I have a hunch that the stamps in my passport have contributed most of my insights, and prompted most of my questions.
Whenever I think back to the relationships I suffered through in my 20s, one instance comes to mind. The year was 2005. I was back together with an ex I’d dated four or five years previous. I lived in Wilmington, NC. He lived in Manhattan. We saw each other every couple of weeks, as much as we could but no more and no less.
A few months into this arrangement, I arrived at his East Village apartment on Thursday evening. Despite the occasional bickering about the “open relationship” status he’d demanded, things were fine. As fine as they could be anyway when your “boyfriend” was sleeping with other women and you only saw him every other weekend. But I knew “better” than to push, and so we cuddled on the couch, ate cheese and pâté, drank champagne, and talked. In the moment, we were perfectly happy.
After a few glasses of champagne, I stood to use his bathroom. As I walked back to the couch to rejoin him, I casually mentioned, “You know, there’s a right way and a wrong way to put toilet paper on the holder. Yours is on backward.” I smiled like I was wise and witty and wonderful.
He, on the other hand, morphed into a ball of psychotic rage, his expression turning from disbelief, to self-indignation, to outright fury.
“I CAN’T LIVE LIKE THIS!” he screamed, standing up from the couch, his hands in the air.
“Wait. What?” I said.
“I can’t live like this! I can’t live with you telling me pointless shit like my fucking toilet paper’s on backward! Do you even hear yourself? DO YOU?!”
He stormed into his bedroom and slammed the door.
I whispered, “Don't worry; I fixed it for you,” sat back down on the couch, and then finished the rest of the pâté and the bottle of champagne by myself.
We stayed together for another month or two (mostly for the hate sex), only breaking up when he called me in Wilmington the day before my birthday to let me know that the previous weekend he’d fallen in love with a colleague and they were engaged to be married. But did I still want him to come visit the next day to help me celebrate turning 28?
And you wonder why I’m single…*
Anyway, the point here is not that the dude was obviously a bit unstable or that one time as a present he gave me the ponytail he’d worn in college (when we met) as a gift. Or that he then demanded it back post-break-up via emails asking, “Cunt, where's my hair?”
No, no. The point is:
How on earth did I date someone who put his toilet paper roll on backwards?
I mean, what am I? A complete savage?
I’ve found you, dear xoJane readers, to be amongst some of the most intelligent on the Internet, so I hate to even placate you with this explanation, but lest some of you just emerged from a cave or Scientology, I’ll clarify:
Toilet paper should always ALWAYS be placed with the flap hanging over the top of the roll. Like a perfectly beautiful cascading waterfall.
Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard: If you have cats, this can cause a whole thing and to that I say:
There is actually a “scientific” explanation to this toilet paper rule that has to do with maximizing the efficiency and enjoyment of your Charmin via a one-handed tear. Seriously. But mostly, the fact of the matter is: “That’s just how it is done.”
Lest you question the rationale behind the “That’s just how it’s done” explanation, let me point you to a conversation I recently had with my mother, the queen of useless etiquette. After a commenter on this very site pointed out I was incorrect about which way pillowcases on the bed should face, I completely panicked. How could I have gotten that wrong? Was I really that stupid? When did it all fall apart for me? WHO HAD I BECOME? So I immediately called my mother. Because no one likes answering those questions more than she does.
“Daisy!” she said.
“I don’t have a lot of time,” I rushed. “But I need to ask you a really important question.”
“What is it?” she asked.
“Which way should the pillowcases face on the bed?”
“The open ends face out,” she replied without a moment’s hesitation.
“Do you know why?” I begged.
“No,” she said as though my question were completely preposterous. “That’s just how it’s done.”
I’d heard that explanation for almost every rule of etiquette growing up and so I accepted her rationale. We are WASPs, after all. One does not question; one simply does what’s expected. SERIOUSLY PEOPLE: THIS IS MY LIFE.
Unfortunately (for you), the rules don’t stop at which direction the toilet paper or pillowcases are facing. On no, they go so much deeper.
For example, did you know that one should only set out candles with a blackened (previously lit) wick? Seriously, that’s a rule and one I was taught at the age of four or five. I was never offered an explanation, only, “That’s just how it’s done,” but once the Internet was invented, I took it upon myself to look it up. How curious WASPs before me managed, I’ll never know.
There are several explanations, actually. One is that it would make guests feel uncomfortable to think candles had been placed out solely for their behalf. Another is that in a time when some people could afford gas lights and others couldn’t, one wouldn’t want her guests who had to rely on candles to feel inferior when they visited a home whose candles had clearly never been used and were therefore optional. Others said that unlit candles simply felt “cold.”
Either way, this is now something that bugs the crap out of me. Yes, I get it. Poverty and the environment, war and disease. I know. But, I can’t help it. When I go to someone’s house and she has tons of candles with pristine wicks displayed, I cringe a little.
I’m such a brat. But when something like that has been ingrained in you from a young age, it’s second nature to notice. (Also, I’ve never understood the point of candles that are just for display. Burn those things; the world is ending in two months, people!)
I bet you wish it stopped there (I know I do), but I’m sorry to report that it doesn’t. How the towels are folded, the way in which the shower curtain is open, when to put one’s napkin in her lap, precisely how to butter bread, the list goes on (and on and on). All little things I was taught as a child that cannot be forgotten or unlearned. All little things that play a small role in my every day life. All little that bug me just a little (oh, my god, so much) when someone does them “incorrectly.”
It might sound exhausting, but again, it’s part of who I am. Like brushing my teeth or resenting my parents. I don’t have to think about it; it just is. And it’s not until it’s not done the way I was taught that I even notice. But oh, lord. When I notice, I notice.
“Can’t you just, um, maybe, you know: BREAK YOUR FUCKING BREAD BEFORE YOU BUTTER IT?” I ask on thefirstsecondthirddate after he’s already fallen in love with me.
“Oopsie! Did you actually mean to drag your soup spoon from back to front?” I nag right before we break up lovingly.
“Oh my. Did you just answer the phone ‘This is him?” I question before throwing myself out the window.
And so on.
So yeah. I’ve got some pet peeves. Just a few. No big deal. Nothing life changing. Whatever.
But I know you’ve got them too. So SPILL IT. Please. If you don’t mind.
Thank you for all that you do.
Follow me on Twitter @daisy for more about my mother. Trust me. It’s totally worth it.
*Fine. No one actually wonders that.