The Unexpurgated Story of the Dining Table

If I am going to write about marriage, you know what I’m going to say before I say it. Marriage is compromise!

So, for example, let’s say he falls madly in love with a dining room table of a distinctly modern design. This table — flashy and avant-garde — isn’t something she would have picked out. She isn’t, shall we say, the fashion forward type. No, she is more the fashion-pokey.

But still! He wants the flashy Italian table that will miraculously and easily expand from small to large, from an intimate seating of two or four to a full-sized dinner party gathering. Yes! Why not? (Although, she is inclined to think, for the cost of the table, it should also cook dinner and gather a fascinating dinner-party crowd on its own. But whatever! However they say “whatever” in Italian! Ciao!)

Since they are married and they compromise, they order the table he loves. They order it in March. It will come in May, they are assured. They eat on a card table, thinking about their soon-to-be-delivered Italian table. April comes, then May. The table does not.

They check with the store where they ordered the table. Oh, yes, the store remembers them and their table. But you know how it is. The store is dealing with Italian craftsmen, people who are so artistic and temperamental, no wonder they live in Italy. The store employees smile and shrug and say it will be fine.

The weeks pass. The store employees still say it will all be fine. You know Italians! As long as it’s not August, when every Italian in the universe is required to take a vacation, they will have their table soon. Ciao!

The table arrives that summer, before every Italian in the universe has gone on vacation. It is very swanky and streamlined. The husband loves it. The wife loves the husband, so she begins to think the table is okay, too. After all, it makes him happy!

At dinner parties, the husband shows off the table. It expands just like this! he says, snapping his fingers. And look at the design! Only four legs, no matter how much it expands. Isn’t it, well, incredible? Everyone agrees that it is.

The wife, who loves dinner parties, even if she doesn’t like to cook, nods in the background. She knows a few things the dinner guests do not. She knows the husband spends ages trying to remember how to expand the table. She has to stand there and hold on to the end, while the husband looks obsessively under the table, trying to recall how, precisely, it works. He pulls, he yanks, he swears, he screams. The table rotates, the rug billows up like a fan.

This is a snap of the fingers? And remember, too, that the fingers later have to get unsnapped, when the table is returned to its smaller size. This leads to more swearing and screaming and rug billowing, and the table never quite reverts to its original place (being Italian, it likes to move around).

But this isn’t about a table of any nationality. This is about marriage, remember? It is about compromise. It is the exact opposite of my enemy’s enemy is my friend. It is, my loved one’s object of affection is really kind of cute, even if I would have never picked it out myself.

Or, if he says it’s a snap of the fingers, she will never correct him in public. Although, she might blog about it. Which is different. Obviously.

In the meantime, she has seen a chandelier she likes that could hang above the avant-garde red table. It’s a little more traditional, a little more old-fashioned. A little more like her than him.

Marriage is about compromise, remember? This time, she can hardly wait.

(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)

For other stories and scenes from a marriage, please read The Ballad of the Sick Husband

15 comments… add one
  • Oh, how interesting that you don’t mention the red until the end. Your willingness to compromise that much-as in a red table compromise-is quite admirable. You deserve the chandelier, no doubt!

  • Ha ha!!! Love this.

    Also it reminded me of a coffee table my parents ordered from Italy that took almost a year to get here. We joked that the boat it was on had sunk.

  • Craig Link

    I’m staying out of this

  • You know, Ruth, there are a lot of miserable things that happen when a marriage dissolves. You lose your house, your income, the future you thought you had. But you can do what you what you want to do with your (now meager) possessions. In the past few weeks I have painted nearly every piece of furniture I own. The former husband never would have approved of the “shabby chic” decor. It suits me. I’m glad there’s a term for what could have been called “tacky post-divorce” decor.

  • Could a flashy, red, avant-garde, expanding, rotating Italian dining table that inspires rugs to billow, be the catalyst behind Hemingway’s “A Movable Feast?” I think so, only Hemingway changed the table settings from Italian to Parisian to protect the innocence of any dinner guests. Thanks for revealing this hidden literary key, Ruth. Travails in compromise can be so enlightening.

  • Too funny. I’m stuck with a dining room set that I don’t just adore. The table is OK, but the chairs? Meh, but my DH liked them and there you go.

  • M.K. Link

    This marriage too has seen furniture compromises. My thirty-year-old dining room furniture was selected by husband. I would have preferred the blond oak, but he should get to have his preference in one of the major rooms, no? What happened in our case is that as soon as it was delivered, he stopped seeing it or being remotely interested in it. Whereas I secretly see the blond oak every time I look at it. My theory is that if you don’t really care about it, you should leave the decision to the person who gives a crap.

    Good column (and very fair-handed, I must say).

  • Ward Link

    I’ve always known that Jamie is “gadget challenged.” But the theater of the finger snapping is a great touch. Mom would be proud.

  • Steve Link

    There is a reason why we still have the first couch we bought after marriage almost 40 years ago, and it’s not because my spouse hasn’t desired something–anything, pehaps–else. Thank God she’s willing to compromise and let me keep MY couch.

  • Sheryl Link

    Funny! I do hope you grow to love your table, and enjoy many happy occasions together with it, expanded or not.

  • msue Link

    In preparation for a recent move, we dumped a lot of (dumpy) furniture to replace it with something far more modern. Our agreement: I could choose the furniture if he didn’t have to step into a store. The compromise has worked beautifully!

  • Susan Link

    Hilarious! I recognize this guy.

  • Susan Link

    Oh, goodness! You’re a good sport to go along with the table but I wish you’d posted a photo so we can all see it. Enjoy the chandelier!

  • Learning to love (like?) the table: Who knew it was the secret to a long and happy union?

  • I love stories about tables. My mom’s big dining room table was brought back from the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Awesome table.

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