Every couple has one core fight that replays over and over again, in different disguises, over the course of their relationship. In this series, couples analyze the origin and mechanics of their One Fight. To pitch your own One Fight (we’ll also accept pseudonyms, if necessary), email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Baird Campbell and Victor Ancheta have been married for just over a year and live in Houston.
Victor Ancheta is an artist and decorator.
Baird Campbell is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Rice University.
Baird Campbell: Our relationship’s core fight is definitely about what our house looks like. Because we are gay stereotypes, we are both very particular about the aesthetic we do and do not like, which is honestly usually fairly similar. You, however, really can’t handle it when I want to make any decisions about what goes where in our house.
Victor Ancheta: Right. We do have very similar aesthetics, like our love for Latin America and colorful art. But you only barely tolerate my desire to be surrounded by carved saints with missing limbs and accusatory faces. I’m really surprised that you don’t find them comforting. I love you so much, but I do judge your taste sometimes.
Baird: This became an issue as soon as we moved in together, I think literally while we were still getting all our possessions into the house. Part of it was that I had no idea how much stuff you were hiding in your tiny apartment, and part of it was that it seemed like whenever we had to choose between your stuff or mine, mine pretty much ended up in the donation pile without fail. Some of that was definitely because many of your things were just straight-up nicer, but it started to feel pretty quickly like it was about more than that. Everything from my silverware, to my plates, to my towels were quickly either donated or relegated to “if we need extra”–land.
Victor: I remember our first foray to Ikea together when we’d just started dating. That trip did not end up in disaster; we were successful and even boasted about it on Facebook.
Baird: That Ikea trip went smoothly, though, a) because we were shopping for things for your bachelor pad and b) we hadn’t been dating that long and I felt it would be rude to lose my mind at you in a public location, even though we had to figure out how to fit the pieces of an entire couch into my early 2000s Toyota Camry.
Victor: Fast-forward to moving in together and fighting about where to position furniture, what things to keep, which artwork to hang and where.
Baird: We also listened to a lot of Sia. I have some weird feelings about Sia now.
We fought for so many days on end that it got to the point where I thought moving in with you had been a terrible mistake, because I absolutely felt like I was arguing with a stranger who was somehow agreeing with me that he was being irrational but still being super irrational.
I just remember it kept bubbling up over and over again, and I felt like we couldn’t move past it. I will also admit to getting upset about things I actually didn’t even want to keep because I was so frustrated with feeling like I had somehow agreed to move into a bigger version of your own former apartment.
Victor: It started with an old turquoise Ikea Lack side table. To be fair, I did like its color but I just hated its size, how cumbersome and how rickety it was, and that it was made of MDF [medium-density fibreboard]—the bane of my existence. That table was designed to be thrown in the trash; I was just itching to get rid of it. Anyway, you wanted to keep it and it ballooned from there. There was a lot of screaming and crying. I recognize that I really should not care if you keep furniture that I do not like especially after making you get rid of a good portion of your belongings, but I just couldn’t be diplomatic about it. I think we can definitely say that Ikea can ruin relationships even outside of its labyrinth.
Baird: This table. I did not like this table. It immediately became apparent that it had super weird dimensions and did not fit in any space in our house. But I demanded to keep it simply because I felt like I needed to win a round.
I would say we have this fight every few months when our house reaches peak knick-knackery and you are forced to part with items so that you can display new acquisitions. This argument is a real classic waiting to be dusted off at unexpected times, or when we have started a fight about something else and run out of ammunition but are still angry.
Victor: This fight plays out about all sorts of physical objects in our lives, outside of furniture. There was the Giant Chicken Pot Debacle of Spring 2017. Baird, you came home from a conference and there, sitting on the corner of the living room, was this giant clay chicken pot planter welcoming you. Now, I admit that this pot is one of the ugliest things in the world but I have a soft spot for it because it was entirely made by hand. Someone actually took the time to make a giant coil pot, apply clay feathers all over it, and then stick a chicken-esque head to the clay body. Your reaction was immediate disdain. You wanted it out of the living room, you wanted it gone. Now, I didn’t like the chicken that much either. But instead of agreeing with you, I dug my heels in and said that that chicken filled that space well. We went back and forth arguing about the chicken’s merits and still I was stubborn enough to fight for a thing that I too find ridiculous. The chicken was moved. It now sits in front of our main door greeting visitors to our place.
Baird: You’re forgetting one detail. You specifically asked me if you should get that pot before I left for that conference, and I directly told you that I hated it. I don’t hate a lot of things. But I hate that damned chicken.
We are both extremely stubborn and opinionated, but I am more expressive. In some ways, I feel like this fight is you expressing your feelings through stuff. You also definitely have a different relationship to things in general than I do, and I think this has to do with our vastly different upbringings. When you emigrated from the Philippines, you had the experience of putting your life into a few suitcases, so I get why things are important to you in a way that they are not for me. I, on the other hand, grew up middle class and white, in the same house for my whole childhood. I was never concerned about having to choose which possessions to keep and which to give away. And especially in my 20s, I lived out of two suitcases for about a decade, so it never even occurred to me that there could come a day when I wouldn’t buy all my furniture at Ikea and then inevitably throw it away after a year or two without feeling bad.
I also do think this fight has to do with you feeling like, since my personality is “bigger” and louder than yours, this is a domain in which you can exert some control. I get this, but I also don’t want to live in somebody else’s house for my entire life.
Victor: You’re right about my experience as an immigrant. It was hard to leave behind generations’ worth of existence in belongings and memories, and I started hoarding new possessions—cue the twang from Hoarders: Buried Alive. This was my response to that trauma. But the main thing that propels me now to be too particular about how our home looks is that I am an artist and a collector. Aesthetics is a way of living to me, just like activism and anthropology are to you. And when you get in the way of my plans to arrange the house in a way I imagine it, it can feel like a personal attack, or that you do not understand me.
I also feel a strong connection to how things are made. As a sculptor, I appreciate the craft, time, and sweat that goes in to creating objects. I can relate to people who make things and I value their work. I know that as an anthropologist, you understand the relationship between humans and objects. I recognize that you have your own opinions about how to display these objects, and I need to respect that.
Baird: Right from the start, you do know when you are being unreasonable. So I think, over time, that has at least helped make this fight shorter, if not more pleasant, since I find it basically impossible to actually diffuse it. It has to run its course.
Victor: I think that being increasingly conscious that a fight might happen over furnishings helps to diminish the fight itself. For me, knowing that we might fight over a table makes me start to have a conversation in my head with you and think about what you might say. I find it to be helpful not just when it comes to acquiring things, but in many aspects of our relationship. So, there’s now a mini Baird head in my mind that makes me see things from your perspective.
Baird: I think you logically know that neither of us makes enough money for our house to look exactly the way you want it, and even if we did, you are actually way too cheap to spend that kind of money. You have a very strong sense of fair and unfair, which is normally great. Every time I make you watch a true crime documentary (so basically every night) you get irrationally angry when the murder happens, even though murder is the whole point of the documentary. And when you perceive that something is unfair in our lives (say, the fact that we’ve both worked really hard for a long time and are still lower middle-class at best), your sense that it isn’t fair can prevent you from accepting that it’s a reality we have to live with nonetheless. As much as my upbringing was more privileged than yours, you were able to transition into adulthood much more gradually than I was, living at home while you got your degree. That meant that your disposable income was actually disposable. I’ve been paying rent and student loans since I was 18, and I do think this has allowed me to accept my financial circumstances as they are in a way that you’re learning to. Incidentally this is why, when you met me, all of my furniture was made of particle board.
Victor: You’ve always been about what is right and fair and I love that about you. You get upset when people don’t tip servers well because you’ve been on the other end. You fight for equality and you are vocal about it. You’ve even helped me find a voice in a world where I thought my voice was too quiet.
All of this is to say: I think it makes sense that we fight over furnishings, since we manage to treat furnishings as a reflection of our deeply held individual values. Also, it’s worth noting that when we work as a team, we are able to do great things. We pulled off a fun, boozy, colorful, and memorable wedding with over a hundred guests! Though, that journey too had several fights leading up to it—also about décor.
Baird: At the end of the day, this fight to me is about control on your end, and feeling valued and heard on my end. In typical me fashion, this argument really makes me spin out and start imagining us 20 years from now living in a house full of statues of saints whose names I don’t know surrounded by zero pictures of our children and/or cats because you decided our children and/or cats do not match the aesthetic that we (you) are currently going for. And even though I try to explain what is (to me) a very clear connection between you hating our coasters and hating our unborn children, as of yet you don’t seem to see it.
On your end, I think your personal biography has helped shape a person who really wants and needs to be in control at all times, because it seems like you spent a lot of your early life not in control of your own circumstances. This is hard for me, No. 1 because obviously I would also like to be the boss, but No. 2 because it often seems like your perception of a constant battle for power keeps you from seeing us a unit, which is definitely something we’re still working on this early in our marriage.
Victor: I think there’s a lot of truth in that. Even talking about this fight has made me examine how I can be selfish and what my flaws are as a partner. I think our relationship is strong in that our fight is mostly superficial. In many ways, we are already like an old couple because our fights mostly revolve around the same things again and again, and I find that oddly comforting. At the end of the day, we have a beautiful home together, one that you and I will continue to fill with love regardless of what it looks like or where it is, for years to come. Giant chicken pot, limbless saints, Ikea furniture, cats, children, and all.
Read the other entries in Slate’s Our One Fight series.
• The Sharer vs. The Withholder