it’s complicated

Terms like “acquaintance”, “friend”, and “lover” tend to denote defined roles. This makes for convenient social constructs, where we have an idea of the nature of the relationship, even when not directly involved. Responsibilities of one group — care, affection, respect, commitment, trust, will to cooperate — don’t often overlap with another. When they do, terms like “work wife” or “friend with benefits” might be used; re-characterizations of previous terms for a lack of better ones1.

It took me longer than I’d like to admit before I realized how rarely relationships can be so neatly labelled. Not every “friend” considers it an honour to be trusted with the spare set of house keys (and would I really consider them a friend if they’re not to be relied on in an emergency?). Not every romantic partner is interested in exclusivity or commitment. Not every sexual encounter goes as far as penetration, or even contact (which is why it’s possible to have an affair of the heart).

Suffering the loss of many important people has also taught me that relationships often evolve, as we grow and circumstances change. Whether it was due to some breaking point or simply the passage of time, most of my significant relationships have come and gone. Now I can’t help but tread carefully when I’m about to invest my emotions in someone, whether that means prioritizing them in my life, opening up with my secrets, or letting myself like them; that’s when I’m as scared of being hurt as I am of losing them.

  1. I’ve seen “metamour” defined as a person who’s in an intimate (romantic or sexual) relationship with an intimate partner of yours, but I like to use it as a catchall for anyone who falls between categories. Perhaps if English was a richer language, there’d be less ostracization of unconventional arrangements or needs. []

almost like the blues

Now in the dark world where I dwell, ugly things, and surprising things, and sometimes little wondrous things, spill out in me constantly, and I can count on nothing.

—Philip K. Dick

Winter has traditionally been a difficult time. In my youth, the holidays were filled with family gatherings where I never found my place1. Then I started coming into my own, but everyone else began spending time with their significant others, leaving me an observer with a surrogate family. Eventually, I grew the need for a connection with people who could better understand the person I’d become, and again found myself in exile.

cat with bass guitar

This year is no different. The weather has been particularly punishing, with extreme cold fronts that make any form of travel a literal pain. It’s a fine line between inspiration and oppression when trapped in a winter wonderland. Even after a week of Darren’s company, along with new instruments and some of the stickiest of the icky, I haven’t been able to shake this feeling of loneliness.

Continue reading “almost like the blues”…

  1. Now I realize that being forced to spend a night with a random assortment of people is a crapshoot at best. []

keeping the rage tender

Fall has fallen, and I was ready. I was waiting. I was trapped for months on end, when my body wouldn’t cooperate or anxiety got the better of me. Even hearing Townes Van Zandt sing to me about snow in Raton was enough to make me miss winter again. I’d live vicariously in any form of visual media I could find, just to remember what it was like to feel the tingle of sun on my skin.

Now I can go out, but on my own terms and for the sake of it, not just therapy or a doctor’s appointment. It’s given Heather and I a chance to date — to dress up for each other, to trade secret glances about people who might be the other’s type, to hold hands and show each other off — instead of all the coping we were left doing after falling into the relationship so suddenly.

portrait of Heather and Jeff

Rachel Weisz has nothing on dem brows.

Ever since she began her career, I found it difficult to deal with how little we saw each other. It felt like we were barely connecting or having meaningful experiences when we had such limited time. Now that she has a better shift and a carpool, we have an extra hour and a half together on weekdays. Combined with Jesse committing to hangouts twice a month to play games or jam, it’s made a huge difference in the way I approach my goals and plan my time.

They’re small steps, but after so much regression, I tend to be happy with any movement in the right direction. Still, I wonder if I’ll ever find a balance that won’t leave me frantic, one that’s conducive to getting my introvert needs met while letting me feel secure in my relationships.

Continue reading “keeping the rage tender”…

Six Feet Deep

WARNING: Massive spoilers ahead.

An old girlfriend introduced me to Six Feet Under more than a decade ago, but it turned into such a grind that I managed to finish the series only last week. There’s a lot of complex drama without stability to balance it out, a lot more tension than resolution. One of the most common themes is characters seeking happiness in all the wrong places, just to escape the depressing reality of their lives, and usually ending up worse for it.

Ruth, George, and Maggie

“For your information, Miss High-and-Mighty, this is life. People have crises. They push each other’s buttons. They inflict pain on one another. And once in a fucking blue moon, they bring out the best in each other. But mostly, they bring out the worst.”

It wasn’t easy to get through five seasons of people making terrible decisions in their relationships, and watching those decisions haunt them later.

Continue reading “Six Feet Deep”…

can we speak in flowers?

Tiana recently shared this great article with me. It’s written as a guide for personal growth within one’s relationships, but I find myself well familiar with the concepts it covers; being accountable, empathetic, grateful, introspective, and responsible are all things that tend to come naturally to me. I’ve also been actively working on (or struggling with) being more patient, forgiving, resilient, autonomous, and optimistic in the last few years1.

Instead, I use this checklist as a reminder of the qualities I should be seeking in others. If I’m going to invest any of myself into someone else — whether that’s time, energy, or feelings — they should have a general comprehension, if not a certain level of competency, in all these areas. I’m no longer in a place to teach someone how to be honest about their emotions, take responsibility for their actions, or listen with intent.

It’s difficult to let go of this basic expectation when I’ve already done a fair amount of work on myself to understand and practice these ideas. Spending time with anyone who reminds me of the person I used to be makes me feel like I’m regressing, and it doesn’t take long before I lose interest in their company. At this point, I’m doing everything I can to move forward, and that means being involved with people who are already good at relationships2. It’s so much easier for me to let down my guard and give myself wholly to someone when I have a mutual foundation to work with.

  1. Others may have the ability to develop such skills by themselves, while I need the guidance of a therapist, as some of my trauma is too severe for me to view certain situations clearly. []
  2. Something that generally requires a fair amount of intelligence, insight, maturity, depth, and ambition. I used to wonder why I felt strong connections with certain people until I realized this. []