The old me was pretty intolerant ... just ask my ex. I wasn't keen on having Betty (his 1960s mannequin-cum-art project who wore a gas mask that was a prop from my ex's days in an industrial band) in the living room. There was also the matter of his Mr. Yoshida (yes, "there really is a Mr. Yoshida") box art that I eventually framed, but still didn't want in the common areas. In the end, our incompatibilities weren't just about his kitsch-and-post-industrial, plexiglass-and-steel aesthetic and my love of wood and natural fibers.
Nowadays, I'd like to believe that I'm more willing to accept an aesthetic that differs from my own. I suspect that the next time I shack up with a significant other, I'll be willing to paint walls and rearrange rooms and cabinets. I'll also be open to getting rid of some furniture in favor of buying things together. Part of it is that spatial equality will help make it seem less like one person moving into another person's space and more about making a home together.
But let's be honest ... I'm not above upgrading my stained old couch and equipping a kick-ass kitchen, one shared object at a time.
Close to Home: Welcome to My World, O My Beloved. Don’t Bring Your Stuff.
By HENRY ALFORD
Published: March 22, 2007
WITH age I widen, and not just bodily. Recently, despite the fact that I’ve never lived with a romantic partner before, a surge of affection — affection underscored by 44 years of on-and-off loneliness — led me to invite my boyfriend, Greg, to move into my 800-square-foot Greenwich Village apartment.
To honor the occasion, I proposed that we take a page from the playbook of Joan Crawford, who replaced all the toilet seats in her home after each of her marriages. At Bed Bath & Beyond one Thursday night, I told Greg, “Let’s pick the bath towel that’s going to represent the Greg Years.”
After Greg nixed a variety of Wamsutta offerings — terming them “not nice enough for our symbolic relationship towels” — and I clucked in disapproval at some slightly wanton Nicole Miller numbers with sparkly silver threads in them, we finally bought some fluffy white Lenox towels, 70 percent cotton and 30 percent bamboo. The Greg Years: Fluffy, White and Threaded With Bamboo.
It took us four years to get to towel-buying. In the past I’ve wiggled out of living with a partner largely because I work at home, but also because I am self-involved, mercurial and comfortable eating dinners of frozen waffles in my underpants. In 1997, when Jess, my boyfriend of eight years, got a job in Los Angeles, I commuted back and forth across the country for a year, unable to let go of my apartment in New York: I had to have an out. Even with Greg, with whom I started to think about settling down after just a few months, I worried that the carrot, once eaten, might taste like a stick.
Because my apartment is actually two railroad-style apartments joined by a walk-in closet, it lends itself to bifurcation, and in our early discussions about living together we — well, mostly I — talked about “my side” and “your side.” Knowing that we could close the door on one another in the unlikely event that things soured was my anxiety’s prophylactic. I spoke of the benefits of a living arrangement like Woody and Mia’s, when they lived on either side of Central Park, but then realized this might not be the best example.
I knew that in an ideal world, I would give Greg half of the apartment. But I am something of a pack rat, and as soon as I started the week-long process of cleaning out my closets — which I had not done in 16 years — I quickly saw that one-half was overly optimistic. I waved a warning flag, and Greg nimbly rallied, giving many of his furnishings away to friends and charities.
Even his remaining things, however, would require vetting. Because he was moving into established décor, it was clear, at least to me, that some of his possessions and furnishings would blend well and others wouldn’t. I was inviting Greg and the cats to live with me, but I was not inviting the drunk bandolero in the black velvet painting, nor his donkey, nor their friend, the bug-eyed Joey Heatherton lookalike with the teardrop the size of her head. However, I did want all Greg’s reference books (he is a former New Yorker fact-checker, and these tomes might do much to maintain standards). I like to think that I’m broad-minded and open and welcoming, and that my hand-carved Balinese animal heads and my gilded pier mirror and my portrait gallery of paintings and my Moroccan kilims and my collection of dried fruit and dried garlic “characters” bear this out. But I’m about as open as a burka.
Reader, how did I broker these subtle divergences of style and taste? Two words: tap dance. When he proposed building shelves or rearranging furniture, I masked my resistance with a lot of aggressive head-nodding. He could have died from the encouragement. But my subsequent inaction betrayed my true desires: no shelves and no furniture rearranging. Passive aggression triumphed.
I soldiered on with my closets, unearthing, among other things, an uncashed check for $17.48, and then another for $7,632. My cheeks burned with shame. Next, an obscured shelf held a large drinking glass full of loose change, and then 12 more such vessels, which together would yield $722.51. Encountering all this hidden, hoarded money fairly screamed “life lesson” to me.
Greg and his two cats, about whom I’d fretted, moved in seamlessly, aided by a corps of grunting, shoulder-y men. On the first night, all my anxieties about the cats melted when the needier of them, an oddball Siamese named Hot Rod, fell asleep in my arms: once you have Pietà-ed, you cannot look back. I was a father now.
But on Night 2, sitting with Greg in the living room after dinner, I had the strange sensation that he was waiting for me to initiate conversation or an activity with him, so I stood and walked into the bedroom, where I started putting photos in my scrapbook. Five minutes later, Greg showed up bedside, with a puzzled expression. “I’m trying to escape the guest-host paradigm by ignoring you,” I explained.
He smiled bleakly. “Thanks,” he said.
Two days later I upped the ante by preparing a meal for myself without asking him if he, too, was hungry. “See,” I wanted to say, “it can be fun to ignore each other!”
I wondered if there would be a backlash to my declarations of independence. But the closest that Greg, ever forbearing, has gotten to dissent was his comment about a heavily faded piece of pale pink lace that I use as a curtain: “This is a little matronly for me.”
“But I apply powder to it nightly,” I protested. Down came the curtain, replaced with a colorful silk throw Greg’s mother had given him.
He has also cast a few aspersions at my predilection for low-yield interest rates. This was only to be expected, I’m sure; not everyone understands the appeal of having 38 pounds of nickels at hand.
It is now Night 79, and Greg and I have yet to have a squabble or a cross word with one another. We have, however, had a telephone conversation about toothpaste preferences, and a discussion about the eerie textural similarities between sisal rugs and Triscuits. Moreover, I live in fear and awe of a man who recycles envelopes and stray magazine subscription cards. (That slight tug you feel at the bottom of this page of newspaper you’re reading? It’s Greg, eager to start bundling.) But we have our bath towels, and together we will build a bamboo forest where cats can doze and I can make extravagant displays of ignoring the man I love. We haven’t used the terms “my side” and “your side” in over a month. The Greg Years: They’ll probably last forever.