I'm trying to organize my frame so that I have two panels, one on the left and one on the right, sort of like a website design with buttons on the right and empty text area on the left. How in the hell is this accomplished? I've been screwing around with GridBagLayout for hours and can't figure it out.

GridBagLayout will certainly do that. Perhaps you can post the code? Basically you'll want something like the text area panel at x=0, fill=both, weightx=1, weighty=1 and the button panel at x=1, fill=none, weightx=0, weighty=1