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The Pottery Barn Effect

"Dark brown, smooth and really soft! We love watching TV together." My best friend Natalie chuckles affectionately. She isn't talking about her boyfriend or even her new chocolate labrador Sophia. She's describing her new best friend, the leather couch she met at Pottery Barn.

This uber hip furniture store is slowly, friend by friend, stealing my life as I know it. When we were 21 we spent our time ogling older guys at bars and nightclubs, blushing and giggling, excited to finally be legally allowed inside. No memorizing information from fake ID's. No embarassing turnaways at club doors. We were in! We fancied ourselves sophisticates and would order cosmopolitans like Carrie and the gang from Sex and the City.

At 22, feeling like bona fide adults, we were established flirts. Pointing out cute boys, calling dibs then making our plays, we'd hope to end the night drunkenly making out. The following morning we'd meet for coffee to discuss blow by blow, kiss by kiss, the previous night's activities.
"Then what did he say?"
"He said I have the softest lips he's ever kissed." Shrieks and giggles ensued.
"Omigod! How sweet!"
"Sweet my ass. What a line." This was usually uttered by me, the cynical one of the bunch.
"It's not a line, he was serious!"
"How did he say it. Were you in the middle of kissing, or were you talking after kissing?"
"We were kissing and he pulled back and kind of sighed it. His eyes were still closed."
"See! He really meant it!" Ever the-glass-is-half-full kinda gal, Natalie squealed.
"Hmm. Could be legitimate. Further evidence is required," I replied.

These conversations could last an eternity as we analyzed entire dates, dissected phone messages and discussed future plans. Should we call him back right away? Should we wait two days? Everyone knows if you wait two days you're obviously trying to play it cool. Maybe the new cool is calling him back right away.

At 23, we began to fall in and out of love. Some relationships actually panted through the tape at the one year finish line, others tripped and fell by the wayside after only a lap or two. In those exciting first years of adulthood we were more pleased with ourselves for being in an adult relationship in the 'real world' than we were actually in love with our significant others.

By the real world we meant of course, that we had met the guys in loud college bars as opposed to frat boys from campus. Just out of college, we were working women of the world. Like Bridget Jones and her British chums, we were pleased to be on The Scene, dating and discarding, loving and leaving. To be fair, many men did their fair share of the discarding and the leaving.
"So my friend Jennifer from work? You remember her from my sushi party last week? Well, she said she saw Tim at the bar."
"My Tim"?
"Your Tim. She wasn't sure if it was him because she only met him the one time at my party. Plus she saw him rubbing some girls' back and she wasn't sure-."
"Rubbing some girls back! What! Who?"
"She saw him leaving with the girl so she followed them out to the parking lot. He was getting in a silver Audi."
"That's his car!"
"Yep. She remembered it from when you guys gave her a ride home. So she called out his name and he turned around."
"What did she say!"
"She looked the other way and pretended like it was someone else that called his name. But she's sure it was him."
"That bastard!"

We were there for each other through messy breakups and diabolical revenge plans. We clung tightly to one another at age 25 when we collectively decided that all men were pigs that didn't deserve us. We had girls only margarita parties, road trips to Las Vegas and weekly parties to watch The Bachelor.

When we least expected it cupid singled us out for love. One by one we were bitten by the love bug. Some of us married, others just moved in with boyfriends. But the girlish gossip continued.
"Have you and Greg ever tried anal?
"Anal sex?"
"Have you?"
"Out with it!"
"Okay. We got stoned last night after Casey's sister's wedding. We had to drive her car and the gifts to her house because they took a limo to their hotel for their honeymoon. We stole a bottle of champagne from the wedding and drank it, plus we smoked a joint."
"So you're totally high and nobody is home."
"We found a porn tape. Casey's sister and her new husband must have left it in their VCR. I was fumbling with the remote to turn on the TV. I must have hit play because when the TV came on this couple was already going at it!
"So you guys got all horny."
"Yeah. And you know how porns are. All sorts of kinky positions, so we felt obligated to mix it up."
"Did you like it?"
"Casey did." "What about you?"
"Please. Out with it!"
"It felt like I was in the middle of taking a big shit. I kept wanting to poop his dick out! And it hurt."

This was the no holds barred nature of our conversations. We'd excavate everything, leaving no secrets unearthed. Until the Pottery Barn effect began it's insidious takeover. One day we were debating the merits of anal sex and which vibrators were our favorites. Next thing I know, my gaggle of girlfriends were drooling over an 8X10 glossy of a goddamn coffee table from the Pottery Barn magazine!

When did this happen and why do I feel like the only girl not going to prom? One rainy Monday I was checking my cell phone messages as I drove home home from work.
"Monica, it's Melissa. I need to talk to you. It's important. Just call me when you get this."
Oh god. Maybe someone was in a car crash. Maybe Melissa was leaving Coby. Heart pounding, I dialed Melissa's number.
"What's going on? What's wrong?"
"I need to ask you something, and I need you to be honest."
Oh shit. What did I do? Like a rolodex, my mind flipped through the catalog of stupid things I'd recently done and said. Suprisingly, I couldn't think of a single thing. Damn. I must have said something about Melissa when I was drunk then blacked it out.
"Okay. What happened?" Gearing up to shower her with apologies, I anxiously waited for the question.
"How is Natalie able to afford all that new furniture? Did her parents pay the down payment on her condo?"
Huh? My mind reeled backward, then sprinted forward to the last sentence in an effort to comprehend what I was being asked. >BR/> "What? How can she afford what?"
"You know, she has a new leather couch, a new bedroom set and a new shower curtain. The one she bought after I did by the way. I just don't see how she can build a condo, and buy all new stuff. Her parents have got to be helping her pay for stuff."
I actually wished I had said something terrible that Melissa was calling to confront me about. That was familiar stomping grounds that I knew how to dig myself out of. We had been calling each other on the bitchy things we said behind each others' back since the seventh grade. But this. I didn't know what to say to this pod person who had obviously killed my friend Melissa in order to take command of her shell.
"Who fucking cares about her furniture?" I blurt out.
"I do." Melissa snaps. "I'm sick to death of her copying me then one upping me just to show me up. I'm the one that found these condos, then she moved in!"
Natalie and Melissa lived in the same stretch of condos. In fact, they lived a door away from each other.
"I thought she bought her condo first." I made the mistake of asking.
"That's because she came up with the down payment first! I saw them first and showed them to her!" Melissa spits this sentence out like nails exploding from a nail gun.
"So! Who cares who saw what first. It's like, who invented punk music, us or the Brits. I don't give a fuck, I just like to listen to it, y'know?" I hoped these punk pearls of wisdom would set Melissa straight.
"I care! First she buys the condo two doors down from me, now she's decorating it just like mine!" I should've known she wouldn't go for it. Melissa never did like The Clash.

This disturbing episode was the dawn of a new era. The Pottery Barn effect would rear it's ugly head in nearly every exchange I would have with my girlfriends over the next two years. Words like Duvet, apothecary table and place settings seemed to pop up more than I was comfortable with. Melissa saw the coffee table first, but Natalie bought it first. Kim committed the cardinal sin of buying the very same bedspread as Anya.
"You know I have that bedspread."
"I do not! I haven't been to your house in months!"
"That's another thing. Why do we always have to go to your house? My place is just as nice and it's in more of a central location, but everyone always has to drive to your house."
I was watching our friendships unravel faster than the hole in the sweater I had borrowed from Natalie last winter and never retured.

Visiting each other at home became an awkward experience for me. If I went to Natalie's, Melissa would call me and ask if I'd seen the new end table in her living room. Was it from Pier One or was it the mahogany one from Pottery Barn
"Is mahogany a color or a wood?" I asked

Instead of shopping for slutty clothes to wear on The Scene, I'd find myself standing in the middle of Pottery Barn as my friends scattered in all directions. Scouting the store like vultures on the hunt for a meaty carcass, they'd pretend to be casual, but when they saw certain items they'd pounce Prowling down aisles, eyes swiveling left and right, they'd stalk candles and ridiculously priced pillows. They'd regroup at the cash register and gush over each others finds. But underneath the friendly banter frenzied brains were taking stock of who was buying what and how much it cost.
"Hey! I'm buying that lamp." Natalie tells Melissa.
"It matches my living room better. You can get the red one with tassels."
"But I want the beige one."
"Well we can't have the same color, that would be stupid."
"I pointed this one out in the Pottery Barn magazine months ago. You know that."
Finally I exploded. "Holy god! You all suck so bad! What has happened to you? Arguing over lamps and shower curtains? Of course you all own the same shit. Half of America owns this generic, mass produced crap. You all shop at the same store and spend your entire paychecks on table settings and mirrors! I'll bet everyone in Utah owns this lamp!"
Then I check the $225 price tag.
"Actually, I take that back. Hopefully they're shopping at Wal-Mart. $225 dollars for a lamp?"

My friends stare at me in open mouthed shock. Maybe I'd finally got through! We could put the bedspread battles and lamp lashouts behind us. Natalie was the first to recover. "Fuck you Monica. Just because we like nice things, doesn't mean you with your bare windows and boring bedroom need to bitch at us." They had turned on me!
"At least I'm paying off bills instead of blowing my money on materialistic shit." I manage to squeak.
"Ha!" This time Melissa chimes in. "You bought a membership to a rock climbing gym. You don't rock climb! You bought a ski pass and a truck because the guy you like rock climbs and skis. In case you forgot, you don't!"

She has a point. The whole time I'd been looking down my nose at my friends' furniture fights I'd been flushing my money down the toilet in an equally frivolous manner.
"My bedroom IS boring," I say. "Help me pick out some cute stuff."

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    monica bielanko - back in the day - the pottery barn effect

Reader Comments (6)

Oh my God, what did I do to you? I have to admit reliving the experience was much more commical than it seemed at the time...What ever happened to that sweater anyway?
September 3, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie
I can so relate! I went to an engagement party last summer. I went outside to grab a beer and came in to all the women at the party huddled around the coffee table whispering excitedly.

What could it be? Pictures of the bride's dress? Some steamy celebrity gossip in the issue of Star?

No, something far better. The women had out the Pottery Barn catalog and the J.C. Penney catalog and were comparing and gasping over the same product for a lower price. "That looks JUST LIKE the Lexington table but 40% cheaper! Oh. My. Gawd."

Needless to say, I went back out to the patio to swig brewskies with the men.

Well written! I like your style!
October 10, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDilly
great written, so funny!!!
January 4, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterana

This is why I like Nice post.

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristy

Perfect. is amazing.

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRubin

had a nice good laugh reading this ! Genuine blog.
Cotton Bedspreads

August 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLuciana

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