A Good Spouse For Who? On Vetting Play Partners.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“When I’m panicking, I need to go somewhere solitary and write. It dispels the panic, because writing is the one thing I’m good at.”

“I don’t know,” said my lunch companion. “I think you’re good at three or four things.”

“Such as?”

“Well, you’re a good spouse.”

I pondered that. “…I don’t think I am.”

Now, let me pull off the amazing triple-act of informing you, humblebragging, and hauling out my bona-fides – I’ve been married for twenty years to the same woman as of this September, and been happily married for at least eighteen (we had a rocky start). My wife is the love of my life, someone whom I both dote on and am fiercely protective of, and I make constant fine-tunings to my behavior to ensure that I’m as good to her as she deserves.

But if it was that simple, I’d have been living in harmonious bliss with everyone I ever dated.

Truth is, I’ve got issues. I’m intensely confrontational, which has absolutely panicked people who’ve watched me “argue” with my wife when really, we’re just bickering affectionately. I’m honest even when the truth is bad, which has caused rifts when my incompetence at being diplomatic jabs into someone’s sore spots. And oh Lord, if you’re not into deeply cynical humor at every turn, we’re going to get into fights….

And none of that gets into my mental illnesses, which can be best summed up as “Don’t take it personally.” You can be perfectly wonderful to me 24/7 and I can still forget how much you care about me, because as I’ve written about much better in the past, I have a leaky bucket of a brain.

Truth is, I’m the same guy. I work hard to try to be good to all my partners, not just Gini. But despite my best efforts, sometimes the relationships I’ve formed with past lovers and friends have been deeply dysfunctional, even deeply harmful – not just to my partner, but to both of us.

And it wasn’t on purpose, either. Sometimes, even though we had the exact same mental illness, our coping methods conflicted. Perhaps my coping skill of “drag everything into the light now and analyze it” didn’t work well with my partner’s skill of “keep smiling and forge ahead,” and what was evasive to me seemed brutally invasive to them, and lo! The end result was pain and confusion.

So do I think I’m a bad spouse? No. I think that’s a bad question.

Who am I a good spouse for?

Is it my wife? Absolutely. We’ve got a great track record.

Is it my sweetie who I’ve been dating for over a decade? Absolutely not. We’ve got conflicting coping methods, and if we had to live together we’d probably tear each other to shreds. But as people who just date long-distance, we’ve flourished for over a decade.

Is it any of my exes? Demonstrably not. Or maybe I could have been a good spouse for some of them, because the problem was that I already had a spouse and the issue was that this could have worked in a monogamous relationship but not as a polyamorous one, but the end result is still a breakup with hurt feelings….

But the point of this is not the breakup. The point is the specificity. I don’t know if I am a good spouse.

I do know I am a good spouse for Gini.

I might not be a good spouse – or a good partner, or even just a good play partner – for you.

And the problem I have with people in the scene vetting people as “good” or “bad” is that frequently, they judge people based on some singular experience. “I had a good scene with them, therefore they’re good.”

Except I never see it as that simple.

Sometimes, that good scene you had was by luck. Maybe that person was absolute shit at negotiation, but what you wanted in that moment synced up with what they provided, so when it got sensual or painful or tender you didn’t need to rely on the strength of words – you had that even stronger bond of “You both wanted the same thing that night.”

But if that same person – a person who is, say, unflinchingly brutal – gets together with someone who’s a) more reluctant to say no, and b) not as into the kinds of kink they provide, that person’s lack of negotiation skills might break down disastrously.

(Which is why good negotiation skills help to stave off, but do not provide an invulnerable armor for, potential disaster. If you can communicate that “I would like a one-night stand” before your partner hears “This sex means we are dating now,” well, disaster avoided.)

Which is not to say that vetting is without its uses. There are consistently bad actors in the field, and comparing notes can tell you when someone’s methodologies, whether planned or just the result of sloppiness, lead to unhappiness all-round. And sometimes you’re just looking for the answer to a simple question like “Will they play nice in public spaces?”, at which point, sure, fine.

But if you’re going to give someone you know the thumbs-up for someone else, I’d ask you to think of more than just “Did it go well for me?” I’d want to know more specific questions like “What was I looking for that night?” and “Is this person asking me looking for a different experience?” Because if so, then maybe the answer is more complex than “They’re good” and closer to “Here’s what we did, here’s how it went, is that what you want?”

Because I don’t think that “Being good for someone” is universally applicable. I’m really good for my wife. I’m good for my partners, under specific circumstances (like not living with them). I’m bad for some of my exes.

It all comes down to what you’re looking for.

Unless you’re looking for a good writer. Then I will knock your goddamned socks off. Promise.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous Alex
    Aug 3, 2019

    This is probably going off on a tangent from your main point, but:

    I see this as yet another example of a class of things that people speak of as if they’re universal, but which in fact have an unstated (and often, I suspect, unconsidered) subject. It’s been in the back of my head for years to catalog this habit, and maybe even think about what it implies, but for now it’s just something I’ve noticed.

    I think, though, when the fact that the subject is unstated is made clear, it does make one think differently about the question. As in your example: If you ask whether someone is “a good husband,” you are thinking about the question very differently from asking whether you are a good husband for Gini. Yet, when you ask the first question, most people won’t immediately ask “A good husband for whom?”


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