Early in our marriage, my husband and I kept track of who owed whom what. We kept itemized lists for most everything, but most of all, we counted movies. I liked foreign films, preferably with subtitles. He liked, no, loved, action films, preferably with lots of blood.
Usually, it was a zero-sum game. One foreign film for one action flick. If the foreign film was so boring that even I had to admit it was boring, I had to pay up with two action films in a row. If the bloody action film was so violent that even Handsome Hubby (HH) had to look away, I’d get two foreign flicks as recompense.
Then, at some point through the many years and the many movies, the system broke down. We stopped counting. As long as there was good popcorn and the seats were comfortable, we were a happy movie-going couple. No give and take required. A natural film equilibrium had been achieved. We both took this as a sign of middle-aged marital bliss and contentment.
The Battle of the Bed
But, of late, a new source of counting has creased our otherwise happy marital countenance. We’re having trouble in the bedroom, more specifically in bed. The source of discontent is not sex, but sheets. No, we are not splitting the sheets and divorcing. Rather, HH has become a sensitive skin kind of guy. And just like The Count on Sesame Street, HH is counting again, not movies, but thread counts.
“Our sheets are too rough,” HH lamented one morning.
“Huh?” I sleepily snorted.
“Our sheets are too rough,” he repeated as if repetition equaled definition and clarification.
“Huh?” I repeated, still in the metaphorical dark, although HH had insensitively yanked open the drapes letting in the blinding Berkeley sun.
His complaint made no sense. Our sheets were as old as marriage. Faded and cozy … and heretofore … indisputably soft.
Let Me (Thread) Count the Ways
But not so for Mr. Sensitive. He thought the solution was new linens. So, I bought new sheets with a high thread count, a 400-thread sheet count to be specific. And I washed them three times to remove any trace of harsh chemicals, even before I allowed his dainty derriere to descend on said sheets. But alas, after two nights he pronounced them “scratchy.”
I whipped out my credit card a second time, went to the store, searched the aisles, read the labels, bought a 600-thread count sheet set, washed it multiple times, and made the bed. This second sheet set was also rejected. I next bought satin sheets. Surely they would work for my middle-aged man’s dry and sensitive derma. But no, they were denounced as “slimy.”
“Maybe you should see a dermatologist or an allergist,” I sweetly suggested.
“Or a psychiatrist,” I muttered under my breath as I ripped the sheets off the bed to wash them yet again, this time using an unscented, organic, hypo-allergenic, hyper-overpriced and over-hyped cleansing product.
“Yeah, maybe,” HH said. “But I don’t think it’s my skin. I think it is the sheets. I just think we need better sheets.”
“Or a divorce,” I muttered, stomping away.
HH took over the search for sheet Nirvana. He searched online for hours and for days. After much research and deliberation, he ordered 800-count Egyptian cotton sheets.
As HH waited for “his” new sheets to arrive, I thought of the poem “How Do I Love Thee?” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Do you remember it from high school?
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, …
It goes on for another eleven lines and promises to “love thee better after death.” It’s a lovely poem and a lovely sentiment, but I bet Browning never had to deal with a lover’s unending quest for the perfect sheet thread count formulation.
After three weeks of tossing and turning and scratching and complaining, the new Egyptian cotton sheets arrived. (I think they actually were from Egypt.) They weighed a ton and the cost plus shipping would have caused Cleopatra to blush.
I followed the wash-three-times ritual and, thank the Gods of Marriage and the Nile, Mr. Sensitive was satisfied. He slept a blissful night nestled in the soft arms of Morpheus, while I sat in the other room figuring out if I should make a partial payment on my credit card that month or dip into the savings account to cover the month-long bedding buying binge.
Emerging from our bedroom, Mr. Sensitive, all smiles and looking as rested as only a man can after a night spent on 800-thread count Egyptian sheets can look, said, “You know, honey, these sheets are great, but I was thinking, you might be right about old-age skin thing. I think I’ll book an appointment with the dermatologist.”
This dermatological about-face didn’t upset me. Instead, I picked up the newspaper and looked at the movie section. If I timed it right, we could make two foreign films that day.
With middle age, comes skin sensitivity. But also cunning. He’s got sheets with an astronomical thread count. I’m getting two foreign flicks.
Who’s counting? As Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, let me count the ways.