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First Person: Perfect Mismatches

My husband and I have accumulated a collection of teacups and mugs as different from one another as we are. It was time to clean house. Or was it?

My husband and I recently had one of the worst arguments of our marriage. We never yell; we discuss, debate, declare. This time we declared that we didn’t understand each other and were totally mismatched.

My husband, Sameer, diets; I write cookbooks. He loves Die Hard; I want to live near the bridges of Madison County. His way of dealing with conflict is to go for a run. Mine is to cook or change something in the kitchen.

After he stormed out, I decided to sort out our collection of mugs and teacups. What did our friends think when I served them coffee or tea in cups that didn’t match?

I laid out the collection on the table, including an unused English Rose tea set. I decided to sell some of them on eBay, so I took pictures, then began writing descriptions.

First, a CNN mug. We bought it 15 years ago at the network’s studio, which we toured hand in hand. Sameer hadn’t wanted to go to Atlanta, but I’d always dreamed of being a reporter and had arranged this trip—the beginning of our honeymoon. Could I part with this memento?

The next cup was part of a chipped set—blue flowers on bone china with a matching teapot, given to us eight years ago by friends who became our son’s godparents. Sameer and I had toasted our baby with it the day we brought him home. Sameer had ginger tea; I had coffee. We laughed and cried and wondered what we’d do with this new life we’d created. We decided to save the cups and give them to our son when he was older.

I couldn’t sell them.

Next were four inexpensive cups I bought 13 years ago. I was trying to prove to my frugal husband that I could hunt for bargains. He taught me, a coffee drinker, how to make tea—the exact point at which to place the leaves in the water, how long to steep it until the amber liquid was just right, how to add the grated ginger toward the end. Finally, to add a few tablespoons of milk and just enough sugar.

I practiced for years to perfect the tea and always served it in the cheap cups. They were $1.50 each but looked more expensive. I stored them in my china cabinet with our wedding crystal. Last year, the cabinet fell and I lost everything except those cups. Sameer called them “the survivors.”

Back into the cabinet.

The next set showcased Sameer’s love of collecting cups from places we’d worked. I hated big mugs and disliked serving guests in cups with logos. Yet each reflected a time in our life—a few years with a Big Six consulting firm in Cleveland, two hard years with a start-up in Boston, now a satisfying life with a Washington software company. The cups were milestones.

So far, I was selling nothing.

I turned to the unused English Rose tea set. Sameer had given it to me for our first anniversary. I kept saving it for the perfect occasion.

The door opened—Sameer back from his run.

“Are you okay?” he asked, then glanced at the cups and saucers. “Are we expecting someone?”

“I’m fine. I was just cleaning up.”

“Good,” he said, smiling. “After my shower, can you make some ginger tea?”

I made his tea and my coffee and served them in our English Rose set: a matching-cup toast to mismatches made in heaven.

This article first appeared in the May 2009 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here.

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