How a sofa became a depressing symbol of our failed husband-and-wife teamwork
Buying a sofa online should be easy, but we found ourselves unable to make a decision
The system had allowed us to place the order, and even pay for it, but the sofa did not exist. Photograph: iStock
The sofa that we already had would no longer do: the fabric was worn, the cushions misshapen and the sofa itself too large. It was an easy decision to make. We would need a new sofa, my husband and I decided, and so we commenced a search.
For a week or two we could do this in real life, inspecting sofas in charity shops, showrooms and department stores. But, almost as soon as our sofa journey began, the country was plunged into a second lockdown and we were forced to look online.
Shopping for a sofa on the internet should not be daunting – even before the pandemic it was probably the norm – but it soon was apparent that we were becoming overwhelmed.
We have made decisions before: we have moved house, decided to get married and bought rugs, tables, tiles, holidays, all the usual stuff. We usually find it easy to agree on things. Our decision-making process generally goes like this: one of us (around 80 per cent of the time it’s me) suggests we do or buy or watch something; the other person agrees.
I do not want to give the impression that we never argue; we argue a normal amount – maybe we even argue more than a normal amount – but, generally, we find it easy to make decisions. With the sofa, though, we were bamboozled from the off.
Online, there were thousands of sofas that would do the job. We looked at them all – in velvet and in leather, in wool and in corduroy. If the company selling the sofa was Irish, the sofa might be called something like “Oisín”; an English sofa might be called “Lydia” or “Olivia Rose”. Basically, though, they were all the same.
When that ship got stuck on the Suez Canal, everyone thought it was funny – but I just obsessed about all the sofas stuck in the Red Sea
Faced with an endless array of sofas online, the idea of the sofa became almost abstract. We rejected each others’ sofa suggestions over subtle, almost imperceptible details: the width of an arm, let’s say, or the apparent stubbiness of a foot. We were besieged by inertia, blinded by choice. We couldn’t agree, we couldn’t decide.
I became increasingly desperate. I went so far as to click on an online article because it was about a sofa owned by both Chrissy Teigen and Mike D from The Beastie Boys. It was of little help – it turns out that both Chrissy Teigen and Mike D have bigger sofa-buying budgets and bigger livingrooms than me and my husband. Months passed and we were still without a new sofa.
Then there was a false start. We finally agreed on a sofa – it was much the same as all the others but, crucially, cheaper – and ordered it online. We gave away the old one and waited for delivery of the new one. We were excited. But it never turned up. I phoned the company from which we had ordered the sofa and the man on the other end of the line told me they no longer had that sofa in stock: the system had allowed us to place the order, and even pay for it, but the sofa did not exist.
“Could it come back into stock?” I asked. “Well, that is a mystery,” he responded. He said it casually, as though my husband and I had not spent four months deciding to buy this very sofa.
I actually really like lying on the floor, I would say when my husband asked why I wasn’t joining him on the sofa
There was a new problem, it transpired. Brexit and the pandemic meant that sofas were taking longer to arrive in warehouses; even if we could decide on a sofa, it would likely be several months before we could sit on it. When that ship got stuck on the Suez Canal, everyone thought it was funny – but I just obsessed about all the sofas stuck in the Red Sea.
I decided to take control and revert to our usual decision-making process: I say something confidently and my husband agrees with me. I chose a second-hand sofa from an online vintage retailer and it arrived a few weeks later. It looked lovely: slim and chic. The only problem was that it was the most uncomfortable sofa we had ever sat on.
At first, it was difficult for me to admit this. “I actually really like lying on the floor,” I would say when my husband asked why I wasn’t joining him on the sofa. I was thinking of the money – although second-hand, the sofa had not been cheap – but now it was possible that it was worthless.
With second-hand items, context is everything. Presented on a well-designed website, a second-hand sofa can sell in excess of ¤1,500; picked up from a sad-looking, hunched-over couple, the same sofa is a “free with collection” proposition.
The sofa became a symbol of our bad decision-making process, of our failed teamwork. We avoided it, not only because it was uncomfortable, but also because it was depressing. Everyone around us got very into Mare of Easttown, but we started going to bed earlier and earlier, avoiding the sofa completely.
Then one evening, at dinner, my husband said that we should sell the uncomfortable sofa and buy another one. He said it confidently and I agreed with him. Decision made.
Eight months on, the search for a sofa continues. So, too, does the marriage.