My Coffee Table Almost Killed Me & Other Single Girl Realities
A new series that explores what it's really like to be single in your 30s and NGAF.
“Pivot!” - Ross Geller, Friends, 1999
The Amherst Mid-Century Modern coffee table is available at Target for $161.49 plus tax. It’s 47 inches wide and 18.5 inches tall. It comes flat-packed in a cardboard box and requires assembly. This spring, I purchased it and brought it home to the top floor of my Brooklyn walk-up. It weighs 48 pounds.
When I was in my 20s, when all it took to cure a hangover was a single serving of Easy Mac, there seemed to be an abundance of humans around. There were roommates and uncoupled friends who just "showed up" always willing to lend a hand. But when that crew starts to partner and reproduce, anyone who’s single is easily forgotten when it comes to casual, day-to-day hangouts. How far in advance did you book your last dinner with a married friend? Therefore, filling a single woman’s world with people, or her living room with furniture, becomes a task, not an accident.
The Target employee who oomphed my coffee table out of a closet when I arrived for in-store pickup took one look at me, and said, “Baby, how are you gonna get this home?” I shrugged and replied, “I’ll figure it out!” Because I always do. I’ve been single for 10 years and dammit if I can’t assess a situation and Sherlock together a few favorable outcomes. I’m very resourceful. My friend Emily believes it’s my best quality. I don’t disagree.
When I rented my apartment, the broker promised I’d get used to the stairs. To bring this table home, I knew I’d have to force it up four flights by will alone, because I couldn’t physically lift it, like at all. But there are only so many years of your grown life you can live with an Ikea Lack in your living room, so a six-foot box of table was getting inside my apartment, come hell or high waist jeans. I took a Lyft to get the table home, but was on my own for the rest. By the way, I’ve lived in this building for six years. You never get used to the stairs.
Flight one was really about changing hand positions to figure out the best arrangement. I should have worn gloves, I know this now. One stair at a time, I shoved and pulled at the behemoth any way I could, to get a sense of my options. I heard my mother’s voice in my head asking me why a neighbor didn’t come out into the hallway to help me, my obvious reply being that my neighbors are hobgoblins I’ve never seen with my own eyes and they should stay right the fuck where they are.
By flight two, I was squatting underneath the item, shoving it in a northward direction and cartwheeling it over itself any time it got stuck on a stair. It was not unlike how Wylie Coyote might have completed the task. It was difficult, but I hadn’t lost my zeal yet. I did have the good sense at this point to take off my coat and purse.
On flight three, sweaty and afraid, I began to doubt myself. The box was huge, it was heavy, and it was breaking my spirit. There’s a sad reality in schlepping. Why was there never a guy around to help me? And what does it say for my feminism that this is the thought in my head right now? I was about to be crushed to death by furniture that could be assembled with an Allen wrench so I decided not to be too hard on myself.
But seriously, other people have people who love them enough for physical labor, why not me? It was like this with my new nightstand the previous month and the six-foot kitchen baker’s rack the month before that. (I was in a home improvement phase, apparently to punish myself.)
Flight three is where I began to wish I’d just married someone from high school.
After about 24 stairs worth of hauling, I had a sad moment, the kind that generate embarrassing thoughts. Flight three is where I began to wish I’d just married someone from high school.
Flight four was where my most trusted advisor — rage — kicked in. This coffee table would not conquer me. I’ve taken two Bar exams and moved across this country three times in a Honda Civic. I was going to accomplish this task goddammit. I won’t tell you the lengths I went to in order to finish the job from this point. There was bruising, I’ll say that.
By the time I reached the top of the stairs, limbs shaking, fully ready to marry my next right-swipe, I was a shell of the single formerly known as Shani. I forced the box inside my apartment, and realized I still had to take the old coffee table to the curb. I might have cried, I’m really not sure.
Why is getting things done so much harder for me? Why am I not part of a team? Yes, you can call friends for help, but then it becomes about twisting your time and plans around other people and feeling like you owe them something. And, you get even angrier that you couldn’t just do what you needed to do when you needed to do it like every other goddamn person on Earth.
It’s also not just hauling things up stairs! Have you ever put an anti-bed bug protective cover on a queen-size mattress and box spring? Alone? People, I was almost killed! You have to have the athletic prowess of Simone Biles and the reckless bravery of Indiana Jones to accomplish that task unscathed or without forfeiting your security deposit. And couples (though I’m sure they fight mid-chore), have the option of just saying, “hey babe, can you come help me with this?” Motherfuckers.
A decade alone has left me with certain consequences, one of which being I don’t like relying on people. I’ve learned how to do a lot of things by myself (I trim my own bangs, I bake my own bread, I’ve recently invested in a UV light for gel nails, the list goes on). If no one is ever going to be around, then I’m never going to need anyone around. #Lifehack.
But I worry, a lot actually, that my situational need for self-sufficiency will result in me being averse to help of any kind, ever, from anyone. When I do meet a partner, how am I supposed to let go of all of my get-shit-doneness and adopt a sense of “we’re in this together?”
Normal life things are harder alone, but they’re not impossible. I don’t have to feel helpless simply because I have no help. I am my help.
In the end, I disposed of the old coffee table, collapsed and recycled the giant box, assembled and styled my new furniture, and my feet and cat were resting upon it by dinnertime. My fear and sadness and that general halo of feeling “left out” of life’s normal things all melted away (for awhile), and were replaced by a single woman’s oxytocin: Accomplishment.
Normal life things are harder alone, but they’re not impossible. I don’t have to feel helpless simply because I have no help. I am my help. I can, quite literally, build the world I want around me, it’s just going to take a little longer and be a little bit heavier than tasks taken on in pairs. I can live with that a lot easier than I can live with ugly furniture. And as for how I’ll get comfortable ever asking someone to lift the other end of the box, we’ll table that for later.