In celebration of my four hundredth blog post, I am presenting this week one of the very early posts, after which my blog was named: “How to Discuss Paint Colors with your Wife.” Some of you may not have seen it before. More of you may have read it and forgotten it. Whatever. Here it is:
How to Discuss Paint Colors with Your Wife
I’m like most men—comfortable discussing colors using one-syllable words like red, blue, green, or brown. Orange and yellow make me a little nervous, and anything that sounds French, even monosyllabic French, brings on a queasiness of stomach, a rolling of eyes, and a desire to go outside and chase something. Try it and see: taupe, beige, mauve, or (shudder)—ecru.
I was recently in a paint store with my wife. While she was pouring over the 3,000 shades of yellow to find the right one for our bathroom (“the color of butter, but fresh butter, straight from the farm”), I noticed a young couple doing the same thing. The wife was studying 40 tabs of off-white, placing them next to one another as if that would reveal some profound truth, while her husband sat with arms crossed and a scowl on his face. “Just pick one,” he said, “and I’ll tell you if I hate it.”
Now, as a man enjoying my second marriage, I could tell that he was going about this in entirely the wrong way. For his benefit, and men like him, here are my seven secrets for discussing paint colors that you don’t see or care about:
Take it outside. This is what the experts do. Natural light is very different from indoor light, and even indoors, incandescent light bulbs are different from fluorescent. Trust me on this one. So when your wife asks your opinion on 2 or 3 colors, repeat what I just told you about light and take it outside. You probably won’t notice any difference except that everything will appear brighter if the sun is shining. But at least you get to go outside for a while.
Use the plural. When your wife asks you what color you think the television room should be, don’t say, “tan” or “green” or “I don’t care.” Say something like, “I was thinking of greens.” Maybe you were, maybe you weren’t—it doesn’t matter, since we all know that she is going to pick the color anyway. But answering in the plural marks you as a sensitive guy who is aware that there is more than one shade of green. This will be worth some points down the road, though I have yet to discover where.
“There’s X in it.” Here’s one that took me years to figure out: No paint color is what it is. There’s a base color, and then a bunch of other colors are added and the result is blue or red or whatever. The discriminating eye—my wife—can look at a brown and conclude, “There’s red in it,” and other women will nod in agreement. Well, you can learn to nod just as wisely. And you can also pronounce, when looking at a blue wall, “There’s green in it.” Here’s the funny part: You may start doing this randomly to appear sensitive and discriminating, but if you stay with it, you’ll start getting it right more and more often. In fact, I’m starting to believe that my wife is correct—there really is green in that yellow wall in our dining room.
Tapdance. This strategy is based on two assumptions: 1) Your wife will eventually choose the color anyway, and 2) You don’t want to suggest that you “don’t care.” Some fancy footwork might help you through this minefield. Sigh and explain how the light is different depending on the time of day, or that the color changes depending on what is next to it (as in that green couch, which has some blue in it), or that it depends on whether it’s drywall or plaster, the size of the paint sample, the nap on the roller, etc. Hold something up to it—a pillow, a piece of curtain, whatever—and turn your head about 30 degrees to the side as you stare and frown. Warning: Most women catch on to this one fairly quickly, as they don’t like being made fun of. If you sense that she is staring at you rather than the paint samples, take it outside.
The name game. If you ever actually look at those color tabs that your wife brings home from the paint store, you’ll be surprised to learn that all those colors actually have names. You might want to pick your color based on which one has the coolest name—much the way I pick horses at the racetrack, and probably with the same results. Anyway, one way to discuss colors with your wife is to toss around those color names as if they were real. When she asks what color you would like the bathroom to be, say something like “morning rose,” “peppermint,” or “summer evening.” (OK—I confess I’ve never dared to try this strategy, but I enjoy imagining the look on my wife’s face if I actually said “summer evening.”) You can have fun with this one. The color for your living room? How about “putting green” (a real color name I saw), or “light lager,” or “nice pear.”
“It Works.” This is an important phrase. I know this because they use it a lot on HGTV. As in, “That couch works in the living room,” or “This color works on this wall.” The nearest I can figure out, “works” falls somewhere between “is the same as” and “clashes with.” The meaning is close to “blends,” but “blend” is too much like “bland.” I suggest you think of a color “working” in a room the way you think of your relationship with your wife. You certainly aren’t the same, but you don’t go together as badly as the clothes you wore before your wife started dressing you. No, you “work” as a couple because you are just different enough to keep things interesting.