Dishware selection occurs only a couple of times during the marital journey. The first happens when the couple becomes engaged. Prior to actually walking down the aisle, a couple is required by ancient law to select a pattern for their dishes as well as register for other necessary household items. The advent of department stores in the last century or so significantly lowered the difficulty of this pre-marital task.

Pattern selection is the first test of a couple’s ability to act as a unit. Those who cannot collaborate enough to outfit the smallest of dwellings with coordinated plates and mugs should reconsider the commitment to a lifelong union.

Typically, though, the selection of the pattern happens swiftly and without injury. During such a romantic period, the couple is typically jaded by hormones and a desperate need to please one another as well as the in-laws. They compromise their tastes and settle for a pattern that fits their vision of what their life as a couple will be for the rest of their lives.

Of course, a year or so into marriage, the vision is abruptly clarified by reality. At this point, the two are likely to begin resenting their dishes. While it seems negative to harbor ill will toward one’s plates, this is actually a healthy part of a strong and lasting marriage. The plates they come to despise are the very ones that will eventually be partially destroyed by offspring, relatives and pets. It is that resentment that keeps a broken cup here and a chipped bowl there from shattering the marriage.

Eventually, a much cheaper bowl or two that sort of matches the couple’s current kitchen decor is purchased during a big closeout sale. A couple of plates from a garage sale make their way into the cupboard. The couple no longer cares what bowls or saucers look like. They certainly can’t afford to invest in anything fancy. Rather, they need only to accommodate those rare occasions when all the teenagers are actually home for supper at the same time on the same night.

Then the day finally comes when a child actually moves out. After a couple of years of college dorm life, the child finds an apartment with three of his closest friends. He signs a 12-month lease on an unfurnished flat. That’s when the couple generously decides to donate their pieced-together motley set of dishware to the young men.

Once the dishes move out with the child, the couple must select a new set of dishware. But by this time in their marriage, the game has changed. The stakes are higher. Shopping for this set — most likely the couple’s last full matching set of dishware — is serious business.

Over the past couple of decades, the couple has grown strong as a unit. They’ve weathered many storms and came together as a team to win the battle of raising children. They know each other as individuals as well as half of a couple. They can order one pizza and agree on toppings.

As the couple considers patterns and pieces, compromise is no longer a concern. They are no longer trying to please in-laws or each other. They are going to get the dishes they never knew they always wanted.

Hubby and I have made it to that very place in our marriage: Dishware, the Sequel.

Over the summer, Hubby and I pieced together service for six to eight, depending on the need for bowls or dinner plates. We excavated several pieces from bedrooms and sandblasted them clean. We then packed them carefully using our collection of plastic grocery bags that had been growing under the kitchen sink. Our 20-year-old and his roomies unpacked them last week.

Now we are shopping for our last set of dishware. We naively thought we could head out on a rainy Saturday afternoon, visit a couple of stores, and restock our kitchen. How silly of us. Married couples who have been through the change, e.g., the transition to an empty nest, mockingly laugh at us. And they do so sipping tea from their matching set of higher-quality dishware.

We have a favorite higher-end brand. We know what colors we will always have in our kitchen and dining room, even if we someday have to move again. We’ve even developed a shared taste for dinnerware patterns. That’s why we just knew we’d know the set when we saw it. Our problem is that we haven’t seen it, yet.

After browsing several department stores one rainy Saturday afternoon, it became clear to us we’d have to put some time into our endeavor. We have no choice but to schedule several dinner and shopping dates. But then, there is no need to rush. We still have a teenager at home and plenty of paper plates.


Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and the author of Thurston T. Turtle children’s books. She and her family live in North Carolina. Her e-mail address is