Negotation and agency, a conversation on successful relationships

We finish out this month with a conversation I had with writer Johnny Murdoc. In between our talks about comics, storytelling, and print culture; we’ve had more than a few discussions about how people relate to each other in romantic relationships. I thought I would share one on what makes a relationship successful with you. Besides being a good friend and incredibly sweet, Johnny spends his time with his equally rad partner Evan and writing erotic fiction as well as essays on relationships and sex. He is also a co-founder of Sex+STL, an organization that works to create solidarity among sexual minorities in St. Louis, all while advocating for them politically.

Here is a link to his website, which is decidedly not work safe i.e. explicit.

If you want to explain a little about your romantic past and that kind of thing.

My romantic past is nice, short, and sweet when counting down the people. My first “real” relationship was in high school and it was with a girl. As much as I wanted it to work, I was well aware the entire time it wasn’t going to. She was young and she was very smart and she was a very talented musician and she was also very Christian. I was young, I was well aware of the fact that I was already an atheist (even though I never told her that), and I was also gay which meant it was never going to work out.

It was probably another three or four years before I had another serious relationship. That one developed online via a mailing list for a web comic. This guy and I started writing back and forth and we kind of fell for each other. About five or six months before my 21st birthday, I went to visit him. He lived in Virginia. We had one week together physically and that kind of crashed and burned as soon as I returned home. But because of that relationship and the fact that I almost moved away to Virginia, my best friend Evan realized he had feelings for me that were more than just friendship and so he kind of actively pursued me. We have been together for the past nine years.

The other interview I did, the person I interviewed had been with their partner for seven. That is also pretty long, but not as long as nine. Another question I had is maybe a little tangential to this. In my other interview one of the things that came up was kind of similarly to you, he didn’t date many people before his current partner. Not that he didn’t want to be with his current partner or anything like that or that he wished he had time to sow his wild oats but he kind of wish he had dated more people. Maybe that would have given him more insights or skills sets to use in his current relationship. I was curious if you ever have any similar feelings or not at all?

There are definitely periods where I have felt that way. I would say even in that past few years I have had that kind of like, “Wow, this has been the dominant relationship of my life.” Aside from my parents and my sister, Evan has been in my life more than anyone else.

However, most of the time, I am well aware of just how lucky I am that everything worked out the way that it did so that I could be there when I met him and that I could be here today where we are. So, I would say that there have been times when I wished that I had dated more but actually right now I don’t feel that way. I am very comfortable with where I am and where we are.

You guys have been in a monogamous relationship for nine years which, by traditional terms, that would be classified as a successful relationship so far. Would you agree with that? That in that outlook that your relationship could be described that way?

Yeah. Even where we are at right now, I can’t logically foresee our relationship ending. I don’t think there are any threads or problems that would cause it to crash and burn quickly. Even if it ended today, I would say that overwhelmingly the relationship was a success. I think that Evan and I get along really well and for the most part the story arc has been easy. It has gone well. We haven’t had a lot of ups and downs even though there have been times when it has been hard. It is not always easy; the curve of the relationship has been easy.

I think that we have succeeded even though I am only thirty and I recognize that I am young and still naive in certain ways. I don’t think I have matured. At the same time, saying that “Yes, this is a success. We can put this in the black. It is not in the red column but the black.” That is still within the context that I am only thirty and we have been together for a third of my life almost but I still have a lot of life ahead of me, if that makes sense.

Yeah. Something that came up in that response is part of why I wanted to talk to you. I think that the traditional idea of what a successful relationship is related to finding someone, pairing with them, and spending the rest of your life with them. That is the traditional viewpoint and you don’t…in the conversations we’ve had, you’ve expressed a different outlook on that. I am curious if you want to explain that a bit?

Yeah, actually I have someone to quote. Just the other day, I bought a new ‘zine called Rad Dad and they did an issue on sex and love. I have only read the first two essays but one of the essays had a quote that I was like, “Holy shit, that is what Nick and I have been talking about.” The essay is actually about taking a monogamous relationship and turning it into an open relationship but in the introduction he is talking about how when he met his partner they were both in open relationships that went horribly wrong. He says, “Of course, breaking up in this society is already portrayed in crazy and unhealthy ways. Changing the way that someone relates to another person should not be seen as a failure.”

In our previous conversations, we’ve talked a lot about how I think that a relationship [is successful] as long as the two people (the two or more people, I guess), were in the relationship were happy for most of the time they were in the relationship. [If] they got what they needed to get (whether or not it was emotional/romantic fulfillment or if it was sexual fulfillment, or if it was something they needed to grow about)… out of the relationship, [it was successful.] Even if it ended prematurely, [even though] we see successful relationships as ones where people stay together forever. As Dan Savage says, we only consider relationships successful if it ends in death. I think a relationship can be successful even if it ends before one of the partners dies.

Like I said, I think Evan and I have had a successful relationship and I don’t want it in any way today or tomorrow or in ten years. I can honestly see us as together for the long haul. I think that it would be a betrayal for me to say if it did end tomorrow or if it did end in a few years that the relationship itself was a failure. Being with Evan and being in this relationship was fundamentally changed who I am, and I think it has change me for the better. So, I think that at the end if you tally up all of the pros and cons of this relationship there are far more pros than there were cons. And I think that makes this a successful relationship.

If an ending horrible enough, can it supersede everything else was for being a failure? Or no matter how bad the end is, it still considered successful?

Honestly, I think it depends on the situation. We have the capability to say things to one another that can overshadow the past or put everything that came before in a different light. In a particularly evil scenario, you could find out that you thought you were in the happy ten-year relationship with your partner and in the end they tell you that they had been cheating on you the entire time. So even though your experiences, outside of their extracurricular activity was overwhelmingly positive, that would crash and burn everything. So I don’t think it is impossible for what was perceived as good relationships could overall be considered a bad one.

At the same time I think that even though things may end badly for one person, and that may overshadow everything that came before, I don’t think that has to mandate for the other (that it didn’t end badly for). It doesn’t mean that they have to re-contextualize everything as a failure. You can have a terrible break up that certainly could render everything in a bad light but I don’t think it is inherently true that it does. I think it is possible for each partner to walk away with a totally different perspective on the relationship. So, I think just because one person thinks it was a terrible relationship or that it was a failure in any way; I don’t think it means that the other partner is also obligated to view it as a failure. They may have seen that everything that happened because of that relationship, that everything that they got out of that relationship was good. It can still be a successful relationship for them.

This viewpoint, on what is a successful relationship, is it a more recent thing or is it kind of an outlook you have had for a long time?

I would definitely say it is more recent. My opinion on relationships as a whole has been constantly evolving. When Evan and I started dating and we recognized that it was going to continue on, I had a lot of ideas of how I thought a relationship went and how things would have to go. As time has passed, we have been able to grow and flex into what our relationship actually is and not what we thought it would be. In the past few years, even more so, I have been exposed to a lot of different people in different kinds of relationships. Three years ago, I didn’t know anyone who was in a polyamorous relationship but now it feels like a majority of my friends are in polyamorous relationships. I had to re-contextualize what I think a relationship is, what I think a successful relationship is. I think a mature look is a really loaded term, but it is a more mature look at what a relationship is or can be. I don’t think it has to fall under anyone else’s guidelines of what a successful relationship is. That definitely has been an evolution in my thought process about relationships.

Is there anything else outside of your experience with meeting people with different ideas of what a relationship is that changed it? Is there anything more specific about your relationship that the relationship itself has changed what your idea is?

Really, I don’t think so. I think that, more or less, my actual relationship with Evan follows those very traditional ideas of what a successful relationship is; what a monogamous relationship is. I don’t think we fall outside of what many people’s idea of except for the fact that we are both men and even today most people recognize that it’s just as possibly traditional as a man and a woman together. So even though I have these different ideas of relationships, I don’t think it has fundamentally changed how my relationship continues to this day or changes how it exists.

Are there things that you have learned from observing those other relationships that you have been able to apply to your relationship and make it more successful than it has been previously?

I am a lot more liberal on how… it is actually kind of a huge loaded topic. It has changed in a lot of ways. When we first began, I’m sure you can attest to this and everyone I know can attest to this, Evan and I can be a sickeningly, sickeningly cute couple. We didn’t really do anything apart from one another until recently, when he started going to school full-time. We have the same friends. We do the same activities. We spend all of our time together. But I am more comfortable now than I use to be (with the idea) that Evan is a completely autonomous person, that he has his own agency and it seems ridiculous to suggest that I didn’t ever see it that way. I was very wrapped up in the idea of us as a couple. Now, I recognize, I think pretty fully, that he has his own range of needs and wants and desires and he can have relationships with other people. I don’t necessarily mean romantic relationships because we have a social contract with one another that we are not going to have romantic relationships with other people.

Even that is a topic that my viewpoint has changed on. When we first started dating, I came in with this very stereotypical idea of gay men—that gay men are inherently cheaters and sex fiends. Before we even started dating, Evan and I had these conversations where I said “If you ever cheated on me, that would be the end of our relationship, no matter what.” It wouldn’t matter the circumstances. I still feel the same way today because cheating is a violation of our… of my trust basically. I would rather know that if he came to the conclusion that he wanted to have a relationship with someone else or even if he just wanted to have sex with someone else, that he would come and talk to me about it. I would rather our relationship be flexible enough for both of us to grow in it than for it to be kind of this rigid set thing (where), if part of it breaks, the entire thing crumbles. My idea of what I need a relationship to be has changed even though to this day we are monogamous and we intend to stay that way. I would rather be open to change rather than have a situation where he felt like he needed to go behind my back. Given where I was, even five or six years ago, that is a major change for me.

You want him to feel comfortable bring it up that to you regardless. You may not be okay with it but you want to feel comfortable that you could talk about it. Am I understanding you?

Right. It’s not to say that if he were to bring it up tomorrow that I would be like, “Okay, let’s do that,” or “Okay, you do that.” I want to have a relationship where we can communicate about those things without fear of retaliation.

You were talking earlier about how you have grown into the idea of him being autonomous with his own agency. Something that I have been thinking a lot about lately is even in our language, culturally, we really don’t see couples having agency from each other. A lot of the language is about ownership. Do you think that a lot of problems that we have in relationships have to do with those ideas of not recognizing agency as individuals and viewing things more, even if it is not ownership in a more classical sense, but still in a couple the two parts have an ownership of each other.

I tend to have a cynical view of how most people go into relationships. I think that culturally we are trained to have that exact viewpoint. Once you either settle down with someone or legitimately marry them, that they somehow become yours. I tend to think that most people to this day make that assumption going into relationships. I know that I did when Evan and I started dating.

I think that a lot of the language of relationships is about property. There may be some good things about that. I kind of get off on the idea that some part of Evan is mine. It is a fantasy and a fallacy because tomorrow Evan can get up and walk away and I could never see him again. The only things I really have ownership of are the things we jointly own, which is to say my house.

You also have ownership of your feelings and thoughts related to him.

Right, I can only own what is in my head, what falls under my agency.

You said that all you can own is what you jointly own.

At the end of the day, as crude as this sounds, Evan has no obligation to respect my feelings. He does respect them a lot and that is why we are still together.

Do you feel at the same time while there definitely is a limit to the feelings you have, that you are completely entitled to those feelings? Just as much as someone is not obligated to respecting or reciprocating your feelings, you are not responsible for feeling something else than what you feel?

I think that our responsibility to each other, a lot of the ways we discuss it gets tied up in the idea of ownership. Sorry, this is a new part of the discussion for me. It is weird, because I do, in practical terms, think in ownership. I still…I have had to work at disentangling what I feel and what is real. Ultimately, I know what is real by the way I interact with Evan and the way he interacts back with me. I don’t think that it creates something—I don’t want to use the term “magical” for all the obvious reasons, for all my skepticism and atheism but…its weird. I don’t have a clear answer for that one.

Kind of one of the things that you have been bringing up in discussions and stuff about relationships previously is the term negotiation. I don’t know if you want to talk about that idea a little bit.

The idea of negotiations?

Yeah, in a relationships. In previous conversations, you have been pretty adamant about it being important in having successful relationships. Kind of like our societal—that when you are with someone you are with them for good, our societal idea you get that person, “Alright, we are together and this is what our relationship is.” People feel like that is all the conversation they need. What is negotiation’s role in making relationships successful?

So, I woke up this morning after kind of struggling with this essay I was writing yesterday and I woke up with a really clear thought about relationships. Specifically this mostly applies to monogamy but I guess it is for every relationship. I think that a monogamous relationship is the purest distillation of a democracy in that you have two people who have a say in the way the relationship goes. You have two people, so you have two votes. When nation building is going on, if a new nation is being created, there is not a cookie-cutter constitution that should fit all nations. In the same way, I don’t think that there is a cookie-cutter agreement that fits all relationships. At the end of the day, the relationship—any relationship between two people—only has to work for those two people. So it is important that you are clear about what you want out of a relationship, about your needs and wants are, what your desires are, what your fantasies are. The only way you are going to get them out of the person is if you tell them.You are not going to get everything that you want because no one is ever going to find the exact perfect partner for them. I don’t believe in the idea that there is one true person out there in all of the universe for you. You are going to have to work together to make sure your relationship works for both of you.

It can be really huge things like, “Can you have sex with other people?” or it can be really, really tiny stupid things about like, “Do you go to bed at the same time?” Because, there is someone out there who thinks a happy relationship is one where two people go to bed together at the same time every night. You can assume that all you want and you can continuously get disappointed when your partner stays up to play video games or you can talk it out. Not that when two people get together, they need to sit down on date six and work out a contract, because that contract is not going to be worth its weight in gold in six months. The only way I think for relationships to really work, for both people to be happy and get what they need out of a relationship, is it needs to be an ongoing set of discussions and negotiations. And there are parts of it that need to be treated like a business transaction ,even though in the early days it is all butterflies and roses and condoms.

Condoms are an important negotiation.

This is slightly veering off topic but do you think that is applicable to not just romantic relationships but do you think it is important in all relationships?

I think it can be. There are lots of times where people go through periods, even in just regular friendships, where they kind of get their feelings hurt because something isn’t happening the way they thought it was going to. It is because your model of what a relationship is is different from someone else’s. For some people, it is okay if you have a friendship where you see each other every three months or six months or a year. You may also have close friends where you get your feelings hurt if you don’t hear from them in two weeks. I don’t think it is fair to other people that you have this rising and falling set of expectations and emotions that they are responsible for in some way because of their actions but they don’t realize you have an expectation that is different from theirs.

I think for me, part of my understanding…I think I probably view relationships that are successful similarly to you but developed that idea separately on my own. Because of circumstances of my life, I feel like what of what I learned about how I think you have a successful relationship romantically, a lot of that was learned through friendships. Just as much as recognizing another person’s agency is an important thing in friendships, too. If there is a day that you are really down in the dumps and you really need someone to help you out, there might be a day where all your friends have other things in their lives that are important. You are just going to have to deal with the fact that you are on your own. That is dealing with the fact that they are separate people with agency.

Part of what I think you are talking about ties into that I don’t think that there is as much a difference between the various kinds of relationships people have as we like to believe societally. A lot of people believe that there is a clear-cut line between a friendship and a relationship even though you hear a lot of people in relationships talk about how their partner is their best friend. That is certainly true for Evan and I. There is a set of feelings that I have for Evan that is exactly how I feel about you, it is how I feel about other friends that I have. There is something more I feel than that and even “more” isn’t the right word. It’s not like Evan is a ten and you’re an eight. There are a different set of emotions that come into play between me and Evan than become between you and I. I think a majority of interpersonal relationships are based on the same things. It is just that some have extra factors or are slightly more intense.

For a lot of romantic relationships, people become more intertwined than they do with other people they have other relationships with. I think that that may be a greater difference that defines the difference between [relationships]. I think in general for me, that every relationship I have with someone is unique. There is something about that relationship that is different than another relationship I have. So, in that way romantic relationships are just another relationship that is different than these other relationships. Maybe the greater difference is how intertwined they can become and the kinds of decisions you are making as a result of that intertwined-ness.

I think that that is certainly true more so for relationships the longer they go on. Everyone knows that in early days of a romantic relationship, and I guess to some extent friendship, you have a kind of excitement that even every time you think of the other person. You get an extra little boost of happy feelings. There is probably a science-y word for that. In the end though, eventually those feelings go away and they are replaced by something more complicated.

Obviously Evan and I, our lives are very intertwined. Nearly ever decision he makes short of what he has for lunch by himself affects me. Actually, even what he decides for lunch by himself affects me because I may not get it the next day because he ate all the leftovers. Our relationship is very intertwined to an intense degree but I think that happens with friendships, too.

I kind of want to throw out some stupid random number and say that like 90% of a romantic relationship is the same kind of relationship you have with a friend. Maybe it is more obvious or more true for me in that Evan and I were really close friends before we were partners. We had a year where we were just good friends. That isn’t to say that in the beginning of that friendship I didn’t have romantic feelings for him or sexual feelings for him. The majority of our early relationship was based on the fact that we were friends, not that we lovers or boyfriends. To this day, I still see that. We are, for the most part, people that really like to hang out together and we have taken pretty huge steps to make sure we can do that on a daily basis.

One of the things about negotiation and one of the things about having a relationship is honest communication but that, especially early on and for certain things forever, can be really risky. As much as you want it to be okay for Evan if he has feelings for someone else you want him to talk to you about it, don’t you feel like for him to do that he would feel like there is a great risk there?

Absolutely. That risk increases every day. There is always that idea that if your partner reacts badly to this (new idea), you have just flushed five years, six years, seven years down the drain. Lately, I have been stuck on the idea that there is no reward at the end of the day for having been in a successful relationship other than your own personal satisfaction. I think that the longer that you are together with someone, the more imperative it becomes for you to communicate and discuss these things. We all grow and change. If you think about who you were ten years ago, you are probably fairly radically different from now in some pretty important ways. In other ways, you may be exactly the same. You may be reading the same comic books but chances are you have grown in huge leaps and bounds. That is not going to stop because you hit twenty or thirty or hit forty; we change every day. I think that as much as I feel that there is a risk to bring up something new in a relationship because you are risking the stability of the relationship, I think that there is just as much risk not communicating on a regular basis.

If two people grow and change silently, if they do it without communicating with one another, they could both wake up one day and realize that they are totally different people and they no longer fit in the mold that they had set up for one another. So, I would rather Evan risk the past nine years to bring up some new challenging idea that challenges our comfortably, our familiarity with one another, than to wake up one day and realize that he no longer fits in our relationship. I think a lot of people end up in those situations where they wake up one day and they are fifty and they realize the past ten years they have been unhappy. Chances are, they could have made their lives better had they been more honest about their feelings early on.

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A few thoughts before I post my last interview for the month

First is this segment of Radiolab’s episode on symmetry including a part where Robert retells this story “from Plato, by way of Aristophanes.”

And then there are these quotes from “The Dispossessed” by Ursula LeGuin.  The first comes from page 50 in the copy I own:

“Shit,” said Gimar in her mild voice.  “Having’s wrong, sharing ‘s right.  What more can you share than your whole self, your whole life, all the nights and all the days?”

While here is a much longer passage starting three pages later, running from p. 53-54:

Certainly he had felt that he owned Beshun, possessed her, on some of those starlit nights in the Dust.  And she had thought she owned him.  But they had both been wrong; and Beshun, despite her sentimentality, knew it; she had kissed him goodbye at last smiling, and let him go.  She had not owned him.  His own body had, in its first outburst of adult passion , possessed him indeed–and her.  But it was over with.  It had happened.  it would never (he thought , eighteen years old , sitting with a traveling acquaintance in the truck depot of Tin Ore at midnight over a glass of sticky fruit drink, waiting to hitch a ride on a convoy going north), it could never happen again.  Much would happen, but he would not be taken off guard a second time, knocked down, defeated.  Defeat, surrender had its raptures.  Beshun herself might never want any joy beyond them.  And why should she?  It was she, in her freedom, that set him free.

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There are times I can’t figure you out, you’re so aloof.

Before I start my series of last posts, mostly centered around my last interview, I wanted to post this video from “Swing Time.”  Like “Honey Pot,” I’ve thought about it a bit over the years.

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Be a human: a conversation on the more romantic side of the Internet

It feels like in every relationship and romantic near miss I have had since moving to Chicago, the internet has played an essential role.  This has left me wondering about our growing use of it in modern relationships and the ways in which it may be changing how we go about romance.  I decide to have a discussion about it with my friend Kathy J., who manages social media as part of her job and is an on again/off again online dater.  She is also very crafty.

One of the shirts that Kathy made back in 2009

My first question which I have so far asked everyone I have interviewed so far, it doesn’t have to be too detailed but if you want to talk about a little bit in general about your romantic past or what kind of person you have been in the past romantically.

Only internet related or…?

No, in general.  We will talk about the internet a little more specifically.  My other interviews have been about being a sucker and successful relationships and I ended up asking in the past in order to provide a context.

Totally.  So, I was a late bloomer.  I still feel like that is how I feel about myself.  I feel like I got a late start and I live my life trying to catch up ever since.  To what, I am not sure.

I remember very clearly my first kiss was not until I was sixteen and maybe three-quarters or even just shy of turning seventeen.  I remember being frantic about it and there is this guy I was hanging out with.  He use to date one of my close friends from school so I was a total dog.  We were bonding and I was like, “All right,  guess this is it.  The train is leaving the station.”  The late bloomer thing was in part because I was a total prude.  I was super judgmental about sex.  Very opinionated about things I had no experience with at all.  I just remember sixteen and three-quarters, full braces, and just lunging at this dude.  This is going to happen.  He was like, “Wow, wow, wow.  I thought that you were the conservative one of the group.”

At that point, I wasn’t even close to ready for sex cause I hadn’t done anything, anything.  Not even, like, summer camp, twelve years old pecks that mean nothing.  That man, ah, boy, I ended up dating for four and a half years.   So I gained experience pretty quickly as it quickly turned serious.  Sexually, technically I was right back on track.  I made up for lost time but I have never been able to shake that feeling that I was a little behind the eight ball on that.

Maybe just now I finally am.  Now that my friends that first got married are getting divorced, I am like, “All right, maybe I need to chill the fuck out about this cause it is not a race to the chapel or the synagogue.”  Finding someone nice might feel good.

Right, I had that long long first boyfriend where I got a lot of experience but not a great breath of experience.  Then in senior year of college broke out a bit again when time ticking.  I  was like, ‘I only have one semester, college is when you are suppose to be having crazy sexcades.  I better hurry this up.”  Sure enough, I got a couple under my belt.  Just a lot of panic and urgency characterized that.  That still to some extend characterizes my romantic relationships.

I guess then after that, you are suppose to be collecting all these dating in the city experiences.  Which, like, my first job was pretty intense in Baltimore city, not around a lot of people in my peer group in inner city Baltimore.  So, yeah, I had to learn how to date.  I had no idea how to date.  Just crazy expectations for people.  Bold actions followed up by sheepish ones.

I gave a guy my number in the bill fold after a dinner we had with my parents where he was our waiter.  And, like, that is pretty bold, right?  Followed by not having any idea what I was doing and having my heart broken constantly because I didn’t know where to place my expectations.

Yeah, in Baltimore, because I felt like I had such a dearth of options.  I guess it always feels that way whether that is accurate or not.  I went on JDate for the first time at age twenty-two and I felt like I was way too young for the market.  You know, people go on JDate not to meet hotties to have fun dates with.  They are there to find women they can have children with.  So, I was very out of my element there and got very few messages back.  I was like, “The Jews hate me.” [laughter]

At the end of that crazy year, where I also did a lot of dancin’,  I met this one guy.  He was kind of a weirdo.  This is one pivotal, life changy story.  Where I just decided it would be life changy because I decided I needed a change because my dating rhythms just were not working.  I had met this guy and he wasn’t great but he was forward.  That happens to shy girls.  You end up not meeting great guys, just meeting forward guys.  Its like, “Hey, he’s talking to me.”

We went on one date, a lunch that was kind of ambiguous.  I was like, “Hey, why don’t we meet back at this club where we met the first time.”  It was kind of the dawn of hipsterdom in Baltimore.  Where they were playing all this new wave.  Characteristic songs would include New Order, Franz Ferdinand, and maybe some MIA and that kind of thing.  I felt like it was changing my world.  We had set up a meet and I was running late.  I walk into the club and my friends meet me and they are like, “That guy you met last time, are you meeting him?”  I was like, “Oh yeah, yeah he is suppose to meet me here.”  They were like, “He was hanging out with out other girl and they were making out.”  I was all like, “oooooooh.”

It was a moment where I was like I could either add this to my list of reasons I am romantically challenged and will never find a man and never be happy.  Or I could be like, fuck him, be a strong woman, and demand better for myself.  Sure enough, I went dancing with a vengeance, found a cutest boy in there I thought, danced up on him.  He was kind of weird, not feeling it.  I was like, that is fine.  Found another cute boy, super bold and went after the shy boy.  He was up against a wall, I went up and introduced myself.  Did a little dancing, I said I liked his hip printed t-shirt.  I forget what was on it but I remember liking it.  He was awkward and I was awkward and it was a match.  I was super forward, he didn’t ask for my number but I gave it to him anyway.  He called me and we dated for four months until I had to go to San Fransisco.  As soon as it was clear that I had hit it off with this other guy, the first one kept eying me and was all jealous.  I was like, “That is what you get, that is what you get!”

Despite that triumph, I wasn’t able to fully shake my victim-hood in that realm.  I work in the arts, which is mostly women and gay men so I have trouble, I have always had trouble meeting people.  I tried Okcupid once I moved to San Fransisco.  I was like all right, this is a real city, this is going to catch me something.  That was when I tried it the first time and I had lots of, mostly uniformly disappointing dating experiences.

Is there a commonality in how they have been disappointing or has it been unique per experience?

Just this notion of dating, having started out with such a long term relationship, still is not something I fully get.  Where you are dating multiple people and you have no expectations.  You feeling them out and see how it goes without feeling like needing to get physical too quickly.  I feel like dating only works if you don’t need them for shit, and you keep it really stoic for a long time.  Well, at least while you are not being fully exclusive, but you can’t be afraid to ask if it is going to hurt you.  I don’t know, I was feeling like I had to built up, harden my heart and that isn’t a way to get to know anyone.  That was really tough.

Guys that would just pursue me not online, it was this vulnerability game.  I met a guy at a coffee shop once.  He was older, I was like 23 and he was 32.  I was like, “your ancient.”  I felt like I had all the cards and I didn’t really have any interest in him but I had a little interest in him being interested in me.  I felt an obligation to him and having fun playing around but there was no way it was going anywhere.  For people I was actually interested in, I could not keep that aloofness while slowly opening up like one does while dating.

I kept having three date patterns where we would go on three dates and then I would never hear from them again.  It is not long enough, I guess, to merit a break up even though I would be like, “Hey! What to do this?,” and I just wouldn’t hear anything.  That just kept happening and it was incredibly disappointing and frustrating.  It just seems like men…they couldn’t even give me a, “This is not what I am looking for.”  It was just silence and that was really traumatizing when you don’t know what is going on and you are, “What is wrong with me? What did I do?”  I would have much preferred, “I don’t think it is really a match.  All the best.”  Never have I gotten that on online dating.

It is weird because I’m always in the position of…it is kind of like I feel it petering out and then I reach out extra hard.  I am not even considering, “Am I in to them?  Is this going somewhere?”  I’m like, “Don’t leave me.  Don’t do this.  Be a human.”  Usually I just want to keep dating.  Three dates isn’t enough for me to figure it out and they just disappear.  It happens if I get physical with them quickly or if I don’t.  Sometimes I’m like, “I didn’t get physical with them quickly enough.”  And sometimes I’m like, “I got physical too quickly.”  So, I don’t know, it has been incredibly difficult.  I try to balance.

Do you find that unique to online dating?  In my experience, people would rather take the easy way out rather than a confrontational way out.  Even though there may not be a big deal to be straight forward, there may not be any conflict, people instead choice just to not talk to them because it will be easier.  They do that in life in general, besides dating.

Yeah, people take the easy way out.  Or the way that is easy for them.

But not for the other person. 

That makes me angry.

Currently, I know that you aren’t using anything [online dating sites] but you have repeating keep on trying it out again.  What makes you do that?

Oh, yes.  I want to get it right.  I think every time my heart hardens a little bit and that maybe I am finally in a position to do it right this time.  I am tough enough, this time I am more confident.  I am not going to let it get to me.  I am just going to have fun.  Meet some people.  I don’t really want anything serious anyway.  I will go into it with that and I will still end off my…my expectations, I guess, are someplace that I’m not being completely honest about where they are or what I want.

Do you think that is the only way to go about internet dating, to not be serious?  It seems like that there lots of different types of people that are on there.  Do you think a more casual way is the only way to do it successfully?

I mean I know people who have done it successfully.  That was because they were looking for the same thing.  There has to be a clarity of…you get better at figuring out who is in it for what you are in it for.  You have to learn to read profiles better.  You have to stop being super optimistic and assuming that the guy you are most attracted to is going to be the one that is looking for the same thing you are.  Every time I have had a little more success reading things but then you get some x factors.

You know,  a guy who is leaving the country for three months shortly after we started dating and he didn’t tell me and I thought that was shitty.  I found out when we ran into his friend at the park.  His friend brought it up and he was like, “Oh, yeah…”  And I was like, “Oh, that’s cool.  Yeah, that sounds really fun.”  You know, being cool rolling with it but it was a breach of trust.  And this was a guy I wasn’t sleeping with.  If I had slept with a guy and then had that…oh god.

I’m a modern lady, I know that sex ain’t a contract but ah…I just require a gentlemen’s approach that most men are not capable of.  I shouldn’t put myself in positions where I am vulnerable before people have proven themselves.

I kind of have a problem of with that, of making myself vulnerable and I kind of can’t help myself.  Part of me thinks that not doing that creates hurdles.  I am pretty big into being honest with your feelings and if you are having to make yourself not be vulnerable than you are not being honest about how you feel.

Yeah, and then you have no chance.

To kind of switch topics a little bit, you’ve used the Internet a little for dating, to find dates and stuff like that.  What kind of role does it play just in your relationships period?

Gchat, bro, gchat.
Yeah, that all the time?

Yeah.  So, I’m seeing a guy now.  We have been friends for ages and had a couple of moments when we hooked up but the timing wasn’t right.  We weren’t in the right place but now we are or so it feels.  So, he called me all formal like.  Right, yeah, he called me and my impression was like, “Oh, fancy pants with the calling.”  But I need a lot of check ins.  I’m realizing that I can not see you for a couple of days but I want a guy to be accessible when and if I need him.  That’s all.  I’m like low maintenance, high maintenance.  I mean, I am very capable of entertaining myself.  I don’t need to see you every weekend night but I want to be able to log in and even just see you there and bug you.  Be like, “Hey asshole!” or whatever.  I don’t know.  And the internet allows that kind of surveillance  and the at work check in which is nice.

Do you e-mail very much or is it mostly like chatting?

Yeah, gmail makes the e-mailing and chatting pretty close, almost seamless.  So, sometimes I will message him and he’s not there.  That will turn into an e-mail.  Then he writes back and it is am e-mail.  I’ll respond when he is back on and its a chat.  So, it goes back and forth.

Do you think you communicate differently that way?  There is the obvious thing where you can’t intonate with your words.  Do you think that there are other ways it changes how you communicate that way versus another mode of communication?

Yeah.  Well, some people are not good at writing.  Some people are not good at the writing that is the internet kind of writing.  The guy I am seeing now is excellent at expressing a tone with a high degree of nuance in e-mail so he will be like, “Kaaaaathy !,”with many a’s in my name, extra vowels and stretching words.  There is some playfulness and some people aren’t as good at that.  Their tone is just poor.  I mean I think it works for us in part because we are so sensitive to digital writing style choices.

The guy before that.  Oh god, this is…oh yeah, I have not been thinking about that.  So, the last guy I dated was this intense tumultuous relationship.  He was thirty-four when we dated and a painter so he lives in kind of an analog art hole.  I got him on to gmail and introduced him to the notion of this constant check-in.  He abused them and Facebook became a huge source of anxiety for him.  Every time someone posted on my wall, he would become suspicious.  If they stopped posting with the same regularity, he would think that I was blocking him because he was looking for patterns.  He does not understand the medium at all.  It was a huge strain on our relationship.

I didn’t want to say that we were in a relationship on Facebook.  This is a big question for a lot of people.  I think it is gauche.  I hate it.  Especially because he and I, we dated for eight months so at the six month mark this started to become a big issue.  He wanted me to proclaim to everyone in my life through Facebook that we were seeing each other.  No other point in history would this be the case.  In no other point in history would you be declaring this to all of our ex’s, to all of your family members, and allowing them access to the information of this other person that you are dating.

There was some sensitivity there.  Some people, I would like to break it to them gently that I am seeing someone.  It is not like it was a big deal or that I owed them anything.  I knew that maybe they would see that and be like, “oh.”  The same way that I have done that however many times  Also, we weren’t on the steadiest territory so it was the fucking worst thing in the world.  You see people who are listed in a relationship then go to being listed as single and you see people who are not their very good friends saying, “I’m sorry.  What happened?”  That kind of conversation should by no means be taking place publicly.  I have such an aversion to it.  Because I managed social media, he…the fact that I would be so internety yet I would not want to express myself in this internety way.  Every aspect of myself in this internety way.  He just had no room for nuance with that.

I kept telling him, “I don’t like Facebook that much.”  But he’s like, “But you do it for a living.”  It’s like, “No, I am not interested in it.  I like art, which is what I write about.  It is just a medium.”  He was so fucking dense about it.  I know that it was like a digital native versus a mid-stream adopter divide.

Yeah, it became such a problem and he turned into a stalker.  He just used it in such an inappropriate way.  Including, he went on Okcupid and he messaged, “Hello,” to , like, my best friend out here.  No, that is not okay.  That is not how you use Okcupid to connect with people you know in real life.  Like, I could see that there was some innocence there but he was doing fucking creepy things like that.  He kept admitting everything that was completely innocent, like with that or with whatever.  He kept backtracking and I felt like since he was such a clumsy user of it his true intentions were revealed just because he wasn’t  using it well.  If you are not a good liar, then don’t bother to use the medium because you are going to botch it.  Actually, that’s is probably recently when the internet factored most into a relationship in a conscious way.  Right now, I am dating a guy I met at google who is super tech savvy but is similarly, “It is good for some things but it is also not as fun as old fashioned story telling and like reading.”

Old fashioned what?

I don’t know, just storytelling.  We listen to a lot of radio and read books but then we will also look at cat videos.  So, I don’t know.

Are you a googler?  If you start seeing someone, do you google them?

Ah, I have a good story, well it isn’t a good story but it is a story.  It’s not even really a story.  It is a scenario where, yeah, totally, there is a guy, a big digital guy.  Kind of like I admired him professionally and I was going to use his experience type stuff.  I googled him because he had a very strong web presence and I left his name in the search bar.  He came over and logged into my computer to look something up and saw his name in my search bar.  I was mortified.  He was like,  “Yeah,  I’m surprised it took you this long.’  But this is a guy who had a folder on his computer dedicated to every woman he had ever dated and that is where he filed every little piece of digital ephemera away about them.  So, like, photos I sent him of myself.  Drawings that I maybe scanned or drawings I made that he scanned.  It was an archivist project.  Something separate to his connection to the girl.  Oh god, when I caught glimpse of that, of how I was just one of so many folders I just felt so dirty.  Terrible. [laughter]

Yeah, something else that is interesting is how the internet archives relationships.

Yeah, exactly.

I don’t use gchat a whole lot, so I don’t know if it does the same thing but now Facebook records all of your chats and saves them.  So between having recording chats and messages and e-mails and stuff ,that can be a huge bulk of your communication with someone that isn’t gone.  Rather than “what did that person say?” or “how did I say that?” or “did I imagine that?,” you can go back and read not just letters but conversations.

The guy I dated with the anger problem and who was tech phobic and clumsy with it, he would say all sorts of terrible things and I had the proof.  It use to be that male anger, maybe your neighbors would here it screamed through the walls but now there is documentation.  My brother is currently in entangled in this terrible situation with a girl who is writing and sending him very threatening text messages and e-mail saying things like how she wants to ruin his life.  He has those documented too which he can use against her in a court of law should it come to that.

Do you think it changes relationships in other ways to have that much accessibility to a record of the relationship?

Yeah, I think an interesting question that you should ask your folks is “alright, what is your cleansing ritual after a relationship.”  Do you need…some people need to destroy the records of the relationship but I am too sentimental for that so I always keep those things.  I keep them, you know you have that box that you store away and maybe somewhere down the line you destroy them or you lose them or you just don’t think about them anymore.  Like the first card he gave me, the sweet note he left on my bed, that kind of stuff.

Some people need to go through their gchat and they need to delete it.  Archiving is kind of one level but how do you protect yourself from yourself which is like this challenging adult skill.  But it means defriending them on Facebook, it means not going to his Facebook page because you know that you are going to find something that will make you queasy for the rest of the day,  no matter what.  Sometimes it means you can’t even have the chats present in your inbox.  So, right, I don’t know.  It varies from person to person.

I think that archiving is the closest to putting it in that box that you put up in the attic or somewhere that is not part of your daily life but still is the testament to the fact that it happened and does not need to be looked at all the time.  Yeah, I don’t know how people deal with that.  I want to have one, an archive that is locked down for like a six to eight month mourning period.  Where this is only going to hurt you.  Everyone knows themselves the best but I would like sometimes to be able to do this for my friends who I feel like I know very well, like, you need to not look at this for the next six months.  I am going to take it away from you.  If it was physical, I would be like put it in this box and I’ll hold on to this.  I am going to take it away from you out of your reach.   That would be nice.

There are some models of tech stuff that do that, that lock away.  There is this thing called 10Q.  What it is, it is like the ten days of Teshuvah, like reflection, it is a Jewish thing, from between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  They ask you a question every day and they lock it up and put it in a vault.  So you can’t touch it, you can’t edit it.  It becomes a digital time capsule.  It was who you were that year and then they send it to you…you can’t access it in any way until they send it to you the next year.  And then you have that fresh sense of this was who I was a year ago, who am I now?  Which of these did I actually accomplish or address and which of these are things I still need to do in my life?  There are also digital wills online where you can write something, lock it away, and then it only become available (I’m not sure what the mechanism is) but after you are dead.  Which is, like, weird but interesting.  But, yeah, sometimes I wish that there was something like that for relationships too.

Regardless of if you have met someone online or not, have you think that your experiences with the internet have affected how you approach romance and relationships in general?

Maybe the internet helps to offsets some of the anonymity of urban dating that makes it so disconnected that you have to be human accountable to people (which is what I attribute not calling back too).  If I was someone that their best friend had set them up with, there would be no way they would have treated me like that because that would upset their social circle.  They feel like they owe something to their friend so they would treat me better but because cities are big, people don’t know people necessarily there can be some of that anonymous cruelty so maybe this abundance of information is offsetting that.  You can figure out who knows who.  Yeah, I’m not sure.

I think, the guy I’m dating know I met the old fashioned way just through work.  A pivotal interaction because things got really awkward because he was really into me and I was not feeling it at the time.  He was younger than me.  Still, when I wanted to apologize for some behavior I sent him a letter.  I sent him a letter with some stuff in it.  He sent me back a letter, apparently, though I never got it.  I still use these old fashiony things.  It is a big question.  They are just more tools and more necessity for self control, I think.

Yeah, I don’t know.  I think I will have to chew on this some more.

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Take me by the hand and lead me to that land…

First Beat Happening’s “Honey Pot.”  I first heard it a decade ago and I still don’t know if there is a better of song suited for 90% of my romantic life.

And above is a Adrian Tomine illustration (and link) to a New Yorker article about online dating.

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Are You The Favorite Person of Anybody?

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Sorry for the unexpected intermission

This song has little to do with what I am going to write, but it makes the wheels of “Any Other Time” move a little after such an absence of content.  That absence is something I just wanted to say a quick thing about.

Last week, the arthritis in my hands flared up pretty badly making it impossible for me to do anything requiring fine motor control.  Slowly, they have been returning to normal but have been tiring very quickly.  Last night, played a game at a bar involving drawing monsters and I feel like maybe things are close to normal.  So, in the waning days of this month my aim will be to keep this blog filled with regular posts to finish out this months theme.

I know they don’t fit very much with what “Any Other Time” is trying to do, but here are the monsters I drew as a bonus:

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