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Save Marriages: Abolish The 'Swatch'

Many of us feel strange these days, going about our daily lives, knowing that so many people are risking their lives in Iraq. Some of us have vague feelings of guilt if we do anything that's fun or frivolous. Experts urge us to go ahead and try to live life normally anyway, but it's not always easy. Last Sunday's Oscars went on with a shortened red carpet. The people in charge said this was out of respect for the seriousness of the war, and it was part of what they called a more "muted" celebration. I believe them, but I also believe that if the Academy Awards people are like the rest of us, they probably bought the red carpet after just seeing a swatch, and then they weren't happy with it.

My wife and I recently went through one of the most difficult ordeals for any couple — furniture shopping. Usually, I bridle at male-female stereotypes, so let me just say that for many men, there's nothing scarier than a woman approaching him, carrying that evil invention — the fabric swatch. How can anyone decide on a major purchase based on a tiny square of fabric that's not much bigger than a stamp?

And there is no defense against the swatch coming before your eyes — not putting your fingers in the shape of a cross, not wielding a wooden stake, and definitely not pretending that you're asleep on the comfortable, old couch that you foolishly think is still okay.

Once you get to the furniture showroom, you'll notice right away that there are no television sets. How can anyone tell if a couch is good if they can't sit on it and watch TV? (Another reason that you'll notice the absence of television sets is that whenever you shop for furniture, there will be an extremely important sporting event on television that you'll be missing. That's just the way things are.)

Regardless of gender, whichever one of you is least enthusiastic about furniture shopping will probably be asked if you like a certain chair or couch. If you say, "I don't like that color," you'll be told to forget about color. It can be ordered in any color. If you say, "I'm not that crazy about that fabric," you'll be told that it can be ordered in any fabric. If you want to be perceived as cooperative, don't ask the obvious question — "If color and fabric don't matter, why are we here looking at this furniture?"

They'll let you touch a bunch of swatches and even suggest that you place them on chairs and couches so you can squint and try to imagine what they'd look like fully grown. Eventually you'll make a decision. After you finally make that choice, they'll tell you that the furniture won't be ready for between six weeks and three months. The reason they'll give you for the delay is that these custom-made pieces take a long time to make. There is another more sinister reason. While you're waiting for your furniture to arrive, you will forget exactly what it's supposed to look like. So, when it finally shows up and doesn't even resemble how you've been picturing it, you figure it must be the fault of your poor memory rather than a mistake made by the furniture company.

Experts usually list money and sex as the top two things that cause couples problems. I think they have been underestimating home furnishings. In order to help preserve relationships, it's time we consumers stood up to the furniture industry and insisted that they abolish that Weapon of Marital Destruction — the swatch.

It's absurd that we've let them get away with using it for so long. Would you buy a car after just seeing a little square piece of metal? Would you fork over a down payment after just seeing a swatch of a house? Of course not. And I don't think you'd want to commit to saying that you'd like a future column of mine based solely on the following:

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver