Why I Don’t Like Romance Books

There are a lot of good reasons why I don’t read romance novels. For one thing, if there’s not a spaceship or magic spells in there somewhere, I usually get bored. For another, the tension of “will they or won’t they?” reads like a horror film to me – whereas some people are shrieking “DON’T GO IN THE BASEMENT ALONE WITH THE LIGHTS OFF!”, I’m screaming “DON’T LIE TO HER, BE EMOTIONALLY VULNERABLE AND TELL HER YOU LOVE HER!”

So I don’t read romance. That’s an entirely valid choice.

But there’s a lot of not-so-good reasons why I don’t read romance novels.

I don’t read romance novels because my Uncle Tommy had a basement full of science fiction books that he let me read at will, and he didn’t like romance. So when I was in my most formative stages, I wasn’t introduced to romance books at all, so I never got familiar with them – and a lot of my like for books is familiarity.

Then, when I was a teenager, the romance books in stores back then were coded for women – they were frilly and girly pink in the case of the Harlequins, or in the case of larger authors like Danielle Steele they were pastel colors. And when I was young and dumb I wasn’t particularly inclined to read overtly-girly books, so I skipped right past them because I knew I wouldn’t like them.

And even if I did want to read them when I was in college, my male friends gave me subtle signals about what I was or wasn’t supposed to like – their girlfriends would knit and mow through a billion interchangeable romance books, which was viewed as a little silly but a forgivable sin, whereas we mowed through endless science fiction series, which were equally as formulaic but we were somehow reading real books.

And because I didn’t read romance novels, I remained utterly unaware of how in-depth the field of romance had gotten – you hear that scream? Yes, indeed, that’s another romance reader howling at my opening paragraph, cracking their knuckles as they prepare to write a blistering comment telling me “THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF ROMANCES WITH SPACESHIPS AND MAGIC SPELLS YOU DOLT, YOU JUST DON’T SEE THEM BECAUSE YOU NEVER BOTHERED TO LOOK.”

(They are, for the record, entirely correct.)

So I don’t read romance books in part because my tastes had been shaped by outside forces that quietly redirected me, a dude, away from reading them – and those quiet redirections not only got me used to what stories “should” look like for me (i.e., “spaceships and big climactic battles”), but also made me ignorant to whole swathes of romance books that I might actually enjoy if I only tried them.

So there’s two aspects here that are slightly in conflict:

I genuinely do not like reading a lot of romance books. When friends have recommended specific romance books to me, the “will they or won’t they?” aspect actually does stress me out to the point where I can’t enjoy a lot of stories. So if I’m going to choose one of the fifty or so books I read for fun in a given year, I’ll have better odds in choosing a nonromance book.

Yet at the same time, me going out of my way to tell people “Oh, I don’t like romance books” without a greater context often is not only a staggeringly ignorant statement – because what I often mean is “I don’t like this specific brand of romance books, and I’m not sufficiently vested in the field to know that there are other kinds” – but my public statement of what I don’t like often serves as a pressure for other dudes to STAY AWAY FROM ROMANCE, FELLAS, HERE’S ANOTHER MAN INDICATING THAT ROMANCE IS NOT WHAT US BROS DO.

So there’s a careful balance to be had here:

  • It’s perfectly okay for me not to want to explore a genre that I haven’t gotten much satisfaction from in the past.
  • But openly STATING my distaste of a given genre often winds up passing on a bunch of unconscious biases as though they were somehow unassailable as an argument – “Hey, I like this, you can’t debate me on that one.”
  • And my distaste of a genre could come just because my refusal to experiment IN that genre means that I’m ignorant of things I MIGHT like.

I say this because a lot people think that their preferences are unarguable – and that’s not just for reading! For every person who says “I don’t like YA books” or “I don’t like science fiction,” there’s someone out there saying “Fat people are unattractive” or “I could never date a trans person.”

And they get very upset when you point out that their personal taste may, in fact, be founded on some fairly ugly societal shit that they’ve quaffed down without thinking about it.

I mean, it’s okay to not like romance books! Sometimes you don’t like a thing. You’re never obliged to hold your nose and read books you hate and date people you’re not attracted to.

But if you’re going to go around sneering at romance books, then you should take a moment to ponder how much of your personal taste has been shaped by society before you go around unthinkingly propagating more of that distaste into society.

Because you might have been fed a lot of biases that lead to this dislike. And you might continue to have this dislike because you’re ignorant of how romance books actually work, and your refusal to experiment may be walling you off from new experiences.

I mean, at the end of the day, I still don’t like most romance books. But I’m willing to admit that maybe there’s a romance book or two out there that I might adore, and I keep my eyes open in case it comes along.

That’s the best any of us can do, I think.

I’m Not A Bar Fight Kinda Guy. Thankfully.

“I’m having a bad morning,” I told Gini. “Can I have an emergency cuddle?”

“Sure,” she said, then took me into the bedroom and hugged me for ten minutes.

And it occurs to me that this would be an alien experience for a lot of dudes, thanks to a dumb-ass Tweet the other day which read:

“I don’t know one guy, including myself, who wasn’t in a bar fight.

“Not a single one.”

Which is almost certainly bravado, because as a TV host you’d have to have met at least one guy who had never been in a bar fight – I suspect this is a lot like all those moes who go, “I’ve never met a gay person!” when the answer is actually “They didn’t talk to you about it.”

But I’m willing to admit that duderino here probably chooses to hang with friends who get into bar fights. Which… isn’t really a good look, to my opinion. I know lots of folks who can fight really well, but in my experience the schmucks who get into barfights are usually the hotheads who can’t argue well. Barfights are usually, “I can’t win through logic, so out comes the punching.”

(And also nobody says that “being in a barfight” means “you’ve been good in a barfight.” Having a lot of friends who’ve been bouncers, I can tell you that there’s a staggering number of barfights that don’t end well for the participants.)

What I’m willing to bet, though, is that to a proud-of-barfightin’ kinda dude, the idea that “cuddles on demand” or even “acknowledging today’s sorta rough” would be an utterly alien experience to them. They’d wrap themselves tight in machismo until they exploded, treating feelings as this alien influence they gotta get out of their system by lifting weights or banging someone new or otherwise demonstrating their alpha wolf capabilities.

But having seen barfight dudes making it in the real world, they’re often way more concerned with looking good than being good, and implode at some point when it turns out their lives aren’t as satisfying as they need it to be – which, given the barfight lifestyle includes copious amounts of praise from other barfight men, often degrades into a weird clusterhug of damaged dudes convincing themselves that the world is out to get them when the truth is that they’re out punching the world in the face and getting punched back.

Which often gets contorted into the truly weird concept that a Man is defined by the amount of damage he can endure, leading into this self-destructive spiral where you keep flinging yourself into challenges designed to crumple your ego and then give yourself an award for enduring something painful that you didn’t have to do. Then you start thinking less of other men who quite rightfully looked at the river of broken glass and rubbing alcohol and said, “Why the fuck would I want to swim in that?”

I dunno, man. As someone who’s been called all sorts of names for being emotional, I suspect the “emergency cuddle” aspect would not go over well with that crowd.

But on the other hand, I have a wife who’ll cuddle me. And the courage to admit when things aren’t perfect. And the strength to keep going even when the day’s kinda shitacular.

I mean, both me and loves-the-barfightin’ dude probably keep going in the face of adversity. Which is good. But I get cuddles, and they get kicked in the nuts.

To each their own, man. But I’ll be over here with the cuddles.

It’s a lot nicer. You should try it.

Scenes From A Shower Head

We’re at the CostCo. They have a sale on new shower heads.

“That’s a nice shower head,” I say. “It’s got the massage head and a hose and everything.”

“It does,” Gini agrees.

“…I could probably install it,” I muse.

“Absolutely.”

“I mean, there’s YouTube videos for that, right? And you shouldn’t have to shut off the water. You shut it off all the time. So I could probably install a shower head.”

“Yup.”

“And I fixed the toilet! I mean, it took me a week to tighten everything so it wasn’t leaking so… I mean, I could change a shower head.”

“You sure could.”

I pick it up. “I don’t see any instructions.”

“They’re probably on the inside.”

“Maybe they’re complicated instructions.”

“I don’t think so,” Gini says. “It’s just a shower head.”

“It’s just a shower head,” I agree, thinking of all the self-help projects I’ve done recently, even though absolutely no one on my side of the family has done any repair work by themselves, ever.

I sit there, pondering the immensity of changing plumbing in my home.

“I’m gonna get the shower head,” I say.

“Good for you,” Gini agrees.

———————————-

“I’m gonna go fix the shower head,” I say on Saturday morning.

“Good luck!”

“I mean, we know plumbers, right? And the worst I can do is screw things up until Monday, right?”

“You got this.”

“Okay,” I say. “If I yell, don’t come get me.”

“You’re on your own.”

“And I’m changing into shorts in case I soak myself.”

“You got it.”

“But when this is done, you’ll probably have a new shower head.”

“I got that impression, yes.”

“Okay. I’m going.”

“Into the bathroom?”

“To replace the shower head. It’s not really fixing it. Cause it’s not broken.”

“Yes.”

“Yet.”

“I know.” She kisses me. “You got this.”

“I got this,” I repeat, and go into the bathroom.

———————————————–

“GINI!” I shout. “I’VE GOT THIS WORKING! COME VIDEO THIS SO I CAN SEND SHOWER VIDEOS TO EVERYONE I KNOW!”

“Okay,” she says. I dance. I don’t stop dancing.

“SHOWER THING,” I sing. “I GOT A SHOWER THING AND IT’S WORKING, AND NOW I’M GOING TO SHOWER.”

————————————————-

“GINI, COULD YOU COME HERE FOR A SECOND?”

“But you’re in the shower.”

“I know! Now, look! It’s showering ON me! This shower head! And it’s got settings! You want me to walk you through the settings?”

“Sure.”

“This one’s what I’m using now, it’s for shaving, so we don’t run out of hot water. But you can make it like this so it goes faster…”

——————————————————

“Okay,” Gini says later that day, throwing on her purse. “We’ve got a Pokemon raid down at Clague Park at 2:30. There’s a Mewtwo, and there’s at least ten people committed…”

“Sure, sure,” I agree absently. “But…. it’s only 2:00.”

“So we get to the park ten minutes early. We’ll socialize a bit. We can even take the dog.”

“We could,” I say shyly. “But… you know… that’s ten minutes you could, you know, spend…”

“I TOLD YOU I’M NOT SHOWERING UNTIL LATER TONIGHT,” she snaps.

“But SHOWER THING!” I whine proudly.

———————————-

She’s showering. I stick my head in.

“It feels really good if you use the shower head on your back,” I tell her.

“I know,” she says. “You told me. Many times.”

“I installed that, you know. By myself.”

“Yes, you did. Now could you leave me alone?”

“Sure. Because the shower’s that good? Right?”

“Yes. Now go.”

——————————————–

Later that evening, I creep up to her. “Hey, sweetie? Could I ask you to lie to me?”

She does a double-take. “About what?”

“The shower.”

“Oh,” she says, then ponders it again, then adopts a quite creditable air of total astonishment. “Why, I never thought you’d be able to install that shower head! And here I am, utterly proven wrong! By gosh and Gomorrah, you were far handier than I ever gave you credit for!”

“Thank you,” I say, then hug her.

She hasn’t divorced me by now. Somehow.

It must be my mad shower skills.

I’m Becoming A Cat, And I Don’t Much Care For Cats

I like dogs. When I get up off the couch, my dog comes racing in from the next room, just on the off-hand chance I might be doing something interesting. When I get back home she bounces around my feet, desperate for attention.

When you are a dog, there is no time that is not petting time.

But cats, man, cats run on their own schedule. Pet a cat at the wrong time, you get your hand bit. And cats will disappear for hours, doing cat business, sporadically interested in you but not with any degree of consistency.

(Yes, I know. #notallcats.)

And I used to be a dog person, man – if I liked you, I’d be texting you and emailing you and loving your Tweets and your essays, and every interaction was a relentless tailwag of HI I’M HERE I LIKE YOU.

These days, I’ve become a cat.

I mean, I like you. I do. But I’m less on the Internet these days because, well, keeping a careful distance from social media is good for my mental health, and I’m not tossing off essays because I’m pondering whether I have the energy to deal with responses.

But I don’t stop thinking of people. They cross my mind and I go, “Wow, they’re neat, I should email them,” but then I realize I’m in the sort of mood where I’d fire off one communication and vanish for weeks, and that’s not fair, or maybe I don’t even know them well enough at all to start an interaction like that, so I just think and think and then it’s been months and hello how goes it, I’m spent.

There are people I’m tremendous fans of. But they have no clue that I like them, and would probably be shocked to know that I think of them at all. Which wasn’t the way it used to be, back when I liked and retweeted and hearted and clicked all the social media snoozewhammers to let them know OH HAI I’M HERE, but…

Here we are. And my recent affections – sexual or non – are, largely, invisible.

I’m not a fan of this new reality. Especially on the days when I really want a lot of interaction, and I storm into the room going, “ALL RIGHT, FOLKS, I’VE GOT A FOUR-HOUR WINDOW WHERE I MIGHT BE AMENABLE TO CONVERSATION WITH PEOPLE I HAVEN’T TALKED TO IN A WHILE, WHO WANTS TO INTERACT?” and I think of all the people who I’d like to get to know better and it feels like hurling a rock through a window with a note attached to it saying “HOWDY” and hoping they don’t mind shattered glass so long as it comes with a me attached.

(And never mind how much worse that gets if I’m in the mood to flirt with people I’ve been meaning to flirt with, because flirtation should probably come with some indication that flirts are amenable, and for me personally it’s hard to know that without being friends with someone for some time. Remove the friendship, remove the interaction.)

I’m a cat. I don’t much like being a cat. But being a dog wasn’t working out for me either. And this is a very transitional period in my life, I know, where I had a breakdown almost a year ago and have been restructuring almost everything in my life since then – how I interact online, how I deal with local friends, how I choose and interact with my Internet friends, who I date and who I do kinky stuff with – and it may take me another year or more before I feel comfortable with an approach.

But for now?

Well, it’s the ol’ cat meme “Kinda want you to pet me, kinda wanna bite you.” But it’s not biting in a good way. There are days I gotta hiss and rush off to the corner to do cat business, and in fact that’s most days, and I know there are cat people who want that but I’m not expecting anyone to be comfortable with me when I’m not comfortable with me.

I’m a cat. And my fur’s all knotted.

Maybe I like you. But here I am, hissing.

Hissing apologetically, but hissing.

The Strange Telepathy Of Nineteen Years

We are at a delicatessen with two out-of-town friends. My wife has her sandwich in both hands, raising it to her mouth.

“Oh, they have pierogies here!” says the friend.

My wife lowers the sandwich.

Because my wife knows that whenever someone mentions pierogies, I will suggest they go to my favorite polish restaurant in town, which has Cleveland’s finest pierogies. But my wife also knows that I can never remember the name of the restaurant, and she does not want to try to answer my impending question through a mouthful of grilled cheese, so she takes the sandwich out of her mouth.

“You want good pierogies?” I say, right on cue. “The best pierogies in town are at… uh…” I turn to Gini.

“Sokolowski’s,” she says, and takes a huge bite out of her sandwich.

——————————————

We’re driving in the car, also with a friend.

“Oh!” she exclaims. “On our way home – ”

“Yeah,” I reply.

“But we – ”

“It’s okay,” I reassure her.

“I love you,” she says.

“I’m pretty sure you guys had a conversation,” my friend says, baffled, “But you didn’t use words.”

(We stop to battle in a couple of Pokemon gyms on the way home, even though I have to get to work. Because that, of course, is what the conversation is about.)

——————————————

I am at home, alone, because my wife has gone to Seattle for three weeks, seeing friends and lovers alike, and I am worried that she’ll never want to return. After all, she’s out in the wilderness, which she loves and I hate, and she’s having wild road trip adventures, and it’s been almost two weeks and I’m not telling her how much I miss her because Jesus, I’m just used to having her to share jokes with and I ache for her all the time.

She can’t miss me as much as I miss her. How could she? She’s on a vacation, I’m stuck at home alone.

What I don’t know is that even as I fret, she’s made the decision to cut the trip short and come home a few days early because she misses her weasel, and she is barreling down the freeway singing John Denver tunes about coming home.

—————————–

We have an annual schedule of things that anchor our lives here: there’s the RV show, the Meyers’ Bread and Soup party, the Detroit conventions, the Marvel and Star Wars premiere night, and of course – the most important day of all – my birthday.

We have the regular rhythms of our friends and lovers dropping by, guests staying at our house so frequently that we have two guest bedrooms.

We have the erratic streams of our favorite shows – Gini and her deep love for Inkmaster, my crazed love for Battlebots, the way Westworld and Game of Thrones caps our Sunday nights.

My life is intertwined with her in all the best ways. She supports me in my writing; I support her in her quilting. We walk the dog. We bicker.

And above all, we have our secret language humming between us, that shared accretion of decades of in-jokes and understandings, the years of arguments and misunderstandings decaying into a rich loam from which deep roots have grown. We have words for the tough times, but so much of what we do is signaled in body language, in anticipations, in reading pauses.

As of today, we’ve been married for nineteen years, which seems impossible. I was a wildly immature kid at the age of thirty, someone prone to self-destructive impulses, a pure selfishness cloaked in the guise of sacrifice. And yet somehow, thanks to Gini’s tempering impulses, I’ve matured into something I can, on most days, be proud of – and I know she’d say the same thing about herself.

It seems impossible. Then I think of our secret conversations:

“Ya wanna?”

“Yeah.”

And depending on what that inflection and time of day that is, that “Ya wanna?” is either sex, or YouTube videos, or a Pokemon go raid, or a dog walk, and we fill in our own Mad Libs because we have studied each other with love so thoroughly that we know.

I love you, Gini.

And I hope to for another nineteen years.

By then, nobody will understand us.

All Dicks Are Okay (Content Warning: Trump)

“I was getting fucked by a guy with Yeti pubes and a dick like the mushroom character in Mario Kart…”

That’s how Stormy Daniels describes the sex she’d had with Donald Trump. (I’d say “alleged” sex, but after a man gets his staff to pay $130,000 to keep someone quiet during a Presidential campaign, either that sex is not alleged or they’re really terrible with money.)

And I just wanted to say:

Maybe the sex she had with Trump was that terrible. One suspects it wasn’t great sex, given Trump’s selfishness and inability to close the deal in any other arena – but she is a porn star, who’s used to fulfilling fantasies, and she’s gonna fulfill a lot of fantasies by confirming liberals’ worst suspicions about Trump’s lack of bedroom savvy.

But the fact is this: you can have a stubby, Toad-style dick and still be attractive to people. You can have a stubby, Toad-style dick and still be damned good in bed.

Buying into that Trump-style illusion that big dicks make for better sex is a pretty scurrilous lie that can be easily disproved by asking a variety of women about the biggest dick they’ve had. Some women want massive size, of course – everyone has preferences – but for every “Oh, God, that 12″ cock was sooo good,” you’ll find a story of “I thought I’d want that, but it hurt a lot and took forever to get in, and also he thought that having a big dick was all there was to sex so he didn’t even know how to use that.”

I’m not saying everyone’s gonna want your dick – they generally want a person, which is why sending dick pictures rarely gets anyone any action. But I am saying that plenty of attractive women are with mushroom-dicked dudes who still manage to fulfill them, or even limp-dicked dudes who manage to fulfill them, because for most penis-preferring people sex isn’t about size, but also:

* Chemistry
* Reading each other’s bodies
* Willingness to use fingers, tongues, and toys
* Inventiveness
* Laughter

You may note that “big dick” isn’t a criteria on any of those.

So yeah. Stormy Daniels is getting a lot of PR right now by body-shaming Trump. But the problem with body-shaming Trump is that millions of other men are hearing her and getting the message that “If I have a small dick like she claims Trump has, I’m automatically a failure in bed.”

And that’s not true. That’s just more marketing.

Don’t buy into it.

You got this.

I Love To Be Tied Up. I Don’t Think I Like Rope.

I love to be tied up. But I don’t think I love rope. Because “rope” implies a connection to a vast and vibrant rigging community that doesn’t feel like it has a space for what I want.

Because you know what I love about being tied up? The restraint. I love that sense of being bound tight, of being hugged so closely in fiber that I don’t get to make decisions any more. I love surrendering to the knots, my social anxiety draining away because this is the position I was put into, and if I do happen to look awkward that’s because someone else spent great effort to haul me into this pose and it’s not my fault.

Being tied up is like a vacation from my neuroses.

Plus, I love the body awareness that being tied up gives me – every twitch of my muscles resonating across the web of ropes across my body, so the tautness in my arms brings some slack to my bound legs, a continual interplay of physics that yanks out of my usual thoughtstream and anchors me to the sensation of me as a purely physical being.

That’s being tied up.

But you know what rope looks like, at least from this outsider’s perspective?

Rope looks like a lot of wheedling about with aesthetics that I don’t care much about. The rope discussions that permeate up to my circles are centered around the perfect knots, the symmetry of ropes, the pristine nature of having everything aligned along a beautiful body. The discussion of what ties feel good doesn’t seem to make the mainstream takes.

Rope looks like a lot of focus on bodies that aren’t mine – female bodies, slender bodies, flexible bodies. Rope looks like my body viewed from an outside perspective – as if these rope scenes were merely showcases for a performer’s art. And I’m not sure I want that, because I don’t know if I look good in rope to the audience that some of these riggers seem to be striving for, and more importantly putting weight on that concern would trigger my anxiety all over again as I’d wonder whether my surrender was visually aesthetic enough for a crowd.

Rope looks like a hierarchy. I know there are people who’d debate that, but there’s definitely riggers who’ve got followings and teach classes, and even though I know teaching rope classes is rarely the way to vast fortune – seriously, I teach classes and I usually get a free weekend getaway and a few meals – the way a lot of riggers speak in hushed tones about the “established” riggers makes me feel like maybe I’m not being ambitious enough in who I choose to be tied up by.

I mean, I love fireplay, but there’s not routine fireplay conventions I can go to. Rope, man… with all the conventions and classes and teaches and schools of philosophy, rope looks imposing.

Rope looks like a skill that I don’t much want. I can’t tie a knot to save my life, so I’m not going to be a top. But even as a very casual bottom, I see the discussions of rope bottoming as a skill, that sense that you’re forever working on flexibility and finding the right rigger and the suspensions, my God, the goal is the suspension, and maybe I should lose a little weight for that because I’ve seen one too many discussions of whether you can suspend a fat person and I know you can, clearly, but would someone want to?

And rope bottoming looks painful. How long can you stay in that photograph-perfect tie before your shoulders give out? How much can you tolerate all your weight resting on that one hip tie?

And you know what?

I don’t know if I want to buy into all that.

And of course, I understand that I’m a rope eavesdropper, really. I don’t get the deep discussions. I understand that every community, particularly one as large as the rigger community, has endless swirls and divisions, so I’m sure I could find the one that’s right for me if I went looking. But I don’t know if I wanna go looking when what’s presented for public discussion so often seems at odds with what I desire. Like I said, for me, rope is a vacation from my usual fears of social anxiety, so pushing deeper into a group of folks to see who maybe agrees with me is a little nerve-wracking, and so I don’t do it.

Last night, my sweetie tied me up tight. And when I was in their rainbow-colored rope, with them whispering how gorgeous I looked naked and bound, I thought: Maybe we should photograph this.

But I stiffened. If we did that, then I’d be entering that arena where I’d wonder if I looked good enough, if my sweetie’s ties were technical enough, how the lighting and backdrop for this would be received by the rope community. And I found all that wonderful surrender being replaced by the sense that I would be stepping into the realm of performance, and it felt less intimate, and it felt less us and more a question of that community that I so imperfectly understand.

We did not take photos. And I surrendered again, feeling that tension dissolve into skin touch and loving binds, and it was luscious.

Like I said. I love being tied up. But my perception of rope, at least when it comes to public scenes and public discussions, is not something that I think I love. And I don’t think I’m necessarily alone in that.