There are good days. There are not so good days.
Sometimes I suddenly am aware with a gut-wrenching force that I am more than a quarter of a century along and I don’t know how to be happy, I don’t have any answers at all and I am still trying to figure out what questions I even ought to be asking. Far enough away from childhood and youth that the process of living it can now be picked apart, bit by bit, shoved under the omphaloskeptic microscope. Turns out that’s painful. Turns out the process of turning into someone I want to be when I don’t even really know who I’ve been and who I was feels a bit like trying to build a snowman out of ash. You think you are forming a shape and then you move away and there it goes, invisible in the wind. And it’s like, why am I doing this work when next year I’ll feel like a totally different person again anyway.
Turns out too that when you’ve spent twenty-plus years trying to be something for someone else, that when you strike the “else” and that “someone” becomes yourself it’s exhausting, impossible, isolating. I don’t know how to live for myself and I don’t know how to talk to people anymore when what they think they’re going to hear out of my mouth is so different from what’s at the back of my throat. Somehow somewhere as it’s sliding over the tongue and through my lips it turns into banalities. “So what’s new for you?” “Nothing much. I sprained my finger.” I sprained my fucking finger?
How about this: I have a part-time job that puts me under the poverty line and I have ideas, a lot of them, about community and sustainability but I don’t have the resources or the know-how to make it happen and I’m in love with two people in totally different ways and I want to do sex work to help make ends meet and I waste a lot of time and I am so full of self-doubt it brings me to tears on bad days and I eat nutella out of the jar on a regular basis and I am sick most days and I don’t know how to have sex and not have it be sex-after-rape and I might not ever go back to school and I might not ever get married and I might not ever own a fucking house and I might have family that looks a whole lot different than is imaginable to just about everyone and my politics might not make any sense to anyone except myself.
Someone wrote to me a few weeks ago and asked me, what are the daily consequences for you of being a rape survivor? How does it affect your daily life? Here’s a thing, and it’s about more than rape but that has a lot to do with it: I keep walls behind me; I face doors at all times. I sit on the inside. I tuck myself in corners and against walls so that I can see anything and everything that might be coming at me and it is my life’s work to pull myself out of the corner and into the middle of the room where it feels like I have to spin so so so fast spin spin spin just to keep an eye on the 360-degree 3-D world surrounding me. And recently when I was talking to friends about self-destructive habits and patterns we have to work hard to keep ourselves from, the one, for me, is curling up and crawling into a fully-enclosed, iron-encased space where I am protected at all angles from things that be. My form of destruction is keeping myself so safe from everything that I become invisible, that I evaporate. Willing myself to untuck unfold, peeling myself off the floor away from the wall out of the corner is sometimes all I feel capable of in a day and those are the days that leave me spinning. Sometimes I get to the middle of the room and plant two feet down and it’s all my force to stay put. Good days — of which there are many, don’t get me wrong — are days when I can keep myself busy in the middle of the room and forget, for a bit, that I’m not watching out behind me.
Of course this is just an obnoxious extended metaphor but it also is the rhythm of my life and there are times I feel it crushing me. I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m depressed; of course there are times I wallow and feel nothing but most of the time I feel exhilarated or I feel obliterated or I feel something in between. I’m busy, I’m growing. Growing pains, I said in my last post, were a thing of 2011, and it already feels like they’re going to be even stronger this year.
I try to create narratives out of my life: I’m the protagonist, of course, and there are antagonists and various story arcs and things add up and loose ends get tied up. But then, memory doesn’t work in a linear way and as soon as I think I have it figured out I find more loose ends — like the time when I was in seventh grade and went to piano camp and all the boys snuck into the girls’ cabin, one per each bunk, except for mine cuz there was one more girl than boy and I was a goody-two-shoes; and then the time I played soccer in fifth grade and the boys all made fun of me and told me I kicked like a girl and I cried and didn’t go back; and the time I gave a boy a blowjob because I went to a party with someone who didn’t tell me it was a party for all the “smart girls” to give all the “popular boys” blowjobs; and the time I made out with my second cousin at my great-aunt’s funeral — things that I’d forgotten about, things that don’t make sense to me, things that I want to place and tie up in an ugly box with a piece of twine and throw away or maybe in a pretty box with tissue paper and a bow but either way I don’t want to deal with them because I want everything to make sense, because I spend so much time trying to make it all make sense, because I want to know who I am and what the hell I’m doing.
What do you do with all that? What do I do with all that?
Gulp, it’s already the middle of January… whooops. Classes start on Tuesday, and I’ve been working and catching up with various friends the past week and a half since getting back from the east coast. Also trying to get in a lot of pleasure reading, since my books for this semester have started tumbling in and it’s veeeery clear to me that I will not have any time to read things of my own choosing this semester! So. Many. Books. ANyway, last year at the beginning of January I did a sort of year-in-review and some intentions for the coming year, and I decided to revisit that this year and see where I was last year, whether I did the things I’d been planning to do, and then look ahead to this coming year.
From last year’s post:
[I]n 2010, I hope to:
- continue to fall in love and deepen my relationship with ML. I’m looking forward to more great sex, more power play, even better communication as we learn each other through and through and more and more, mini-retreats (that hopefully won’t be too expensive), accompanying her to her sister’s wedding where she’ll be outing herself to all of her extended family and family friends, and maybe even moving in together (!) (but we’ll wait to see what my grad school plans are before we really talk about that seriously).
Well, I certainly had a functioning crystal ball on this one; this has all happened, and more! We’ve really fallen in cozy with each other, in a good way — we have had very few big fights this year, and the fighting has gotten easier as lurking questions like “will she leave me over this?” have faded away. While the frequency of our sex has decreased somewhat, it’s still great, and we did do some interesting work with power play this year. Mini-retreats… we went on a few I think? We went to Palm Springs in March for her birthday, and to Cazadero for Thanksgiving… That might be it. But two per year might be enough given our busy lives. Her sister’s wedding in August was lovely if also somewhat challenging, and I felt a bond with her through and after that that I describe in that post. AND, we moved in together! At the beginning of June. So we’ve been living together now for seven+ months and it’s fantastic. We both have such busy independent lives but we almost always manage to end the day together, in bed, with a bit of time before we have to go to sleep.
- start graduate school (speaking of).
And ever! I started the MA degree program in anthropology at CIIS here in San Francisco, and it’s got to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself. I fucking love it. I can’t wait for classes to start next week (even if it does mean less time for pleasure reading…).
- leave my job (which should be concurrent with grad school, but in case I don’t get into any of the programs I’m hoping to enroll in, I STILL would like to leave my job).
Yup, I left my job at the end of May, and continued to work somewhat part-time during the summer but with very flexible hours. The summer was nice, I had a lot of time to cook and plan and read and think and do fun stuff… but I was also ready for it to be over when it was over. Too much of a good thing :)
- continue to take care of myself and be strong enough to seek help in taking care of myself, from medication and therapy, but also from intellectual, spiritual, and physical mentors, as well as friends and family.
I think that this past year, especially this fall, I have really figured out how to be at my mental and emotional best: be busy with things that I care about. It was really that simple. As soon as I started graduate school, so much of my stress and anxiety and existential ennui and co-dependency tendencies just … started to evaporate. I’m doing my thing, and it feels right.
- come out to my grandparents. There. I said it. I made it a goal.
Uh. Whoops. I forgot that I’d made that an intention this past year. We’ll see if it happens this year. I’d love to make it an intention. Problem is my grandma’s in early stages of Alzheimer’s, and I’m just not sure what coming out to them at this point would accomplish. But it’s a possibility.
- continue to write here and use it as a platform for airing my relationship-, life-, and self-processing, and continue to strengthen my internet bonds.
I did continue to write here, although with less frequency. As I’ve said before, that’s been for lack of time, not lack of motivation. But I’m still here, and I hope to figure out a way to write weekly.
So, you see, I did alright in 2010. As for 2011, I’ve got some intentions for the record as well:
- continue to fully invest myself in graduate school, worrying less about social aspects of it (which totally have been falling into place) and knowing that the more I bring myself fully to the table there, the more things will continue to open up for me. This year I’ll have to figure out a practicum and a research focus, so one of my intentions here is to think that through and carefully weigh my options. And also, I want to start ironing out post-MA plans: Ph.D.? Here, or elsewhere? Work? I’ll be meeting with my academic advisor early this semester to start talking about that.
- continue to prioritize friendships and relationships both in my graduate program and outside of it. I adore my grad school cohort.
- with ML, continue to communicate well, to set aside time to do fun things together, to leave San Francisco every so often for a breath of fresh air, to love her and appreciate her with intention. We also want to continue to grow and expand our sexual life, and though we’re not quite sure yet what that’s going to look like, we’ve got some hopes and intentions: set aside time and boundaries to work more with power play, specifically with figuring out a way for her to push through topping insecurities and me to push through subbing insecurities; push more against boundaries of monogamy/non-monogamy, and play with how we can approach those explorations as a team and make it something fun for both of us; go to sex/play parties and increasingly take our sex life out of just our own private and exclusive domain. Very excited about all of that, and I imagine I will be writing about all of that at times throughout the year.
- travel at least once out of the country. I will have so many opportunities for that this year: my sister is living in Vienna, and wants me to visit this summer and travel to Poland and Croatia with her. One of my best friends is getting married in Paris in August. And another mutual friend of ML’s and mine is getting married in Japan in the fall. Not to mention, I would love to get back to Germany, Berlin specifically, and then there’s always the possibility that my master’s work will take me out of the country too…
I think that’s a pretty good list of intentions for this year. Of course there will be surprises too, and that’s as it should be. But I will just state for the record: I am excited about this year. And I intend to continue to make this space somehow a part of it all.
Happy New Year <3 xoxo AF
PS: I will be doing a pin-up modeling shoot in a few weeks. I’m thinking I might share some photos… :)
Yesterday, ML and I celebrated having been together for two years. Two years! It’s so strange to think about that. Two years was about how long my previous relationship was (two years and a month, actually, to be precise), and that one was starting to crumble well before the two-year mark. And here we are, rock solid, living together, supporting each other through our respective endeavors, fucking our way through our busy lives :)
I wrote her a letter yesterday, a love letter I guess, and emailed it to her. It’s not particularly poetic or articulate, but it’s the way I feel I guess.
I thought of writing you a handwritten letter but I know handwritten stuff is something that I’m more attached to than you are… and typing is easier than writing, anyway ;) And I don’t know if this is supposed to be a love letter, or what, but I knew that I wanted to write something for you today, it being two years now that we’ve been together and all. I can’t believe it’s been two years already; two years and this is still the best relationship I’ve ever been in and it still feels rock solid and I increasingly can’t imagine my life without you. It’s scary, you know, but there’s something so comforting and expansive about it too. Expansive meaning, I don’t know, that it just doesn’t feel constrictive to me. Some people talk about feeling stuck in long-term relationships but to me it feels like the opposite, it feels like I’ve got something that enables me to live my life more fully and supports me along the way. You do that for me. You make me feel loved and supported and unconditionally appreciated and all of that has helped me become a more confident, more loving and trusting, more self-aware person. And you? I love your clutter, I love how your mind that utterly baffles me is able to focus so intently on what you’re passionate about and care for, I love how you look at me with your big, dark eyes and how you fall asleep with your body pressed into mine. I love that you try so hard to accommodate my tidy streak, and I love that you remind me–daily–that a bit of mess is perfectly ok. I love that you let me cook for you and fret over you, and I love how you indulge my weird whims. I love your body, your skin, your posture, your head tilting to accommodate your hair, your smile. You’re so fucking beautiful. I love your music and how much you want it, how it drives you. I love how loyal you are and loving, not just to me but to everyone. You’re so patient with me and kind and I couldn’t be in better hands. You really take care of me, you make me feel beautiful. I love you, baby, I am so incredulous that here we are two years in, no signs of stopping. Here’s to two more, and then some :) Love, me
During the day yesterday, she sent me an email telling me to meet her at 7:45pm at 2695 Mission Street, but I wasn’t to look up what it was, just show up there. So I did, and as soon as I hit the block I knew where she was taking me — the Mission Bar, where we met. It was so sweet. She had flowers for me — not roses, since that’s cliched, but pretty wine-red flowers (I’m horrible with plant names). And then we went and got dinner at this Turkish restaurant on Guerrero, which was yummy and supplied ample leftovers for lunch today. And, of course, we had sex. I *almost* didn’t let her actually fuck me, in the spirit of the anniversary and all, since two years ago, the first time we hooked up, I wouldn’t let her get any further than the waistline of my pants (though I did assure her at the time that I was sopping wet ;) ), but in the end I gave in. After *much* persuasion ;)
I’m still here, you guys, promise. I know I’ve been hardly around, I’m still trying to navigate my time with a new job plus school and it’s hard!!!! But I have no plans to abandon this space. Just be patient :)
Last week, ML and I fought almost every night before sleeping, a result I think of generally feeling somewhat disconnected from each other. I know that most (if not all) relationships have an ebbing and flowing of connection, meaning that there are times we’ll be super connected to each other, in sync, in tune, responsive… and there are times we’ll be not so in sync, operating on different frequencies, different schedules, preoccupied with other shit in our lives, and for us, lately has been one of those times. Clearly, we’re both busy: she with work, with her band releasing its demo and playing shows and rehearsing a lot, with working on compositions for her graduate school applications, with music biz networking; me with grad school, with work part-time at the law firm, with crisis center work. We’ve had house guests two weekends in a row, with more this weekend and the following weekend. So it’s not all that shocking that we’re both wrapped up in stuff other than each other, and initially I was mostly okay with what I knew to be a temporary “ebb.”
But as the fights have gotten worse and the effects of them more lingering (tired the next day, crankier, short with each other), I’ve been starting to feel insecure. Disconnect tends to make me feel insecure in general, and though I do feel okay with temporary ebbs, as they draw out past a week, anxiety starts creeping in and I start to feel weepy and clingy (in addition to feeling distracted and cranky and disconnected)… Not a great combo. And that’s when the fighting starts to escalate. It’s really not fun. We’re going to bed, I, in my hypersensitive-to-everything-she-does state, feel anxious that she’s far away, ask her if she loves me or something equally vague and annoying, she gets frustrated and defensive, I get upset, she gets mega-bitchy, I get worked up in a frothy tearing mess, she gets even more frustrated and defensive, and we both start accusing each other of ”always doing this” and “why can’t you blah blah” and yeah, it’s ugly. And increasingly we’ve both been getting worried about what-the-hell-is-up with us.
And then Saturday night we figured it out.
A few weeks ago, ML was diagnosed with carpal tunnel. She works too much, at a job she really dislikes, in a field she can’t stomach, and in a high-stress environment that is taking its toll on her body. She’s committed to getting out by next summer (she’s applying to MFA programs for music/composition), but in the meantime, she’s having to deal with carpal tunnel and try as best she can to keep it in check. She ices it several times a day, has various stretches that she does, is starting physical therapy, sleeps on her back with her arm raised…
SLEEPS ON HER BACK. She sleeps on her back. Which means that we get into bed, turn out the light, kiss good night, and then lie there on our separate sides of the bed, maybe shoulders touching and hands brushing against each other but that’s about it and that’s supposed to be enough contact to get us through the night? Yeah, right. The entire almost-two-years we’ve been together, we’ve slept (or at least started off sleeping) in Sleep Position: her big spoon to my little, pressed up against and curled into each other, hearts beating front-to-back, her breath light on my shoulder and her arm wrapped around me. No matter what we’d been up to in our separate daily lives, we ended the day by curling up together close, connecting our bodies as we drifted off to sleep. Sleep Position brings us together, (re-)connects us.
It was two and a half weeks ago that she was diagnosed and that dates back to exactly when I started feeling the disconnect expanding, my wakefulness at night thinking “where is she? what’s going on? why does she feel so far away?” And Saturday night, after the worst fight all week, when we were both tearfully apologizing to each other, accepting our own responsibility in the fight, messily trying to articulate what it was that we thought was going on for each of us, she said “I think it’s Sleep Position. I feel far away from you at night rather than close to you.” And I knew right away that she was right. I was so relieved, relieved that she’d hit on it, relieved that she felt the same way I did, relieved that there was a reason that was so simple and a solution so simple: “We can just start out in Sleep Position,” she said, “we don’t stay in it all night anyway, and I’m sure 20 minutes of being on my side won’t hurt my arm.”
Obviously, lacking Sleep Position wasn’t the only source of our disconnecting over the past few weeks. I’ve already laid out the real main sources: being busy, stressed, and um can I reiterate busy and stressed? But not closing out the day being physically close to each other in a way that has come, through time, to also be symbolic of emotional closeness was taking its toll. So Saturday night and then last night too we curled up together, two spoons, to fall asleep. And you know what? It was that simple.
Shanna of Essin’ Em fame has been here the past few days, crashing on our couch (actually, our featherbed) while in town for the Folsom Street Fair. And because Shanna is so very Shanna, we have ended up talking a lot about sex (as well as things like front shops and cats and what vegetables we’d be if we were vegetables) — and last night (or was it Saturday night?) she ended up more or less facilitating a conversation about fantasies between ML and me. (If you ever are in need of a sex therapist, I think Shanna should be charging for it.) Now, I wouldn’t say ML and I have ever thought we needed a sex therapist, or have even ever been dissatisfied with our sex life. We have a rather robust sex life, actually, and when we’re healthy and not travelling, we generally fuck 3-5 times a week. Some of those times, to be sure, are nighttime quickies, but many of them are also middle-of-the-afternoon-because-we’re-horny fuckfests. And we’ve sort of vaguely talked about things we’d like to do sometime, but then “sometime” tends not to materialize because, you know, life happens.
So, sex is good. But somehow, with Shanna (who also lives at ShannaKatz.com, by the way), we ended up articulating fairly clearly and specifically (through her pointed and guiding questions) what we’d each most like to explore. I thought I’d share mine.
Imagine that we live in a foreign world and you speak the language but I don’t. This means that you have to be my guide through the world, taking me under your wing and being my voice. Imagine we’re in a restaurant and I can’t read the menu — but because the cuisine is so different from what I’m familiar with you can’t really translate it for me in a way I would understand either. So, instead, you order for me, and I trust you utterly to order with care and absolute attention to my mind and body. Because you know me. And my mind is submitted to yours: when the food arrives, I’m not thinking about whether or not you picked “right,” whether or not I like the food. I’m not worried about that. I know you picked right just because you picked it, and I trust you.
That’s the best way I can think of to illustrate the dynamic I want to explore. I want to be your little girl and your most cherished thing, delicate and pretty and wholly yours. And I want you to feel the largeness of that, the expansion of your self that comes with enveloping mine. This isn’t just responsibility, in the sense of being responsible for a child, though of course there’s that. But this is bigger than responsibility. I don’t want you to feel anxiety about whether or not you’re doing the right thing, I want you to just know that by treating me with the utmost care and respect and paternalism and delicacy and love and nurturing that you’re automatically doing the right thing.
And I know I haven’t said the word “sex” here at all, but this has everything to do with sex. Nothing and everything.
Thank you, Shanna ;)
As for her fantasy, I want it to come in her words. She says she’s willing to contribute. GUEST POST, PEOPLE. GET READY. Just, not tonight, because it’s 11:15 on a Monday and we have to be up in 7.5 hours.
So, grad school has started. I’d really wanted to do a post about my day trip into the central valley to see my grandpa’s pistachio orchards, but I can’t figure out how to get the pictures off my blackberry and onto my computer. Sadface. As soon as I can figure that out, I’ll post about that, because it was pretty amazing.
So, yeah, grad school. In the span of a week and a half, my life has changed pretty dramatically. Time is such an odd thing; when you’re in a particular timescape, you feel like this is it, this is what life means, it’s all led up to this, for better or for worse. And then something changes, and things shift, and that particular timescape feels so distant and you wonder how that ever felt real. My drop into grad school has been a waBAM kind of shift, and I look back on the summer (and, for that matter, the intervening years since I finished undergrad) and it feels like this weird island-in-the-sky, this floating interlude between something real and something else real. But what does “real” even mean? I guess for me, “real” means that I feel connected to myself — to my interiority as well as my exteriority — in a way I haven’t felt in quite a while.
It’s exciting. And it’s scary.
For the past two years, my relationship with ML has been the single thing outside of my own self that has motivated me the most. I have interests, sure. I love to cook (as y’all know quite well by now). I love writing here. I care deeply about the anti-sexual violence work I’ve been doing. I’ve enjoyed setting up my home with ML and expanding my sense of community in San Francisco. Many things. And yet on a day-to-day basis the thing that’s most occupied me has been my relationship. I love thinking about it, being in it, challenging myself to communicate in more effective ways (or not communicate when it’s really just time to shut up). I like positioning myself in the context of my relationship and in the context of a greater Queer Community, however fictive such a thing might be. I’ve really found resilience in my femininity and femme-ininity, and ML has been an instrumental part of that for me.
And now, in the past week and a half, my mental landscape has re-oriented. This was bound to happen no matter what program I entered, of course. But I think this particular program has hit a nerve in me in a way that undergrad never did (and that’s saying a lot, because I loved my undergraduate experience). I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but already the reading for my classes and my fellow students and the professors have all pushed my thinking to a level I haven’t been at in a while. I can already feel my mind expanding, opening windows, sweeping out old stuff and letting the cross-breeze carry in fresh air. I fucking love this feeling. It’s the feeling of being held accountable for my thinking. And the stuff we’re learning gets to me. Social justice always does. I’m gobbling it up.
What’s scary, though, is that it’s something outside of my relationship that’s driving me in a very real way. I was trying to articulate last night to ML what it was that was making me feel a bit jumpy and anxious lately and that’s really what it is. It’s this fear that being forced/encouraged to grow and expand is going to somehow make me grow and expand away from her. I know that’s probably unfounded, and that part of the beauty of relationships is pursuing our own things but being there to support each other in them. I mean, she does music, and I go to all her shows and listen to all her recordings and offer feedback and clap and cheer (and love her music, natch). I’m a part of her musical growth to the extent that I’m there by her side. Until now, there hasn’t really been that thing that I’ve needed her support in. I think grad school is going to be it. I’m going to need her to bounce ideas off of and to support me when I have a lot of homework to do and to read my papers and be interested in what I’m thinking about. So it’s going to be a probably subtle (and definitely positive) shift in our relationship once that dynamic blossoms. And I’m really excited for that.
BUT, here’s the thing. At the moment, we are both absurdly busy. I have a weekend-long seminar this weekend, plus I’m performing in a burlesque show on Tuesday so I’m rehearsing a bunch before then. Next week, she’s taking an evening music seminar Monday and Wednesday, is rehearsing with her band Thursday, and then has a major show on Saturday. The one night neither one of us has something separate — Friday — is a mutual friend’s birthday. Then Sunday I have a new student potluck to attend in Oakland. And the following week she’s got the same seminar again, and then band rehearsal again, and then another gig that Friday. And I’m kind of freaking out. When are we going to see each other???? When will we get to actually talk about the stuff that my mind has been turning over since classes started last week? She was out of town all Labor Day weekend at a wedding on the east coast, and then she gets back and BOOM we’re both frantically running around with 8 million things to do and the only time during the day that we get to share is the half hour before bed. And usually, that involves sex. Which is, you know, important. Obviously. But … I need the rest of the stuff that goes along with being in a healthy, loving and mutually supportive relationship, too. Call me high-maintenance.
So, we were just e-mailing back and forth (she’s at work, I’m at home supposedly “reading for class” but I’ve stretched the definition of that a bit by writing here…) and decided that Sunday evening, after my seminar, we’ll have a Date. Go to a wine bar, watch an old movie on the floor with lots of pillows and blankets, and have sex that’s not just half-hour-before-bed sex. So, yay! Step in the right direction. Breathe in, breathe out, and everything’s going to be okay.
And now I’d better get back to my reading…
I’ve been away for the past week and a half. I’m finally back (sort of), and I am so ready for my life to resume as normal.
Last Sunday, I went to Gold Country with my family. It was beautiful. We were in a cabin about 20 miles away from Jackson, a quaint old gold rush town in the foothills of the Sierras. The weather was perfect — temperatures in the 80s, no humidity, not a cloud in the sky. There was a family of deer that lived about 50 feet from our cabin, and they would casually look up from munching leaves when we came near and then disinterestedly return to their meal. There was a swimming hole in a creek about ten minutes away, and we spent an afternoon there alternately baking in the sun on the rocks by the creek and jumping in the bitingly cold water from rocks 30 feet high. One day, we went for a hike at Devil’s Lake — it was about 4 miles to the lake, and we didn’t see a single other person that day. The trail took us up up up into the mountains and the cool lake was very welcome when we finally reached it. It’s amazing how much land there is that’s isolated — I forget that, living in the city. We took turns cooking there, so the first night was my night and I got to cook for someone other than just ML. I kept thinking that I was making too much food, but apparently 6 people can eat a lot more than 2 people can! I roasted fingerling potatoes with fresh rosemary, made a green bean and cherry tomato salad with spring onion and a light balsamic vinaigrette, and chicken marinated in lemon and garlic with a spring onion, garlic, ginger, and lemon sauce to spoon on top. Fresh fruit for dessert. I love California and its agricultural bounty! I got to read a lot too, being disconnected from the internet and my phone. Four days without being able to check my email once! I hope there will always be places on the earth that signals and cables can’t access.
And then the very same day I came back from the mountains, ML and I flew to Vermont for her sister’s wedding.
I had no idea what to expect from the wedding. I knew that it was the first time anyone in her family aside from her parents and sister were seeing her in the knowledge that she was gay. I knew that I would probably be under a bit of scrutiny because of that, though not nearly as much scrutiny as she would be under. I knew that there would be people there who would potentially be uncomfortable with us. I knew that I have ambivalent feelings about marriage, and that the last wedding I went to (of one of my best friends from childhood) felt contrived and, for me, uncomfortable. I knew that ML’s sister (who is younger than she is by a few years) is a darling, but is also pretty foreign to me. She’s 24 years old and has a career, a husband, a dog, a perfect apartment… It’s a life that sort of baffles me. So straightforward. So straight. I was a bit apprehensive about the wedding, to be frank.
But it was absolutely beautiful. A few minor bumps (throwing up after brunch the first morning because I’d been on a red-eye and hadn’t slept and the food was too much for my delicate system!, one of ML’s family’s close friends not being able to look me in the eye through an entire evening the night before the rehearsal dinner, having my feelings hurt – unintentionally – by ML’s mom the morning of the wedding, etc.), but otherwise — it was kind of indescribable. The couple obviously love each other a lot, and everyone was full of love and glowing with joy. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true. No one, aside from the one family friend, was remotely weird to me, and in fact people seemed to make an effort to be nice. The wedding was at a gorgeous lakeside location and the ceremony was simple and personal. Unlike the last wedding, this one wasn’t remotely contrived.
I did feel a bit uncomfortable. It was a bit melancholy, actually, just knowing that our wedding would be different. Of course most of the ways it would be different would be intentional, and thus would be better for us. But other ways are just side effects of queerness — the love and joy from all the guests at this wedding wouldn’t be as effortless at our (hypothetical) wedding. Of course, we wouldn’t have to invite people who would have a hard time feeling effortless about it, but then we’d be missing half of the people in our lives who we love. How do you get around that? How do you have a wedding that has everyone you love and also know that everyone there is unadulteratedly loving you and supporting you and excited and happy for you… In my family, at least, I know that that’s not quite possible. Almost, but not quite.
But. This wedding also made me want one. ML’s sister and her now-husband have been together now as long as ML and I have. (Yep, they got engaged after about 4 months of dating!) It was hard to be at that wedding and not think “this could be us getting married.” Not that we would’ve had the same wedding, but you know what I mean. I know that we love each other as much as the bride and groom love each other. I know that we have an awesome relationship. And there was something (ick alert) kind of transcendent and magical about watching the two of them make vows to each other in front of everyone they love. It felt so authentic and real and significant. I want that. And being there, it was hard not to want it now. It sorta made me feel like, if they’re doing it now, why shouldn’t we?
The truth is, I do feel ready to marry her in a way. I feel certain about her. I don’t think it’s possible to be certain about anyone forever. I think that contemplating the notion of “forever” in general — with regard to relationships or not — is dizzying. You can’t know about the future, in any regard, and that’s why trying to be certain about something in the future feels so scary. But I’m certain now. And day by day I’m more and more certain. Not certain that she’s my forever-girl, but that she’s my girl. Am I making any sense? But then the thing is, there’s no rush to get married. It’s important to me, someday, and it was a fun party and I love the idea of everyone getting together to help us celebrate each other, but that can be anytime and hopefully it will only happen once in my life so why get it over with? Anticipation is always almost as fun as the thing you’re anticipating, anyway. Plus, I have some things I have to do. Grad school starts on Friday. And before then is my birthday — tomorrow :)
I’ve been reading a book lately about relationships, specifically about making relationships work. It’s called The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (affiliate link). I’m not married, no, and my relationship is working just fine, but it seems to me that everywhere I turn, relationships are failing and it makes me nervous. One of my good friends here is in a marriage that on the outside seems lovely, but it turns out is on the brink of collapse. A couple that ML and I are good friends with and who were living together broke up. My parents are moving forward with divorce procedures. It’s enough to make me start to withdraw into the safe dark hole I keep for myself as a last resort, a hole that makes me feel safe and guarded from exposure, but a hole that isn’t particularly good for ML to be able to find me. And so, I’m reading this book.
Part of it is that apparently one of my values is order (surprise!) and another of my values is mastery. (This I have learned from exercises I’ve done with the help of my career coach.) Reading about things and preparing for things helps me feel in control of things; creating a working system for dealing with problems helps me feel productive and confident and content. Plus, a book of seven principles? A list of ways to have a good relationship? Based on research? That produces results? Count me in. I love shit like that. It’s like a problem-solving triage. In a fight? Let’s go through our seven principles to make sure we’re not getting in a nasty shouting match flooding gridlock.
Thing is, ML gets sort of skeeved by my reading relationship self-help books. “We’re fine,” she said, “why do you need to read that?” Because I want to, because it helps me feel secure. With relationships failing all the time, I like to be sure I’m doing everything I can to keep ours on solid footing. And I want to be intentional about it, rather than one day years from now waking up and realizing that we’ve let it slide. “Ok then,” she said, “but you don’t expect me to read it, right?” No, I don’t. I don’t expect her to read it.
But then I realized I was fighting some voice in my head that was all she doesn’t want to work for this relationship as much as you do. She’s not as invested in it as you are. She just wants it to be easy, which means that when it’s not she’s going to run. And I let that little voice in my head kick around for a day or two, feeling a bit uneasy. And yet, as I was reading the book, I was learning that we already adhere to all the principles, just by accident, just because we’re awesome. And then I came to the principle about how to solve problems, and how to recognize which problems are perpetual because they’re grounded in something other than the surface problem, because they’re grounded in clashes that run much deeper… and I read how when you find a problem like that, it’s going to be one that strikes a nerve, and what you have to do is figure out what the actual problem is and relate to each other and be willing to understand what that actual problem is in order to get anywhere. And I realized that the actual problem in the whole little-voice-in-my-head-saying-she’s-not-working-as-hard situation is really this: I like to know, I like to have solutions, I like to be prepared, I like to have a system for things, I like to plan ahead. So reading a relationship book is a way for me to have all that, to appease my want for a personal sense of security. As for her? She doesn’t care for any of that, she doesn’t try to always be prepared, she certainly doesn’t have systems in place for things, and she’s not much of one for planning ahead. She just takes things as they come. In fact, for her, seeing me reading this book made her feel a little uneasy, because it looked to her like I thought there already were problems that I needed to turn to a book to fix. For her, it triggered an insecurity that she was doing something wrong that I wasn’t communicating to her.
And once I understood that that’s what was going on, I was flooded with … something. Not relief, really. Just calm. This is just the two of us, it’s the way we work. We have different values, different stuff going on in the backdrops of our minds, different perceptions of the same scenario. And with that understanding of what’s actually going on in our minds, beyond the surface tension of why-don’t-you-value-our-relationship vs. why-do-you-think-our-relationship-has-problems, it’s so much easier to value and respect our differences, and to accept them without being critical, defensive, or insecure. So, for me, the book has already been helpful. It’s already helped me see that every relationship has those kinds of differences, and the point is to handle them graciously and with a willingness to learn about each other, rather than a desire to force one another to change.
So now I can continue reading the book without her being suspicious, and I’m completely okay with her not ever reading it. And in fact? We had a really good conversation about one of the concepts I’ve picked up in it (an argument will end in the same tone in which it started, or worse, which means if an argument starts out harshly and defensively, we can’t expect it to end gently and respectfully!), and she was receptive to talking about it, and it was helpful for both of us.
I’m continually in awe of our capacity for loving and understanding each other.
Over a late breakfast of salsa scrambled eggs, toast, and sliced strawberries, we’re listening to NPR and sipping breakfast tea. Occasionally, we murmur commentary to each other on what we’re listening to. My mind wanders from the latest Energy Bill updates, and I look across the table and suddenly feel absurdly lucky. Her head is tilted, her eyes askance as she listens to (and grows indignant at) the radio, and I fleetingly feel like I just woke up from a long dream and this, this, is what is real. Out loud I say, “I’m so lucky,” and her focus shifts to me. She shakes her head affectionately and cracks up. “You’re a weird one,” she says, “I love you.”
We’re at a giant thrift store together, sorting through all the junk to find a few things to take home. She heads for the t-shirts, I dive into the sundresses. Ten minutes later, I’ve scoured the racks, have a few picks, and the first thing I do is stand up on my tip-toes, crane my neck so I can see over the racks, and look for her. I don’t see her right away. But after a few seconds, her purple hoodie catches my eye and I feel a wave of … I don’t know what, exactly. Familiarity, comfort, warmth, affection, love, security, and (dare I say?) a mild surge of arousal, all wrapped up in one feeling that doesn’t have a single name but it should. All of that, just from alighting my eyes on her in a crowded room. Do other beings have the capacity to feel this way? If not, why do we humans? Where does it come from?
I’m lying in bed, trying to fall asleep. I have to get up in the morning to go into the law firm to do some contract work, so I couldn’t go out with her and some friends. That’s fine anyway, because I read a bit, watched a bit of a movie I knew she didn’t want to watch, ate nutella out of the jar with a spoon, and took a bath. It was nice to have the evening to myself. But I can’t sleep without her in bed next to me, big spoon to my little. I slip in and out of half-consciousness, restless, unsettled, waking with a start at every noise, thinking maybe it’s her. She comes in, finally, around 2:30. She sits down on the bed to take off her shoes. “Hi,” I say, mustering all my sleepy energy to squeak out the single syllable. “Awwww you’re awake!” she says, “hi cutie!!” She goes out to brush her teeth, and I prep myself for Sleep Position, turning onto my side and curling up. Soon she’s curled up behind me, and I finally feel the heaviness of sleep settling in. “Did you have fun?” I ask. “Yep!” she says, “but I missed you the whole time.” Not melancholy, just a sweet matter of fact. “Me too.”
This is my life these days. Sometimes I think conflict (in my relationship or just in my life in general) is what most moves me to write. If that’s true, then that’s too bad, because moments like these are just as worthy of being captured.