Archive for March, 2010
I tossed up a couple things yesterday without really giving a proper hello on my return from SXSW and Austin, Texas. Hello!
My (metaphorical) account of the weekend and what I think of Austin and such is up today on my Sex Is column, Mr. Sexsmith’s Other Girlfriend, titled Mr. Sexsmith Goes To SXSW and Takes a Lover.
The Engaging the Queer Community panel at SXSW and the Oil Can Harry’s meet-up were a big success. I hear the panel was videotaped, hopefully the video will be available online sometime soon, I’ll certainly let you know where you can find it.
But meanwhile, there’s some other media and interviews with me floating around the web and new this week:
- The Feministing Five: Sinclair Sexsmith: “Sinclair Sexmith is a sex blogger who writes the Sugarbutch Chronicles: The Sex, Gender and Relationship Adventures of a Kinky Queer Butch Top. She’s been blogging about sex and gender for several years now, and at Sugarbutch she blogs about everything from getting past old heartbreaks to sex with her current girlfriend to her own evolving masculine identity. When I asked her about how she manages writing for a public audience about such private things, she said, “the sex is actually easier to write about than the emotional complications.” When I asked if she adheres to any ground rules for she discloses about her sex life, she said “there are no hard and fast rules,” at which point I giggled, revealing myself to be twenty-two going on twelve.”
- Feast of Fun Podcast: Butching it Up with Sinclair Sexsmith: “For gay, lesbian, bi and trans folks telling our stories is vital to our personal growth. The internet creates a safe space for people to discover the sexier side of themselves by reflecting on their experiences with others. Today we continue our series of interviews with well known bloggers who know how make it happen. We have kinky writer, queer butch top, Sinclair Sexsmith of the Sugarbutch Chronicles. Listen as we chat with Sinclair about her journey writing erotica, coming out in your blog and New York City’s Lesbian Sex Mafia!”
- Queerty: How Can We Shift the Focus of Queer Media From Homophobes and Lady Gaga To Actual LGBTs? – Video interviews with all the SXSW queer panelists. “Looking around the SXSW Interactive’s first-ever LGBT panel, “Engaging the Queer Community”, I saw a shrunken pink-haired woman wearing steel-toed platform boots and green stockings walking past a large-nosed horn rimmed kid with horse teeth and acne scars, and I realized that even though we’re all adults now, we very much remain the theater fags and lunch geeks we were in high school—conflicted and sightly scared people looking for a voice. But why then are our personal stories so often trumped by the like of homophobic senators and, bless her, Lady Gaga?”
I kind of miss Austin already. I swear I felt my anxiety and stress level raise to ORANGE ALERT as soon as a woke up the morning after my return to New York City. Hard not to be reminded that there are easier places to live.
Someone emailed me recently with a question about starting to play with spanking, and after looking around online for a bit, I didn’t find much, so I jotted down my basic thoughts on the subject.
Here’s the question:
I was wondering if you know of any good resources for spanking. I have a friend who wants to get spanked and I said that if he wanted to, I would do it. Any tips? Handouts? Diagrams?
This is what else comes to my mind:
- Where to spank: Spank the fleshy parts of the ass & thighs, make sure to avoid the parts that are bonier like the little triangle coccyx bone right above the butt crack, the spine, or the kidneys. Basically, steer clear of the low back. Some people like to have sensation on the upper back and shoulder blades (though that perhaps is for later)
- Start light: Start light with pats rather that swats or hits, jiggle the flesh even, warm it up, gradually increase pressure. Generally when I start I go light and fast, then work up to the big hits later, with full big arm strength, taking pauses and breaks between to press my body close, run my palms along the flesh to sooth it, and whisper sweet things
- Hand vs Ass: So much of the pain is psychological, not about actual damage. It can hurt, but there are hundreds of teeny bones in the hand, and compared the big pelvis and femurs down there by the ass & thighs, the hand will get harmed way before it could do any real damage to those bones. Which is not to say you can’t bruise—you can—but that’s not the kind of damage I mean. Be sure to be reassuring vocally (or with pleasurable touches) as you’re getting heavier, and warm up slowly
- Spanking to Sex: I tend to start spanking closer & closer to the genitals toward the end, working in some fingering in between spanks. That can be a nice way to segue from the spanking back to the sex play, and also when someone is turned on they can take a whole lot more sensation, so I tend to be able to hit harder then
- Positions: Try a couple different positions: leaning over a bed with feet on the floor, on all fours, across your lap on the couch, hands high leaning against a wall. People have different preferences when both giving & receiving, so try out a few different things
- Toys: My hand usually gives out before her ass does. Consider a little paddle maybe like this one, you can go for longer. ones that are flat and wide tend to be “thuddy” and ones that are thin tend to be “stingy”—usually people prefer thuddy ones, especially if they aren’t so experienced. Same rules apply for paddles
Readers, help me out here. Anything else? Any tips and tricks for taking or giving a spanking? Do you know of any online beginning spanking resources that I’m missing? How did you get into spanking? What’s your favorite way to get spanked? What are your favorite toys to get spanked with? Leave it in the comments!
The Lambda Literary Award nominees were announced today, and as usual I’m making a checklist of ones I’ve read, ones I’d like to read, and the ones I think will win be finalists. And, as usual, the only transgender content is in the specific “Transgender” category, though the “Bisexual” category has split into fiction and non-fiction because, it seems, there are finally enough nominees to warrant it. Are there really that few books on trans and bisexual issues? Puzzling. Overall this year, there are 112 finalists in 23 categories. I’m sure there’s got to be a book or two or five in there that you’d love to read. Check it out.
Special congratulations to Nairne Holtz, whose book This One’s Going to Last Forever (Insomniac Press) was nominated in the Lesbian Fiction category. Holtz has a short story called “Bait and Switch” in Best Lesbian Erotica 2009, an anthology in which I also have a story, and when we were both in New York City at the end of 2009 for the annual Best Lesbian Erotica reading at the Drunken! Careening! Writers! reading series at KGB bar, hosted by Kathleen Warnock (who is coming to read at the very first Sideshow!), and I have had a chance to read This One’s Going to Last Forever. It is a collection of short stories and a novella. Here’s the description:
This One’s Going to Last Forever reflects both the naive optimism of those who have yet to learn about love and the cynicism of those who feel that by now they should know better.
Clara, a university student working at the McGill Daily, discovers that in love and politics, commitment is often more imagined than real. Kelly and Sonya share a bond that has less to do with love than with their dependence on each other and a succession of friends who supply them with heroin. A middle-aged man who performs drive-through weddings dressed as Elvis realizes, as he marries his first same-sex couple, that the only domestic partner he is ever likely to have is his ailing father. But when he ends his latest relationship, an unlikely friendship results.
The characters in these darkly comic stories and novella may be searching for love in all the wrong places, but they are also able to find love in the most unexpected places.
The Lambda Literary Foundation recently relaunched their website and it’s quite spiffy, by the way.
I’ve been so damn busy this week, I haven’t even had time to post about this weekend’s exciting festivities!
Kristen and I are heading down to SXSW for a few days of the Interactive schedule. I’m on a panel on Saturday, Engaging the Queer Community, along with Trish Bendix of AfterEllen.com, Bil Browning of Bilerico, and Fausto Fernos of Feast of Fun.
Engaging The Queer Community
Saturday, March 13
at 03:30 PM
A discussion on maintaining successful and active blogs and social networking sites that are geared toward the LGBT community and its niches.
There’s also a SXSW Homo site which apparently is keeping track of the queer events during the festival.
Kristen & I are crashing with an online friend (whose Twitter handle I can’t currently find) and we’ve been gathering Austin restaurants and mini-adventures to explore while we’re there.
And don’t forget!
SXSW Queer Blogger Tweetup
Sunday, March 14 at 9pm
211 West 4th Street (walking distance from the conference)
- Live tweetup using hashtag #sxswgay
- Free wifi available
- Your favorite viral videos from 2009 playing on the bar’s TVs
- T-shirt and merchandise giveaways
- Free* drinks to all SXSW attendees and people who follow Oil Can Harry’s on twitter @oilcanharrys or show their SXSW pass.
* The rumor is that because of Texas liquor laws, you can’t ask for “free” drinks, you’ve got to ask for “the hookup” and provide proof that you are following @oilcanharrys on Twitter, if you don’t have a SXSW badge, by either showing your smartphone or by a printout.
So! Who’s coming? Who will I see tomorrow or Sunday? Seems like it’s going to be a bit of a boy’s club, please assure me that the femmes and genderqueers and butches and trans folks and radicals will be joining me too!
“Have you seen the Dockers ads?” someone asked me recently at a conference, after I told them I write about masculinity. “A friend told me he liked those ads, because he is so unsure of what it means to ‘be a man’ right now. Everything has changed. There are no icons pointing men where to go, what to be like.”
I hear this frequently, and I have asked myself this often, too, in my own personal identity development process of coming to a female masculinity as butch. Where are the feminist men? Where are the radical depictions of masculinity? Where are the examples of health and strength and skill and honor that I can admire and emulate? Who can I look to? Who will be a mirror showing me my reflection so that I can push myself in the direction that best fits me? I speak to this when I talk about depictions of healthy relationships in the media, too—where are they? What does that look like? Where are the heterosexual couples with men treating women with respect, value, care? Where is the equality? Where are the conscientious, thoughtful dads?
Things are changing. That is my entire premise of this series of articles on Radical Masculinity: that we are at a precarious time, in transition, finally studying what it means to “be a man” in this culture, much like feminists and gender scholars have been studying femininity and women in the past forty years. Underneath the question of what it means to “be a man,” as queers and butches and trans and genderqueer folks are also asking, is what it means to be masculine. The concepts of masculinity have changed, and is still changing, and while there is no singular meaning (like perhaps the fictional version of the nuclear family and breadwinner in the 1950s), I’m finding that there is no shortage of masculine icons.
Read the whole thing over at my column on Radical Masculinity at Carnal Nation: Reinventing Our Icons.
Let’s have a review, shall we?
I’m way behind on product reviews, I have a list and it kinda just keeps getting longer. I’m moving away from doing reviews, actually, trying to be much more discerning about which sites and which products I take on, especially since I don’t use all that I already have. And of course I’m still taking some products for Babeland, which continues to be one of my favorite toy shops. I’ve probably told my Babeland story a dozen times, but I credit their sex-positivity, queer-friendly staff and products, and endlessly useful workshops with a lot of my own queer sexual awakening. I made a special trip to the Capitol Hill store in Seattle when I moved there in 1999 and, like many first-time visitors, purchased the Dirty Dice before I left. It took me another year or so to actually purchase my first strap-on and attend a spanking workshop, and I’ve been learning from them ever since.
They are such an excellent introduction to the worlds of sex-positivity and sex toys, that is precisely their strength and still something they do better than just about any other queer and feminist toy store, in my opinion. That reminds me—the founders of Babeland, Claire Cavanaugh and Rachel Venning (who are included on the Top Hot Butches list, though I’m told that Clare does not identify as butch, though Rachel does), have a new book out! Moregasm: Babeland’s Guide to Mind-Blowing Sex is out and fantastic. I especially like the design of the book, it’s so much fun to flip through. The graphic design and layout is fantastic, and it’s kind of like the sex ed class that should have been available when you went to college in a book form. The site calls it “a warm, expert, and witty guide to a truly satisfying and exciting sex life. Especially helpful for those at the beginning of their sexual self-discovery, Moregasm combines gorgeous, glossy visuals with real-world advice and the frank, reliable information you’ve come to expect from Babeland.”
On to the toy!
Behold: the Njoy Fun Wand.
I kind of feel like the Njoy toys review themselves. I mean do I even have to say anything about the actual function? I kind of want a fancy stand for it (does anybody make those? Someone should!) so I can display it on my coffee table or on a lighted shelf. It really is as beautiful as it seems.
Babeland says it used to be called the Saturn Wand, which to me seems boyish, maybe because Saturn was a god? It doesn’t seem like the Fun Wand is marketed as an anal toy, but that seems like the best use of it, personally. It’s kind of small.
Look at this photo from Babeland’s site of a hand holding the Fun Wand, you’ll see how small it is. Barely larger than a finger, really. The big difference between the Fun Wand and a finger, of course, aside from the hard stainless steel, is the strong curve and the texture, kind of like anal beads, which are um, awesome.
In the months that I’ve had this toy, after trying it out (both on myself and on Kristen, since it is easily sterilizable for sharing), I haven’t used it much. I’m more inclined to use strap-on cocks, harnesses, and bondage toys when playing with Kristen, and though we have started using some anal plugs of sorts fairly regularly, I am more inclined to use my fingers as a supplement to my strap-on than to get out another toy like this one.
I do tend to bust out the Njoy toys during my own solo masturbation play, though; both this one and the Pure Wand. Partly it might be that it does not have a flared base (and therefore makes it a little bit dangerous to play with anally—things actually can get lost up there you know, unlike the vagina which has nowhere to go. Do NOT insert it all the way and be sure to keep a strong grip on the end), and because I only insert it about halfway, it’s not the most comfortable to use when on your back.
Since this review has been half in photographs, I’m going to give you one more:
To be honest, I’ve lost the photographer of this shot. I think I found it on Tumblr, and my best guess (thanks Dacia) is that it’s a shot by Aeric Meredith-Goujon. All I can remember is that I’m pretty sure it was shot by a guy, and that when I found him on Twitter his icon was one of those make-yourself-a-Mad-Men-character cartoon. Going through Aeric’s daily photo blog, I did come across this shot: Ponderosa also, and the style is similar enough that it’s quite likely that is his photo. If you know for sure, or if you have this sourced somewhere else, please tell me! I want to give proper credit! Photograph is by Melvin Moten, aka mErocrush, reprinted with permission. Model: StephyC, taken August 2009 in Tampa during FetishCon ‘09.
Also, it’s a really fucking hot photo. Add to the list of more amazing ideas of what to do with a Fun Wand.
Njoy Fun Wand photos from njoytoys.com. The Njoy Fun Wand was sent to me from Babeland to review. Buy the Fun Wand and other fabulous sex toys at your local feminist sex-positive queer-friendly shop, or, of course, at Babeland.
After some strong realizations about what really is the strength and foundation of my relationship with Kristen, I’ve been thinking a lot about healing past wounds, especially in terms of former lovers and broken hearts.
I often notice some sort of snag or conflict come up between Kristen and I, and using those things I mentioned are the super strong foundations of our relationship, we can usually talk through it, understand where we’re both coming from, and explain how we got there.
My part of that often looks like this: “You did x, and x is very familiar to me because in my past relationship x had this kind of role and did this kind of damage to me, so it’s really hard for me when you do x, because I feel triggered and panicked.”
Another important part of this is: it’s pretty likely that she wasn’t intentionally doing x, or at least she certainly didn’t mean to hurt me; I do keep that in mind. Probably it was a by-product of her attempting to do something else. And usually she can express that explanation and I can hear her and I don’t get mad at her for doing it, generally I understand what she was trying to do.
But somehow I am still stuck in this past relationship, this past me, where that feeling was true and x meant something specific and my reaction is to PANIC. And I am starting to ask myself: is that happening in this relationship, right now? No, usually it isn’t. That is something else, that is in my past, that is an old wound that this new thing is pulling on, but it’s not the same wound. I am not becoming re-wounded there. I am not at danger of falling back into that wound.
So. Clearly, I need to “let go” of that old reaction. But how does one do that? How do you let something go when it feels like it’s so fucking hard-wired into the way my brain works? How do I not be scared and feel triggered and panicked when these things come back up?
This is what I’ve been contemplating lately, as things between Kristen and I are improving after another brief panic. One of the things about relationships that I deeply believe, indeed one of the POINTS of being in an intimate, loving, romantic, sexual relationship, is that they teach you things about yourself that you perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to learn, and if they are strong and founded and good, they also can be the space in which you have enough support to actually practice the growing, someone who is patient with you and who recognizes how hard you’re working to rewire yourself, who can gently remind you when you’re falling back into old patterns, and who can support you and encourage you as you try on new ones. Plus, they provide endless opportunities to use those new patterns, since conflict and difficulty and triggers from old broken hearts come up in relationship all the time. Isn’t that lucky!
I think what I’m talking about, in this question of “how do I let go,” is becoming more aware, becoming more mindful of what triggers what and what means what, especially in my relationship. I’m tired of all these old ghosts coming up. I have done a shit-ton of work to put these ghosts to rest, but the pathways in my brain are still carved out in many ways.
So I guess it kind of looks like this:
- I have a reaction to something that’s happening in my relationship (usually a negative, bad, “unreasonable” emotional reaction)
- I realize where my reaction is coming from (usually a past lover, wound, broken heart)
- Let go of the old reaction, be in the present (instead of gripping onto and explaining myself through the past). How to do that?
- Well first, I need to be able to release my grip on #2, to be able to ask myself, How did I come to this reaction? Where did it come from, and how did it serve me? What remains unacknowledged about this old wound that means I still think I need this protection? Can I heal that wound and know I no longer need that protection? What is asking me for acceptance?
- Then, I need to be in the present. I’ve noticed myself grasping at these old stories, justifying my high emotions, so much that I am not sitting with what is. So I must learn to ask myself: What is happening now? Is this old pattern that I fear actually present?
- After letting go of that old reaction, I can have a reaction to what’s happening now, with Kristen, with me, and aim, as always, to respond and react with lovingkindness and care and awareness and openness and love.
That seems fairly straightforward, actually. I think that is possible.
I spoke with a lovely friend and mentor recently about this exact problem, and she suggested a fairly simple rephrasing of relationship needs. I think that too will help in conquering this “how to let go” question. For example, if I notice this process happening, and get to step #2, realizing that I’m being triggered because it’s relating to a past hurt of mine, if I go on to say, “Okay, I need you to not be x like my ex,” that brings a lot of baggage into the conversation, a lot of layers and complicated past ghosts and old wounds and old ways of working and whoa suddenly it’s a whole lot more than just me and my beautiful girlfriend trying to talk through a little snag in communication or interaction.
Let me be a little more specific for this example, I think it’ll make more sense that way.
So one of the things that triggers me heavily is when someone in a relationship with me is withholding. It reminds me of my former lesbian bed death relationship, among others, and I get panicked that I’ll never again know what’s happening in her head and will spend years trying and it will eat me up. Ahem.
But this plays on other ways I work too, especially in that I am a very insightful, observant person who often knows what’s going on with another person’s emotional landscape even better than they do (especially if they aren’t too self-aware), and I have the tendency to constantly check in with them (silently, emotionally) to see where they’re at. If they aren’t telling me where they’re at, and in fact are deliberately putting up a wall and withholding that information, saying “I’m fine,” or “I don’t want to talk about it,” when I ask, I tend to assume something is brewing and will bubble up and explode later, which makes me way anxious.
I know, this is a totally unique situation that nobody else has ever been in, right? Nobody else has this problem, ever.
So, instead of having the reaction of “I need you to not be withholding like my ex!” I can rephrase it to something like, “it’s really important for me to know what’s going on with your mental/emotional landscape.” Not that we have to spend hours processing that, but I can briefly explain why I need that, and if she can just say, “oh, I’m feeling anxious about work, but I don’t want to talk about it,” that’s enough. Some broad-stroke explanation of what “that feeling” is that I am reading on her face but she’s not expressing.
Knowing what is going on with someone else’s emotional landscape one of my basic relationship needs, in fact! And in some ways it has nothing to do with my ex, it has to do with ME. It just reminds me of a time when this basic relationship need wasn’t met (and was probably taken advantage of), and what’s important is that the need be acknowledged and get met, not that there was a time in my past when it wasn’t met. (I mean, that’s important too, but I have done enough healing to hopefully not stick a rock in that wound to keep it open.)
Whew. That feels like a lot, but it feels like a relief, and like I’ve hit on something important.
One of the things about the ways that I work, and the ways I grow and change and get over capitol-i Issues that plague me, is that generally, as soon as I can articulate what’s going on for me and write—that’s the key here, WRITE—out a possible solution, or at least a path to try, I often find that I can rewire myself through that process. By time I articulate it, by time I name it and label it and say OH that’s what’s going on, and OH here’s what I can do to do that differently, those skills and awareness have kind of already integrated. This isn’t a 100%-true-always theory, but I have noticed that this tends to be true, and that too feels like a relief.
Okay so: how about y’all? How have you addressed this problem of past hurts in your current relationships? Any tips for me? Any tricks to keeping your own mindfulness and awareness up while dealing with things that are triggering and hard? Anything I might be missing here? Does this make sense? Can you relate to it? Or does it seem like I’m way off base?
PS: A teeny colophon note: I’ve been making some changes to this site’s sidebar and structure in general. A little bitta spring cleaning, if you will. And as such, the category formerly known as SSU has been renamed Critical Theory. It might change again, there are an awful lot of C categories over there in the list, but that works for now. Do not be alarmed, it’s still there.
Also, if you aren’t following my Tumblr log, mrsexsmith.tumblr.com, you might be missing out on some of the things I used to frequently put on Sugarbutch, like for example calls for submission for queer and kinky and feminist anthologies, eye candy photos of hot butches and femmes, media like youtube videos, announcements for other events, and more. It’s easy to subscribe by RSS or pop over there and check out what’s going on.
“Want to know what I was thinking about when I got off yesterday?” she asks. We’re lying in bed, tangled limbs and sheets, a little sweaty, breathing heavily still, hearts calming. She’s nude now. I’m still in boxers and an undershirt. I’ve taken advantage of the ongoing permission I have to fuck her, take her, if I wake in the middle of the night or before her in the morning, as I often do, like this morning, hands on her, fingers in her, forearm holding her down by her collarbone until she thrashed and came and muffled a scream into my shoulder.
“Yes,” I answer, arm under her neck, the other hand on her hip and curved under her thigh and ass as she drapes herself over me partly.
“I was thinking about … you using me,” she starts in a small voice, quiet, by my ear. I can feel her breath. “Filling me up. Fucking me and fucking me without caring how it was for me. I was thinking about tears streaming down my cheeks, and you not stopping, just … taking me, until you get what you want, and you come.”
I bow my head a little to find her mouth by feel in the dark bedroom. “I like to use you like that,” I say. She nods. “Let’s play later.” She nods again, pulls closer to me.
This story contains Daddy/girl roles in sex play, some domination and submission, and lots of tender loving care. Continue reading with that knowledge, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Read More
Thank you so much to all who voted and all who mentioned me in the promotions … I’m honored and humbled and promise to keep up the sex and erotica writing. I was a finalist along with my fabulous femme friend Essin’ Em and the lovely lady behind Scintillectual, who I don’t actually know, but I’m certainly going to be reading now. Both blogs are excellent. Jeez, I am so glad to see the abundance of butch and femme and genderqueer and queer sex blogs out there! Nearly four years ago, when I started Sugarbutch, there were very few queer sex blogs.
The competition was fierce this year, and the final winners are all heavy hitters. If you don’t read ‘em regularly, you’re missing out.
Best Entertainment: Dorothy Surrenders
Best Humor: Grace the Spot
Best Parenting: Up Popped a Fox
Best Engagement/Wedding: My Big Fat Gay Wedding
Best Feminist/Political: Feministing
Best Personal: Peaches & Coconuts
Best Out Later in Life: Making Space
Best Sex/Short Story/Erotica: Sugarbutch Chronicles
Best New Lesbian Blog: Autostraddle
Best Podcast: The Lesbian Lounge
Lifetime Achievement: AfterEllen.com
Sincere thanks to all who voted, thanks specifically to Kelly who runs The Lesbian Lifestyle. I continue to be amazed and touched by the support for and the recognition of this site and my efforts, thank you so much for being a part of these larger communities of queer, feminist, sex, and gender explorations.
“Relationships take work,” they say. But as someone who now knows I spent way too long in failed or failing relationships, desperately clinging to any fragment of hope or chance of ‘making it work,’ as someone who stayed with abusers, bought their bullshit and was convinced by their smooth-talking blame-the-victim manipulations, as someone trying to wake up to my own power and control and confidence (and yes, maybe I’m spectrum-banging there a little bit, but I think sometimes that’s how I learn), as someone finally finally able to say, “I feel when you because,” and “you’re right, I’m sorry,” as someone who is still prone to overgiving and overwhelm and losing myself, my tendencies go the other way: to RUN. That this, this one, this time, this sign is The Sign, that any red flag is a Red Flag and is grounds to be a dealbreaker, that in six months I’ll look back to now and say there, that’s when it all went to hell, that was the point of no return, I should have listened to my gut, why’d I stay, why’d I trust her, again, how did I get here, I lost myself again, I swore that would never happen and here I am …
But that is not this relationship.
I am still skittish. I am still prone to explosions of emotion when I get scared. I am still unsure—not so much of her, or of this beautiful shiny strong relationship we are building, but of myself, my own ability to keep myself strong, solid, taken care of, whole.
It comes up again and again, especially lately, since she’s been in crisis and I want to help. I am a helper, and a service top, after all. My job is to take and care (but not caretake). My role is to comfort and protect. And when we both started realizing it was too much, and our parts in that, that I took on too much responsibility for her well-being and that she was leaning on me too much and not taking care of herself, I was left unsure of my standing.
What does she need me for, if she doesn’t need me for this?
Then came the silence, and look we stumbled upon another one of my many triggers: withdrawing. And we discovered containment doesn’t mean withdraw, and that I still need to learn how to listen without giving advice.
I need to remember who it is I am dating: her, this girl, only her, not any of my exes. How does one undo triggers, once they’re found? Or will they just always be there, like an old skiing injury, something to be constantly aware of and work around?
I need to remember this, rely on it: here are the things she and I are particularly good at:
- Telling each other, as openly, kindly, and honestly as possible, how we feel about where we’re coming from
- Taking responsibility for the parts that we own, and not blaming the other person
- Being totally willing to work on ourselves individually, and the relationship
- Being quick, thorough, vigilant learners, willing to do extensive research to get somewhere faster
I have never had any of these things, truthfully, in practice, in previous relationships, though I and my exes have often given lip service to many of them. Some of that was certainly my fault—it really is only recently that I was capable of executing them, the first one especially.
She keeps saying, “we love each other, we’ll get through this,” but that is not as comforting as those four traits, to me. This is about skill, this is about commitment, this is about patience. And yes sure, this is about love, too, and I am way too in love with this gorgeous, fierce, extraordinary person to stop the hard work it may take to get through these growing pains. They are as much mine as they are hers, and when we get through to the other side, we will know each other and ourselves better, we’ll be stronger and have more tools and skills to weather the changing emotional landscapes of love and relationships.
This continues to be a huge opportunity to grow and evolve and unstick the stuck places, and what better way to take that on than with a kind, loving person who knows me practically as well as I know myself? Together we are more than the sum of us separately, together we are stronger, bigger, more capable, more supported, buoyed by the magic strength that is sharing one’s life with another. Nothing cuts through the muscle, the bone, exposing the marrow, like love, does it? There is never so much to lose, so there is never so much to gain; with the highest stakes come the highest rewards.
I know relationships take work. I am willing to do the work, I just have to be certain that the work is worth doing. And perhaps for the first time, really, for the first authentic time, for the first awake and aware and really fully known time, I have someone who knows this takes work, who is certain the work is worth doing, and who is willing to do the work to be with me, too.