Coffee tables and identity

WEDNESDAY, 29 JUNE 2005

A man is in a relationship with a woman. After years of thinking about himself and about life he has decided who he wants to be, where he wants to live and in what style, with how much money he can be satisfied, and so on.

During the course of several months he spends with the special woman he forms an idea of what her vision looks like of a nice house. Some aspects correspond with his ideas. Other items he regards as perhaps too conspicuously “bourgeois”. He has also developed over the years an aversion to decor that seems to have been selected from a catalogue, and he is reminded of a Fight Club quote: “Flipping through catalogues, deciding which coffee table defines me the best.”

This man is comfortable with making a political argument out of a coffee table. Still, he loves the woman, and her vision of a nice house … is beautiful, stylish, aesthetically pleasing and warm. His question to himself: Should he admit that her suggestions of how to turn an apartment into a home are not in conflict with his basic idea of a pleasant living space that pre-dates her presence in his life, or should he continue to defend his vision of an intellectual’s lair to the last coffee table splinter because he would die of embarrassment if any other armchair revolutionary should express the opinion that he turned bourgeois the moment he lost his heart to a woman?

What is under discussion here is identity. Who and what you are in the environment where and at the time when your existence plays out find expression in your address, your clothes, your furniture, your mode of transportation and the ornaments and wall hangings in your living room. If any of these expressions of your who-and-what changes, what does it say about who and what you are, or have become, or is becoming? (And any reader who feels that a coffee table is just a damn coffee table obviously has not contemplated the finer points of existence.)

People change, everybody knows that. One enters into a relationship with someone special, and your existence is transformed overnight (and over the course of months), from single amateur academic/writer to … amateur academic/writer in a meaningful relationship with a beautiful woman who does not like broken toilet seats and second-hand couches with piles of newspapers under a sheet to prevent anyone from falling in.

Relationships, compromise, politics, coffee tables … whatever. Let the shopping begin!

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