Thursday, October 11th, 2007
The real purpose of the Work Day Club is not – as some would suggest – to use the appealing aroma of cheap liquor to lure friends into a nefarious plot to save a buck. We have work parties for the same reason people used to have barn raisings and husking bees – if you do it together, work masquerades pretty convincingly as fun.
In contrast, when Darwin and I work just the two of us – like this weekend when we scraped paint in the master bathroom – I turn into a shrieking shrew and he turns into a sadistic ghoul who knows just which buttons to press to send me into a fury.
He’ll stand over my shoulder and criticize the way I’m handling the palm sander, and I’ll swear and issue empty threats to sand off his vital body parts. Five minutes later, I stand over his shoulder criticizing the way he’s scraping the paint, and he’ll threaten to quit all together.
When the going gets tough and he’s drenched in sweat with paint flecks sticking to his eyelids, he’ll say things like, “I don’t want to be here doing this. I have to be here because our vows said ‘for better or worse.’”
To which I’ll respond with icy precision, “If it’s only that little vow holding you here, you can just go.”
Then he’ll throw back his head and cackle long and loud. Part of me will want to curse him, but the rest of me will want to laugh with him. Instead, I’ll square my shoulders and turn my face to the wall so he won’t see me struggling not to smile.
This is our game, and most of the people we know well have learned to recognize we’re only serious about the way we play it. At some point, he’ll tell me I “wouldn’t be acting this way if Ken and Deirdre were here,” and to a degree that’s true.
The presence of our friends shames us both into behaving like adults rather than a pair of 8-year-olds bickering over who has the bigger share of the backseat – well, sort of. We reserve our worst flare-ups for the privacy of our own renovation, toning down the intensity of our interactions in front of our friends. We rein in the frustration, and I cut back on the whining.
But while we do we still bicker enough to irritate everyone, we do get more work done with friends than when we have to take breaks to storm out of the room, slam doors, alternately give the silent treatment and shout at each other, and make up at least once but usually twice.
When I see those couples who seem to co-habitate flawlessly and peaceably, I’m a little mystified. How do they do it?
We’ve always bickered, since the early days of our relationship when if we weren’t making people sick with our excessive public displays of affection, we were annoying them with our arguing. A lot of people thought our relationship was doomed.
The fact is it wasn’t and isn’t. I do get tired of bickering, and when we fight while renovating I feel a bit sick of myself, like I want to stop and plead, “Can’t we all just get along?”
But there’s something sweet about it, too. Our fights flare up and out quickly but long enough to remind us we’re alive, we have opinions, and in the end when we make up, that we love each other even if the paint was scraped wrong.