Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Narcissist's Bathroom

It was a long day. We had ten open houses for condos and houses on our schedule, and we made it to seven of them. We'd already seen two of the other three twice, many weeks ago. We were just going to confirm one more time that they weren't quite right for us. And the third place is in Charlestown; we're pretty convinced that Charlestown is too inconvenient for us spoiled Back Bay brats.

Before our trek began, we were optimistic that at least one of the ten would be right for us but, as I reflect, I realize that if any of them had been promising, I would have fought to get us in for a showing within hours of the listing's appearance. So, basically, we were dashing around today to see if there were any pleasant surprises. For the most part, there were not.

There's a condo up high on Beacon Hill that we like in spite of its having very low ceilings, old carpeting, and bathrooms and a kitchen from the era when Formica counters and laminate cabinets were the Big New Thing. Its chief problem is that its price needs to drop by several hundred thousand dollars to land within our more modest budget. It's been on the market for months without an offer, whereas most properties sell in a couple of days, so it seems like everybody but the owner is with me on this one. But I bet he isn't going to budge.

Oh, well.

We saw another place that had clearly been a glorious Victorian apartment a few decades ago, after serving as the parlor and dining room of a Proper Bostonian family from the 1880s onward. But developers and owners had chipped away at it until it was just a bare shell of its former self. The large main rooms of the condo had been "opened," so no walls remained to divide the kitchen, dining room, and living room. Instead, the owner used top-of-the-line custom cabinetry to "define" those areas. The cabinets spanned almost an entire, very long wall. The kitchen portion had a broad expanse of sleek, modern natural wooden cabinets. Smack up against them, another row of fancy, white floor-to-ceiling cabinets began. These had dentil cornices and traditional trim. Next came the original fireplace. And next to it were more white cabinets, this time less elaborate, with a built-in desk to make a home office. These were also white, but they still looked different from the other ones. Even my office-loving husband thought they looked odd, being bang-up next to the fireplace.

On the opposite wall stood a gigantic, free-standing custom storage unit with shelves and drawers in very dark wood. It didn't look anything like the cabinetry across from it, but it is much too big to go anywhere, so it is included in the price.

To me, the room resembled a cabinet showroom displaying four styles in three colors. They didn't relate to each other at all. And so, in our minds, all that super-expensive, handcrafted, meticulously designed cabinetry would have to go, except in the kitchen. We'd also want to divide the rooms again with, say, some reclaimed antique pocket doors to close off the kitchen from the living area. Sort of like the ones that were probably there between the dining room and parlor until a few decades ago.

Oh, well.

But I digress. What I really want to tell you about is the bathroom. It was luxe, with creamy stone on the floor and the sink top, and surrounding the soaking tub. It had the obligatory double sinks. (I never saw the point of them since I like my privacy. However, a spare sink comes in handy if one has a cat who likes to hang out in the sink, so I'm starting to come around.)

But here's the thing: three of the walls were covered in mirrors so that, if you were in the tub or standing near it, you would see an infinite number of bathtubs and naked yous, a là the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

I don't know about you, but the idea of infinite images of my naked little self, in a tub or out, is very disconcerting. They don't even have to appear on the Internet without my permission for me to feel this way. I would have felt the same way when I was in my young, skinny prime. I would have found it embarrassing by about second grade.

Who — aside from a fashion model or a narcissist — could stand that? 

I have no idea, but I can tell you that the same sort of person also likes a giant mirror for a headboard. It's built into the wall, too. So if we were going to live there, it would have to be ripped right out.

Before I conclude, I want to help you decide if you should cover every inch of your bathroom walls with mirrors.

Narcissists have always baffled me. It's hard to deal with them because you need to compliment them and butter them up to get anywhere, when all you really want to do is kick them in the shins and tell them to stop being so conceited and self-absorbed. And I have to deal with one (formally diagnosed) sometimes. So I was interested to read this article in the Washington Post about how researchers have learned that they can reliably identify narcissists by asking them just one question instead of dozens: Are you a narcissist?

As the article says, most of us wouldn't admit to having casual sex or taking drugs during a survey. But if you ask a narcissist if she is one, she won't find anything embarrassing about admitting it. After all, she is incredibly wonderful, and what could be wrong with that?

So ask yourself, and discover the truth. (You might need to get out of your bathtub and put on some clothes first.)

I wish I were a psychology researcher. I'd like to do a study where I ask people two questions:
1. Are you a narcissist?
2. Would you like to have you bathroom walls covered entirely in mirrors?

I suspect I'd get the same answer to both questions every time, except for those narcissists who'd answer, "But my bathroom already is, and I love it!"

I love how people's houses reveal secrets about their psyches. I ought to figure out what ours says about us. When I do, I'll let you know. Or not. I bet it will involve my unconscious longing to recreate idyllic childhood days at my grandmother's house. After all, there's next to nothing in this place (except for computers and iPhones) that would seem strange to her if she decided to visit me as a ghost again. (She did once, on July 13, 1988, and it was cool.)

Actually, she'd be surprised that I don't have a garden. And that we have so few cats. She always had lots.

We'll keep working on acquiring what's missing. Upward and onward, as we continue into Year Five of our merry, maddening house hunt. Maybe a place we'll love will show up tomorrow. Or the next day.

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