Of Friends and Furniture

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A friend recently mentioned to me that certain problems he's facing in a relationship are due in part to the fact that he too quickly arrives at the point "where you see the other person as a comfortable old piece of furniture you can take for granted and don't really have to think about."

I contemplated this notion a moment before speaking. "I don't think I've ever gotten to that point," I said.

The friend settled back in his chair, which was not particularly comfortable. "Really," he said archly. It was a skeptical challenge more than a curious request for information.

"Really," I said. "It has to do both with how I see people and how I see furniture. It's not at all that I'm a nicer person than you or anything, because the point I arrive at is the point where I think, ‘You are an ugly piece of junk and I can't bear looking at you any more and my life would be so much better if I could get you out of my house and replace you with something that isn't hideous and uncomfortable,' which is how I feel about the couch I have right now. I hate my couch. I just hate it. It was old to begin with and now my cat has shredded most of the upholstery. I really want to throw it out and replace it."

I have thought about the conversation in the days since it happened. It has helped me understand something about what I want from the people I rely on and the objects I recline on, and how I need to respect both.

It's hard not to take furniture for granted, in that you expect to come home and find it where you left it. But I have furniture I really like--my bed, for instance--and I still feel pleasure contemplating it. First of all, the frame has sentimental value: a double, it was the frame my parents bought when they first got married, and it was bequeathed to me in 1980 when I was a senior in high school. Secondly, the mattress is relatively new and very comfortable. Third, I maintain my bed in a way that gives me pleasure: I make it every morning shortly after I get out of it so it looks nice all day, and I like the bedspread (dark green chenille) and pillows with which I adorn it. Finally, I like sleep, so it's rewarding to head to my bed at the end of the day. So I don't think it can be said that I fail to treat my bed with the respect it is due, which is what really happens when you take something for granted.

Maybe part of what makes it easy for me not to take my dearest friends for granted is that I expect them to be worthy of my respect in that they should not be evil people who lie, cheat, steal and talk crap about stuff they don't understand; instead, I try to choose friends who are thoughtful decent people with interesting ideas about the world and the ability to express and explore those ideas. I don't like to hang out with people who are erratic or unreliable, because such people are annoying and hard to deal with, but I do like people who surprise and challenge me intellectually. I don't need a lot of variety in terms of activities or venues for those activities if what a friend has to say over dinner or after a movie amuses, informs or stimulates me. But if someone's an asshole with nothing interesting to say, I can't maintain respect for him/her. I find it hard to integrate people or things I don't respect into the landscape of my life; instead of finding them comfortable and familiar, I find them bothersome at best and loathsome at worst, and I want them to go away.

My couch is a loathsome object with nothing to say to me that I care to hear. Right now, none of my friends remind me of that couch, and that makes me happy.

4 Comments

Erik Satie's music was sometimes described as "wallpaper music." Satie wanted to write music that would be pleasant and unobtrusive; Brian Eno took some inspiration from this when he started composing his ambient music. I think Eno's ambient music genuinely fades into the background; it's not really for listening. Not Satie, though: you can put his piano music on as background to a dinner conversation and I believe it actually makes the conversation go better. And if you sit down with it and listen closely, it gives you a conversation all on its own, with surprises and humour and much that you might not have heard before.

I kind of hate wallpaper, in part because it makes a wall demand your attention. Is that what a wall is for? I don't agree with the characterization of Satie's music as "wallpaper music" because it rewards you for the attention you pay to it but at the same time, it can just be the comfortable chair you sit in or the warm sweater you wear when conversing. I admire the care you invest in your furniture and your friends -- may they always reward your attentions with joy and stimulation, and may they never turn into wallpaper.

This is such an interesting comparison: people, furniture and relationships. I expect we have varied expectations of our furnishings. Some pieces might be cheery, others might me cozy. Some might be formal and/or welcoming for guests, and others might be secret favorites, old and worn, but beloved.

I really like how you describe your relationship with your bed. The various values you have given it - physical and emotional.

In general, I adore old pieces that are scarred and marred and have a long history to them. And I especially enjoy the familiarity of those pieces that have journeyed awhile with me.

I shop for "new" furniture at antique or thrift stores. Anything truly brand-new just wouldn’t fit with the rest of the group. But I’m not sure what this says about my relationships. I’ll have to think on that.

P.S. You really must get yourself a new couch!

I find the people/furniture metaphor sort of works for me, but I think maybe just people/general household objects would be more accurate in my case. Once in a while I go through my place and throw out all the crap that only just serves to bug me - and I think I do the same with acquaintances once in a while, too. ie - if someone's done nothing but piss me off for the last few years, I'll scratch them off my little "friendy-friend" list. Probably what gets people taken off my "friend" list the quickest is this: making plans to do stuff, then canceling at the last minute, and doing that on a regular basis.

I have way more furniture than friends, which is weird because I live in a small space. I have a hard time getting rid of furniture that I don't like because it seems like too much trouble. But I can lock people out in an instant...

Perhaps if my friends behaved more like my furniture, they would still be around. Passivity is largely ignorable.

But you, Holly, are like the most fabulous couch in the world!

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on March 28, 2006 11:18 AM.

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