for trying to nip that shit in the bud (and sorry for cursing, but it felt necessary). Seriously, I’d estimate that 90 percent of couples I know who have gone to marriage therapy have ultimately ended up in Splitsville anyway.
Weil’s marriage follows the standard script: Boy and girl fall in love during their clueless, carefree 20s, get married, skip around and play house for a while until the game turns serious. Then they have babies and lose sleep and spend the next few years singing the Alphabet Song and groggily emptying the Diaper Genie until–surprise–one day they emerge from the fog and notice that the romance has mysteriously departed from their relationship.
Which is not to say that the kids are to blame, because of course we all love our kids and they add immeasurably to our lives and we can’t imagine a world without them (there’s also that pesky biological drive to perpetuate the species).
Ultimately, Weil concludes that maybe the “good-enough” marriage is, well, good enough. She asks what, exactly, a better marriage would look like: “More happiness? Intimacy? Stability? Laughter? Fewer fights? A smoother partnership? More intriguing conversation? More excellent sex? Our goal and how to reach it were strangely unclear.”
Now I’ll confess that my goal in writing this blog post and how to reach it are also strangely unclear. I’ve been mulling this what-is-a-happy-marriage stuff over and have not come up with satisfactory answers. I do, however, have a few new questions inspired by Weil’s piece:
OK–your turn. What are your questions and/or answers on this subject? My inquiring mind must know.
Being Mrs. Don Draper could turn anyone into a Mad Woman.
I’ve been toying with writing a Mad Men-inspired post for weeks, and now that the season finale has occurred (leaving so many of us questioning if life is worth living until the show resumes next summer), it’s time to get down to it. The show is so chock-full of marital woes that it would be irresponsible for me not to weigh in.
(Oh–here’s the part where I warn you that I will be revealing plot details–aka, “spoilers.” If that matters to you, stop reading, go back to whatever it was you were doing, and come back when you’re caught up.)
Cripes, could there be a more miserable portrayal of matrimony than the unions depicted on Mad Men? I mean, the writers won’t even pretend that there was such a thing as a happy, fulfilling marriage in the early 1960s. It’s just one smoky, alcohol-soaked, sexist nightmare after the next. Let’s have a look:
You might have noticed that a craving for order is a persistent theme in my recent posts. I thrived on the structured life I enjoyed at summer camp. Then came my blatant convent envy. Today, I celebrate the mother of all mental-chaos tamers: Ikea.
Was it coincidence that a new store opened right near me the same week that R moved out? I think not. I go there when I need to escape the madding crowd of clutter in my house and my head.
Shortly after R left, I entered a brief, semi-euphoric, whoopee-I’m-a-single-gal-now phase–which necessitated, among other things, an urgent bedroom makeover. Sleeping alone in a queen-sized bed was sort of sad, but it was exciting to have a room all to myself for the first time since 1990. (In fact, who decided married couples should share a room?)
During my marriage, I was unofficially in charge of home decor, but I tried not to impose too much femininity on our bedroom since only one of us was feminine. A few years ago, I fought my urge for lilac walls and pretty white things and chose a moldy green shade of paint, just to prove that I did not have a girly agenda. I now see that being enveloped by that ghastly hue night after night certainly cannot have helped our marriage.
That first post-separation trip to Ikea yielded, interestingly, a lot of round items–a couple of Ringum rugs, two Korda mirrors and the Ofelia duvet cover–all for around $100! Oh– and some nice ropey baskets to corral toiletries. And a sisal-ish rug for our back porch. And hundreds of things I never knew I needed until I was sucked into the vortex known as the Ikea Marketplace.
Since then, I have returned to the store several times, always soothed by the cheerful, orderly faux rooms with their drawers and shelves and cabinets and other forms of flimsily-made containment.
Today was an Ikea day. We’ve been transforming our third floor into a rental apartment, which means our remaining two floors are overrun with boxes of stuff, crap and junk that used to be upstairs.
After fretting about whether it would be worse to increase my credit card debt or to remain in this fragile disorganized state, I decided to make a pilgrimage to the blue-and-yellow temple. (I mean, really, it’s almost like getting stuff for free when you shop there.)
My goal was to find a sideboard for my dining area. It would house my marital silverware, tablecloths and other whatnot that the woman gets to keep.
As I entered the store, that familiar Swedish calm came over me. It was a weekday morning, so it was empty. The showroom was perfectly air-conditioned and orderly, and–freakishly enough–there was actually a tow-headed Scandinavian family shopping and chatting in a mysterious tongue. The Marketplace was, as usual, a more fraught experience and, once again, I was forced to buy things like placemats and trays and little boxes (fortunately, they have a good return policy.)
I didn’t purchase a sideboard (though I think I want a Besta combination when the time comes), but I did leave with restored faith that there is almost always a way out of chaos.
Today is the seventeenth anniversary of my wedding to R and a week after the first anniversary of our separation. Seventeen years ago, my finger joyfully received that little band of gold with the tiny diamonds in it. If you’ve been reading this since the beginning, you’ll recall that one year ago today I removed said little band with much sturm und drang.
This is also my 20th blog post (!), so it seems like an all-around obvious time to take stock.
Let’s start with some of the things I don’t like about being an unmarried woman:
OK, enough with the poor-me stuff. Let’s try to see the champagne glass as half full, shall we?