Normally I would be the last person on Earth to give relationship advice. I’m just not adequately qualified. But since getting engaged earlier this year, I believe I’ve stumbled onto a big idea that could save couples years of struggling to hold together relationships that may have been doomed from the start. So here it is: if you’re in a romantic relationship and wondering if you and your partner are truly compatible, place an order at Ikea.
Back in the spring, when my fiancée, Jess, and I started looking for a house to purchase, one of the amenities on our wish list was a large walk-in closet. We found what we were looking for in a home perched on the side of Paris Mountain. The closet was huge but full of those white wire shelves that etch pinstripes into your clothes. Jess surveyed the space then pulled out a tape measure. “We could remove these shelves and install an Ikea closet,” she said. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that she meant “we” literally, so I enthusiastically agreed with the idea. A few weeks after closing on the house, we received an email from Ikea letting us know our dream closet was on its way.
Reality finally hit me when the delivery truck arrived. After it was unloaded, we had enough cardboard boxes in our foyer to open a U-Haul franchise. “This is going to be fun,” Jess said, while checking the packing lists against our order form. I felt the sudden urge to fake a stroke, or even have a real one if it meant avoiding what was sure to be a backbreaking debacle. When Jess suggested we start immediately, I concocted a looming article deadline. “Maybe tomorrow,” I said. “Or sometime after Thanksgiving.”
While I would have eventually opened up a random box and started haphazardly bolting things together, Jess, who has a PhD in economics and likes to curl up at night with a good spreadsheet, carefully unpacked all of the parts, separated each screw, bolt, and washer into neat little piles, then went through every page of the instruction manual twice. Ikea instructions contain only drawings, and for me comprehending them is like trying to decipher the hieroglyphics on a pharaoh’s tomb. “I think we should hire a professional,” I said, while looking over Jess’s shoulder. Before I could mention feeling lightheaded, she handed me a screwdriver.
During the next two days I cursed, sweated, pulled my shoulder, shook my fist at the heavens, and became convinced Ikea designers are Swedish sadists that enjoy torturing middle-aged men who are not known as being handy. Meanwhile Jess quietly constructed drawers and shelves with the confidence and patience of a surgeon performing her thousandth appendectomy.
In the end, we got exactly what we’d hoped for, a functional, streamlined closet. But we also gained some valuable insight into how, as a couple, we accomplish tasks and divide responsibility. I calculate Jess completed seventy-five percent of the work, and I completed one hundred percent of the complaining and self-pity. And while I know that deep down Jess feels it was not that big of a deal, she still nods empathically when I rub my shoulder and compare the closet project to the construction of the Taj Mahal. “We did it together,” she’ll say without the slightest hint of condescension. Together. I really like the sound of that.