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It’s Target, Not Ikea, Where Happy Relationships Go to Die

Those endless shelves of chintzy crap are going to torpedo your cohabitative bliss

Every couple has its disagreements, and every couple is pushed to the brink by a few universal stressors: household budgets, airplane travel, in-laws, “the Holidays,” choosing where to eat and, perhaps worst of all, the dreaded apartment move. To uproot your shared life and relocate it 500 miles or even five blocks away takes a lot of money, logistical planning, dumb luck and sweaty labor; the two of you are virtually guaranteed to squabble about the approach to some aspect of it. I know because my partner, Maddie, and I just packed up all our shit and hauled it from the Sacramento area down to L.A., and despite our great mutual affection, there were a few testy moments.

(Please note, if you are Maddie, that these instances were all my fault, and I’m sorry.)

Thing is, the move isn’t over when you’re finally in the new place. You still have to unbox your possessions and arrange the furniture, etc. The decorating process may require a trip to Ikea, the Swedish home furnishings retailer that has become synonymous with “where the fuck did that Allen wrench go?” The pressure put on couples shopping at Ikea — and later assembling their purchases — is the stuff relationship nightmares are made of. But I believe that a different brand is the bigger threat to cohabitative bliss.

I’m talking, of course, about Target.

Think about it: Ikea is for a specific kind of product, and you go at specific times, knowing you need a coffee table or bookcase. Target is an open-ended time suck, a swamp of alienating aisles that seem to contain a billion other products you just realized you needed. Also, uh, plastic cactuses and those signs that say “COFFEE” and “YUM” that are popular in dorm rooms for some reason.

Ikea at least feels like a finite experience; when you step into Target, you’re keenly aware that you’ll have to keep coming back for decades, because where else do they sell oscillating fans and the extra-large bags of Sour Patch Kids? Don’t worry about finding the shit you came for, either, because by the time you ask an employee for help, your cart will be too full of throw pillows, Halloween socks and $5 DVDs you’re pretty sure you’ll hate.

Swag Oops GIF by Target - Find & Share on GIPHY

As with Ikea, there’s a mandatory Target visit after each move. You go there not for a new couch but a host of odds and ends either lost in the shuffle or left behind at the old residence. This, I contend, is where the serious personal and intra-couple breakdowns happen. Though you’ve shopped at Target for years, you’ve never shopped at this location, which strikes you as ill-organized, and within 10 minutes of unsuccessfully hunting down the mop-and-broom section, you are clinically insane. The fluorescent lights drain blood from your brain, and you wander in a semi-conscious torpor. You stare at what looks like a 50-gallon bottle of moisturizer. You consider clearing off a shelf so you can nap on it. Everywhere around you, meanwhile, couples are already in a rage.

You needn’t shop together, either, to notice the tensions Target creates. This last time, I went by myself, on Maddie’s tacit assumption that I couldn’t possibly screw up a mission to buy a trash can and a curtain shower rod. But, in addition to picking up a bamboo utensil tray that fits in none of our kitchen drawers, I made the executive decision to treat us to a new bath mat and a fresh bath towel. The mat had a sort of aqua hue, while the towel was bright gold-yellow, the color of Big Bird. Bright! Cheerful! Just what you want in your bathroom, right? WRONG. Maddie was aghast at my impulses, delivering a crash-course in design palettes and my ignorance of them. The yellow towel she found especially unbelievable. “None of our towels match!” she complained. While struggling to assimilate the idea that towels need to match, I remembered the moment when I’d almost bought a gray towel, which might have meshed with other muted tones in the bathroom… but Target had other plans: “Psst, over here, dumbass,” Target had whispered, luring me farther down the shelf. “What about — wait for it — a towel that is yellow? Bet you didn’t expect that! You like what you see, towel boy?”

“Hell yeah,” I said.

Is this stupid towel going to torpedo my relationship? Probably not. Could I save myself a lot of grief by tossing it in the garbage tonight? Absolutely. Am I going to? No way. Everyone has to stand by their Target moves, no matter how (apparently) idiotic. That’s a key factor in Target arguments, or “Targuments,” as I’ve decided to call them. Yet the in-store spats can have so many origins — the size and scope of the place transform it into a canvas upon which any conflict may play out, with neither participant fully aware they’re standing in public. It unleashes your pettiest, stubbornest, most shameless self.

If you’re seeking the solution to this phenomenon, too bad: I’m as clueless as you are. Maybe you should order everything online. Maybe you should go off the grid entirely and build a mud hut in the woods. But I can warn you of a critical mistake to avoid:

And please, don’t even mention Costco.