Dear Diary: Dandy Gelatine


There was a story in today’s Home section that has bothered me all day. (I’m not the only one.) “After the Breakup, What About the Lake House?” is one of those optical illusions that shifts unstably before your eyes: is what you’re look at a vase, or is it a pair of profiles? Is it new and provocative, or is it garbage and a disgrace? The profiles in the Times story, as by now is legendary, were hung “facing” one another in the early days of the relationship, but at the eponymous lake house, they were hung the other way, as can be seen in an accompanying photograph. How symbolic is that? One feels that even Jerry Bruckheimer would blush at the obviousness.

So these guys were going to get married but by the time the party date rolled around they’d broken up, so that Bradford Shellenhammer paid his first visit to the house in ages. They had the party anyway, you see. The former lovers are working on being future friends. Meanwhile, they’re stuck with this house, which they decorated within an inch of its footprint — apparently exhausting their mutual attraction in the process.

Their tale of lost love has a familiar arc — love sparks, then blooms; lives intertwine; moments are lost and misunderstandings creep in; eventually the two begin to live as strangers — and an epilogue that has become increasingly familiar as well, as unwanted houses become prisons rather than cocoons.

This was supposed to be a story about the house, Mr Shellhammer’s blog informs us, but of course romance will always trump paint chips, especially when it’s the romance, and not the paint, that has faded. How could Timeswoman Julie Scelfo resist?

What has bothered me all day is the inability to explain my deep disapproval of this story, but, hapily, having been bothered about it all day, I have cleared up the confusion. You could say that the story is obnoxious — that the two gents are exploiting the end of their affair in the interest of dashing their story with a memorable piquancy. “Oh! Aren’t they the ones who did their house over in the style of the Brady Bunch‘s therapist’s trophy-wife sister?” According to this reading, Mr Shellheimer and Benjamin Dixon have pursued publicity.

That’s very bad, but in fact it’s so bad that it absolutely vaporizes any claim to one’s attention that these men might have had. Such a claim would rest on the theory that they allowed the publicity, in the interests of sharing their situation with Times readers, who might find the example helpful in some way. A public-spirited exercise, you might say. And in fact I do say. I believe that this is what the ex-lovers had in mind — to the extent that they had anything in mind, given the fact that their strange home near the Taconic has become a prison.

If this were the case, however, the men are transformed from reptilian publicity hounds into deeply shamed individuals. How could they let the world know who they were? Why wasn’t their story presented without names? I don’t mean “anonymously”; I mean “discreetly.” By all means, run the picture of those back-to-back profiles. Let those who are familiar with the silhouettes and their owners tell their friends. But I can’t not feel that Mr Dixon and Mr Shellhammer ought to have balked at identifying themselves with their painful loss of love. I can’t not suspect that the lack of pudeur now is the consequence of a lack of genuine affection back then.