To Date, You Must First Pass The Three Rings Of Poly Hell

So you’re polyamorous, and on the prowl for a new partner! You may think love awaits you, especially online – but before you pass through into true poly bliss, you must first pass:

THE THREE RINGS OF POLY HELL-DATES

RING #1: FAUX-LIAMOROUS
The email drops into your dating profile in-box. The profile picture is attractive, the person can put together a coherent thought, and they say more than “hi” or “sup?”

Hell, that’s better than 90% of your potential connections right off the bat!

So you chat a bit. You wanna find out how this person does poly! Are they relationship anarchists? Are they looking for a triad? Are they furry asexuals hunting for hot cuddles in a chicken suit? It’s unknown, and all terribly exciting!

Then they utter the words that annihilate your hopes:

“We’re poly, but my partner doesn’t know yet.”

That, my friend, is not poly, but your bog-standard cheating. At best, you’ll be the thin end of the wedge as they trot you out after a few awkward dates to go, “Sweetie, I was too chickenshit to have this discussion with you before I had someone on the line to fuck, but… here’s someone who’s agreed to bump uglies with me.” Worst case, you’ll have a bunch of bad sex at your house while they panic every time their cell phone buzzes.

Not good! So you move onto Ring #2….

RING #2: FURYAMOROUS
You’ve progressed – their partner actually knows they’re hunting for new affection, so it could in theory actually be called polyamory! And you decide to get together for a date, and arrive at their house, only to find the walls festooned with icicles.

This place is emotionally cold, man. Positively stygian.

Sometimes that coldness manifests as a couple who talk at each other like they’re firing off clips in each other’s direction – these terse bullets of anger where it’s clear that everything their partner does irritates them like sandpaper. There’s gratuitous eye-rolls, loud excuses made for their partner’s behavior, occasional quick trips to the bathroom so you can’t watch ’em tear up.

Or sometimes it manifests as a frat party – hey, they’re so thrilled that someone else is here to take this asshole away they’re practically pushing you out the door! New lovers are incoming, people who’ll bring joy that this old partner never could, and could you get the fuck out now so I can have the bed? A bed which does not contain old-has-been over here?

Experienced poly people flinch, because they realize what’s happening here: you have a couple who’s imploding, and decided, “Fuck it, we might as well try poly before we break up.”

And sure, maybe you like this person – but they’re like a rocket fired off an earthquaking Krypton, trying to escape the nuclear blast that will consume them all. Which means that dating them means a) leaping face-first into the conflagration of a messy breakup or b) discovering that the reason this breakup wasn’t messy is that they really don’t do emotional entanglements.

Maybe it’s all worth it if this person is the love of your life, but, I mean, it’s date #2, how would you know? So you fire your own escape pod and land in…

RING #3: CONTROLLY-AMOROUS
Hey, it’s another couple! Funny how couples privilege so often plays a part in this, but let’s not think about this now.

The good news is, they seem nice! The partner you want to date is happy, and they seem to be stable as a unit. This is workable.

And then the lists come.

“Thursday nights are the only night we allow outward dates,” they say firmly. “And there’s no sleepovers.”

“…okay,” you mutter.

“And no kissing in public. Or kissing, period. We do the kissing around here.”

“How’s that work?”

“And you have to clear all the movies and TV shows we might see together, because I’ve promised them everything…”

The list rolls on and on, a bureaucratic parody of love as interpreted through Congressional regulations, and you realize: this couple is happy.

It’s just that they are determined to retain that happiness at all costs.

And they are doing so by treating you as an option that can be quickly jettisoned. You will be walled off by regulations so as to not pose any threat to this central relationship, your joy segmented into tiny, manageable boxes, and should your mutual affection with your new lover cross some nebulously-defined boundary then you will discover just how quickly your newfound metamour will ice you out.

And so you leave, and… congratulations! You have escaped the three rings of poly hell-dates! Except…

Wait. There’s more rings? Rings experienced polyamorous daters may know of, and report in on?

Well, no worries. I’m sure they’re all surmountable. After all, we all know that polyamorous dating is like an onion. Or a parfait. I’m sure there’s dessert in here somewhere.

“Is hard work and making the right decisions now considered a privilege?”

Yesterday, I said this:

“Working with a personal trainer for six months requires a whole lot of privilege: the spare cash to hire one. The surplus time to spend a couple of hours a week in the gym. Enough health to be able to get to the gym and work out effectively.”

And some dude responded with this:

“WTF does privilege have to do with it?

“The money to hire a trainer isn’t privilege. It’s the result of working hard(or smart) minding your budget, and earning it.

“The time to go work out isn’t privilege, it’s time management, and having the discipline to get off the couch and going out and doing it.

“Is society that far gone that hard work and making the right decisions is now considered a privilege?”

Well, let’s examine my career of hard work, shall we?

I’m a programmer.  Part of the reason I am a programmer – one of the few jobs that pays consistently well in this economy – is because my parents were rich enough to afford a PC for me back when a Vic-20 cost about $900 in adjusted numbers.  Growing up in a middle-class household wasn’t something I did – I was just born with.

Yet wait!  I didn’t start out as a programmer.  Honestly, I flunked out of college after six years of sporadic attendance because I was a slacker.  I actually was a dropout who worked in a bookstore, helping maintain their computer tech section.  And because I worked hard and smart there (because I’m much better at hands-on experience than I am sitting in a class), eventually I got hired into their Home Office as a software buyer, then moved laterally into my programming profession which helps pay for a personal trainer.

If I hadn’t had parents well-off enough to get me an Atari 400 (and its awful keyboard) for Christmas, I might have worked in the mystery section instead – and my opportunities in the home office would have been considerably different.  I wouldn’t have been promoted up the chain as quickly, and even if I had been promoted into the home office I wouldn’t have had a lateral move to programming.

In fact, without that foundation of luck at the bottom of some very hard work, I might still be working at Barnes and Noble as an experienced bookseller.

And as luck would have it, I would have been fired yesterday as part of B&N’s “fire all the experienced book clerks” layoffs.

As for my time management, well, I’ve lucked into a stable job that’s mostly day shift.  I could have drifted into game programming, where time crunches mean working 90-hour weeks for months at a time or you get fired.  Or, you know, I’ve got friends who earn less than I do in different fields who work two or three jobs to get by on top of kids, and their spare time is fragmented and incomplete.  My time management is fucking trivial – again, because I stumbled into the right career.

And none of that is accounting for the other privilege that I lucked out with my career.  Programming turned out to be the wave of the future.  Many smart and hard-working people chose careers that the best futurists thought would be stable – I was minoring in journalism in 1989, which seemed stable, but how was I to know that my chosen career of programming would help destroy the career of a reporter, which seemed like a stable choice way back when?

Truth is, there’s a lot of tiny privileges I did very little to get that make for me being able to be a personal trainer – and I haven’t even gotten into “health,” as I have at least two highly motivated friends who would love to work 70 hours a week on their career as I do, but have conditions where they pass out in the middle of the day.

So in light of that, let’s reexamine what you said here:

“The money to hire a trainer isn’t privilege. It’s the result of working hard(or smart) minding your budget, and earning it.”

When you say that, what I hear, my friend, is fear.  Because what you’re peddling is this fantasy where everyone who works hard and smart gets rewarded.

But truth: when I worked in retail, I knew a lot of people who were smarter than me, who worked harder than me.  When you say “The money… is the result of working hard (or smart),” what you’re actually saying – without knowing a damn thing about my history – is that the decent salary I have right now is the result of me being flat-out better than those earning less than I do.

Yet I didn’t choose a career so much as ping-pong around luckily until I found something I was suited for.  I didn’t wake up and say, “I SHALL BE A PROGRAMMER!”

I just, you know, had parents who could afford a computer for me to play SimCity, so when Waldenbooks asked, “Who wants to handle the DOS section?” I went, “Oh, I know how that works.”

A small decision.  Seemed trivial at the time.  But that tiny edge has snowballed over the years, combined with other edges, until here I am, the college dropout in a good job that can get me side benefits of personal training.

That’s privilege.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t work hard.  I’ve worked my ass off at every job, got ahead because I’m bright.  My novels, as noted, are both the result of privilege and maniacally writing seven novels before finally cracking the door with my debut novel Flex.

But I also had luck bubbling beneath it.  And what I’m hearing in your befuddlement is this panicked denial that luck has anything to do with success – the myth of the self-made man where it’s all hard work and skill.

Full truth, my man: some people worked harder than you, and got shit for it.  Some people worked less than you did, and got rewarded in full.

Life isn’t fucking fair.

Which isn’t to say that effort doesn’t matter, because even though the game’s unfair, the best strategy is still hard work and cleverness.  Hard work is like knowing the odds at poker – it gives you a strict advantage over those who don’t do it, but sometimes the cards go against you and all your skills at bluffing and reading tells mean you get cleaned out.

As such, I’m smart enough to realize that without that game of SimCity, I might have given a different answer to that Waldenbooks question.  And I would have been just as smart, just as hard-working, and rewarded entirely differently.

So I think you can work hard without devising this sad fantasy where anyone who’s less successful than you brought their failure upon themselves.  Hard work and making the “right” decisions is not a privilege, but the payoff for that can often be the end result of privilege.

Maybe you call it luck.  I don’t really care.  What I do care about is that you knew nothing about my job and assumed that I earned the cash for a personal trainer from hard work and smart moves, leading to the unfortunate implication that anyone who can’t afford a trainer was either lazy or dumb or both.

I have too many smart friends on the lower tiers of the economic echelon to look them in the eye and say, “You deserve your poverty.”  I know too many trust fund babies from my childhood in Fairfield County, assholes who got $500,000 loans from their daddies to start disastrous businesses and were basically man-children until they were 35 and yet kept getting bailed out until they had some semblance of a stable career.

I can embrace the complexity of “I worked hard and I worked smart” and still realize that one unlucky break could have given me an entirely different outcome.  I can look at what other people don’t have, and work hard (and smart) to try to fix the flaws in society that shut out people who weren’t as lucky as I am in terms of family wealth, in terms of race, in terms of gender, in terms of health.

Like I said about my newfound physical fitness:

“There’s plenty of people who have the levels of financial and physical privilege that I do that didn’t put in the work. So I take a lot of pride in what my wife and I have accomplished in the last six months, even as acknowledging the privilege that lets it happen.

“One does not diminish the other.”

Still true, my friend.  Still true.

 

Posture And Privilege: On Six Months Of Personal Training

Working with a personal trainer for six months requires a whole lot of privilege: the spare cash to hire one. The surplus time to spend a couple of hours a week in the gym. Enough health to be able to get to the gym and work out effectively.

Yet that said, there’s plenty of people who have the levels of financial and physical privilege that I do who didn’t put in the work. So I take a lot of pride in what my wife and I have accomplished in the last six months, even as acknowledging the privilege that lets it happen.

One does not diminish the other.

And damn if it ain’t providing results.

Taller, Straighter Me

——————–

People keep asking me: “Do you feel healthier?” And the answer is, “I didn’t feel unhealthy to begin with.” I had enough energy to walk the dog about two miles a day and climb flights of stairs when I needed to – as far as I was concerned, I was healthy enough.

As far as my cardiologist was concerned, however, I needed more work.

Actually, I feel less healthy now that I’m working out. Before, I sat in a chair all day long and stared at screens in perfect bliss. Now, I ache about five days a week, the strain from having augmented my lower back or my biceps having become more-or-less a constant in my life. Gini and I have taken to hot baths in the evening because our muscles are both swole and swollen.

If you were to drop me, unexplained, into my pre-training body and my post-training body, I’d think the pre-training body was healthier because it didn’t twinge all the time.

That’s mostly a result of my sedentary lifestyle, but I find it amusing.

——————

Taller, Straighter Me: Side View

My posture is a huge difference, though. I stand about two inches taller, which is ridiculously obvious in these before-and-after photos.

I always thought that “getting better posture” was just “remember to stand straighter, you klutz” – but as it turns out, the body is all connected. The reason I was slouching is because the muscles under my shoulderblades and my ass were weak, and not pulling me properly into position. My quadriceps had become freakishly oversized to compensate, but I stood like an ape.

You’d think that personal training would be a burly guy screaming at you to lift until you vomit, but that’s not this place. It’s a lot of fine correctives. They’ve been guiding my muscles into position until my shoulderblades pull me up into the proper stance, which is weird; now, when I slump, I feel that rubberband counterpresence tugging me back.

Posture isn’t what I thought it was. My body isn’t, either.

I wonder what’ll happen if I keep with this.

——————

The weight loss has been accelerated thanks to Gini’s discovering she’s allergic to wheat.

She really doesn’t want to be allergic to wheat, mind you. She keeps sneaking bread and then feeling her face get all blotchy. Which she thought was just “her skin” until she stopped eating wheat.

So we’ve been on a modified paleo diet for the last month – no sugar, minimal carbs, cauliflower rice and zucchini noodles for everyone. (Gini has done all the cooking in an attempt to learn paleo, which is another privilege – I’ve been desperately trying to do more of the housework to make up for her added load, and desperately failing even as she appreciates the effort.)

I don’t know how long we have to do this before (or if) it becomes an actual life change. I still crave sugar, desperately. I want bread. If we go out, I sneak little portions.

But still. I drove cross-country to see my sweetie in New Jersey, and since I was sleepy I went, “YES! I CAN EAT ALL THE SUGAR AND CARBS I WANT TO STAY AWAKE!” And I grabbed a bagful of Hostess, and…

I wanted one Hostess cake. And even that was pretty meh.

Weeks later, there’s still a bag of Hostess in my drawer. (They’ll keep forever.)

So maybe my tastes will change. Or maybe they’ll move away from bad processed sugar – I had a homemade cake and ice cream at a diner that was delicious, and I gobbled it down.

Or maybe I’ll slip back to processed sugar the minute I’m off this diet, like has happened every time before. Addiction’s a bitch, yo, and sugar is an addiction – one that’s hard to break, because unlike smoking or heroin you can’t just quit food. Food’s always around, you always have to have some, and it’s a constant temptation in ways that even alcoholics (who get a LOT of asshole “Why aren’t you drinking?”s) don’t face.

—————–

I hope to have abs before I die. I’ve already got baby lats. I took these photos with my shirt off because I’ve still got flab, but there are muscles peeking up around the edges.

I thought I’d go to my grave without ever having had a six-pack. Now, I might.

It’s an exciting time.

—————–

Still, I do feel weird about posting these pictures because I’ve seen this happen time and time again – people lose weight and everyone goes “WOW YOU LOOK TERRIFIC” because society has taught us that “thin == fit and good and lovely,” even if they’re losing weight because they’re too sick to keep anything down.

(I’ve seen comments of “You look soooooo sexy” when someone’s become emaciated enough to need a feeding tube. Our society’s the one that’s sick, man.)

So in a way, posting these photos contributes to a bit of fat hatred. My sweetie Fox has noted that they adored my body before and adore it now, even as it’s in a different shape. I’d like to think I was sexy before, even if I never feel it.

But now I feel sexier because society says I’m sexier. I’m trying not to buy too much into that. But I am excited by things in my body I’ve never had before, like lats and traps and all sorts of other things that sound like they belong in some AD&D map. My body is doing things it patently couldn’t before, because I see the exercises I did six months ago and they’re now trivial compared to the ones I do now.

It’s a form of change, and I love change, and it is healthier so I stick to it. I worry that some day we’ll stop the trainer due to budget or time or some other form of lost privilege, and then we’ll slide back into the unhealthy habits because man, it is so much easier to sit on the couch and not need hot baths in the evening because whoah did you see those squats?

But for now, like all things, this is transitory. And transitional. And if my body happens to converge with being traditionally, Hollywood-style sexy, then that too will be interesting. I haven’t been skinny since I was 22, when skinny was comparatively easy because my metabolism was a furnace that devoured all calories. Ever since then it’s been a slog and an accumulation.

What’ll happen if I’m genuinely muscular at 50? What’ll that be like? It’s an exciting goal to see what I can do, and maybe it won’t last but I wanna at least max this out like a videogame to see what happens.

Please, Lord, let me have abs just once so I can walk around a public space gratuitously shirtless and not have people give me the side-eye.

I feel that’s a worthy goal.

The First Amazon Order I Ever Placed Was The Death Knell Of My Job

There’s a meme going around Twitter, which I quite like: “Let’s play a game. Go to Amazon, to “Your Orders,” and with the year drop-down, find the earliest year listed… and then RT and tell us what the FIRST thing you ever bought on Amazon was. Bonus points for it being nearly 20 years ago. 🙂

I didn’t need to look it up.  I vividly remembered my first order from Amazon, because it told me I was going to be out of a job soon.

See, at the time, I worked for Borders Books and Music – the #2 biggest book store in the nation, a rising competitor to Barnes and Noble, and damn proud of how we weren’t just more profitable than Barnes and Noble, we were better.  We were the first to put coffee shops in our stores, we had quizzes we gave our clerks to ensure they’d be educated, we had nicer wood shelves and hefty paper bags.  We were the luxury experience.

And we’d been hearing a lot about this Amazon.com thing.  Dot-coms were a big deal.  And Borders was thinking about getting into the online game – because that was optional then – so they tasked me, the local Internet addict, with placing an order from Amazon, just to report back to the bigwigs what the experience was like.

This was in early 1998.  If you’re paying close attention to timelines, that was already too late – Amazon had been open for four years already.  But we were arrogant, convinced there was nothing some upstart Borders couldn’t do that we couldn’t do better, so we slept on it.  And I should have known better personally, being an Internet nerd, but I was high on Borders’ supply.

I remember sneering as I logged in.  My password for Amazon was, and still is, a preening insult about how superior Borders is – a fact I consider three times a month when I log in to order from Amazon Prime.  And I ordered a CD I’d been thinking about getting – Repeater, from Splitsville.  It was nice to know that I’d be reimbursed for my $13.47.

They told me it’d take 5-7 days for delivery.  “Ha!” I spat.  “Who’d wait that long?”

I got it three days later.

And I remember that package waiting on my doorstep – because packages were kind of a new thing back then.  Most people did almost all of their shopping in real life, because mail-order catalogues were inconvenient and slow.  To have a package on your doorstep had kind of a mystical component to it, because whoah, here were goods delivered to you from afar.

I was thrilled to have something waiting for me.  It had been quick.  And convenient.  (And back then, they’d  always padded their delivery estimates by a day or two so you’d be thrilled when it arrived “early.”)

I remember picking it up, looking at the snazzy, sharp-printed logo on the package – and dammit, I was excited.  I’d been expecting a drab manila envelope, but this was a luxury delivery.  And when I zipped the package open, expecting to find just a CD, it was also stuffed with bright fliers – another surprise.

I don’t remember what those fliers were, but I remember reading them in excitement.

And I remember the shame when I recalled that this was the enemy, I shouldn’t be happy about this delivery – followed by that sinking sensation that if I was this happy, how would ordinary customers feel?

I remember bringing in the entire package in the next day to my bosses, saying, “We have to get into the online business now.  These guys are serious.”  And I remember the way my bosses sifted through the package like it was evidence from some crime scene, nodding sagely, not understanding what this meant.

I left the company in 2000.  They went out of business in 2011.  And I’ve written about the many reasons why Borders never managed to compete online – I gave some insider knowledge of the infighting that doomed Borders.com, and talk here about why generic physical bookstores have a hard time competing with online ones.  (Specialty stores have an advantage.)

But really, it all comes down to that first thrill of the package.  That sense that I’d ordered a CD and gotten an experience to rival Borders.

That first Amazon package told me that Borders was in big, big trouble.  And now, in 2018, Borders has been dead for seven years and Amazon is chugging on.

I’ve kept my Amazon password – the one that shits on Amazon and touts Borders.  I never save that password in my browser.  I make myself log in with that damned password.

It keeps me humble.

Microcorrections

One of the weird things about my relationship with my wife is that we’ll preemptively apologize.

For things that probably don’t matter.

And we’ll do it without really thinking about it.

For example, I’ll say something like, “So when is Amy getting back from the dentist?”  At which point I’ll realize that I was barking that question out with no preface, my tone a little flinty, as if Gini had somehow inconvenienced me by lending our car to our daughter.

So I’ll follow that up quickly with, “Whoah, that came off way angrier than I’d intended it.  Like, lending our car to our kid is a normal event.”

And she’ll go, “Thankfully, I didn’t interpret that as angry,” and tells me when Amy will be back.

And sometimes Gini will say, “Hey, we need to talk about your date this weekend” and I’ll cringe, and then Gini will hold up her hands and go, “Whoah, why did that sound so bitchy – I like Laura!  I just wanted to know whether you needed the spare bedroom.”

And I’ll reply, “Yeah, I gotta say, I totally flinched,” and she’ll hug me and say “No, it’s cool, just a timing issue.”

Here’s the thing: this happens a couple times a day.  Minimum.  To either of us.  “Hey, you gonna walk the dog – wait, why am I sounding so sad about that?”  “Come on, we gotta get to dinner – I’m okay, it’s cool, just get your purse.”

You’d think it’d be a quirk – and it is, hoo boy, it is – but a lot of time we wind up in microconversations about managing tone.  Because yeah, that did sound impatient to one of us, and we confirm that our reaction was what we thought it was, and the other partner then apologizes and we check in with each other.

But what we’re apologizing for, it’s hard to call it an upset.  We haven’t really had time to get more than a flash of emotion before it’s handled.  At best it’s a mild jostle before we’re sweeping the other partner’s elbow in ours to ask, “You okay?”

And yet it’s useful.

Because what I realized we were doing was constantly modulating our tone to each other – one confirming this is how they came off, the other confirming they had in fact grokked proper intent.  It’s a constant feedback loop of checking in, verifying, honing.

You might think we do it to be nice – and we do, mostly.  But now that I ponder it, there’s the flip side that when we are properly irritated, or instantiating a Serious Conversation, or self-pitying that you get to walk the dog on a nice day, we are tuning into the correct negative emotion.

Say what you will about expressing bad feelings – but when one of us does, our ears are pricked.

And I think that’s one of the reasons Gini and I have such good communication flow – years of nailing down what “tense” looks like helps us during arguments, because we do generally have a good bead on when things are about to boil over.  (Not that we don’t have arguments that boil over – I’d like to tell you every difference we have could be settled over genteel tea and cupcakes, but no, sometimes voices get raised.)

And I also know, sadly, that is one of the reasons some of my other relationships haven’t worked out – I hate talking in real time through phone or Skype, and it’s cumbersome to “hear” tone properly via text.  The tendency is to go shorthand – but a single “Oh?” in response to a tricky question can have a myriad of responses ranging from “stiff surprise” to “Tell me more,” and constantly tagging every “Oh?” with a “What did you mean by that?” can get to sound mighty tetchy on its own.

But constantly verifying communication correctness is something I do in real life, and it does help on visits.  And I think it’s sort of nice to have that feedback loop at such a trivial level – like I said, apologies are offered, but they’re not for much of an offense.

Which I think helps train Gini and me to think of apologies as an easy thing to give – it gets us in the habit.  Offering genuine apologies for tiny bumps makes it a lot easier to give mid-level apologies – “Okay, I should have checked Google Calendar first to see if you had an appointment before offering Amy the car” – and the large apologies of “I should have put my date for this weekend on Google Calendar in the first place.”

Yet in the meanwhile, we’re doing little work.  All the time.  Several times a day.

Sounds nice to us.

Gearing Down For Death: Eighteen Years Or Less, Or More

“We’ve lived in this house for eighteen years,” my wife said to me.

“And?” I asked.

“I’m turning sixty this year.”

“…still not getting it.”

“Chances are good that the next eighteen years are I’ll ever get to spend in this house.”

Dying.

She was talking about dying.

But when aren’t we, these days?

“And if this is all I get, I want to make it awesome,” she continued.  “I want to appreciate every last drop of it.  So I’m making a lot of new decisions.”

My wife is wise, yo.

She wrote an entry about what she intends to do about those final years with me, and I think she’s full of wonderful ideas.  She’s been a lot happier now that she’s been sewing quilts in the basement again, reforging an abandoned corner into her quilting nook, and when it gets warmer out I’m going to spend a weekend building her a lightbox in my wood shop and oh also she’s going to die.

She’s always going to die.

She’s been dying in my head ever since I almost died.

Because right now, Facebook is helpfully showing me much-loved photos from five years ago – me in a hospital gown, my chest sporting an infected scar, from where they did a triple-bypass and I spent three days on the Ventilator.  Facebook is quite chuffed, constantly reminding me of the worst days of my life because well, it certainly was exciting, wasn’t it?

It was.  To be sure.

And that heart attack shoved me right into the realization I was mortal.

We all know we’re mortal intellectually, of course, but I think that the brutal emotional truth of a helpless death only gets ground into us by percentages: that first time you try to stand up and realize you literally can’t – that nudges you towards a fatal understanding.  That first time you feel that ache deep in your muscles that never goes away, ever – that inches you towards getting what the feebleness of a deteriorating body.  That first time you injure something and know it should have healed by now, but your body’s used up and won’t come back to baseline – that’s a taste of the finality you get to swallow.

Being on the ventilator was a huge shove towards understanding what death is.  Double-digit percentages in progress.  So much understanding that I’ve been intellectually unable to process it, even after five years.

And to a large extent, what death looks like to me is “being apart from Gini.”

Because that was the worst part; when I was on that ventilator, my vital signs so low I did not have full usage of my brain, I had no Gini.  She was in the room, but she might as well have been on another continent, or on Pluto.

Love didn’t matter.  I was just dying tissue, with no wife.

Gone.

And ever since then, we’ve been subtly traumatized; she came that close to losing me (note to doctors: do not fucking joke that this clogged artery is called “The Widowmaker,” because that tends to stick with a terrified spouse), and I did in a very real sense lose her.  We’ve been more panicky; we text each other a lot more, because if one of us has been half an hour late maybe there’s been a car crash maybe they’re dead they’re probably dead what do I do now and then we spend time trying to imagine life without the lifelong love.

I love many women.  Very deeply.  But Gini and I have worn grooves into each other.  We fit like pieces of a puzzle.  We support and enable each other’s lives in ways we do not fully understand; we are halves of a whole, added.

And the last five months of my life have brought a catastrophic mental breakdown, where I had to go into deep therapy.  That breakdown is my social anxiety, metastasized like a cancer to tear at all the good portions of my life – but the treatment’s been kicking up a lot of long-dormant thoughts, because my therapist is incisive and creative.

And I was next to Gini on the bed, lying down next to her as she snored in deep slumber, when I thought: I love her so much.  She’s going to die some day soon.  

I’d better not get too attached.

Shocked, I texted myself that just so I’d remember in the morning.  But there it was: As deeply as I loved Gini, part of my reaction to the trauma of a triple bypass and its recovery was to pull back on some level.  I loved her, I doted on her, but there was a part of me that was always unhappy because I did not commit fully.  Not the way I’d used to.

Death had brought distance.

I talked to her about it, of course, and she nodded.  “I don’t know what I can… do… about that,” she said.

“I think just hearing me is enough.”

And I’ve been paying attention to things, or trying to.  She’s right: we’ve got eighteen years, give or take.  And it’s not like death is going to go away.

Yet our relationship itself was a mad gamble.  I knew her only through phone calls and emails and a handful of stolen weekend visits – and yet I was quitting my job, moving to Alaska, agreeing to be a stepdad to two kids I’d met all of twice, settling down.

I remember telling my friends, “Yeah, this could end catastrophically.  But… I have to know.  She’s that amazing.”

Eighteen years on, and she’s that amazing and more amazing still.

Eighteen years left – or less – and I think, “If she does die, do I want to look back at my time with her and recognize the moments I could have been more present with her, but didn’t because I was afraid of truly feeling?”

Yes.  Yes, her loss would rip me to shreds.

But can I let that stop me enjoying the now?

I can’t.

And this weekend has been another window into senility, because I got a nasty case of the flu and turned into a senior citizen for a few days.  I slept for hours.  I was unable to get out of bed.  Everything ached and my thoughts refused to come together.

All I wanted was a goddamned chocolate milk.

But that’s part of our new process, you see.  Turns out my wife’s allergic to gluten – she didn’t want to be, I assure you – and so for a month we’re trying a modified diet with no sugar or carbs.  It’s been an adventure in zucchini noodles and wayyyyy too many sweet potatoes.

But when I’m sick, my body craves sugar to function.  I’ve powered through work shifts by loading up on vast gulps of chocolate milk, riding that sugar high past my clogged brains.  And I didn’t have that.

I was sleeping in, vaguely aware of the weird noises in the kitchen, when suddenly there was a mixer bowl placed in front of me on the bed.  I looked up to see Gini, looking down on me nervously.

“What’s… this?” I asked groggily.

“I can’t do a chocolate milk,” she said.  “But I looked through the recipes and there’s a chocolate chip cookie dough you can do with chips of dark sugar-free chocolate and coconut butter and all sorts of artificial sweetener workarounds.  It’s not strictly on the diet, but… I figure you’ve been so good about sticking to the diet we can work around things…”

My hands closed around that cold, metal bowl, but all I felt was warmth.  I can remember her tentative smile, seeking approval.  I remember thinking, even then, how much time she must have spent researching alternatives to sugary things, then going to the store to get these things, then making them in a complex alchemy of the kitchen.

“The batter’s a little sandy,” she said.

I hugged her.

And in that moment, I hugged all of her.  Yes.  She’s going to die.  We’ve got eighteen years, or less, or more, but there’s an end point to this.  Eventually the ventilator comes for us all.

But I was there.  Feeling her.  Feeling all of her.  Realizing that we were going to live shoulder-to-shoulder with death, and find a way to flourish under that dark shadow because what we’ve got is love, what we’ve got is cookies, what we’ve got is time spent kindly and yes oh my God yes I love her.

——————————-

In therapy, I’ve learned there’s a lot of bad reasons for blogging.  You can do it for the attention, you can do it to externalize parts of your personality you shouldn’t give away, you can do it to justify opinions you shouldn’t have.  I blog a lot less these days because I ponder my rationales more.

But sometimes, I blog to capture a moment in my life.  Just to crystallize that instant I want to keep, for good or for bad.

Today was a good moment.

Today, I’m keeping it.

“Why Would You Ever Be Polyamorous? Isn’t It All Drama?”

So I’m in the hospital, being informed I’ve just had a minor heart attack and they have to keep me overnight.  My wife’s not there, because she’s visiting her boyfriend in another state.

She wants to rush back to take care of me.  But what would she do here?  Hospitals are a second home for me, because I used to visit my hemophiliac Uncle Tommy all the time, and visiting is boring and uncomfortable.  I know others would panic, but me? I’m cradled in the best care I can get, and if she rushes home she’ll only get here at 1:00 in the morning and sit all night in one of those murderously painful chairs while I’m drugged up and grunting.

“Stay with your boyfriend,” I say.

“But…”

“Come in the morning.  I’m just gonna sleep, and there’s nothing you can do now anyway.  Get some rest, and drive when you’re not panicked.”

And I think about her, in the arms of someone I trust thoroughly, who’ll take care of her when I’m incapable.  I don’t need her now, and I don’t have the energy to comfort her – but he can.

“You sure?” she asks.

“I’m sure.”

I sleep better that night, knowing that someone’s ensuring Gini’s not flying apart with stress.  (And she got there the next morning.)

#

(Later that night, her boyfriend pondered whether it was okay to make a move on her.  “Are you kidding?” she said.  “If you don’t, he’s gonna be pissed that he’s sleeping alone and I’m not distracted.”

(Reader, she was correct.)

#

My sweetie Fox wanted to go see the eclipse.  The eclipse was near the quilting museum.  My wife wanted to see the quilting museum.

This was all in Kentucky, where there was bourbon – which I wanted to see.  And I wondered: could I combine all three of these into a single trip?

How would it work, going on an extended vacation with my wife and my sweetie?

It all started well – singing Hamilton, drinking bourbon, long debates about obscure topics.  But the rubber hit the road when the car broke down and Fox – who has chronic illness issues – exhausted themself trying to stay upright for the many hours until the mechanics and tow truck and taxi could get to us.  And by the time we got to our hotel they were flustered and upset and panicked because they were collapsing and they were too much trouble, they hated this illness that robbed them of strength at all the wrong times, and who would ever want to look after them when they were –

My wife, who was in no way dating Fox, held them and reassured them that they were loved.

Because they weren’t dating. But they were friends.

And Fox got better, and we saw the quilting museum, and when the eclipse severed the sky it was one of the most magical moments ever.

I remember holding my wife’s hand, and my lover’s hand, as the sun turned into a silhouette and I felt like the world was truly full of magic.

#

I remember sitting down with one of my dearest friends and one of my oldest lovers at a bar.  My friend had asked, “I mean, how do you date Ferrett?  He’s blogging all the time, he’s dating lots of women, how do you handle that?”

My sweetie, who’d had perhaps one too many drinks, gave a goddamned seminar in How To Date Ferrett.

I kept my mouth shut.  She told me all sorts of things I didn’t quite realize about myself, the strengths I didn’t realize I had, the ways she navigated around my neuroses, the bullshit I thought was important but ultimately didn’t matter.

She’d spent years learning how to love me well, and in explaining our relationship to my friend she helped me love myself better.

And in the end, she tilted a glass and said, “I don’t honestly care whether we’re dating.  I mean, I like that.  But we’ve both got restrictions, and one day he might decide mine are too much for him and he’ll leave.  But I know we’ll never stop being friends – and that’s the important thing.”

I blinked.  How could she not care whether we were dating?  And then I thought of the constant way we’d been exchanging texts over more than a decade now, that humming connection of “Oh, did you know” and “Well, that just happened” and “Look at this and laugh” and I realized that yeah, maybe we wouldn’t be smooching some day but we’d always be caring, and shit, why wasn’t that better than anything else in my life?

I watched the way she waved her drink as she spoke, the gesture a little exaggerated and a little intoxicated, and I realized that God, yeah, I was in love with the right woman.

#

“Isn’t poly stressful sometimes?”  Yes.  Yes, it is.  And I write about the troubles with polyamory because I think that a lot of poly relationships make the same mistakes – mistakes that I, tragically, have made – and by pointing out the patterns maybe some people can dodge around them.  Or at least figure out what their mistake is sooner.

But when I do that, monogamous people keep asking, “Why would you risk losing one lover to get two?”  And I think, Jesus, like your relationship is guaranteed no matter what you do – you risk losing a lover doing anything worthwhile, whether that’s moving in together or trying out BDSM or going to college or having kids.  I wonder if these monogamous questioners ever look at the number of marriages where people did everything “right” for two decades and everything still fell apart because you risk imploding a relationship whenever you seek what your heart wants, and you risk imploding a relationship when you don’t seek what your heart wants.

Polyamory is stressful.  Because relationships are stressful.  But there are also beautiful moments in polyamory where you feel the strength of the web, feel the compassion of not just one person but multiple people clinging tight around you when you threaten to fall apart, and it’s like friendship but it’s different in a way that you can’t really explain until you feel it click because god damn there’s something glorious in living with fewer boundaries.

Is it stressful?  Yes.  Particularly in the beginning, when you’re kicked back to high school and it’s got all the awkwardness of those first monogamous dates you had where you don’t know the tricks, and the insecurity cuts deeper and your communications aren’t honed.  It’s tough.

But anything worthwhile takes some effort.

And I think back to these moments, and a hundred more like them, these times when I had multiple lovers and so did my partners and that was all not just okay but beneficent, feeling that magnificent comfort of knowing that something great flowed between us like an ocean, and yeah.

Yeah.

It’s worth it.