Watch out for Silver Lamps

Over the course of time any relationship will develop its own package of quirks, oddities and idiosyncrasies. If the relationship is happy and healthy it will grow inside jokes and code words. One of our code words is “silver lamp” and the story of how that came to have its meaning is kind of funny and maybe worth retelling – maybe.

So, way too many years ago when we were just getting to know each other, when we were newly living together, a couple of young beginning professionals, we were in circumstances that we described as “Champaign taste and a beer pocketbook.” It’s an odd reference in itself, since we don’t especially love Champaign; our tastes run more to red wine, maybe cabernet sauvignon or merlot. But, the image is apt enough – we liked nice things, but we were young and new in our professions and so – well we needed to be careful about budgeting.

We had been living in a very (VERY) small one bedroom apartment. The apartment had a hallway that we called the kitchen because that’s where the sink, stove and refrigerator were located – a person could be there and do some cooking, but two people in that space was more than a little tight. There was a living room where all of the living happened, and that was about it. The living room was interesting in its own right though because the building was old, the apartment was on the second floor looking out over the river, and the foundation was sinking ever so slowly and slightly on one side. So, anything set down in one place would be found a few inches away soon enough because of the slope. Cat toys were great because they very fluidly rolled across the floor with no help from us at all. I still miss the quirks of that first apartment. But more space is even nicer.

Because we were indeed careful and plan-full about budgeting we finally saved up enough to move into a condominium. The condo was still one bedroom, but it had a real kitchen (not just a hallway with appliances), and a dining room and living room! The square footage we were going to be furnishing grew exponentially, as did our furnishing needs.

We needed to get a good bit of new furniture, and we were committed to our budget. So, off we went to shop – furniture stores, department stores, all kinds of store. We found most of what we needed/wanted – a dining room table and chairs, comfortable chairs for the living room, proper desks and bookshelves, lots of stuff.  We settled in to our new space, and life was sweet. We were happy. And, then as we actually settled in, we (mostly I) realized that we really did not have a comfortable reading space. We had wonderful chairs and a nice sofa. But the light was just not good. So, after looking, thinking and processing the situation for a good bit (remember two women can process anything for ever).  We had just spent a lot of money. The condominium was starting to look good and was feeling comfortable. All we needed was one more lamp.

So, back to the stores we went – furniture stores, department stores, lighting stores, all kinds of stores. We saw lots of lamps – most of them where just not quite right, and the ones that came close didn’t fit the budget. So we kept looking. And then we discovered Ikea. What a find! Great furniture (well, OK, lots of furniture some of it great) at very reasonable prices. What a find. So, we shopped for a floor lamp. We each had an image of what we were looking for (not necessarily a good thing when you are talking about two women who took 8 months to find the ‘right’ white shirt). So, we looked. We had seen some lamps that we liked quite a lot, but they were a good bit more than we wanted to spend, so we kept looking. Then, there we were back at Ikea. We had already scoured every other store we could envision. So, we scoured the lighting section at Idea and found a lamp that pretty much fit the description of what we were looking for, it was kind of alright. It wasn’t exactly what either of us wanted, but the color was right, the shape was in the right family – white shade, silver pole, white base, simple, clean Scandinavia style. Not quite as upscale as we wanted, but upscale costs and the price was right.

We both stood there looking at it. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know what do you think?

“Well … I asked you first.”

“OK, but I’m not sure. Do you like it?”

“It’s OK, I guess. What do you think?”

“It is the size and color we want. Silver [chrome really, but the color was silver looking] will go with the colors in the sofa.”

“And it’s not expensive.”

“And we need a lamp.”

In all of that conversation, you will notice the lack of enthusiasm. Never a good sign. But there was nothing exactly wrong with the lamp. So we bought it, and brought it home.

Once we got home, I unboxed it, put it together (yes, I am one of the few people in the world who can actually understand and follow Idea directions. And, on the second iteration of assembly I even get things put together correctly.) So, the lamp is now together and in place in our new living room. And it was – well, it was kind of OK. It was just missing a bit  of, well of je-ne-sais-quoi. It shed light well enough, it was quite functional. It just didn’t have that something that makes things right. Once it was put together and in the right place, plugged in, and turned on .. well, it worked. We both looked at it, and while we didn’t hate it, we didn’t love it either. But, we had it, Ikea was a long drive, the price was right, so we decided to live with it. And, as we lived with the silver lamp, we learned to tolerate it. That was my first lesson that tolerance is not good enough. Whenever I am doing diversity work and someone advocates ‘tolerance’ of a group that is different, I remember our tolerance of the silver lamp, and I know that I don’t want to be tolerated, and I don’t want any of my friends to be tolerated.

Back to the lamp.  Well, sooner rather than later, we saved up a bit of money, went out shopping again and found the right lamp, one that really looked good, one that we both really liked. The new lamp was brass, and we came home feeling like we had caught the brass ring on the carrousel. Yes, the new lamp cost a little bit more than the ‘silver lamp’ but if we had saved the money we spent for the silver lamp and just put that on the brass one, we would have saved money in the long run.

So, a ‘silver lamp’ for us is something that looks like a bargain, but winds up being unsatisfactory and costs more in the long run. And, tolerable really isn’t all that acceptable or endurable. Good enough is only good enough if it is great.

Have there been silver lamps in your life? come on, share!!

What are some of the code words that have developed in your relationships?

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