1902 Victorian

Bringing our old house out of the disco era and back into the Victorian.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Relationship Role Models

I was reading Casa Decrepit's post about how to maintain a good relationship while renovating, and it made me think about the way Darwin and I handle our projects - you know, exactly the wrong way.

In a nutshell, Ayse says we should "be a team," have a good plan, "thank each other for a hard day's work," "order take-out when you're exhausted," "don't blame each other for mistakes," and "pick your battles."

Two out of six ain't bad - oh wait, yes it is. And somehow, I think our supreme affection for eating out hardly counts toward our good relationship quotient.

The wise Ayse (absolutely no sarcasm intended) advises, "I generally don't recommend that couples have one person be the only authority and the main worker. Not only does it lead to a lot of resentment on both sides ("You're always bossing me around!" and "You don't help with any of this work!"), but it's exhausting. Share the load."

Ouch. It was like she came to our house, peeped in the window of the master bathroom reno, and took down notes like an anthropologist studying gorillas in the mist.

We're in a vicious cycle of bad renovation/relationship behavior. It goes something like this:


SETTING: Our house on a typical Saturday morning.

Darwin sits on the couch in his underwear, clutching the TV remote like we're in the jungle and it's his last banana.

I come in wearing my pajamas from last night and sit beside him, lean against him, hug his arm.

"Honeypie sugar dumpling head," I say in that super-mushy voice we use when we're alone. "What're we going to do today?"

"I might wash my truck!" he says, too cheerfully. He points the remote, and the Tivo says, "Blip! Blip!"

I frown, push myself up and away from him.

"I mean what-are-we-going-to-do on the house?"

He stares at the television. Doesn't answer.

"Hell-o?" I sit up straighter, lean forward, resist jabbing him in the arm.

"Hey," he says calmly, brightly.

"I asked you a question!"

He sighs, shrugs. "I don't know."

The trouble is, neither do I.

"We have to do something!" I screech and gesticulate with both hands. "Our bathroom is an empty shell! We'll never finish it if we don't work on it!"

Darwin stares at the TV some more.

He sighs, fiddles with the remote, but doesn't turn off the TV.

"Come on!" I demand. "Let's go!"

I wait a beat and then tackle him, trying to wrestle the remote away from him.

"Give me that!" I scream. "I'm stronger than you!"

Of course, that isn't true, and we both know it. Darwin laughs and fends me off with almost no effort at all.

"FINE!" I shriek, shoving myself off the couch and lifting my chin in the air. "If I leave it up to you, we'll be like your parents, living in the middle of a renovation for 15 years!"

He laughs and shakes his head. I huff off to the bedroom and yank on pants, a paint-splattered T-shirt, sneakers.

I stomp through the house, slamming doors. I peek into the living room as I pass, and Darwin pretends to be absorbed in Two Guys Garage. I dig in the drawer for the keys to the workshop, making sure he hears me rattle them.

"What are you doing?" he bellows from the couch.

Light as air, I call, "Cutting the trim with the miter saw!"

I am out the door and halfway to the workshop when he comes out the back door, buttoning his pants.

"Just wait a minute!" he yells. "Don't do anything!"

"It's just a miter saw," I toss back over my shoulder. "They look easy on TV."

Even still, I take my time turning the key in the workshop door, flipping on the light, choosing a piece of trim from the stack against the wall.

By the time I'm searching the machine for the on-off switch, Darwin is there, glaring at me.

I insist on measuring and cutting one board myself, and then he takes over. Docile now, I find something else to do in the workshop - glue shingles on my dollhouse, maybe, or scrape some paint.

When the trim is cut, I trail him inside and hand him things like the hammer or the measuring tape. I look around for something to do myself, but the demo is done, and that's my best area.

Now that the ball is rolling, Darwin keeps working like a champ. I find something to do, something with paint - that I'm good at - but as soon as Darwin gets a break, he comes over to supervise.

"You know, it would work better if you - "

"No," I interrupt. "I don't want to hear it. You do that, I do this. Go away."

"But if you did it like this - "

"No." I keep working, don't look at him. "Leave me alone."

"Fine," he says, light as air. "If you just want to keep doing it wrong, go ahead."

Then I feel like throwing the paintbrush/scraper/heatgun straight at his overgrown skull.

"I hate it when you do that," I say, very calmly. "I've told you a million and one times, and you just keep doing it."

"I can't help it you're doing it wrong," he says, full of certainty that he is entirely right and righteous.

"I'M NOT DOING IT WRONG!" I scream, throwing in a few expletives for effect, wondering briefly if the neighbors can hear. "MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!!!"

He laughs - laughs! - and strolls away, shaking his head.

And when he's gone, I start doing things the way he suggested.

Ten minutes later, he's back behind me, circling my waist with his arms. He tries to nuzzle my neck, but I clamp my jaw against my shoulder and attempt to shrug him off.

"Get off me," I say through clenched teeth.

He laughs again, and it makes me want to laugh too, but I force the corners of my mouth to be still. I refuse to relent ... for now.

When we take a break for lunch, I pretend to be mad as he makes me a sandwich. While we eat, I forget I'm mad and start talking. Then I remember and say, "I forgot I hate you." He laughs, and I smile, and everything's okay again.

Until the next Saturday, when it starts over.


See how many rules we broke there? We never have a plan. We often blame each other when stuff goes wrong. We are rarely a team. He considers himself the boss, while I consider him an evil dictator. He doesn't seem to mind if I don't take on half the work because he doesn't think I do it right anyway. We yell at each other. We fight every single time we work on a project. We argue over little stuff, like where to put a toilet paper holder, going round and round in circles.

But somehow, at the end of the day, we end up happy anyway. We go out to El Tenampa for dinner or join our friends at Miss Melissa's. I congratulate him repeatedly on the work he did that day. We have a glass of wine. And we are happy.

So here, for better or worse, are Darwin and Kristin's rules for marriage success while renovating:

1. Fight if you want, but keep it clean - no threats of divorce or bodily harm. Swear words are perfectly acceptable.

2. Take time to make out, even if you're filthy. Dirty=naughty.

3. When your partner's on a ladder or has both arms occupied, take the opportunity to feel up his/her naughty bits. Sometimes you will get sniped at for this, but just giggle; he/she will forgive you.

4. When one partner can’t get motivated to work, start working without him/her. He/she will come sniffing around before you know it. If not, he/she is not really in the old house business.

5. Don’t criticize your partner or order him/her about. It makes him/her less eager to work next time. (We have both learned this lesson. Wait, no we haven’t, but we should’ve.)

6. Act like a baby if you want, but make sure you don't mind being treated like one.

7. Help your friends with their projects, and invite them over to help with yours. It’s harder to fight with each other when you have witnesses.

8. Talk dreamily about the future – how the project will make your life better when it’s finished.

9. Set project timelines that seem ridiculously too long, or set none at all. That way no one gets disappointed, and no one gets blamed.

10. Take plenty of time to rest, relax and enjoy other hobbies. Don't try to "keep up with the Joneses" - in this case, the other housebloggers who worker harder and faster than you.

11. Call each other absolutely ridiculous pet names, but please don't get offended if your partner accidentally calls you "poo head."

12. Laugh a lot. When someone messes up, laugh. When something goes wrong, laugh. When someone gets hurt, don’t laugh, you sadist!

and our personal favorite,

13. The promise of Mexican food at the end of the day keeps everyone happy.

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Brenda from Flatbush said...

Wonderful stuff! I'm gonna share it with Spouse; we share about 60% of your Dysfunction Dynamic (the other 40% is our own distinctive DD). Just be careful with those feel-ups when one of you is on a ladder!
Here's to the strange mix of monogamy and mitre saws...

7:59 AM  
Tish said...

Ha ha! How do these rules work for the not yet married?
I think this list of rules will come in handy when B is finally moved in next year.

I think we have rule #13 down. 9 out of 10 times we will get Mexican takeout before or after doing a project.

8:30 AM  
Maggie said...

Dude- you described every saturday morning we've had since we moved into this house!

11:37 AM  
Anonymous said...

This was highly entertaining!

Do you use little squares of sandpaper for your dollhouse shingles like I did? :D

7:55 AM  
John said...

Thank you. Your list comes much closer to our experiences; I actually makes me feel better knowing we are not the only ones. At this point, we're usually happier to work on seperate projects at opposite ends of the house.

8:19 AM  
Kristin said...

Christine: Ooh, sandpaper shingles - what a great idea! I'm using the cedar shakes that came with the house. I like cedar shakes because they're what was originally on our real house, but these are kinda ugly. I'll probably stain them to make them not so garishly bright.

Everyone: I'm glad to see we're not the only ones who do things the wrong way!

10:20 AM  
My Marrakech said...

This post is GENIUS. Really, I loved it. I somehow have roped my husband into doing most of the work. Yay! But then again, that's what he does for a living. Double-yay!

8:27 AM  

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