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Don’t Let Chip And Joanna Gaines Destroy Your Marriage


Over the past few months, I’ve become addicted to house-flipping shows. For the uninitiated, these are reality shows that depict exceptionally handy people, typically a couple, turning dilapidated or antiquated homes into contemporary showrooms. If you’re interested, there’s an episode on right now. There’s always an episode on.

And I watch a lot of them. This includes “Property Brothers,” a show featuring identical twin hipsters from Canada knocking down walls in overpriced houses across the continent and “Flip or Flop,” a show featuring an attractive Californian couple knocking down walls in small, overpriced houses in Orange County. All the flippers stage their remodeled homes, cramming them with enough upscale furniture to make anyone watching (and his wife) feel like they’re living in squalor. So thank you for that.

The most notorious of these programs, though, has to be “Fixer Upper” on HGTV, starring Chip and Joanna Gaines. This Waco couple, with their delightful family, well-adjusted marriage, and pleasant dispositions, are in the crushing-your-soul-with-wild-expectations business.

Chip, for example, does what he’s told. He does it correctly. He does it promptly. He does it with good cheer. And I hate him. The number of marriages ruined by those measuring themselves up to this unattainable standard is probably incalculable at this point.

If they were honest, they would add a disclaimer to every show that reads like so:

The events you are about to see are not real. The actions, prices, and incidents depicted in this show are a product of the producers’ imagination and omission. No one is this nice. Nothing is this easy. Do not try to do any of this in your own, or you may destroy your family and find yourself in debtors’ prison.

The madness begins with small things. First, you’ll fool yourself into believing you’re capable of pulling off some practical tasks around the house. You’re probably not. But okay. Install that new faucet.

Like me, though, you may soon be prowling your perfectly fine home looking for things to break and tear down. You may, for example, suggest that a bathtub be moved for space or a dining room be outfitted with some snooty wainscoting (a word you probably learned ten minutes beforehand while watching the DIY Network).

When this happens, your wife may suggest that you should probably start with something that meshes better with your skill set, because, after all, you don’t even own a proper hammer. 

You ignore this emasculating comment, because Chip would. But then, probably while watching your fourth straight hour of “Holmes Makes It Right,” you start to deceive yourself in truly destructive ways: “Hey,” you think to yourself, “why I am even fooling around with these piddling projects when I could just buy a ramshackle house in a great neighborhood, fix it up, and sell it?” I can lay a hardwood floor. I can put up drywall. I can buy sod. I can find some muted blue paints. I can build a 20-foot table out of discarded wood. I mean, this petite woman on “Rehab Addict” is demoing an entire house. Why can’t I?

Using “Property Brothers” as a guide, you do some back-of-the-envelope calculations and figure out that the entire project should take no longer than six weeks, since 90 percent of their projects are finished within this timeline. You know you can do it because you’ve learned everything that’s necessary to enter the flipping world.

Step one: Give them an “open concept.” (For you youngsters out there, in the decades before this one, people liked to build things called “walls” so they could have things called rooms so that places like the kitchen and living room might be divided so fathers could watch television and not be disturbed by their children listening to the “Hamilton” soundtrack in what should be an adjoining but separate space.)

Step two: Hardwood floors. Every last shred of carpet must be immediately ripped out and destroyed lest someone accidentally step on a soft surface. Homebuyers want hardwood floors. Or fake wood floors — “laminates,” whatever that is — will do, as well.

Step three: Everyone wants her home to be contemporary with a touch of the traditional. Which means you need metal in the kitchen, but also a farmhouse sink. And make sure to use subway tiles or glass as backsplashes to impress. In “the reveal” of every single episode of every flip show that has ever been produced, one of the new homeowners will gently run her fingers across the backsplash and tell us “I love it.”

Done and done and done. Now I’m thinking to myself: I can do this. (I can’t.)

At the end of each episode of “Fixer Upper,” Chip calculates the profit new homeowners will have captured by flipping a house (though he never mentions the cost of meeting code or dealing with inspectors or paying the services of a structural engineer, etc.; but whatever, that’s probably not important). Using his calculus, I estimate a $54,000 profit.

When you bring this flipping idea to your spouse, she might remind you that last year when you tried to hang a lighting fixture in the bedroom, you blew the fuse. Not the fuse for the room, but the thingie for the entire house. In my defense, there was an extra wire sticking out — what I later figured out (the guy at Home Depot told me) it was for one of those fancy lights with the fan. Ignore her. I’m sure once you put your mind to it, figuring out the electric stuff is as easy as doing the plumbing.

Anyway, she will once again suggest that perhaps you should start with something more “your speed.”

Joanna writes this in a blog post about her fusing marriage and work: “Our jobs are unique, and we’ve found that we work best side by side,” Listen, I don’t care how much you love your spouse, this is crazy talk. That’s because when you finally get around to a project that’s more your “speed,” it means starting your morning as a couple trying to hang some simple blinds you bought at Bed, Bath, and Beyond — literally, the thing has four screws — and ending your afternoon with your wife pondering whether marriage is really right for her.

So you come to realization that you don’t really enjoy fixing things, but you do really enjoy watching people fix things on television. Trust me, the latter is a lot healthier for your marriage.