Oh, The Conversations We’ll Have!

Me, to my wife: “You got a minute? Good. Because I need you to help me with this problem I’m having.”

Her: “Okay. What is it?”

Me: “This is the second stupid thing I’ve bought this month, and you have to stop me. From now on, tell me that I can’t buy stupid things without consulting you first.”

Her: “Wait. What did you buy?”

Me: “There’s no sense discussing that now – it’s on it’s way, it’s done, it’s over. You’ll see come Wednesday.”

Her: “No, I sort of feel I should know what you – ”

Me: “Don’t get sidetracked. The point is, from now on, I check with you. Right? Good. You’re with me. Now, it should be here Wednesday, so I’ll probably install it then.”

*Ferrett vanishes*

Not Just Grudging, Not Just Tolerant, But Supportive

I got 1,300 likes on Facebook that I didn’t deserve. And it wasn’t even my own post that went mildly viral among the sewing community – it was my wife’s, talking about what a nice husband I am.

But I don’t think what I did was nice – I think that what she and so many others lauded me for was the baseline for any healthy relationship.

Hang on. Lemme back up and explain what I did.

So my wife likes to quilt, and ever since she got her new sewing machine she’s spent her every spare moment in the basement, making quilts for people she loves. And as she’s devoted more and more of her life to this reignited passion, she’s needed more equipment – I built her a new table for her sewing machine, a shelf for her fabric dyes, and Amazon packages are forever flying in through the door.

Yet she’s been complaining for months about her sewing space in the basement. She’s wanted to rearrange the entire basement to give her a better workflow, and a little more space – which, given that we have nine heavy bookshelves laden with reading material that I refuse to give up, would be no small task. She kept calling me downstairs, sweeping her hands majestically across the basement as she explained how much nicer things would be if this table were here, and these chairs were here…

I did not care. I liked the basement the way it was. I had my writing space, the books were organized the way I wanted them, and about once every three weeks Gini would pull me aside breathlessly to say, “Oh! I thought of a new way to rearrange the basement!”

Inexplicably, every new basement configuration somehow involved even more work to get it done.

This remained in the planning stages, as many major pain-in-the-ass projects do, for months.

But in September, we had our nineteenth wedding anniversary – which we didn’t get to celebrate thanks to the presence of not one, but two unexpected guests from different cities. We sighed, knowing that “seeing people we love” is a part of who we are as a married couple, and cleared out a weekend in October to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

Now, I wanted to go to Philadelphia to burn off a $300 gift certificate we’d gotten last Christmas. But I knew what would make Gini happy. So I shuffled my feet downstairs and asked, shyly:

“So, for our wedding anniversary weekend… how would you feel about spending it rearranging the basement?”

She all but tackled me in a hug.

And she wrote about that for her sewing chat group, and next thing you know there were over a thousand people raving about what a good husband I am – which, you know, is praise I’m never going to turn down. But a lot of the comments were from wives who wished they had husbands like that, or joking quasi-bitterly that she’d better chain me in the basement before I came back to sanity, or other indications that this behavior was viewed as exceptional for a husband.

And man, it shouldn’t be.

For me, one of the fundamental tenets of any romantic relationship I’ve had is, “Be supportive, even for stuff you don’t care about.” Gini has hobbies that I’m not personally into – but part of why we work is that I’m actively enthusiastic in helping her enthusiasm.

I don’t know much about sewing, nor am I going to take up a class on quilting. But when Gini squeals, “LOOK AT THIS GORGEOUS SECTION I MADE!”, you bet your ass I’m headed downstairs to ooh and ahh at it. Maybe I won’t understand all the fine details, but I can get that it’s pretty – and if it’s not pretty, I can always ask what made this so difficult to create, because often what Gini is celebrating is not the end result but mastering a new technique.

Likewise, my wife will haul her butt out to the garage whenever I figure out some new way to join wood together. I have, in the past, patiently explained to her that yes, this looks like an ordinary plank, but this plank has a perfect 90 degree angle, as opposed to that awful one, which only had like 89.3 degrees.

And she has applauded.

And I know a lot of people who actively fight their partners on hobbies they deem insufficiently interesting – the wife who yells at her husband for wasting his weekends fishing, the husband who’s grumpy because his wife is spending his money on these dumb scrapbooks. And there are other partners who treat their partners’ hobbies like a black box – they’ll authorize a budget for their spouse to buy whatever the heck it is they want, but really they don’t want to be bothered with this.

Whereas if my sweetie has something that brings them joy, I want them to hook me in as much as possible. No, I don’t always get the fine details of a perfect stitch, and thank God Gini doesn’t try to show me everything. No, I don’t think Gini should drain our bank accounts dry for this hobby, and so I’ll occasionally ask, “You sure you need to buy that?” No, I don’t spend hours watching sewing videos with her.

But I know quilting makes Gini happy, and so I try to connect with it.

Furthermore: I want to enable her joys, even when they are not directly benefiting me. Which is why, even though I was perfectly content with the basement the way it was, I’ll happily head downstairs and spend six sweaty hours with my wife kicking up dust and old spiders.

And I want to tell all these other people: It’s not enough just to endure your partner’s other affections. You have to enable them whenever you can.

Because not only does this help train myself in that vital skill of “riding somebody else’s high” – which is super-useful in so many other areas of life -but it helps bond us. I’ve seen too many relationships crumble because the partners refused to venture outside their comfort zone, and both of them built these secret lives where they worked in isolation from their partner, and eventually those secret lives became more compelling than the actual marriage.

They don’t always lead to affairs, of course. But there’s a lot of baffled people in the throes of a divorce, wondering why their lover’s leaving them. And the answer is, all too often, “I realized I wasn’t having any of my good times with you.”

Whereas Gini and I both try to find good times in whatever we’ve got, even in the foreign stuff. This pair of scissors makes her happy, so I’m happy – and her being able to share her joy with me means that I am with her in the basement even when I’m out in my woodshop. We are woven throughout the fabrics of each other’s lives.

(Right up until I use those quilting scissors to cut open a piece of mail. Holy crap, do not touch a quilter’s good scissors. THIS I HAVE LEARNED.)

So yeah. Last weekend, we spent six hours rearranging the basement. It looks nice to me – but it’s everything to Gini. She danced around, clasping her hands to her chest, squeeing about how beautiful it all looked now.

But you know what was beautiful to me?

Her. Just being happy.

And that’s the way it should be, dammit.

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.