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.