Everything I Know About A Lasting Relationship I Learned From A Sponge A Trip to IKEA Demonstrates the Keys to Lasting Love

Everything I Know About A Lasting Relationship I Learned From A Sponge A Trip to IKEA Demonstrates the Keys to Lasting Love

I’m going to digress slightly from my normal format here to tell a little story. This is the story of how two people in a lasting relationship can know each other so well that they learn, over time, to anticipate conflict and resolve it long before it becomes a problem.

My story begins in that place so famous for teaching couples how they relate to each other through a subtle but definite trial by fire; a day in IKEA. Let me begin with a few words to elaborate, on the off chance you haven’t visited or are not familiar with IKEA.

While I’m fairly certain this Scandinavian furniture outlet did not begin with the intention to separate or forever bond couples, it nonetheless has shown over the years to be a spectacular proving ground for relationships. The immensely cavernous stores (which make Walmart look quaint by comparison) take hours to properly navigate and carry absolutely every  lamp, kitchen utensil, bedspread, hutch, window shade,  organizer, potholder or knickknack that any modern household could possibly require, along with thousands of other items that demonstrate the vast differences in our collective taste as a culture.

A small piece of advice – if you want to know your odds for a lasting relationship with your partner, plan a day at IKEA. There you will learn your partner’s true yearnings. Learn their favorite colors, their favored fabric patterns, their preference for lace, wood or metal, and which type of lighting they really feel will best complement your bathroom tiles. Here you will discover a plethora of products that provide you and your mate a feeling of bliss or a gnawing feeling that you just don’t have that much in common. Yes, IKEA is a great first date, and it can also be a last one.

A few years back I had the opportunity to visit an IKEA store with my aging parents. I was already familiar with the idea of IKEA as much more than just a store, so I was quite eager to observe my folks navigating through this labyrinth of decisions and tapestries.

Imagine, if you will, two people who have been staring at each other for well over 50 years now. Imagine, too, that their livelihood has been achieved through teaching others how to navigate through life. I think I would be remiss at this point not to state that my parents are both therapists and, therefore, are equipped with a fairly unique understanding of one another.

The day has thus far been fairly non-confrontational. Of course, they already have long ago established that different things appeal to them, so rather than bore each other, they each take a share of their list and meet back periodically at different checkpoints. As this isn’t their first trip here, they know that sticking together can often be counter productive.

While my mother wanders off to check on frilly patterns and bold, colorful colors; my father and I marvel at the tiny packed bedrooms and the sleek, efficient, modern kitchen pieces. He checks his lists and picks up an item here and there, as do I, and eventually we all end up back together. My father shows my mother a list with the word “sponge” circled on it. Deciding this is an item of some importance, they proceed to navigate the kitchen supply area together.

Let’s digress for a minute and have a few words on living with someone for half a century, an impressive lasting relationship to say the least. To say you have reached an understanding in your living arrangements is probably a gross understatement at this point in a marriage. The truth is, as the old adage so aptly reminds us, “everything has its place.” In the house that my parents have occupied for well over 40 years now (they moved into my childhood home in 1969 and still reside there), a certain sublime order resides. They still put the silver candles in the same spot in the dining room cabinet, the alcohol is still above the pantry in the kitchen, the washrags still above the utility room sink, and the silverware, knives, measuring utensils, spices and everything else have remained essentially unmoved for decades. Sure, they’ve upgraded here and there (they use a Krupps instead of a Mr. Coffee now, and the ancient Amana Radarange was finally retired a few years back and replaced with a spiffy jet black microwave with a bevy of one-touch buttons and digital readouts), but everything still remains in its place.

After so many decades of cohabitation, my folks have figured out a pretty important concept. Taking the time to get it right in the first place avoids all sorts of foolish arguments and problems down the line, not to mention the simple efficiency of knowing where things are. In fact, they know where things are so well that the next two generations have also been trained. My nine year old nephew knows where the place-mats and serving coasters are too and can set the table upon request. While most of us move around considerably more in our lifetime than my parents did, the idea of finding the “right” place for something is admirable and leads to greater ease of living with one’s partner or cohabitants.

Back at IKEA, my parents are standing in the sponge aisle having what would sound to any casual passerby like an argument. I am watching intently,  flabbergasted by the incredible array of sponge options. There are counter top washing utensil containers, under-counter holders, holders that attach to the wall, to the stove, to the refrigerator. Sponges come in small, large, heavy, light, natural, steel, wool, lambskin, plastic, rubber and more; a simply overwhelming selection.

If you were just moving into a new place with your mate and you hadn’t yet argued about which way the paper toilet roll goes (a classic), this aisle alone could end your relationship before it ever gets started. You might want a green plastic scrubber to go in the goldfish sponge holder while she wants the floral one that goes in the vase that attaches to the wall. Yes, IKEA tests your will and your ability to find compromise and reconciliation. Do not be fooled into believing this plethora of choices is a good thing, unless you negotiate well.

Well, my parents do know how to negotiate, though sometimes rather loudly. My mother suggests it go to the left of the sink and my father points out that this is where the knives hang. My mother states, a little louder, that the knives are hanging far enough up the wall that it really shouldn’t be a problem. My father would prefer it go on the right since he’s usually the one who handles the dishes (I’m pretty sure my father has been in charge of loading the dishwasher for at least 20 yeas now) and because he does so, he feels he should have the final say in this one. My mother agrees as long as they don’t get the large clear plastic separator my father is leaning towards, because she thinks it’s tacky. My father tries to defend his choice, but realizes quickly that he has already basically won the decision, if he will just acquiesce on this point. So he does. Is a lasting relationship really this simple? Or this profound?

While the debate seemed heated in the moment, it illustrated the keys to my parent’s lasting relationship; communication, compromise, and a commitment to solving the little things before they become big. A few moments in IKEA deciding sponges and holders has settled an issue that will never come up at my parents’ house again: Where is the sponge?

The moral of this story is simple: Little things become bigger things over time, and learning to recognize and communicate with your partner about the seemingly trivial things in life may well lead to more contentment and ease as you grow together.

My advice to you is to take this little trip to heart. Next time you are in IKEA with your partner (or, really, anywhere that you have to make material decisions together), try to remember this story before you find yourself arguing over whether the lampshade should be salmon or navy blue. Find the right thing and the right place, and your  lasting relationship may follow suit.

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    I am indeed hopelessly single.  Hear now my dating rant. Today was a rough day. I exhausted myself to tears trying to deny the fact that it was actually over. Remind me to never set my heart on anything again. Well, no, not really. Although it sure feels that way…
Hopelessly Single, A Dating Rant In One Part She's not too busy, she's too busy for you

Hopelessly Single, A Dating Rant In One Part She's not too busy, she's too busy for you

I am indeed hopelessly single.  Hear now my dating rant.

Today was a rough day. I exhausted myself to tears trying to deny the fact that it was actually over. Remind me to never set my heart on anything again. Well, no, not really. Although it sure feels that way today. I would say it was fun while it lasted, sort of.

She had some big red flags right from the start. As I said to a good friend, she had the kind of dating profile I would have read for three minutes and then clicked away from. I might, maybe might, have indicated interest with a “like” or something, if I kept coming back to her profile and her smile (and she does have a lovely smile) in the weeks after first seeing her, though most likely she wouldn’t have made the cut. The major thing she really had going for her (besides her good looks, charm and sweetness) was that she appeared genuinely interested in ME. She wrote to me first; she initiated contact and let it be known from the start that she was already familiar with me (she had seen me perform recently and discovered we share many overlapping rings of acquaintances).

Frankly, I’m probably the easiest guy in the world to date. Just ask me out. I’ll (almost) always try once, if there seems to be anything approaching a spark. Why not? Chemistry can truly arise in the strangest of places. Or not.

Gosh, she sure is pretty, though; lithe, petite, big smile and bright eyes. It wasn’t hard to write her back and suggest a meeting, warning signals be damned. After all, by then I had read her profile and done a bit of due diligence myself. I already had some BIG reservations about my curiosity when my history would clearly tell me to decline such an invitation. Then again, I’m a hopeless fool and I’d like to believe that someday I will prove myself wrong.

Not to mention, when you’re a single guy and a beautiful woman falls in your lap, fer chrissakes, GO FOR IT! Worst possible outcome is that you fall in love, marry her and live happily ever after (or divorce her after fifteen years of happily ever, with two kids, whom you turn on because they remind you so much of her, and she takes half your earnings plus alimony so you can have once monthly visitation rights in prison because you beat the crap out of the guy she started dating right after dumping your sorry ass… but I digress).

I also point out that just because a new person seems to be like someone else you knew before or seems to be fairly obviously classified into a current modern day archetype, every single person is unique, different and could be the one who breaks the mold. So, going against my own admonishments about not ignoring warning signs, I actually encourage you to date outside your comfort zone. Take a risk or two, if you have the time, energy, and ability to withstand some harsh ego blows, severe letdowns, and bad sex. Hey, it happens to the best of us. You might as well just dive in headfirst and find out for sure if something works or not while you have the chance. My past risk taking has given me the knowledge to avoid considerable grief these days. Having learned to see a derailment coming from a long way off, I can usually step off the tracks in time. Usually.

The first big red flag once we met was her ex-husband-drama, which she had neglected to mention in our previous conversations, but suddenly became an enduring topic in person. Apparently, she already understood well that, had she mentioned it before, I would never have given her a chance. If you aren’t free of an emotionally draining relationship, you aren’t free to date. Now, understandably, in life we do sometimes happen to have to deal with actual assholes we made the mistake of getting involved with and, because of living, custody and other familial situations, they may be closer than we like.

Still, exes with bad attitudes are bad news. It means either there’s an angry, ugly side you’re not seeing in your new love interest, or it means she was a victim of abuse and may still hold strange quirks and fears that can cause difficulties in the present. She, indeed, turned out to be guilty. I’m just a sucker for a pretty smile, I suppose. Oops.

She’s the kind of person I put in the “too busy to be serious” category. I know the type well. Full of energy and always upbeat, they are easy to fall for and impossible to catch. Mid-30s, kids, full-time career, aspirations for conquering the world, seeking someone to take them away (well, for three hours on Thursday and every other weekend, IF they haven’t already made other plans) from a life that they could not leave even if their prince arrived in a golden chariot, because they have work/court, homework/class, grading/teaching, relatives/friends, yoga/pilates/CrossFit, sick/healthy kids, volunteer/coordinate at church, day/weekend trip with best friend, etc. … planned for tomorrow and they simply can’t miss it.

Sigh.

These are the type of women I generally take a few big steps away from when they show interest on a dating site. Why? Honestly, I try to avoid them because I fall OH SO EASILY for their strength, perseverance, positive attitude and prevailing compassion. I try to veer away because I’m not their type, and I know it. Because I’m far too beaten, broken, damaged and worn to ever live up to their impossible expectations, or to endure their flagrant disregard for the feelings of the men they toy with. I no longer possess the fortitude to continue to wait patiently for months while they ever so slowly move me into their “safe” places bit by bit until I’m almost comfortable and then decide they are too busy to date me and ask me to understand and to maybe wait some more, if I am willing and I really do like them. Because SOON the day will come when they have more time for me, they promise. But that day will never come. And I know it. But still, I wait, patiently (or not so patiently) for the day when she has time for ME.

Her disappointed, half-shrugging, half-smiling pleadings are almost always followed with words to the effect of, “It’s not you; it’s me.” But, truth told, it IS her.

Begin dating rant.

You have done everything right, or at least, you really did give it your best shot. Sadly, it was doomed before it ever had a chance. The reason you fail is this one minor issue: she will never let you close enough to give her whatever it is that she so desperately wants in the first place, that thing that sends her out looking for a connection that can only be made if she were willing to give up on the idea that she doesn’t have the time.

“Just fuck me, now. Then go disappear for awhile until I want you again”, seems to be the general underlying philosophy of these women. And they manage to get their surface needs met, at least for awhile, until their new partner tires of the game and asks for more time. Inevitably, they justify the loss with the thought that “this guy just wasn’t right for me,” and immediately find the next poor fool to start the whole thing over again. I suppose if all you are looking for is to get laid and have many partners, this is a decent strategy. Cruel to all those poor bastards you just lay and forget about, but who cares, right? They aren’t your problem. This is all about you. This is about your time as a woman and your freedom to enjoy life! Right?

Here is where partnerships are made or broken. The only answer that works toward creating an actual relationship (as opposed to hanging out, being someone’s personal broomstick until she trades you in for a newer model) is for her to demonstrate that you count and are a priority, and for her to make time for you like anything else that is important in her life, just like you were as necessary as grocery shopping, car payments, trips with besties, or a weekend with mom. She must make you count, too. She must see you as a necessary part of her life and not just a useless trinket.

Continue dating rant.

At the end she will try to explain why she can’t do that. Her explanations are all perfectly reasonable and heartfelt. They are also complete bullshit, when you get right down to it. We all make choices and she isn’t choosing to “have a relationship with you,” contrary to her expressed desires. The saddest part is that she really doesn’t get it. She thinks you’re being pushy when you ask to be appreciated as anything beyond short term entertainment. She doesn’t see herself pushing you away. She sees you as the problem. You are the one demanding something she cannot give you, even though she keeps promising you she will.

The truth is, these women want us to fulfill something we cannot possibly fulfill with anything approaching genuine concern, while they continue to hold us at arm’s length. Frankly, I saw all the signs and I ignored them; I tried to believe something was different, something I desperately wanted or needed to believe. A fool is one who doesn’t listen to his own advice. I have no one to blame but myself. I knew she was a bad idea from the start. While I could continue to whine and bemoan my loss, the truth is I just wanted to get it off my chest.

End dating rant.

My advice remains constant; never make a priority of someone who considers you an option. That, and don’t date women who don’t have time for you. Period. No matter how smart, pretty, accomplished, seductive, sexy or alluring, a woman who doesn’t have time for you will break your heart. Every time.

I wish she would call.

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