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The last two weeks have been an interesting and rather cathartic game of chutes and ladders through my past. I wasn’t able to address all of them, and there were a few I left out due to private details of people I still consider friends. I know a few of you were looking for your stories, and I assure you that omission from this little experiment was not an indication that you have ever meant any less or more to me than anyone else. Also, for those who like to chase monsters, this was not meant to be a smear campaign. It was meant to give an idea of how one heart has grown and learned from each and every person who still resides within it. You see, I don’t believe that once a person has been loved I ever truly un-love them. I may move on, and it may not be healthy for me to have certain people in my life, but that doesn’t mean what we had wasn’t real. If it was love, it still is. If it wasn’t love, it was still a valuable experience in my growth as a person.
The biggest lesson to come from all of this was that every moment is valuable, and nothing is as bad as it has seemed. I don’t believe that every cloud has a silver lining, because that glorifies the rain cloud. I believe that every battle has some blood. I believe that every blue sky has some rain. I believe that every word worth writing has a little pain behind it, because that’s life. What I do not believe is that a single cloud should ruin the sky. A dear friend, who has been with me through most of these stories, told me recently that most people are morally bankrupt. “Not most,” I responded. “Just the ones most of us remember.” It’s true. I could choose to remember and label any or all of these stories as tragedy, but I don’t. They have simply been opportunity for growth and a chance to shine, even on the darkest nights.
I’m choosing to end this series with the one who has been both the beginning and the end of all my stories, my husband. Again, this is not a new story to many of you, but humour me anyway.
When I met him I had just started a new job. I was seeing a few people, and while I cared for each of them I wasn’t interested in a committed, monogamous relationship. It was on a trip to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire with one of those men that I met the man who would become my husband. He is the cornerstone of our family, our tribe, our Ohana.
He was working for a booth that sold dragon puppets that sat on your shoulder, and he lured me into a conversation using raffle tickets as bait. He was cute, and I was still unaccustomed to being flirted with, so I followed, my confused date following behind us. After convincing me to wave a flag in the parade and using that time to both question me about myself and critique my flag waving, the raffle began, and he was gone. I bought myself a cute little dragon puppet and tried not to look disappointed as we headed for the car. Before we left the gates I stopped off to use the Privvy where I tried desperately to push him from my mind as just another “could have been”, but something just wouldn’t let me leave it that way.
I told my date to wait where he was and took off running towards the puppet booth where I made up some story about losing my debit card. It wasn’t until a year ago that I told him I had gone back just for him. We struck up a conversation. I was nervous. So nervous, in fact, that I failed to notice when my bodice stopped functioning. I was essentially topless. “I’m sorry,” he said, eventually unable to focus on the work he was doing, “but it’s really hard to be a gentleman with you like…like that.” After that I couldn’t not take his number. Unfortunately, I took the wrong one, and it took me a week to figure out the problem. On our first date he bought me a pair of blue horns and a bottle of mead, which I had to open with a screw and a hammer because I didn’t have a corkscrew. Within weeks he was spending every night with me, within months we were handfasted. It was eerie how much we had in common, down to some of the same stuff, and how often we had most likely crossed paths in years previous.
When we decided to be poly we knew we were embarking on something big. We both knew it was the right decision, and we both breathed a sigh of relief at finally being able to express ideas we’d each held for years, but we knew there would be growing pains. We knew there would be mistakes on both sides, and we knew it would be the biggest test our relationship had faced to date. We were right. We fought. We exposed fears, insecurities, and emotional roadblocks of every kind, but we kept pushing forward. We fought some more. It strained friendships, relationships, and for a long time we were that couple that brought tension to every social gathering like a side-dish. It cost us more than we could have imagined, and it was almost the end of us. Almost.
Ultimately we came out of the fire more closely bonded than ever. The people who were truly our tribe rallied around us, and our families were able to see us stand tall as a team. Whenever we have issues now it is those moments that we remember, that first victory that inspires us to keep trying, because those were the fires of truth that made us one. No handfasting or legal document could have done that. These new issues are never actually new. They are simply echoes of the first, and they are generally fixed with the same tools. I have learned a lot of lessons from my relationship with Hubby, and I continue to learn from him.
I have learned how to communicate. I have learned better ways to control my emotional responses. It doesn’t always work, but he has learned to try to see why I respond as severely as I do sometimes. I have learned that I am stronger than I ever think I am. Through sickness, money troubles, losing our apartment, and loss, we have thrived as a couple. In times of trial, we have proven to be each other’s strongest ally. Even when we have been against each other, the love we have has inspired us to fight for the life we have built together. I have learned what it means to be humble, what it means to compromise, and what it means to forgive. I have eschewed the I-would-nevers and the expectations of love and marriage that I held onto for so many years. I have learned to accept that I don’t always have the answers and that sometimes we’re just floundering together in the sea of life, and that’s ok. I have learned what it means to lean on each other and how to carry myself knowing it doesn’t mean I’ve been abandoned. I have learned when to let someone I love fail or hurt, because his experience and lessons are not mine to feel. I have learned the definition of unconditional love. I have learned what it means to have someone’s support no matter what. I know that on any path my journey takes I will carry the love and faith of my husband, even if he doesn’t understand or agree with it. I have learned compersion and true happiness for another human being. I have learned to accept that I am a lovable, capable, beautiful human being who deserves to be accepted and cherished by someone who loves her as much as she loves him. I have learned to trust in love, magick, and hope above all other things, and when even those things fail, to trust in myself. I have learned what it means to build a life with someone instead of just living a life with someone.
I have learned what it means to be Ohana.
To my Hubby. Aloha nui loa.
Ralph and I met in a volatile time in both of our lives. It was around Thanksgiving 2002, and my grandparents were visiting. We ignited instantly, and for a week straight I walked him to work, stopping at Dunkin Donuts on my way home. At night we’d discuss writing and theatre, we’d have dinner at the diner where we’d spend hours at a table just talking and goofing off, or we’d explore each other like pioneers blazing new trails.
Then I got the flu. Ralph took care of me and inevitably got sick himself. As a diabetic with no health insurance, I couldn’t afford to catch the same bug I’d given him, so I asked him to go home. He fought me, and I put my foot down a little hard. I came across as ungrateful, but I hadn’t asked him to take care of me. I was perfectly able to take care of myself. From that one incident we began to disintegrate as quickly as we had bonded. Endearments became infuriating. Idiosyncracies we had overlooked became unacceptable. We erupted, parting ways like the grand finale of a fireworks show.
We didn’t speak for a long time, but we did. As soon as we pushed past the ash and debris of the fire of our first relationship we were able to rekindle what had brought us together in the first place. Our lives had changed. Our attitudes had changed. Our passion had not. While we would meet up and catch up when the occasion arose, it would take us almost 11 years to have both the understanding and the opportunity to completely reconnect, and even now we sometimes carefully navigate our way through some emotionally charged waters. The difference now is that we have a better map and the skills to read it and discuss our course before we go barreling over a waterfall.
In the time since we gave it another go, we’ve had a lot of firsts. We’ve taken trips and gone to the movies. We’ve gone to parties, and we’ve put up a Christmas tree. It still amazes me that we never did any of these things before, because we’ve known each other almost my entire life here in Philadelphia. We’re working towards a life together, and he’s become a strong part of our household. We’re learning to communicate our expectations and needs instead of assuming we’re entitled to them. If anyone had told me a decade ago that this would be the person who came back full force into my life, I wouldn’t have believed it.
My lessons from Ralph have been patience and perseverance. It took us a long time to cross paths with the conditions just right to cultivate a relationship, but we never really lost each other. We never stopped trying, and we never stopped learning about each other. We are not the same people we were when we met. In fact, before I would agree to commit to this relationship I asked Ralph for some time to really get to know each other. For someone I’d known for over a decade there was a lot I didn’t know about this man. I couldn’t date who he hadbeen. I had to fall in love with who he was. It hasn’t been easy, but we have managed to take something beautiful but shaky, see its potential, and pull from it something strong and even more beautiful. We’ve still got some work to do, and we’ve still got some old programming to fix, but we’re doing it together this time, and that’s what makes all the difference.
At thirty years old I thought I was merely repeating mistakes until I learned the real lessons behind them, but the last person I really opened up to taught me a few brand new lessons. We had, and still have as friends, an amazing rapport and, for at least a little while, and incredibly sensual energy between us. When it changed I felt it almost immediately, but I tried not to let it detract from the experience I was having. He warned me that he didn’t share my feelings, and I assured him I could accept that until I couldn’t. Once I reached a point where it was no longer enriching my life, we talked about it, and I shifted my perspective and focus to something a little less involved and a little more platonic.
So, the lessons…
There was one about accepting myself instead of striving for validation from others. After telling me that his goal was to show me that I was better than I thought I was, it took him one look to bring me lower than I had imagined possible in a long time. The lesson, to stop letting my self-confidence be dictated by anyone, even if it’s someone I trust not to hurt me. My self-worth has to be set by me.
There was one about how I approach new people. When the Vanishing Act told me I was too intense, I took it to heart. With this new situation I chose to keep a lot of my feelings inside, speaking about them only once I’d deliberated them and formed a usually coherent, generally concise email. I did the best I could, in fact, to strip away any emotion from my communication and approach the entire thing like a science project. In the end all I had was a very logical understanding of why my feelings didn’t matter. You see, lovers can’t stop themselves from loving. We can only postulate why the risk is worth taking, why it’s a lost cause, or how to interact with the other person in order to maintain at least a friendship. Unfortunately for the lovers and the risk takers, we do not decide the outcome of a fresh start. Relationships are dictated by the one who doesn’t have an emotional attachment, not the one who does. It’s up to us in that case to decide how long we’re willing to accept a one-sided scenario and what we want to salvage from it once the experiment has been abandoned by the other participant.
There was one about being honest with myself. While I didn’t stop being me in this case, I did do a lot of internal chastising for being too forward, too silly, too caring. I scolded myself for things I know I can’t control. In the end it was my fault for falling in love with something so high risk. The lesson here is, yes, be rational, but also be true to who you are as a lover. I know how I am when I give everything over to someone who wants it, and in this case I feel like we would have been amazing. Still, if I’m too intense for you, I’m probably not for you at all. I wish I had had the nerve to say that to The Vanishing Act when I had the chance. It would have saved us a lot of energy. Still, just below the surface this relationship was just what I needed for a time, but once that time was gone I had to admit to myself that it was no longer fulfilling, that I was done compromising.
The best lesson I learned from this is how to be a friend with no expectations. Through the course of this I let it all go. I enjoyed what came my way and never altered my course based on what I wasn’t getting in return. The end result was that I got exactly what I needed, and I get to keep it. Nothing was lost to resentment or bitterness. Nothing was forfeited for heartache. While I have may have a brief moment here and there of disappointment, if that’s the worst thing to come out of a situation it’s been highly worth what’s come out of it.
That, my friends, is a win in my book.
I wrote about this briefly back in June, but here’s the whole, beautiful story without all the emotional upheaval and self-doubt it caused at the time.
I met Josh by accident, something that has happened less than a handful of times in my life. I’m not really a “bump into a guy at a bar and make small talk” kind of girl, but there you have it.
I had been set up on a blind date, a concept with which I had absolutely no experience. When I left the hotel the sky was clear, but as it would be for most of my time in Boston, by the time I stepped off the train it was pouring. I had an umbrella, but it did little good in the monsoon that swept me twenty minutes in the wrong direction before I realized I was lost. The GPS on my phone had trouble finding this little dive bar my date had chosen, but I found it just as soon as I was hopelessly soaked to the bone. It was a beer tavern. I don’t drink beer. My date wasn’t there yet, so I lugged my waterlogged purse to the bar and asked the bartender for a moment to compose myself before I ordered as he handed me a menu.
The tall frame perched on the bar stool to my right leaned over and smiled. “Is it still raining?” he asked as I dripped all over the floor. As lame as the line was, I was desperate not to be sitting alone in a bar “waiting for somebody”. We talked for a moment as I looked over the menu, stalling as I prayed something would jump out at me that wasn’t beer. It didn’t.
“So,” I tried to act cool. “What would you order here if you were someone who didn’t like beer?”
He laughed before he realized I was serious. “I’d go to a different bar,” he responded, trying not to laugh some more.
Not long after my hard cider arrived, so did my date. By that time Josh and I were immersed in a full swing conversation. I could already feel from across the room that my date, whose name I don’t ever remember, and I had nothing in common. He introduced himself, gave my new friend an ugly look, and tried to make small talk. It was painful, like “checking the time on my phone every 2 minutes” painful, and he kept trying to get me to leave as I desperately tried to think of a reason to end the misery. About the time the conversation with my date fell into the death sentence of “so, what kind of music do you listen to?” I felt a hand grabbing my phone from my lap, inputting a phone number, and surreptitiously putting it back. Huzzah!
“I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE!” I texted as I huddled like a frazzled cat in the ladies room.
“If you can get away from your date, I’ll take you to dinner,” was the response, and that was all I needed. I had been up since 3 that morning, and I was determined to enjoy it.
I tried to be polite. I really did, but about the time my date said “well, if you’re tired you could just come sleep at my hotel,” I was done. I told him no and sought shelter in a Walgreen’s while Josh retrieved his car and drove around to pick me up.
An adventure had begun, and I felt it in my veins, and old excitement I hadn’t set free in a long time. The only place to eat was a diner, and we stayed there laughing until they kicked us out. Walking back to the car in the rain he put his coat over my shoulders and kissed me. It was all that gave me the fuel to kick of my heels and run as we realized the time limit on our parking spot had expired and there were tow trucks lined up along the street. An Oscar worthy crying scene from yours truly was the only thing that got the car back off the truck.
The GPS got us lost, and what should have been a 15 minute ride back to my hotel took almost an hour. Every stoplight was torture. Each u-turn was maddening. By that time the tension had begun to build. I needed this man like I had not needed a stranger in a long time. I didn’t need him to love me, I just needed him to want me. We finally made it, and we spent a few short hours together before he had to leave for work. I didn’t expect to hear from him again, but I did. The next day he took me out for dinner. The day after that he brought me dinner.
Each time we were together we had amazing conversations, but the more time we spent the more he tried to change my mind about how I live my life. He didn’t agree with polyamory. At the time I had doubts myself. He was also a skeptic, and we had several debates about my spirituality where he challenged me to prove my beliefs were true. It made him almost angry when I refused to play along.
What Josh taught me was a lesson about my core values. Hubby and I chose to be poly over six years ago, but it’s a choice I continue to make, and one I still believe is right for me. Having that choice challenged caused a complete re-evaluate of my life and why I had started to doubt myself. I came out of it a stronger, more confident wife, lover, and person. Having my faith questioned was even more eye-opening. After being ejected from a coven that had once been my family, I was still practicing, but not with the same spirit and dedication I once had. When Josh questioned my beliefs I was unshakable. I had never been so sure of myself before, and I felt no obligation to prove to him that my beliefs were true, because what and how I practice is mine. I’m not here to recruit or challenge. Believe, or don’t, whatever you want. What Josh taught me was to check in with myself once in a while to see if anything has changed, and if it has to figure out why. In doing that I was able to turn around my marriage, my attitude on life, and the confidence that I’m not doing such an awful job at it all.
Not long after I broke my arm last year I got a text from someone I’d started talking to when I met the Vanishing Act. Between the boredom and the Dilauded, we struck up a pretty good conversation, and eventually agreed to meet. I was still a little hesitant and hurt, so we took it slow, but he was so enthusiastic that I let myself get comfortable.
On our first date he wore a bow tie, not for me, but because he wore one every Friday. He was adorable, he was funny, and he was candid. I felt immediately comfortable, and even after our date ended up just being dinner and a walk around the mall, I enjoyed being with him. He brought me home, waited for Hubby, and the two of them hit it off like old friends. That night I did something I never do. I made a move and kissed him first. It surprised us both, but he talked about it for a week. Our second date was equally as relaxed. We went on a hike, had lunch by a pond, and took a nap in each other’s arms.
Through it all we talked and shared our mutual geekery, but after our third date or so something changed. When he talked he sounded worried that I’d leave. I tried to assure him I would not. All I asked for is the same thing I always ask for, honesty. I promised him the same. Even so, our meetings got farther apart. Then our communication got spotty, so I did what I always do, I tried to talk to him about it.
What I got from the conversation was his refusal to give me any priority in his life. None. I don’t consider myself an extremely needy girl, but once in a while I like to know I rank higher than a TV show. I had known he was a bit self-centered, and I had accepted that, but was I asking too much. Of course I convinced myself that I was. I apologized and asked him to make an effort, sure if I voiced my needs again that he would disappear on me. He even appeared to have taken it to heart. I got one really good date after that where I almost felt like I could tell him I had started to love him. I didn’t. Something inside me said not to. Something inside me knew I was trying to justify behaviour that I wouldn’t have accepted from anyone, that one night didn’t make everything right.
I grappled with this for a month while I was on a trip to Boston. During that trip he called me, we texted, and things seemed to be heading in the right direction. He even said he missed me once, and the part of me that needed to believe it acted like he’d written it in the sky above my head. We made plans to spend a day together when I got home, and I felt like it was going to be the beginning of something new.
When that day came I waited patiently for him to let me know he was on his way, but he never did. When I finally heard from him he told me he’d spent the day with his ex-girlfriend. In the texts that followed I tried to explain to him that I was more upset about not even getting a phone call than about getting blown off. He told me how much he loved her, that an opportunity had come up, and turned my words around to make me look ugly and vindictive after I tried to tell him how I felt about him. He never realized I’d told him I loved him twice, because he turned it around every time to make the conversation about himself.
It was at that moment that I realized that he was right, I would never warrant a place of any priority in his life. I had given him the power to step on me. I had held on to something that looked good on paper to the detriment of my own needs and desires. I had let him make me feel fat every time he called himself a “chubby chaser” to my face. I had let him make me feel stupid every time he reminded me of his IQ. I had let him make me feel inferior by accepting a relationship where he was unwilling to give me a place in his life by allowing him to change plans when something better came up and accepting the excuse that too many other girls had taken him for granted.
The lesson I learned from James was to have some cojones. I know what I want. I know what I need. What I didn’t know is how important it is for me to be able to stand up and either make those things happen or find somewhere where they can. No, it wasn’t his obligation to make me a space in his life if it’s not what felt right, but it also wasn’t mine to stand around and accept that he was the best I would get. After that text conversation where I couldn’t even convince him that the decent thing would have been to call me to let me know he wasn’t coming over, we never spoke again. I left that with no closure, feeling unsure about myself or how I handled new relationships. It would be four months before I’d even let myself think about a date with someone new, even longer before I could accept a compliment without steeling myself inside for the backhanded insult.
I know now that this was a test to see how far I had come from the debilitating lack of self-esteem I had developed as a child. I thought I had accepted my body and my personality as beautiful parts of my self, but I had only gotten really good at tolerating it. This was the step I needed to really let it all go, and once I realized how much I had let this kid inside my head, how I had let him crush my spirit, and how little he deserved that power I was able to begin rebuilding the damage that had begun with the Vanishing Act.
No, I haven’t changed. I’ve just stopped letting anyone else decide who I get to be.
Go now, be yourself. You’re all you’ve got.
I’ve written about the Vanishing Act a few times, and even a little about the lessons that experience taught me, but a year and a half later I still find him teaching me things about myself. His name was Tim, and at first I didn’t want to let him in. There was enough travelling distance in the wrong direction to make seeing each other an issue, and I could tell right off the bat that he had more walls up than I had the energy to scale. I was on a temp assignment in New York when we met. At first he was a way to pass the time, but one day he called me, and I answered. I’m not a phone talker for many reasons, so the fact that I felt as comfortable as I did on the phone with him surprised me.
Over the course of a few months we took it slow, but we were both extremely open with one another. We had a couple conversations where he voiced concerns about being hurt, but he was on board with the poly thing, and he and Hubby got along. He told me once that I was a little intense sometimes and that it caused the flight risk in him to perk up, so I altered my behaviour and agreed to let him set our pace. Things seemed to be going extremely well. When we finally spent time together the connection was stronger than both of us had imagined, but we still seemed to be on the right track. I wanted him to kiss me, but he was sick. Definitely next time, he said. There wasn’t a next time. There wasn’t even a goodbye. He just stopped answering texts in the middle of a conversation about macaroni and cheese.
I drove myself crazy for weeks, then months. My worst fear was that something had happened to him. There had been no indication that he was about to rabbit, but I prayed every day that he’d at least send me an email or a text, even if it just read, “I hate you. Never call me again”. I just needed to know he was alive, but a year and a half later I have nothing to go on. I still have no idea what happened or why he suddenly fell out of existence in my life.
Even before he vanished, Tim taught be to stop pretending, to stop accepting relationships that only looked like love on the surface. Before him I had let myself go through the surface romance of a relationship, but the meat was never there. It was safer that way. I got to have my warm fuzzy feeling and not risk too much disappointment when it ended. My sudden powerful love for Tim and the way I opened up to him without even noticing it showed me what I could have if I let myself, and it caught me off guard. Tim taught me what I was capable of, what I wanted from a relationship, and how to open up to someone new. While the end result was debilitating for a while, what I got from my short experience with Tim was invaluable.
What did I learn from all of this after the fact? I learned how to be heartbroken like an adult. I learned how to process my sadness and pain while contributing to a functioning relationship, how to not take my frustration out on Hubby, and how to not close myself off to everyone. I also learned how to not feed the mudslinging demons. Everyone I spoke to told me what a jerk he was, to let him go as no good, and how the whole thing was probably a lie. While I had to accept that those possibilities existed, what good would it have done to hate him behind his back? I choose to remember Tim as a good memory instead of as someone malicious. I choose to believe that he’s a good person no matter what the circumstances were. I’m not blind or naive, but holding grudges hurts no one but myself, so why even go down that road? I feel free knowing that I never spoke poorly about Tim. For all I know he deserves it, but for all I know he doesn’t, and that makes all the difference.
I am not a fan of locked doors. While I may close a door on a particular relationship, I do believe that people can change. Matt came in to my life at a time when both of us were still figuring some things out. We tried our hands at a relationship a few times, but there were too many roadblocks in the way for us to have anything viable. Every time we started up again our respective circles of friends would give us the “again?” lectures, and every time we would ignore them. When we split for good it was fairly ugly. He was the first boyfriend I couldn’t imagine being friends with after a breakup, less because of the details of our relationship and more because of things that were said after the fact. In the days before social media ran our lives, there were still plenty of ways to hurt each other via the internet, and that’s exactly what happened.
Fast forward several years. I’m now married, poly, and moving on with my life when Matt contacts me on the 4th of July to ask if we can talk. He’s having some personal issues, and I happen to be available online. We meet after work, chatting on the phone as he sat in firework traffic. We drove around for a while, then walked, then sat in the park, catching up on everything from family to work. My head wasn’t completely sure what was happening. My heart thought it sensed something familiar. I told them both to be quiet and just listen to a man who had reached out because that’s all he needed. Then he kissed me. All bets were off.
Where two young, wounded hearts had broken it off, two more learned and experienced hearts had picked up. For almost a year we reconnected with a love that carried us both through some pretty rough life changes. In the end he would decide that polyamory just wasn’t for him. It had been a risk I had been willing to take when we started dating, and it was one I didn’t regret. Our relationship wasn’t forever, but it was alive and strong when it was what we both needed. He moved on to a happily monogamous relationship, and I was able to pursue new opportunities, each of us with a more peaceful memory of our past together than we had held in years prior.
Oh the lessons I learned from Matt…
With our first few endeavours I learned that you can’t hold on to something that doesn’t want to be. I couldn’t force Matt to be who I needed him to be for me, and he couldn’t force me to be who he thought I needed to be for either of us. We spent a lot of time trying to convince each that change would really benefit the other. Neither of us was prepared to be in the relationship we were trying to foster, but what we did give each other was a chance to learn and a chance to look at something through another’s eyes. I gave him a little whimsy and a reason to be silly. He gave me a reason to really study my life and figure out what it was I wanted out of it. We were constantly creating and critiquing together, be it art, poetry, or ourselves. Matt taught me to do this without bias, especially where my own life and behaviour were concerned.
With our last foray as a couple, I think we learned to be a team. We talked more, and I was less afraid to voice my needs or concerns. I was stronger emotionally and more in charge of myself, and I no longer feared his reactions to things the way I had at 20. We found a rhythm, and it was powerful. Even though he decided this lifestyle wasn’t what he wanted, I think we parted this last time with a better understanding of one another and of ourselves. We don’t talk extremely often, but I consider Matt to still be one of my best friends and closest allies. Sure, we still had our issues, but don’t fool yourself thinking any relationship doesn’t. We aren’t close because he always agrees with me or my actions. We are close because when he doesn’t he tells me, and he’s learned to accept it when I thank him and follow my heart anyway. We are close because I know I can do the same and he will at least listen to what I have to say. That’s all we can ask from another human being.
Tom and I had a lot of fun. We went on trips together, and once every few weeks I would take the train to NY Penn Station then on to Long Island to visit him. We had quite a bit in common, and we shared a deep love of books and comics. We seemed like a very good match. I still have a lot of really neat and unique items in my geek collectibles, curiosities, and unique books. He even met me in San Francisco to meet my family.
That’s where I saw it first. He followed me around like a puppy dog. To the kitchen. To the bathroom. Everywhere. My family thought it was odd, but cute. I thought it was annoying. Eventually that annoyance turned to irritation, that irritation to pure loathing. I had to do something.
The problem is that Tom was a really nice guy, and I felt bad. As frustrated I was about his clinging to me like a barnacle, I admired his devotion to me, and when I wasn’t completely overwhelmed we had a great time together. He supported my goals, he sent me flowers just because, and he always defended me to his mother. Believe me, this was huge.
The day I decided to break it off I was on the phone for over an hour trying to calm him down. He screamed. H cried. He threatened to kill himself. I almost took it all back just to make it stop. Ultimately he met someone new and was married less than a year later.
What this whole experience taught me was that I can’t stay with someone because he’s nice to me. I can’t stay because he’s a good guy in general. I can’t stay because I feel bad. I have to stay because I want to, because it feels right. Nothing else is fair to either party. I’ve tried to be up front and realistic with new partners since then. It hasn’t always been taken well, but in the end I’ve done the responsible thing for those people and for myself.
Go now, be true to yourself.
Let me tell you about the day my ethics and intuition were tested.
Let me start off by telling you that I have nothing against sex workers, I believe there’s no crime in a woman doing what she wants with her body, but at 19 years old I was ill-equipped for any of this. After my rape I went through a lot of different theories about sex. In many cases I either ignored it or I hunted it down with little to no grey area, and little to no standards for who or what I let have access to my body. I went through more bad decisions in the span of a few months than I can remember, and I can only imagine what a miracle it is that I’m still alive and healthy. What brought it all to a screeching halt was John.
I met John on the internet. I know, you’re all shocked. I was broke and fairly desperate. My bills were due, and what passed for a kitchen in my small shoebox apartment was empty. So, I answered an ad. I had been giving it away free to anyone who seemed remotely interested, so my next logical step was to try to sell it. My self-esteem had reached such a low that I considered it a boost that anyone would pay for parking to be with me, let alone pay for my time. John offered me $100.
An hour later I calmly opened my door. He looked decent enough. He seemed nice. I chastised myself for being terrified. I had been known to let more than one stranger through that door a night. What made John more of a danger? Just suck it up, I told myself. It’ll be over in an hour, and you can go grocery shopping.
John tried to make small talk. I tried to answer coherently. He undressed me like a little girl undresses a new doll, making sure he sat the clothes somewhere neatly, taking his time to look over all the new details, scrutinizing as he memorized all my parts. I watched him like a scientist, trying to divine his next move and what he expected of me. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath as he slowly removed the thigh highs he’d asked me to wear. I knew damned well what came next. There was nothing left to remove.
Then John kissed me. For some reason I hadn’t expected it. In some ways kissing has always seemed slightly more intimate than sex, and there had been several men in my bed whose lips I had never touched. The closer we got to what he was there for the more my panic response kicked in, and the more I tried to hide it. He asked if I was alright, and I nodded, afraid of losing my meal ticket.
The second he pulled my body close to his I lost it. Huge, childlike tears flooded my eyes, falling all over my face, soaking my nakedness. I prayed for them to stop, but they wouldn’t. John looked as if I’d smacked him. He sat up and pulled me close, trying to compose himself and soothe me at the same time. He stroked my hair and told me I didn’t have to do anything. I told him everything. He took me grocery shopping. John spent over $200 on me that day. In the weeks that followed he took me to dinner and bought me things I’d needed for my apartment. He took care of me. We never had sex.
That Valentine’s day I took a trip to NYC to visit a friend. On my way home John called me, but I missed the call. As I stepped from the escalator at the train station he was there. He held a teddy bear and a dozen roses. I wasn’t sure how he had known I was there, but it scared me. I thanked him cautiously and told him we’d talk. I was tired. I was cold. We’d talk. He was upset, but he acquiesced. The next day I told him I didn’t think I could see him anymore, and all Hell broke loose. He told me he loved me. He told me he would kill himself, or me, or both of us. I tried to ignore it. He’d disappear for a day or two, then he’d come back with a story about attempting suicide. I had people come stay with me at night to make sure I was safe, and I watched my surroundings like a Secret Service agent any time I left the house. John’s final contact with me talked about how he could have given me anything I had ever wanted. He was right, and had I been able to just accept that I’m sure I would have been very comfortable. Either that or I’d be dead.
What John taught me was to trust my instinct. If something seems like a bad idea, it probably is. My intuition has a far better decision-making track record than my brain does.
What John, my phase of no standards, and a subsequent foray into swinging with Hubby taught me was that “Just sex” isn’t for me. Sure, it’s fun. If there’s a new experience to be had, I’ll probably enjoy it, and if it’s with someone exceptional I won’t turn it down, but for the most part I must have some kind of connection with the other people involved. I’m not claiming I need to have love to have sex with someone, but we have to at least have some kind of chemistry. Without it, sex gets empty and unfulfilling for me. It was after my experience with John that I stopped seeking any set of arms that would have me and started seeking some that cherished me and valued me even with my clothes on. Could John have done that? Maybe, but there was not a mutual connection. Something about him set off a lot of alarms, and I have since learned that my alarms do not go off easily.
Yes, John could have given me anything I desired, but he could not give me everything my heart desired. Love. Trust. Passion. In the end, that’s all we get to take with us to the next life.