cozy conversation space

for the longest time after moving into my own apartment, i procrastinated buying a couch. i was hesitating in the way that twentysomethings do when they know that they won't be somewhere for very long, living out of a suitcase for a whole year and taking pride in having no furniture. friends would stay over and we would blow up an air mattress for the floor with a pump designed for blowing up pool toys, living that early twentysomething existence where everything feels dramatic and ephemeral.

today, i have the same mindset but it looks a little different—this time i'm irrationally procrastinating turning apartments into homes and buying things which homes should really have, because one day i'll get married and then i'll regret buying a can opener because he might own a can opener, and who needs two can openers? nevermind that this is a ridiculous way to live a life. i'm ascribing all of these sensible life things to a future self in the same way that i aspire to be someone who owns a non-serrated knife. one day i'll be someone who does this lovely domestic thing, i tell myself. it's 2021 and i can be anything i want, including a disaster.

now that you understand that i live in a permanent state of flux, i can tell you that eventually i bought a couch. couches are good furniture; maybe even the best furniture. all places are better with couches; coffee shops and restaurants and offices and rooftop bars with couch seating are better than those with only chairs. if we go to a restaurant together you know that i will want to sit in couch seating, even if that means that it takes us fifteen minutes longer to get seated. when i finally bought a couch, i didn't shut up about it for weeks. i told everyone i knew about my newfound commitment to a couch, and expectantly awaited their applause. i threw a couchwarming party, where no one sat on my couch because we moved the party to my rooftop as my studio apartment was really much too small for a party. i celebrated the couch in an outsized way, if only for the fact that it was proof that my indecisive self was, in fact, a real adult capable of making decisions.

the couch is also impermanent, a reflection of my in-between state. it's beautiful, but it has no arms. the Structube website tells me that it is not, in fact, a couch—it is a tufted sofa-bed. whatever, i'm a millennial woman living in a major city who doesn't own a can opener or a cheese grater; i think that gives me the dubious license to call a sofabed a couch. it was built for form over function, but in that it does quite well—my living room aesthetic is significantly improved by its existence; the couch photographs exceptionally well. one day i will become someone who is can commit to a couch with arms, and i anticipate that my life will be much improved. until then, this will do. i love this couch for what it is (an all-purpose piece of furniture), for what it could be (a conversation space), and for what it represents (adulthood, barely), in spite of its impermanence.

two whole years later, i decided to buy a c-table—you know, the kind of half-table that was designed specifically to fit around a couch, created exclusively for people like me who spend way too much time on their couches but don't own coffee tables or couches with arms. honestly, i think you should applaud me for this too—i resisted the impulse to buy (another) IKEA LACK side table, which i seriously considered. no one should ever own more than one LACK side table, but i know multiple people who have multiples. there's a reason why they can sell it for less than ten dollars: it's still profitable if you sell lots of them.

this week i sent someone a photo of the newly-built table beside my couch, excited that i had built it all by myself (i'm holding myself to high standards). instead of complimenting my table-building skills, he honed in on the couch. he said, conversations are better in rooms with couches, provided that the couch does not face a tv. if it does, then the conversations are worse. i haven't stopped thinking about this since, because what has the past year been if not a year made up of conversations facing tiny television screens? they're laptop screens instead of sixty-inch television screens, but it's the exact same thing—we ostensibly face each other in conversation, but we're only half-present; perpetually distracted by on-screen notifications and everything happening off-screen behind us. you're never quite sure if their environment feels the same as yours, if they're watching you the way you're watching them or furtively catching up on Slack notifications while you're talking. you would never sit on a couch next to someone in conversation and google things as they spoke. it’s hard for conversation to get really good if you‘re constantly distracted by the entire internet available in the same window.

the best conversation spaces are cozy, and slipping into cozy conversation space requires shutting out the rest of the world, which is impossible when facing a screen. really good conversation requires two or more people to be fully immersed in the world that exists within the reach of the room; in the world which exists only between them. two friends sitting on a couch facing each other, speaking in low tones so they can't be overheard at a party is a world. two people curled up on a couch with their phones facedown, asking questions of each other late into the night is a world. reunited girlfriends sitting on a couch eating tiny cakes and gossiping about their lives is a world. a family gathered around a fireplace reminiscing together is a world, and two humans getting to know each other on a first date while tucked into a booth in the back of a crowded restaurant full of fizzy nervous energy on a Saturday night is also a world. but sitting on separate couches across miles and timezones, looking at each other through laptop screens—that's an approximation of a world, separated by distance which feels a lot like sitting next to each other on a couch while watching television and not saying very much at all.

sometimes distance makes us braver; some things are so nerve-wracking to say that we can only write them down and hit send and immediately turn off our phones so we don't wait for a response. but there are also some conversations too precious to have over text message or video call. i can't remember the first time we agreed that we were going to file something under “in-person conversations” instead of trying to talk about it through text, but somehow we knew to wait. there are two types of i'll-tell-you-in-person conversations: “fun-to-tell-at-parties”-i'll-tell-you-in-person conversations and “constellations-of-our-souls”-i'll-tell-you-in-person conversations, and both of these are crucial to the way we understand each other. i know my friends by the stories they tell over and over at parties; the stories which i know off-by-heart, and by the conversations we have past midnight. it's the moment when someone texts you with news, but i can't explain it all here, i'll tell you in person, maybe over drinks?, or when you recognize that some conversations deserve your undivided attention; demand the gravity and intimacy of an in-person conversation. “i'll tell you in person” is an invitation and a promise.

right now i miss curl-up-on-the-couch-with-my-feet-tucked-under-me conversations, in the way you do when you're at a party where everyone is known, or in the way you do when you‘re in a new place with strangers who are all perfect in their unknownness. i love when the clock ticks past midnight and everyone is settled into an approximate circle, when you‘ve put away the party games and the wine and the Spotify playlist is chill and someone has turned the lights down low and people are taking turns excavating their life stories, when everything feels safe and the night feels like sanctuary. i'm missing being curled up on a couch with a friend discussing love and life and validating each others’ existences and poor life decisions in the way that only your female friends can, missing sitting on the floor on a giant rug, surrounded by girlfriends with whom you formed friendships on nights just like this one, when it’s late and you have things to do tomorrow and you know that you‘re no longer teenagers staying up late at the sleepover but maybe for this night you can pretend. i miss other people's living rooms and suburban basements and leaning into conversation in a crowded bar and the moment when your friend pulls you into the corner at a party and whispers conspiratorially, you won't believe what just happened. i miss staying out late and sending my friends cryptic texts like i'll tell you in person and sharing secrets you only dare to confess because it's a universally-known truth that sometimes a really good post-midnight lifechat can fix everything wrong in the world. sometimes we tell each other secrets because we think that maybe the act of doing so can save us; be everything we need. sometimes it does; sometimes it is.

my couch doesn't face a television. it faces a white wall, because i can't commit to a fun accent wall. instead, i've decided to affix a very large moon sticker on the wall, because i have a slightly unhinged hypothesis that a giant moon overlooking a couch makes every conversation better. all i really ever want is to stay immersed in midnight, with you, for a little bit longer.

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