When you buy a lot to build a house, you’re immediately faced with the imposing question of when you’re going to build it. We closed on our lot in late October of 2018, and, as the weather had already started to turn for the worse that fall, decided that we’d wait to dig our foundation until the following spring. The upside was that we’d be the first one on the excavator’s schedule when the ground thawed enough to dig, instead of the last one on the schedule as the days got shorter and colder and we fought the impending winter. The downside was that we were about to endure the winter from Hell, setting records for extreme temperatures and extreme snowfall. Spring felt a long ways off. The strongest blizzard on record (in terms of amount of snow and wind speed) hit Rochester that winter. The frost line sunk to over five feet deep. We missed twelve days of school between snow and cold. Still, all the while, we hoped that spring would come early, and we’d get to dig our foundation sooner rather than later.
The start of the new year shifted Josh’s focus to the house almost exclusively. Although we weren’t building on the lot yet, there were plenty of projects to get started, including the construction of all of our bathroom and kitchen cabinets that he’d designed. Many a snowy day was spent in the woodshop building bases and boxes and doors and drawers. Eventually, we picked a stain color (more on that in a future post!), and somewhere along the way, undoubtedly when Menards offered an 11% rebate sale, we got the brainy idea that we should order all our doors, in hopes that Josh would have time to stain them well in advance of when we’d eventually install them.
Since hindsight is 20/20, there are a lot of things that, looking back, did not make sense about buying our doors when we did. Chief among those reasons is, undoubtedly, that we didn’t really have a place to store them, but the fact that we hadn’t built a single wall let alone door frame in our a new house, and that we’d “accidentally” picked a wood type that was difficult to stain that we were now helplessly locked into, rounded out the trifecta. To date, we have stained 1/2 of two doors, and the rest have sat stacked in our garage in Rochester while our two cars sit in the driveway, and we hope that they don’t get too dusty, or too warped, and that a mouse doesn’t crawl into the end of a box and build a nest in there with one of them.
But the funny thing is that as I’ve told that story to other people who have built houses, I’ve discovered that we aren’t the only people that have bought the doors much too soon. If you have a general contractor, he/she probably took care of that scheduling for you. However, among my friends who have been hands on in the process, at least a third, trending towards half, bought their doors too soon.
So what it is about the doors?
I’ve thought of at least six metaphors about doors and relationships and buying things too soon when building a house and jumping into things too soon when building a relationship. I could wander that road, but it feels wrong, and a but hypocritical. In all honesty, my own relationship happened fast. We emailed for six weeks, and then met and dated for six months before we were engaged. I was looking for jobs in Rochester three months into our relationship. Josh asked me to think about moving in about the same time. If buying the doors too early is about a speed thing, well then it’s no wonder we bought our doors so early. We’re good at speed. It’s almost amazing we didn’t buy the doors before the lot! 😉
I think, instead, I’ve settled on this different grand metaphor for the doors and where they intersect with life…
When you think about building a house, you think about all the big things you’re going to need to do. You think about walls, and a roof, and heating systems, and plumbing. They’re all REALLY big things. They’re all things that are hard to conceptualize coming together on the bare spot of ground you’ve purchased. They are not things you can immediately rush into a hardware store and buy ready to go. And, at least for me, once we decided we were going to build, I wanted to rush out and get some things to get started with.
You know what you can go right into a hardware store and buy? Doors!
But here’s the kind of funny thing. You know what doors do in a house? They close one part off from another part. And you know what doesn’t happen when building a house for a very very very long time? You don’t close one part off from another part. Literally the house sits open being rained on, snowed on, open to the elements. Then the walls go up, but it’s pretty much a big open space while all “guts” go in. Then you drywall to cover up the guts, and you put flooring down so that you’re not looking between the floorboards. And finally, somewhere near the end of the project, you put in doors. Doors that close off one space from another. Some that lock, and some that don’t. French doors, closet doors, bathroom doors. Decorative or plain. But all of them there to close off one part of the house from another part.
Most of our relationships have probably developed in the exact opposite fashion, with us closing off many parts of our life to another person. We frame ourselves as a specific thing or a certain way, and then only as we build trust do we open up more parts of ourselves to share.
You can now see, perhaps, where I’m going with this.
When I was starting off dating, a lot of the relationship advice I got, was about “doors,” that is, closing off one part of my life, until later in the relationship. The advice looked something like this:
- “Don’t talk about politics too soon. It can be a real turnoff!”
- “You can’t kiss on the first date. He’ll think you’re easy.”
- “I wouldn’t tell him you’re training for a marathon. That might intimidate him.”
- “I wouldn’t mention your past relationship with _______.”
The problem with all of this advice, of course, is that in closing the doors on those conversations or situations early on in the relationship, they become these big behemoths, things that need to be dealt with down the line that may have ballooned in significance from the time they might have otherwise naturally come up in conversation. Take these examples to each of the above piece of advice.
- While yes, I believe that politics can be a real turnoff, Josh and I discussed gun control the very first time we ever talked on the phone. I’m not suggesting that’s a great piece of dating advice either, but the thing is, for me, there are any number of things he could have said or believed in that conversation that would have been deal breakers for me. Better that I knew he could navigate those issues gracefully early on in the relationship.
- I’ve only kissed on one first date. I married the guy. I avoided kissing on other first dates because of “the principle of the thing” and then spent the next three, four, five dates awkwardly trying to figure out who would kiss who first and if there was any chemistry. In many cases, there wasn’t, and I would have saved myself three awkward dinners if it would have happened night one!
- My marathon training took almost 25 hours of my week, which is why we couldn’t hang out as much as we might have liked. So what am I supposed to do? Lie about that?
- Whatever happened in past relationships might fundamentally affect how I approach the next one. Am I supposed to hide why my feelings develop the way they do?
I am not suggesting that you don’t set boundaries and limits in relationships, nor that you start spilling your life story and pulling out all the skeletons from the closet on the first date. But when we shut off parts of ourselves that we’re not going to talk about at all, or expect that every relationship is going to follow the same pattern of what to talk about and when, we potentially hinder the natural, organic growth that the relationship would have taken.
The more common metaphor used in relationships when it comes to getting into the heart of the deep stuff is “taking down my walls.” However, having watched walls being built up this summer, I can say with much confidence that you don’t really have to take them down to get into the room you’ve built, you just need to walk through the opening left for the door. They’re really only sealed up when the door, lock and key are installed. And we don’t, or at least shouldn’t, put those in first!
What does this look like in practice? Not, I think, dragging your partner through the internal “home” of your life, but maybe more like hosting an open house. In my own relationship, it was often phrased something like this:
“I don’t want to tell you more than you want to know about ___________________ (insert past history, relationship, etc.); but I’ll answer whatever questions you might have about it.”
In conversing this way, a boundary is set defining a place where the truth might be uncomfortable, or one of us might choose a certain level of “not knowing,” but the door is open to discussion if desired or necessary.
So build your relationship on a strong foundation. Lay out the groundwork and use walls as boundaries where you need them, but DON’T BUY THE DOORS FIRST! Remain open. Allow for flow and progression. Don’t drag your significant other through a grand tour of every nook and cranny of your life, but make sure they know the doors are open, and that there’s room, in each room, for them to be.
And in the end, if it’s the right person, and, as Shakespeare would say you’ve “Bought the mansion of love,” and it’s really going to forever. Then put your doors in. Close the door on other relationships, other’s opinions of how to do your marriage the right way, and walking away. Close the door on singlehood, on feeling alone, on selfishness. Close the door on one life, and open yourself completely to another. One that fills a home of many rooms, all of which you share.