This time of year speaks to me of courage and radical change. I remember the surest way I was ever befriended. And when the flame eased out of the leaves that year and we walked quietly into winter, I held that fire. I was not alone. October 27, 2009. Four years ago today I told Jonathan we could be ‘together,’ and that’s the story I want to tell today
Without getting wound up in recalling the treachery and angst of my dating habits, it’s crucial to know that my getting to know Jonathan and falling in love with him changed everything for me. This can’t actually be a post discussing the many ways I was a cruel and terrible person, or about the anguish I feel over working out my power and self-loathing issues with actual human beings with feelings, because I will totally distract myself. All you need to know is, I was pretty unhealthy and I was NOT in a place of wanting to put any real, honest work into a relationship, and the last thing I wanted was to be in a progressing relationship, in fact at the time I was practically phobic about progressing relationships and in the twisted venn diagram of love I had created, I was all about maintenance, equilibrium (see also: stagnancy) although at the time I might have called it “friendship” (false).
Fast-forwarding through the classes Jonathan and I had together in 2007 where we never talked to each other, our amazing first date where I wanted to tell him ‘all that I ever did’, our second date where FeministGate occurred and nearly ended it, the redemptive game night with his friends and spontaneous bonding at the Evergreen Conference (what better place to flaunt our heteronormacy right?!), late-night drives through Hobblecreek Canyon, deep and deeper conversations, watching him play guitar hero and being crazy attracted to him, the time he brought me kiwis when I thought I had swine flu, all the lyrics we posted on facebook, painting the walls of his friends’ house when he told me “you’re so damn cute!”, the book he left on my porch so I would find it in the morning, the night I gave him my journal from Romania…all of that…it was early October, 2009.
We were on the couch in my apartment, in the days where I still held a pillow on my lap as we talked. He caught me off guard by saying,
“So, I really like you, and I’m wondering if this is going anywhere.”
I distinctly remember being a little disappointed that he was so direct. If I had to have a DTR (they were to be avoided at all costs), I preferred that it be couched in really complex metaphors like a law of chastity lesson (tip--dontsaytip--: this also gives an out so you can pretend you thought they were talking about something else). I reflected that we were getting to know each other, that’s where it was ‘going’. He asserted that he wanted to establish parameters of the relationship. I fluttered away and said vaguely that I felt such things were best left unexamined, forever if possible. He restated his intentions and clarified his terms. What that sounded like exactly was this:
“I just need to know, if we’re going to be together, that’s cool, but I’m not really into doing some kind of group thing, so if that’s what you’re into, let me know, and we can just be friends.”
Some kind of indignation pinged in the back of my brain that he would dare to name my modus operandi: he’s not allowed to TALK about the ‘group thing!’ and my heart felt stung, we can just be friends???! Dismayed by this blasé display of healthy boundaries, I bartered for time to ‘think about it’—with the unexpressed thought that if cornered again, I would just ask for more and more extensions of time while (hopefully) we got closer and closer, and I’d never have to commit. He wanted to know how much time I needed, exactly, so we could revisit the discussion and either level up or else date other people. I was completely appalled by his lack of game, and part of me was devastated that he was so nonchalant about the possibility of not continuing to date. And to be fair, it wasn’t all arrogance—we really had only known each other a couple of weeks, and although I really connected with him, I didn’t feel like ‘myself’ around him yet. I couldn’t imagine calling someone my boyfriend if I wasn’t comfortable being silly with them. Another thing that held me back was the fear, or mejor dicho, the knowing, of what I would lose if I chose him. No more swinging free, I knew some people very dear to me might cut me loose. The thought of that was truly terrible, truly crushing. Jon and I had also never touched other than hugging goodnight, and I felt like it was a little soon to be together with so much uncharted territory, empty space…I tried to say these things. My voice felt small. He was determined. “I know I want to be with you. Just let me know what you decide.”
It felt so different from other times. There was no pleading, no poetry, and no elaborate promises to try to lift my heavy heart. Somehow the idea that a person like that—confident, self-respecting, would chose me, would want me, warmed me all over where threats of heartbreak kept me cold. I thought about him when I was falling asleep at night. I wrote, “I love how steady he is. I love the words he says that cast clarity on my own unformed thoughts. There is a lot to look up to. It’s good for me…Right now, today, I feel so happy, so hopeful. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I am hoping, you know?”
He asked me to spend a weekend with his friends at their cabin. I was frightened that with that much uninterrupted time, he would find me boring. I told him so and he said I was crazy, so I took a risk even though I was nervous. What I realized there was that boring had been the place I lived before him. I remember so well the almost dizzying wonder I felt starting to really get close to Jonny, holding the hot-heart secret thought that we could really be. Seeing him immersed in his own context, away from chaos of trying to “maintain the chain” in my own life, cleared away some haze of my insecurity and I really saw him: his intelligence and strength, his kindness, his competence and his affection for his friends. He was so naturally good. He was so clever. I quickly became enamored of everything he did. How he siphoned the gross water out of the hot tub while we were cleaning, sang “Grey Street” in the car with Brian, and caught my hand for the first time in the parking lot of Snowdragon. How we listened to “Pet” on the way home from dinner and they felt it so deeply it was like we were all inside the song. How he suggested we jump off the dock into the freezing pond and then run upstairs to the hot tub again. How when the movie started and I wasn't sure where to sit, he just pulled me onto the beanbag with him (!). How he kissed me on the forehead a few seconds later and then said softly “I’m sorry, I just—“ How all night he kept saying we shouldn't fall asleep together, but didn’t want to me go. “Just stay a little longer.” Then when he finally sent me up to the loft and I said goodnight, he called, “Can I come up there with you? Just for a minute?” Around 5 AM he asked me again, if I’d thought about it, (being together) and we talked hard, and I cried. I told him about the ones I was worried about losing, how much they meant to me. Now, I think I was crying in that moment because I knew I was already gone.
I waited for a few days to see if that feeling of glory would fade, if my gnawing terror of commitment would return (it did, later on, but that’s another story). I just kept feeling good. I was disjointed and fidgety at class, at work, etc, but when I went to see him I felt like I was home. I wanted to stay. Of course, even this was grounds for drama. I remember complaining to my sister that I couldn’t stand feeling so good about Jonathan, “What if this GOES somewhere?! I can’t I can’t I can’t!” She reassured me that I could just do one day at a time and said “What do you feel like doing today?”
I felt like saying yes. Yes to taking a chance on something that made me so happy. Yes to respecting boundaries and committing and trying to create something together. Yes to things I usually couldn't even bear to look in the eye. Yes to choosing this person I had already chosen. And I still felt that, the day after, and the next day, and the next.
Jon had told me before about how he answered a girl who had asked him to a dance—when you grow up in Utah you get to plunder those memories of elaborate invitations and gruesome puns—he sent her to the graveyard near his house and set a cactus on top of a grave with a message that said “I’d be prickled to death if I could go to the dance with you!” In homage to that specific creepiness, I scribbled him a note saying I wanted to try [being together] and drew a gravestone and cactus: “I’d be prickled to death if we could be together now.”
I was almost as excited to give that note to him as I was about my decision. I’m not sure what I was expecting—he held such a confident, staunch attitude all through the talks and negotiations. I thought maybe he’d joke or tease me. I waited while he read. I threw my arms around him maybe in a nervous attempt to bridge the awkward space of my vulnerability (sometimes eye contact makes me feel shy and holding someone feels better). I wasn’t expecting him to collapse against me, something like exhaustion, and something like relief. He was quiet. He held onto me. I said “Are you happy?” and he said “I am so happy.” We were still. My heart was beating so fast. He whispered, “I didn’t think you would.”
So we began that evening, in a place of reverence, of tentative joy. We held hands and I remember thinking, “This is my boyfriend, this is my boyfriend!” The next day I wrote these lyrics all over my notes in my child welfare class: "And you said it was Strange, you said everything changed/, you felt/