You can’t write something that people like without writing something that people hate. For every fan you acquire, you’ll get some idiot going, “God, why does anyone listen to this jerk at all?”
God forbid you write about political or cultural issues. As Gamergate has shown, writing bad reviews of videogames is a crime that some feel is properly punishable by rape threats and personal, targeted, we-have-your-home-address attacks.
And I have some folks who hate me. Like, really hate me. They bitch about me in comments, write osts talking about what a toxic fartbag I am, feel that I am everything that is ruining men/women/culture/ponies, and in general spend some nonzero portion of their week seething that I exist.
These people aren’t my enemies.
They’re not important enough to be my enemies.
And that’s a distinction I draw for my own personal sanity. The Internet is a nice place, but when you’ve got 400 comments raining down on your head, there’s this tendency to go oh my God, this is so huge, it swells to fill the world like Jörmungandr, the snake that will strangle the world come the end-times.
Then you go get a fro-yo, and not one single person putting sprinkles on their banana yogurt shakes you by the lapels and screams, “Hey, are you the person who wrote that awful post?” and you remember: hey, nobody gives a shit.
Mostly, this is just words on the Internet, and gossip, and people you’ve barely met disliking you. And I’m not discarding the importance of Internet buddies – I remind you that I met my wife online – but so much of the chaos that gets caused any day is like a Facebook status. You post it, it gets a zillion comments, and two months later it’s pretty much vanished.
The Internet has the memory of a goldfish.
Now, people: people have the memory of a vindictive elephant with sawn-off tusks and the scent of an old hunter in its nostrils, fetishing the day that elephant will hunt down its own enemy Liam-Neeson style and crash through it’s window and IT’S ELEPHANTING TIME, BABY. So you have people who’ll never forget. And they’ll remember all the horrid things you said (whether “what you said” was justified or not), and they’ll bring it up again, and they’ll leave snarky comments everywhere.
Truth is, though, most people read your post, and forget your name immediately thereafter. There’s a billion squawking heads on the Internet. You are one of them, and chances are good that the world has forgotten about your awesome (or horrible) post in the same way you don’t remember the name of the person who wrote that article on Buzzfeed.
But me? I refuse to let some snarky comment from a single elephant-hunter-hunter replace the goodness of, say, an actual hug from my genuine wife. Or a face-to-face conversation with my daughter about life.
I have made a decision that my Internet life isn’t that important, and while I do actually have people who would prefer I died horrifically in a grease fire, I’m not going to call them “enemies.”
Enemies are people who do more than bitch about me. My enemies hurt the people I love, undermine my relationships, cause me unwanted physical pain. To call the author of a nasty blog post my “enemy” is granting them a power over me that, frankly, I don’t feel like giving.
They’re the opposition, of course. They’re racist, misogynist, backwater scumholes who I will work to my best extent to stop in their goals. But at the end of the day, I can put that down and snuggle in with my wife to watch another episode of Agents of SHIELD, because in the end, they’re background noise.
That’s how I function. Because I get exhausted by constant conflict.
But there are those who get energized by battle, and for them, I say, “Go get yourself some damn enemies.” Because they could be enemies; if they had their way, they’d certainly ensure you were second-class citizens in every way, and if that’s not enough to paint someone with the “enemy” targeting reticule, then I don’t know what is. (Not to mention that, as the Gamergate has also shown, “being a guy” is like a superpower on the Internet in that if you’re a woman, douchebros will go to great lengths to attempt to dismantle your life in ways that go well beyond insults. Which would make them my enemies.)
If being filled with seething hatred is what slaps a sword in your hand, then I say drink deep of rage, my friend.
But if – if – you’re like me and find all of this strife to be an effort that you push past in order to try to make change in the world, then you might try stuffing your so-called “enemies” in a box.
Me? I have the pleasant happiness of knowing that my not-caring drives the opposition mad. I’m cheerful to them. I wave hello when I see them trashing me.
And when I finish the day, there I am cuddled up with friends, the haters tucked neatly away, concentrating on what matters to me. There’s my wife. And my friends. And the things I love to do.
Those guys are HTML code somewhere on a server. They’re not this sweet kiss from my sweetie.
I wouldn’t let ‘em get in the way of that.
So. A couple of hours before the convention. That’s usually when I stress out. All my social anxiety hits me in one ball of DON’T WANNA GO, and I curl up for a bit by the suitcase and pretend like I’m packing.
Gini comes in. She hugs me. I tremble.
“You love me even though I’m a total wreck, right?” I ask.
I hear her silence. Hear her considering all the ways I’m wrong. And then she finally says the right words:
“Yes,” she tells me. “Yes, I love you even though you’re a total wreck.”
And I hold her tight and thank her.
Other partners would tell me that I’m not a total wreck, that I go to conventions all the time and I do well, that I’ve managed to eke out some mild fame out of being a writer even though I’m a neurotic and a depressive and a cauldron of anxiety. But I didn’t ask, “Am I stronger than I think?”
I asked, “If I’m as bad as I think, will you still love me?”
And she would.
I’m gathering my things right now. I’m printing off the chapter I’ll read at the con. And by the time I get there, I’ll be okay.
But if it’s not okay – if I’m not okay – she’ll still love me.
She loves me if I’m a total wreck, and that gives me the strength to be more.
So I’m currently planning on getting a tattoo, and as such have been mainlining Ink Master – a reality show where ten tattoo artists show up and permanently mangle people’s flesh as part of a contest. I find it interesting, as I do most reality shows based on a profession, because I haven’t thought about all the challenges involved in tattooing before and now I get to see people fucking them up on a weekly basis.
But it occurs to me that there are two ways of deciding who gets kicked off this week on a reality show, and both of them suck.
You can do the “who did the worst job this week?” vote-off, and that’s unpredictable but frequently unsatisfying. MasterChef does this, and quite often it takes a chef who’s been kicking ass all the way and tripped. Whereas a less-adventurous cook can keep chugging along, because maybe he didn’t win but he didn’t fuck up badly enough. So you often wind up with some more-talented people getting kicked off prematurely, leaving the dregs behind.
Sometimes the dregs make the top four. And that’s inevitably enraging.
But if you do the “Who’s done the worst job over the course of the contest?” then the endings become pretty predictable. After the first five shows or so, where everyone’s still learning the craft, most contest shows boil down to two or three frontrunners. As you kick out the dregs, the frontrunners continue to shine, and the top four are, well, the folks you thought would make it in.
I’m not sure if there is a way to have judges vote off people that doesn’t lead to either talented people getting kicked off for dumb mistakes, or talented people being predictably good at their jobs. The nature of reality shows is that upsets occur – in that, they’re like sports, weirdly addictive because anything really could happen – so it’s not a guarantee either way, but I am curious if there’d be a way to structure such things to strike a balance between the two.
I can’t think of one. But y’all are bright.
“I wonder what it would look like if we drew up a chart of who slept with who?” said someone terribly unwise in our social group. And because we were all stupid, we agreed this would be a fantastic idea.
Now, we were all in our mid-twenties, a bunch of slutty punks, and infamously incestuous. Also pretty gossipy. But we loved each other, a wide circle of probably about thirty friends of varying levels of friendship, and we all hung out to mosh at concerts and drink to excess and watch this new “Simpsons” show, you’ve gotta see it, it’s the fuckin’ bomb.
So one of us put up a piece of posterboard on the wall and wrote each of our names down: the “central” members of the group floating near the center, the people we didn’t see that often hovering towards the edge.
We decided on colors to connect these names: blue for dating, a broken blue for dated-but-broke-up, red for a single hookup, green for FWB.
Then we started drawing lines.
It was easy, at first: everyone knew I’d dated Jennie for years, and everyone knew that Bryan had once dated Gracie. Then again, Gracie was infamously trampy, and proud of it, so when she stormed into the room and drew what seemed like a firework of connections to all her past lovers, it was with a tinge of pride.
And after a bit, the board looked like this:
Which is to say, a fair number of lines, but… comprehensible. You could see the scope of things.
But after the page had been up for a week or two, people had gotten wind of it, and decided to drop by to see if their personal nexus was accurate. So we had more visitors to the apartment, and each of them made clucking noises with their tongue.
First, they’d correct their own chart, adding a few lines that we hadn’t twigged to. And then, invariably, they’d smirk, saying, “Oh, you hadn’t heard about Debbie and Clyde?” and then proceeded to add a few more bits culled from gossip that hadn’t wended its way to our ears.
This happened over and over again, until the chart started to look like a spirograph:
And in that tangle of lines was madness. We weren’t that slutty, were we? We couldn’t have been this hungry to fuck, collectively. I mean, each of us liked having sex, and we’d been friends since high school, but… this couldn’t be a typical social group, could it? It was like Robert Chambers’ Yellow Sign, a sigil that teased out madness the longer you looked at it… and yet none of us could look away.
The madness grew, because of course there were buried resentments embedded in the chart. Dayne had slept with Lynn when she was on a temporary break with Phil, but Phil hadn’t known that. Mike had outright cheated on Liz with Jennifer, and whoops, we’d remembered that Mike had slept with Liz but had forgotten when. Happy couples who looked at the chart did so at their peril, for their past history was laid out for all to see: all you had to do was hunt down your lover’s name in that tangle of threads, place your finger on them, and follow the lines to every bit of sexual history they had.
Shoving matches broke out. Couples broke up. Friendships took huge dents as past betrayals bobbed to the surface.
And I? I hid, happily, because though being a slut I was a major focal point in that web, I also knew of at least two women I had hooked up with under dubious circumstances… and those connections were mercifully absent on the chart.
If I was missing connections, then others doubtlessly had to be.
This chart, crazy as it was? Was incomplete.
After enough psychodrama had been churned up, someone – we never found out who – threw the chart out in the trash before it could cause any more trouble. The people who had yet to see it moaned a little, sad that they’d missed out on such a treasure trove of gossip, but they didn’t complain overmuch. I think they knew what would happen, and in that they were way wiser than we were.
But I’ve been talking a lot about cheating lately, and all the people who’ve said, “Well, if you sleep around, you’re sure to get caught.” And I don’t know, man. A lot of affairs don’t ever come to light. We shined an dim and guttering lantern upon our own social circle – which was, as noted, admittedly incestuous – and turned up a lot of cheating incidents that would have remained successfully buried for, like, ever, if we hadn’t stupidly decided to open-source our own gossip. And I had at least two regrettable events in my past that, despite that, never were revealed – and, years later, have never been revealed – which means that others might be so.
When I think of affairs, and cheating, I think that they’re actually pretty easy to do. And I think that while the consequences of being discovered are dire, the actual number of people who get away with it is far higher than anyone knows.
I think of charts.
I think of madness.
I think that chart was incomplete, and Lord knows that we’ll never get a full picture of anything.
A weird thing:
Sometimes I write an essay in response to feedback. And people go, “Well, I didn’t see that feedback!”
You wouldn’t. Because I post to my blog at theferrett.com, which gets mirrored to Dreamwidth, which then cross-posts to LiveJournal. And for most essays I then Tweet a link to it, and my Tweet gets auto-posted to Facebook. And if it’s a relationship advice post, I often cross-post it to FetLife, which often takes on a life of its own if the essay hits Kinky and Popular.
I think I’m the only person who sees all the feedback I get. Because I’m scattered across the damn Internet in fragments. Which is fine, I enjoy it, but it is a little weird realizing that any given post of mine can spawn six different threads.
“People who cheat lack morals. Ethics. A soul. Legal rights. They strangle kittens at pet shelters. Cheaters are as loathsome and repellent as worms, and should be left to drown in the street whenever their dark crimes are discovered.”
…which is an only slightly overblown summary of what some people told me in response to yesterday’s post on why I don’t date cheaters.
But I think branding cheaters with a red letter doesn’t actually help.
Let me be clear: Nobody should cheat. If you think I am espousing cheating in any form as opposed to, you know, being honest with your partner, then refer back to those three words in bolded text. But I consider “cheating” (defined here as “breaking the agreed-upon rules of your relationship, usually via some form of violated intimacy”) to be merely one form of potentially-dealbreaking stupidity that people shouldn’t undertake, but frequently do.
Cheating is something bad that needs to be addressed in a relationship. And a relationship that has constant cheating cannot sustain itself well. (For one thing, if you’re constantly cheating that means you’re not getting some pretty fundamental needs met back at home, and that’s usually bad, mmkay?)
But relationships can, and do, recover from cheating partners. And not in that sense that people bandy about of “Oh, he cheated, and she’s pathetic for staying, this tattered shamble of a relationship stumbles on,” but with partners actually acknowledging the mistakes on both ends that led to this horrendously stupid incident, and becoming stronger than ever.
Some of the best relationships you know may well have endured some cheating in the past. When I’ve asked around, I’ve been surprised at who’s been through what. It’s just, you know, that happy couples don’t typically share their experiences with you, in part because you probably consider it to be such a damaging thing that no one could possibly recover from it.
And again, let me reiterate: Cheating is bad. It hurts like hell when you find out about it, it forces you to question everything about the relationship (because if they lied about what they were doing, maybe they’re lying when they say they love you), and surviving a relationship that involves cheating is a hellish, hellish time for everyone as you take stock of everything that’s left and decide if you want to stick around.
I would not blame you if you left.
But I would not think less of you if you decided to stay.
And I think the people who go, “Cheaters are amoral scum who have nothing good about them! Nothing!” are simplifying life a little overmuch. Yes, some cheaters are habitual scumbags who will fuck anyone over in sociopathic ways. But others are people who got in over their heads, and did something horrifically stupid and for a long period of time, thinking they could have it all, and now – perhaps unwillingly, but still – they’ve realized the error of their ways.
Some percentage of those people stop. They arise from their mistake. And they become genuinely better people.
I’m not going to discuss how you can tell the difference, mainly because I’ve written about that before. If you’re curious, you can read about The Four Types of Cheaters and the followup piece Infidelity: A Deeper Analysis of the Desperate Housewife (Or Husband).
If you’ve been cheated on, and are considering continuing the relationship, then I’d encourage you to read both those pieces. Because figuring out what kind of cheater they are is key: some you can heal from, and others will just keep shredding holes in your self-esteem.
And I’m going to close by making a fine distinction here, because this is the sort of tricky thing where people who’ve been hurt jump to stupid conclusions. If you’ve been cheated on and left, that’s perfectly fine. If you’re reading this as me saying “You were wrong to not forgive more,” then you are misreading me. Being cheated on is a tremendously hurtful thing. It is not wrong to look that in the face and go, “I do not want to deal with the pain this is going to cause me, continually second-guessing myself on whether s/he is still being faithful to me,” and just get the fuck out of dodge. That’s policing your boundaries. I support that. I always support that.
What I am saying is that people make dumb fucking mistakes. And while I don’t disagree that cheaters lack integrity and purpose and ethics, I think that everyone lacks integrity once in a while. I think that people all too often get off on the moral superiority of going, “Well, I would never commit that moral failing!” and forget all of the other stupid shit they’ve done in their past.
And most importantly, I think that people can often transcend their darkest mistakes. That doesn’t mean you have to stay with them when they do, of course. It just means that you shouldn’t say that redemption can’t happen, and shouldn’t imply that those who stay with those it happened to are living lesser lives.
Some people who cheated can become not-cheaters. And given how harshly you judge them, well, I don’t think it’s all that surprising you wouldn’t have heard about the success stories. And that’s all.
My wife regularly gets emails from men who want to have a relationship with her. But it’s a special relationship. They have wives or girlfriends, but they’re combing OKCupid for someone who can keep a secret.
My wife usually doesn’t bother to respond. Even though we’re polyamorous, cheating partners are a no-go for us.
And that’s not necessarily a moral issue. It’s just damned good advice in general.
Now, for full disclosure, my wife and I are very pro-other-people’s relationships – even the people we don’t know. Far as we’re concerned, if we meet a couple, then we treat them like we’re camping in their area and want to ensure the grounds are usable well after we leave – leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures. (Lots and lots of pictures, wink wink, nudge nudge.)
But even if we weren’t concerned about that, we still wouldn’t start up a relationship with someone who was concealing us from his or her other partners. And why?
Because we think honesty, open communication, and bravery is the way to do polyamory. And a person who’s chosen to cheat is already shown that they’re willing to lie to at least one person in a relationship in order to get their needs met.
Chances are not good that it’ll go much better for us.
“But Ferrett!” you cry. “I’m trapped in a loveless marriage where my partner will get the house and children and my truck and my dog if I stay, and so I’m driven to cheat due to various factors!” And yeah, there are some people in abusive relationships who can’t leave for a bunch of pretty decent reasons, and some people in alternative sexualities stranded in extremely hostile cultures, which is why I’m not quuuuuite willing to write off cheaters in general.
But regardless, a cheater has stated clearly up-front what they think of you: “You are not as important as the rest of my life.” And of course every cheater will tell you how deeply they love you and how much you mean to them and how vital you are to them, but the fundamental truth is that when you enter into a cheating relationship, you have agreed on some level that yes, you’re not as important as all these other factors. And that if something threatens those other factors, you can expect dishonesty.
For a one-night-stand? That can work. If you don’t give a shit about the person on the other side of the equation because you don’t know them, sure, I think less of you for what I consider to be a fairly sociopathic outlook, but it’s not fundamentally unwise for you to do so.
But a relationship with a cheater? Oh, man. What you’ve got is someone who’s already stated that they’re perfectly comfortable lying if they think it’ll get them what they need. And they’ll tell you that no, you’re different, you’re the one they’re being honest with…
…and maybe they are. Sometimes it works. There’s billions of people out there, and no matter how dysfunctional it is, some group of people made it work for them. Someone’s always going to go, “Hey, I dated a cheater and now I’ve found true love!”
And if I was saying you’d never make it work, I’d agree with you that this was a fine rebuttal. But I’m not saying that.
I’m saying the odds aren’t good.
And if someone’s lying to their partner about their STI status, and their emotional state of mind, and what they’re doing, that’s a gun that more often that not eventually gets turned upon you.
(And that’s not even mentioning the issue that frequently arises among cheaters where they don’t see you as a person, they see you as a fantasy to be fulfilled, and sadly people treat fantasies very differently than they do living breathing human beings. You quite often get treated like the fun new toy, which is awesome when they’re paying money to dress you up like Barbie, but then they get all confused when they pop off your arm at the socket and it turns out whoops, it doesn’t pop back in like you’re a plastic playtoy.)
So yeah. For us, everyone’s got to be involved, or no one on our side is. And there is a moral component to that. But even if there wasn’t, we’d stay away because, hey. Our business is stability. And cheating? Bad for business.