Your Partner Should Not Be A Full-Time Job (Probably)

“Getting a man is simple,” say the advice columnists. “All you have to do is look beautiful, cook well, be a raging demon in the sack, learn the art of Laotian massage, don’t nag him, keep your money issues in line, and – oh yeah – devote your life to pleasing him 24/7. And then you’ll keep your man! Forever!”

That does not sound like a partner.

That sounds like a full-time position that I hope to hell you’re getting health care for.

And yes, in the halcyon days of the 1950s when single women couldn’t get their own credit cards (seriously, they couldn’t, look it up), “caring for your husband like he was your full-time job” was a valid strategy because honestly, other employment options were hard to come by. So you latched onto a decent man (hopefully) and treated him like that job at McDonald’s – smile for the boss, slack off in the corners.

But it’s seventy years later, and your options are now wider! You can probably earn money on your own! In fact, since the Baby Boomers crashed the economy for your sucker millennials, you probably have to earn money on your own, even if you’d rather be a one-income household!

At which point, the question becomes:

Is treating your partner like a full-time job healthy for you?

Which is not, of course, to say that your partner should be an eternally ephemeral vacation. Real relationships take work sometimes – you have to condense slippery thoughts into concrete communication, you have to make compromises and shape expectations, and yes, even argue a bit. Generally, steering two boats in roughly the same direction will take labor.

But there’s a difference between “maintenance work” and “sculpting all your behaviors to please one person.” Sure, you can probably get someone to stick around for a while if you shave off all your rough edges, but that presumes you’ll never have a day when you need to be catered to.

Truth is, eventually you’re gonna have a shitty day when things aren’t going your way and you just can’t forge ahead with the “Please your partner 24/7” plan. And there’s two basic ways your partner can then respond:

  • “Wow, I’m sorry things are going so badly for you, what can I do to help you?”
  • “I’ll excuse this failure on your part for now because of exceptional circumstances, but I’ll have to put a mark on your record.”

Enough black marks, and you get fired. Because you’re not someone who is loved or cherished; you’re someone who is there to do a job.

(There’s an even more subtle trick here, particularly when someone is rich: they’ll often say something like “What can I do to help you?” when what they’re really asking is, “How much money do I have to pay for someone else to fix you?” If they’re shelling out for vacations and psychiatrists and shopping trips and yet aren’t taking a direct hand, that’s usually a sign that their ROI for you is going down.)

Yet my point is that perpetually playing the perfect partner is problematic. You want someone who actively shares interests with you, not someone who’ll magnanimously let you run off in your spare time to have adventures. You want someone who still loves you when your makeup’s off and you’re a little snippy because you’re running late to the DMV. You want someone who values you as a person, not just what you can offer them.

Or maybe not! Because there’s nothing wrong with a negotiated tit-for-tat situation. If you decide, “This person has things I desire, and I will devote my hours to catering to them so they will cater to me,” well, at least you’ve made an active decision. And you don’t expect love out of it, necessarily, just a healthy exchange of goods and services.

But too many people – men and women and genderqueer – unthinkingly buy into this idea of “I must shape myself into a perfect pleaser” and then acquire the sort of person who all too often wants a perfect pleaser – which is to say, someone selfish, shallow, and short-sighted – they wind up astonished when the relationship is as emotionally fulfilling as scrubbing the fryers at McDonald’s. (If, hopefully, a bit more lucrative.)

And that’s not to say that there aren’t times you may choose to make your partner a full-time job. If they become sick and you opt to become their caretaker, that’s something you chose to do out of love and compassion. But the point is: choose it actively. Don’t seek out people who you need to continually pour energy into or else they leave, unless that’s a bargain you have carefully contemplated.

Because what I think what most people want in a partner is someone who reaches back across the aisle – someone who is equally devoted to them in the same way.

And there’s nothing wrong with getting a paycheck. But please don’t put in an employment application and expect to get love in return.

On Being Past My Sell-By Date At Fifty

I’ve dreaded turning fifty for one reason and one reason only:

I no longer fit in the right part of the search form.

See, even though I’m not actively looking for partners at this point, I still cruise OKCupid on a regular basis. It’s my equivalent of peoplewatching down by the park; I see who’s in my neighborhood, what they like, maybe check out a few mutual hobbies.

And at 49, for all of 2019 right up until July third, I had been teetering on the edge:

“Searching for partners between 34 and 49.”

That was reasonable. I mean, it’s a good spread of age. But the people who were in their forties?

Most of them weren’t cool with dating men who were 50.

At least on the form.

You know, and maybe they are okay with dating a man who is, at this point, a decrepit 50 years and two days as of this writing, but… I’m not gonna ask ’em. I’ve long said that if someone expresses a preference, it’s kinda douchey to stick your head in and say, “HELLO MIGHT I BE YOUR EXCEPTION?” I think that people deserve to be taken at their words.

And in respecting that, I have crossed the rubicon.

(Which is, to be honest, the kind of phrase only old dudes use.)

Look, I think age striations are important on some level. When I was 38, I could have snuck into some of the under-30 BDSM get-togethers, mainly because some of the members invited me. But honestly? If there’s a place for younger members to congregate, then congregate they should. So I never went.

And algorithmically, I know I have ticked over into the “less attractive” field. Like I said, a lot of the dating services have predetermined age ranges, and I’ll be standing outside those defaults. In the space of a day, I’ve had one of those arbitrary bureaucracy markers, like the birthday I woke up and discovered I was no longer eligible for all the under-12 freebies you could get at fast food places.

There I was, older, and no wiser.

Yet the thing is, I don’t feel older. I continue to be positively and continually baffled by how old I am. I thought when I’d get to fifty I’d have this Snapchat filter-like thing covering all my memories, so when I looked back to my memories of the 1980s they would be sepia-tinted, maybe speckled with a few film-grain markers – something, anything to signal that this memory was thirty goddamned years ago.

But no. I do not feel like someone creeping up on the senior discount at Denny’s. I feel relentlessly young, my memories of the 1990s music vivid and joyous right up until I’m talking to someone attractive – a full-grown goddamned human who I sorta wanna cuddle with – who mentions yeah, she absolutely loved that song when she was in sixth grade and there I was drinking beer in my apartment listening to that song with my first fiancee.

Where the hell did this age come from?

And I wanna respect the age, I do, because while I don’t think there’s anything theoretically wrong with dating outside your age range, I do think there’s something sad about the number of dudes who date women thirty years younger because they get off on that thrill of having someone think they’re older and wiser and more stable, which is an act they can’t pull on someone else in their fifties.

Which, as someone with social anxiety, is a mild concern – at what point do I Steve Buscemi it up, carrying my skateboard into the school to say “How do you do, fellow kids“?

It’s a weird concern, because yes, there’s always going to be those people who say “Don’t be concerned with how others perceive you! Just live your life!” But “How I live my life” is in part defined by making people I like comfortable around me, and part of that comfort is not necessarily being constrained by my age but at least being aware of it, and not being that guy who’s all like “I live two blocks down and I don’t really use my dick a lot but the women have told me they prefer my mouth.”

And right now marks an algorithmic transition stage. I’m still vaguely perplexed every time I look down and see that my chest has become all white hair – aren’t I healthier than ever now? And yes, I am, and I’m wiser than I’ve ever been (which isn’t to say much, but it’s there), and I’m more confident than I’ve ever been, but I am distinctly not twenty-five any more, or even thirty.

I’m fifty. And when I look through OKCupid, imagining the conversations I might strike up with the people in my neighborhood, that search form thinks that being fifty means one thing.

I guess I’ll have to figure out what fifty actually means by myself.

It’s My Birthday! Wanna Help Me Celebrate? I’ve Got Four Ways To Bring In My Fiftieth Year!

Today is my 50th birthday – normally a big milestone! But I’ve been in California helping my mother through neck surgery and some subsequent complications, so all the big plans I had just sorta evaporated.

(She’s fine now. I just got home.)

What also evaporated in the rush of mother’s surgery and daughter’s wedding trellis were my plans for promoting my book THE SOL MAJESTIC. I had grand ideas for getting the word out, and they all kinda collapsed.

Which means that basically, my beautiful baby banquet book now needs a lot of hand-selling to make it enough for publishers to buy more of my stuff. (Which is fine, in a way – when I was writing it, I was thinking of the idea of “the sacred book” where it wasn’t for everyone, but those it was for would push it into their friends’ hands and go, “Here, this weird book about soup and love and found families speaks for me.”)
So the first way to help me celebrate?

1) If you haven’t tried SOL MAJESTIC, and you have the funds, maybe give it a try for me?
It’s full of gorgeous cuisine and philosophy and romance, so whether you buy it on Amazon or walk into your local B&N to purchase it, or hit up your local indie book shop, you’ll be helping my birthday any way.

2) If you’ve read THE SOL MAJESTIC and haven’t left a review, please do?
This is important: the reviews that have been left have been the highest of my career, but there haven’t been that many of them. So if you can take three minutes to post a review to GoodReads/Amazon or even just a note on your social media of choice to go “I read this and liked it” (or, just as helpfully, “I read this and didn’t like it”), that would do a hell of a lot to help me celebrate.

3) And if you’ve done both, or neither, donate some spare bucks to RAICES?
Look, man, it’s my birthday and I’m doing well – I’ve got a home, I’ve got a loving wife, I’ve got chocolate milk. But I guarantee you there’s some poor kid in an American concentration camp who also has a birthday today, and it is sucking because, well, America is doing shitty things to immigrants. So if you have the dosh, donate to RAICES, who is fighting the good fight to help minimize, mitigate, and hopefully close these shameful camps, which is honestly more the fuck important than any book I’ll ever write.

4) Also, send me pictures of you.
I like seeing who you are! So if you’ve got my number, shoot me a smiling face. If not, post a picture where I can see it! I just like knowing who’s who when I’m on social media.

And enjoy the fireworks. As a child born on Fourth of July weekend, those fireworks are mine, but I’ll happily share them with you.

The Gift Of Vulnerability, As Expressed Through A Small Grumpy Dog

Shane is a dog who doesn’t get a lot of love. Oh, his owners love him, but he’s grumpy and little and he bites – so when the neighbors drop Shane off at my mother’s house while they run errands, Shane tends to be the literal underdog.

Of course I love him.

I’ve been at my mother’s for the past ten days, tending to her after some surgery and some complications, and I’ve been petting Shane a lot even though yes, he nips. And slowly he’s been coming round, hopping up for pets, even though if you actually pick him up he’ll bite.

But today was a special moment: I was laying down on the bed, resting, when I heard a little whine from outside my door.

I looked over; Shane was sitting outside my room, looking plaintive.

“C’mere, little fella,” I said, and he trotted over to be petted, rubbing against me, his whole body vibrating like he really needed this.

And then, after a few minutes, he turned over and let me rub his belly.

And it was a strangely satisfying moment – not because of the belly rub (Shane has a pretty bony belly, truth me told), but because Shane, who is normally a gruff little barker, showed some vulnerability and let me comfort him.

That honesty is a gift.

And I think of how rarely people offer me that opportunity to comfort them – and how much I’ve treasured it when they have.

I think of my sweeties visiting, those days when we should be spending these dwindling moments fucking and visiting and conversating, and instead I’m just bringing them tea because they’re worn out and they trust me enough not to demand that they have to entertain me 24/7 for us to be dating.

I think of my friends when they were supposed to come over for a long visit, and they give me that text that says, “I’m sorry, I’m too peopled out for tonight,” with that subliminal fear of You understand what it’s like to lose an evening to introversion, right and me being able to say Yes, yes I do.

I think of my mom, not making a fuss because yes, I will be sleeping on a cold hospital floor next to her tonight because the hospital is out of sleeping cots.
And she might need someone to get the nurses’ attention during shift changes, but she doesn’t fuss and tell me “You should go home, get a good night’s rest” because she needs someone to guard their well-being and that duty falls to me.

There is an honor in someone being vulnerable to you. There is a pleasant duty in realizing that your relationship consists of more than just good moments – that you have been let into this sacred space where the real shit happens, where the people you loved have stopped fronting and started trusting.

More importantly: There is pride in carrying out that duty successfully. And I think of those moments where I have fallen, where I could no longer be Ferrett The Funny Public Speaker and instead shrunk into Ferrett the Self-Harming Crazy Stutterer, and people loved me regardless and I’m not sure how to trust that and I do.

Today, it was a tiny dog who opened up her needs to me. Last week, it was my mother. But the one act illuminates the other.

And honestly?

I’m just happy to be there for anyone who needs it.

An Incomplete Taxonomy Of Ferrett Crushes

  • They have pretty pictures. Really pretty pictures. And whenever they interact with me, I have that lightning-in-a-jar SENPAI NOTICED ME thrill and float on air for a couple of hours, but they’re clearly not into me in anything other than a “fun interactions online” way so that’s what I get. BUT WHAT A GET.
  • We made out/scened/had sex at a convention once back – way back – and never reconnected, so whenever I see them online I’m thinking, “Hey, wasn’t that makeout session we had awesome?” followed by me also thinking “If it was that awesome, they’d probably be more in contact with you.”
  • The ones who I have no idea what they look like because all they have is some cartoon avatar and really staggeringly pretty words, and yes I have a major crush on several people who, for all I know, are actually a unicorn with a candy-cane horn. But their brains. Their delicious delicious brains!
  • The folks for whom dating would be disastrous; they have different kinks than me, different ways of coping with mental illness, and/or don’t want to date long-distance. But we sure get along pretty well as friends, which leads to me sighing over their pictures periodically and going oh, you kid.
  • The ones who I’m pretty sure crush back on me, but my life is pretty polysaturated right now and if I start a crush it might be like chucking a match in a dry field and then all the emotions are ablaze for a relationship neither of us has time for so we just cuddle a lot in person and ha ha this is a simple friendship of course we just flirt a lot LET US NOT TALK ABOUT THIS MORE, KAREN
  • The ones I’m actually dating. Yes, I still crush on them. I just can tell them that in person.
  • The women who send me gorgeous pictures about once every three to six months, and I tell them how goddamned stunning they are, and then we chat a little before they disappear again, and I wonder whether they have a crush on me back or whether they just like an enthusiastic person to admire them when they’re feeling down. Either way’s okay because, whee, free pictures of pretty people!
  • The crush I have in some distant, distant city where I’ve never been to and am highly unlikely to be to, but some day we’ll be colocated and the years of smoldering tension will break out in a massive crushfire where my most likely reaction will be “God damn, if I’d known they were that into me, I probably would have checked with my poly circle beforehand.”
  • The sex worker I am deeply in crush with, but also savvy that what they present online is generally some curated version of their lives in order to attract customers, and so my crush is moderated by the fact that they’d probably be genuinely fun to hang out with but would not want to hang out with me for free.
  • The woman who is literally two-fifths my age and she has a body that is absolutely flat-out gorgeous but dating someone that much younger is probably a bad idea for me so I’ll just sit over here feeling bad about my occasional dreams of cuddling them.
  • The woman who is my age and has a very exact read on how incompetent I can be in relationships at times and so keeps a wary distance of me, and frankly I can’t blame her but damn is she neat.
  • The guy who is built in the way that I am attracted to – which is to say, nothing like I look myself – but those sorts of waify pale guys are never into me and I don’t know anything about dating guys anyway and if I actually went through with it I’m pretty sure I’d be terrible in bed with them and how do you bi and hell with it, I’m polysaturated anyway so why not just fantasize?
  • That person who I had mentally marked off as “ineligible” because they’re monogamous or not interested in me or whatever other appropriate reason, and then they hugged me a little too long at a party and I’m like, Did that hug mean anything? and by the time my conscious brain went “No, of course not, people can be affectionate without physical attraction” my little crushy-brain went “TOO LATE I’M IN” and now I try to hug them veeeeery carefully.
  • That person I did a fire scene with and they had The Skin that holds and catches fire like a wick, and our ignition-chemistry was perfect, and I’m not sure I could pick their face out of a lineup but let me get my wands on their back and oh how I will remember them.
  • That person who made that really clever pun that I wish I’d made, and is that all it takes for you to form a crush, Ferrett? and yes, yes it is, do you understand how exhausting my life can be sometimes?

How Polyamory Can Be Like Being Stabbed In The Leg With A Pencil

Stan’s best friend stabbed him in the leg with a pencil.

That, right there, is a perfect sentence: each phrase tells you more about what happened, escalating into violence.

But it doesn’t tell you what happened next.

Because yes, my friend Stan’s buddy did stab him in the leg with a pencil. It was an attack that came out of nowhere; they were in study hall, silently sitting next to each other, and WHAM, the guy jabbed him in the thigh with a freshly-sharpened yellow No. 2 weapon. And Stan yelled and went to the bathroom and washed the pencil lead out of his bleeding knee, and returned to the classroom….

…which is when the weird thing happened.

WHAT YOU’D EXPECT: The friend would look concerned, or guilty, or defensive, or at least aware in any way that he’d just done something violent and inappropriate.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED: The friend was just doodling on a piece of paper, presumably with another pencil.

And what happened next was not actually that uncommon: Stan looked at his friend, seeking confirmation that something totally extraordinary had just taken place, and the friend refused to provide it. And, I mean, when someone had done something so crazy, shouldn’t they know it? Shouldn’t they have some shame?

At which point Stan had to risk a confrontation with his buddy to decide on the nature of reality, and things were already awkward, and what if Stan was wrong and he’d just misinterpreted something?

So Stan sat down as if nothing had happened.

His friend’s confidence had literally rewritten reality.

Now, this happens a lot in terrible relationships, too. I’m thinking of a relationship I’d heard of where a woman in a formerly monogamous relationship came home to find her also-monogamous husband dick-deep in another woman. And she reacted in a traditional, predictable, fashion: “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?”

To which he, completely at ease – and, according to legend, not even breaking his stroke – said, “Don’t you know? We’re polyamorous now.”

And it happened again. That reality-rewriting.

The wife stood there, stunned, looking for some kind of sign that her husband realized this was shitty behavior, certain he’d at least demonstrate some shame for breaking all the agreements they’d made going into the marriage.

Yet as he displayed precisely zero regret, she began to self-question: had she misunderstood how their relationship worked? Was she forgetting some crucial conversation they’d had? And every time she looked over at him, her gaze slipping off his complete lack of remorse, and concluded that okay, sure, maybe they were polyamorous now. She wasn’t 100% sold, but enough to go upstairs and let them finish.

Confidence: it’s a helluva drug.

And that pencil-stabbing surety is something you should be aware of – because it’s not quite gaslighting in the sense that your partner is lying to you. But it is gaslighting-esque because you’ll stumble upon your partner doing something that is absolutely, unexpectedly bizarre, and then when they display no sense of shame, you’ll start to take your cues from their social reactions. Maybe this is all right. Maybe I’m making too big a fuss.

Spoiler: You are probably not making too big a fuss.

And as always with these things, there swells a huge debate about whether these sorts of people are conscious manipulators who know what they’re doing or are reachable people who’ve just genuinely become convinced that their weird-ass behavior is acceptable. But you know what?

That doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you need to have a good internal sense of when something’s gone off the rails, because in this case their motivations don’t matter – what matters is whether you’re able to call out harmful behaviors in the moment. And if you don’t have a good internal sense, then you need to make sure you have a good, honest, and reliable social network at hand, because sometimes calling up your friends and saying, “So she says we’re polyamorous now” and hearing them go “Oh, honey, no” is all that’ll save you.

People carry their own realities with them, and as humans we tend to read the room to see how we should react. And in the case of people who have a lot of confidence, whether that’s a front to deceive you or a genuinely held belief, you can search them for social cues and come away with the wrong reactions.

But if they stab you in the leg, you gotta call ’em out for it. Even if they’re so placid that you feel weird bringing it up. Because otherwise all you got is lead in your thigh, and nobody wants that.

When Did Weed Get So Complicated?

When I was a teenager, you know how you could tell who the real potheads were?

They checked for stems in the baggie before they bought their dime bag.

That was it. That was the sole criteria.

Oh, I mean, some people knew vaguely where their pot was from – “like, Jamaica” – but those guys were so into pot that jarring them away from weed-related conversation was like trying to hip-check a locomotive off a track. They were the kind of folks whose decor consisted entirely of Grateful Dead posters and bongs.

Mostly, weed was just, you know… weed. You knew a guy who could get it for you. You paid your money and you got a tiny packet full of weed – not Pineapple Kush, not some superhero name like White Widow, just Weed. And you smoked your Weed, and it was either good or not depending on the dealer’s sources that month, and that was pretty much the consumer experience.

Now?

Jesus.

Thanks to legalization and fetishization, I no longer speak the language of marijuana – which, if you’ll recall in my caveman days, used to be just one grunted word of “WEED.” There’s strains, and sativa levels, and sleep-marijuanas and pain-fighters, and all sorts of other aspects I’m completely unaware of.

Marijuana’s always made me paranoid. But now I’m paranoid when people merel discuss it, because they’re discussing these elaborate breeds and I’m trying to pretend that I’m the sort of hip guy who’s not going to interrupt their 301-level discussion with my kindergarden questions.

Yet interestingly, I don’t feel guilty about not knowing this stuff.

Instead, I find it fascinating that a culture’s grown up around it.

I mean, when I was young, there was pretty much “BOURBON” and you drank one of three brands. Now, in this beautiful hipster world we live in, there’s small-batch and single-barrel and mashbills and favored distilleries, and I speak the language of bourbon fluently. And it’s not that culture didn’t exist when I was a kid, but it was mostly confined to the snobs and the makers.

Now everyone’s a snob and everyone’s a maker and it’s kind of wonderful, seeing this exploration.

I mean, certainly someone knew the marijuana strains (in their infancy though they were) when I was a dumb teenager, but that sort of knowledge was hard to get – you either had to buy a book, which meant you were interested enough to pay money for a book on a topic you didn’t yet know, or you had to know a guy who could educate you. (And man, lemme tell you, when I was growing up, pot dealers were not the sort of people you wanted to have give you an education.)

Now? If you’re interested in marijuana, “weed strains” will get you a list that you can traverse at your leisure. The Internet demolished the barriers to learning, so now you can become reasonably educated on marijuana or bourbon or film noir in an afternoon.

Wonder why everyone’s a hipster these days? It’s because knowledge has become so wonderfully free. You don’t have to trudge to a library – you can roll around in endless knowledge on obscure topics and come out a winner.

Which, in turn, is a stimulant for further knowledge. Because you have more people able to look up their topic of choice you have more people who can get excited to become experts, and then the knowledge grows like a sativa strain, or whatever the fuck it is.

Which means that yeah, sometimes I wake up and find myself completely ignorant on a topic that used to be pretty simple, yet evolved into a dizzying complexity. But I find that joyous. It means people are exploring and playing, and that delight is creating all sorts of subtleties I might not have noticed before.

It means I’m an idiot when it comes to weed, of course. But if I liked smoking pot better, I could learn.

That’s actually a joy.