Tales From the Counter #5: Love Shopping

Written by Jenny Wonderling

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At Nectar I witnessed relationship dynamics every day for 12 amazing years until I closed my last physical shop this past November. I would say people watching is one of the things I will miss most about not having a brick-and-mortar, especially living in a small rural town in winter where it can be easy to isolate. By the way, I don’t mean “witness” as in creepy voyeuristic tendencies. I simply relish the different complexities and subtleties of the human experience, and I learned a tremendous amount through holding space where all that could play out-- one cup of tea and purchase at a time. It was like living theater!  And yes, I only took in the details in quick, sideways glances between doing myriad other tasks, conversations and questions fired off by staff and other customers, phones ringing and the rest. Unless of course my clients drew me in. Still, there was a lot to observe even furtively: ripe, painful, stressed or delicious. There were the individual and unique quirks of particular individuals and couples. And, after 12 years of observations, there were also plenty of archetypes or patterns of “love” as they played out in a retail environment, in 5 minutes or hour-long quips.

The woman who hurried through the shop hungrily pulling in the details had just a few measly moments to explore, while she too-often checked the time. She was visibly stressed because she knew her already impatient husband was waiting in the car and had “generously” granted her a few moments to “indulge herself.” This was not shopping therapy at its best. She grabbed something guiltily to purchase, stood at the counter impatiently, and apologized as she ran out clutching something I wasn’t sure if she would even enjoy. This woman, and the many, many women who were just like her.

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There was a man who entered the shop at some point last year with his partner, “Though she makes all the decisions where the house is concerned.” He said this without a trace of resentment, only pride. He obviously delighted in her creativity and flair for design, in her ability to make their house so beautiful.  He seemed happy just to help immerse her in more inspiration.  He stayed near her smiling sweetly, admiringly as he watched her run her hand across surfaces, pick things up to scrutinize. He was loving and supportive, was drawn to his own choices, but he also relied on his wife’s eye, her certainty and ability to create a home. I witnessed numerous men like this who truly enjoyed and wanted to support their partner’s creativity.  And of course I have seen this similar dynamic play out between same-sex partners, or a husband who possesses “the eye” and discernment instead. Each time, it has made me swoon. It felt mutually supportive and lush with gratitude, in spite of distinctly disparate but seemingly complementary roles.

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There were the couples who from the moment they entered the shop were in a power struggle, every suggestion for a gift or a piece of furniture one made was met with a shake of the head, roll of the eyes, or blatant negative remark by the other. I’ve seen the swelling from passive aggressive comments to the start of arguments that most likely extended well beyond their time in my store, all because neither could acquiesce lovingly over a console or some salad servers. Things. And the things beyond the things.

In early November two women came in who had been together 33 years. They were selling one house, buying another, and proudly shared photos of both, excitedly dreaming up what changes they would make.  Both beautiful homes were filled with light, tall ceilings, and could handle some larger pieces which they considered. But they also ogled some of our more ethnic items: a brass lock with Ganesha cast into it, a carved wood wall hanging from Bali, a handwoven throw from Burma, some brass hooks with a horse motif, more. If one even pondered something, the other swooped in enthusiastically, encouraging the other one to get it if she really liked it, and they seemed to always like the same things. It didn’t feel forced, or driven by insecurity. Perhaps they had the freedom of financial ease to contribute to it all, but what struck me was their sheer and overt delight in each other’s happiness. They appeared to each possess this single notion: how can I make my partner feel more supported, loved, encouraged, inspired, joyful. Seriously.

Yes, I could see all this, and I didn’t think this was a fluke dynamic for them. Still, I couldn’t help but get confirmation of my assumptions. “Are you always this loving with each other?” I asked, laughing incredulously.  They moved in closer to one another, beaming, nodding. “Strangely, it has always been this way, we got really lucky,” said the one with the short grey hair. “It’s just easy between us. I mean, we have to reinvigorate our commitment to each other and ourselves all the time. And we are always doing really interesting things we love separately and together, which helps.”

Her partner looked up at her, smiling approvingly.  “We are both deeply dedicated to our own spiritual path and growth. But isn’t it actually so much easier to be loving than it is to be in conflict? The other path just makes you sick in the end, or resentful, and anger and competition perpetuates the same.”  I exhaled gratefully, so thankful for the mirror, or at least the potential mirror they were offering me.  

Rhinebeck Nectar shop small sustainably sourced ethically sourced gifts Fair Trade and unique gifts home decor interior design woman owned business shop nectar
                                                     Nectar (brick and mortar), Rhinebeck

Of course I am not exempt from the inquisitiveness and assumptions of others. If Karsten and I walked into a shop together what would someone see?  They don’t speak much as they move through the space, exploring. They’re aware of the other, so quiet, as they move separately cutting a wide swath, each exploring in their own direction and at their own distinct pace. She is actually wondering if he is humoring her by being there with her, shopping, something he is not inclined to do. She rushes, though he is not overtly pressuring her like the men who wait in the cars outside her shop have done, honking a horn, their motors running. This man picks up particular things that are made intricately by hand, that have unusual detail, complicated working parts. This woman with whom he has entered the shop silently likes what he notices, things she would not necessarily even see. She wonders, “What does this say about the 10 years of our complex relationship, of co-parenting, and the unique intricacies of our love?”  This 5 or 20 minutes, this snapshot of a life that is so much more, that isn’t, and is.

What would someone say about yours?


All photos by Jenny Wonderling except Bleeding Hearts, courtesy of Amanda Christen Burran


  • Rachna says:

    This was a wonderful insight. I loved reading it & related to it. How much you can learn from just observing. Observing the outside world or your world inside. Thanks for sharing!

    November 26, 2018
  • Barbara Bash says:

    Thank you Jenny for these rich observations of relationships . . . missing your presence on the road and the moments of wandering , touching , musing that I had there .

    April 15, 2018

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