“Please don’t write about this in your Livejournal.”
I remember the day he said this; we were having a pretty big fight and I don’t remember what it was we were fighting about but it meant a lot to me. It really bothered me that his first thought, the moment the fight had come to one of those awkward pauses where both parties have stated their case and no compromise was in sight (yet). He was worried that I would telegraph his contrariness, his unwillingness to fulfill whatever need the fight was about, to all of our friends and the masses of anonymous faces on the Internet; make him out to the be the bad guy, the mean boyfriend, the person who cared more about being right than being harmonious.
As time has gone on, the words may change but the sentiment is the same. Any time someone close to me has said or done something less than honorable, has lied or cheated or even was just less than the perfect partner/friend/associate, there’s been a moment where they’ve asked me to keep it private, to never speak or especially write about the turmoil of emotions and hurt feelings I was desperately trying to process. Sometimes it was even okay for me to tell each friend, individually, about what was going on, but never all at once, never in a way that allowed me to just bleed it all out onto the electronic page in one action and never have to have the six million painful conversations over and over again, answering their questions individually, probing into the same wound every day like I’m trying to see if maybe, just maybe, the clotting and scabbing had begun and I could feel a little less open, a little less prone the the infections, the systemic deconstruction of everything I had hoped and dreamed for whatever it was we were talking about, or building together, or tearing apart.
Even now, I have both been guarded about what I say “publicly” about the dissolution of my marriage, a situation in which I was somewhat willingly unaware of the seeping infections that were eating away at my last real hope of finding a singular partner who would really and truly broach the gap between romantic partners and “family”, or Family as he’s desired for me to refer to it as, even now, even that I wake up in the morning and live an entire day without him knowing one moment of what I’m going through. He either refuses to read the things I write about my struggles online, or pretends to, unless I’ve written one negative word or phrase about him. He asks me questions about things I’ve explained in great detail on a blog or Facebook status or some other medium, as though he is happily ignorant of the fact that I’m still sharing the same things I was before. Except then, in the “before”, he had the background, he knew the whole story, he got the veiled references and the vague bitching about a particular person or situation; now he’s out of the loop, and either refuses to try to piece it together or is actively avoiding the parts of me I feel comfortable enough to display.
I have tried to explain to several of my ex-loves, this idea that my life is littered with passwords; there’s the stuff I put out there unprotected, the stuff I’m not worried if people see or steal or retell in their own words. Anyone can find it, probably without trying too hard. (Gods know there’s someone who continually googles “del tashlin”, with no capitalization, almost every single day, to find this blog. Which I find a little creepy. And I am guessing it’s the same person, because there’s never any variation, always the same two words written in the same way, like clockwork, at approximately the same time of day.) There’s another vault, one that’s pretty easy to crack if you’re just willing to talk to me directly, call me up on the phone or even just send me a text or email; I usually answer direct questions with as much honesty as I can muster at the moment. Sure, there are times I will shy away from things that feel too personal, depending on what passwords I’ve assigned the person – and sometimes that changes from moment to moment, depending on the social maelstrom of the day, or week; sometimes depending on who they’re connected to in their lives and if I can trust them not to work their metamour network hard enough that it gets to someone I’d rather not know my personal business. And like all relationships, sometimes there’s a magic moment where someone is granted a provisional password, I decide that our relationship has progressed to a point where I feel a little more comfortable with them, or honestly, if I realize that the person has something (information, skills, objects, time) that I am in need of, and think a little confidence here and there will gain me better access to whatever it is. I’m willing to trade secrets for things I need, and I know I’m not the only person who does this.
Then there are the ones I hold in my heart, the ones who have the administrative password, who are privy to the dirty details and the mess of thoughts and feelings I hold closest to me; the things that feel foundational to who I am as a person, those things that we sometimes feel could be turned into weapons against us if the tides change. I’m usually pretty careful with giving this out, although these days I wonder if I should exercise more caution about it. These people get the whispers in the dark, the opinions I’m not done chewing on, the truths I hold and usually dress up with diplomacy and tact for others, but they get the raw materials. They know how I really feel, what’s tearing me up inside, my insecurities and fears and stupid habits I wish I could rid myself of.
People notice. When I give them a new password, bring them in a little closer, decide that for the moment or for the foreseeable future I’m willing to be a little more forward; there’s usually this moment where they tell me I’m authentic, or self-aware, or sometimes it’s more like “Holy crap. I always thought you were this confident, put together kind of guy and now I’m seeing all the glue and chicken wire that hold you together.” They get to see me when I choose to cry (as opposed to those times when the tears are too automatic and I don’t have the luxury of choosing), when I am strong enough to face a fear head on; they get this awesome intimacy that has nothing to do with genitals or fluttery butterflies or flowers.
This is why I have people in my life that I fumble to give a title to. Our whole culture is built on the idea that the people you hold closest are either related by blood or touching your genitals on a regular basis, and we have words for that. Words that make sense, that carry weight. That awkward moment when you turn to someone and have to ask, “So, are you my boyfriend?” When I was younger, that moment happened more organically; there were clear cut behaviors and actions that qualified you for a title. If you held hands with me in the movie theater, we were “dating”. If you wanted to be identified as a serious part of my life, you were my “boy/girlfriend” – or sometimes that title happened after the first time we had sex. If we were feeling particularly grown up about the affair, we might use the term “lover”. And when we signed some piece of paper in the Court house, or stood up in front of some people and said the right things, we were “spouses” or “husband/wife”. Every body else was relegated to “friend”, or perhaps “acquaintance”, although I don’t know two people who joyfully describe their relationship as an “acquaintanceship”.
But “friend” is so insufficient sometimes; there’s a world of difference between the guy I play board games with and share pleasantries and go to his wedding and maybe get a holiday card from; and the person I choose to call first when something amazing happens to me, or when I’m in the deepest despair, or I’ve been jailed in a foreign country and I need someone to come bail me out. I fumble with the words, the titles, to explain to other people the vast valley that separates the mild affection I feel for someone whose occasional company I enjoy muchly, and the person I’m willing to divulge my most monstrous thoughts.
This is what happened with my partner Winter. If you looked at us, you’d easily see that we have some bond that transgresses a casual friendship. We touch each other with a familiarity that lovers usually share; we have those quizzical inside jokes and references that long time best friends carry with them; we sometimes get naked and do things to each other that involve shiny metal things; we talk openly about our sexual desires and our irrational fears and our biased theories on how the Universe works. No one word can encompass all of this, especially since we’re not really “romantic” with each other, at least not in any sort of traditional way. We don’t go on dates or have long sessions of unhindered sex. We don’t have any long term plans that involve the other – he’s seriously contemplating moving to the left coast, and I have no plans to follow him even though my heart aches at the thought of the distance.
How do I sum this all up in a way that you, the casual reader, the one with the most basic of passwords, can comprehend? So he and I had this odd talk, where I told him that while I was teaching classes on sexuality and relationships that I felt compelled to talk about him, and so I had hastily decided on the word “lover”, even though that didn’t feel appropriate. And he agreed, that our relationship was much more intimate than “friend”, but there wasn’t a really good word or title to sum it all up. Over time, we’ve used various titles depending on the situation, but at least for me, I’ve settled on “partner”, because it not only connotes the idea of a long-term commitment to share lives, but also two people colluding on the same projects, ideas, and working together to bring things into fruition (like “business partner”).
He has the administrative password. He has permission to call me out when I’m being cruel or stupid or making a bad decision. He gets to hear all the gritty details of whatever I’m going through, down to the milliliters of fluid that are coming out of my drain. He’s usually one of the first people I call when something delightful or dreadful happens to me. He was the first person to dare tell me that my marriage was falling apart, that he suspected Mike was cheating on me, that he didn’t approve of the way I was being treated and regarded. And it was he that I called, as I sat on the stoop of the townhouse, when finally Mike and I had the conversation wherein he admitted he had been having an affair for a long time, that he was keeping from me because he was afraid I wouldn’t approve (and I didn’t), and it was Winter who was one of the first people to start helping me put my life back together.
On Sunday night, Mike and I did a “handparting”. It is the complement to a “handfasting”, the Pagan concept of marriage. Our society and most Judeo-Christian religions don’t have a ritual or ceremony for when a partnership dissolves because in their belief system that isn’t supposed to happen. It makes me wonder if part of the flight from traditional religions is this blind denial that more than half of the marriages end in divorce these days, and yet they still deny this occurs, deny their devotees a way to turn to religion for comfort and support when their heart is breaking. I very much wanted to do this, even though we can’t even begin to talk about legal divorce for another six or seven months due to Maryland divorce laws (you can only be granted an immediate divorce in the cases of abandonment or adultery, and in our polyamorous arrangement it would be difficult to define what happened to me as “adultery”, because the law states that I had to feel I didn’t have the same right to do what he did. Although that is technically true – I would never have started a deep emotional and power dynamic driven relationship without being completely up front with him – this is not something that the heteronormative and monogamous-assumptive legal system would be able to grasp the subtleties of.).
I needed to create spiritual space between us. I needed to admit in front of my guides and guardians that he was no longer a part of me, connected to me, where I was willing to accept responsibility for his decisions and actions that might have spiritual “splash back”. I honestly don’t think Mike ever really understood that I was willing to do that before, that I had done it, because he doesn’t see the Universe in exactly the same way I do, but it was something I needed to have happen nonetheless.
I needed to revoke his administrative password.
Because that’s the problem I face with the exes in my life, the ones who were once intimately involved in my day to day life, who were there for the secret tears and the midnight confessions and the tragedies that my Irish upbringing told me weren’t for public consumption. They knew the stories that never made it to the Internet, the veiled references and the vague ranting. And inevitably, whether days or weeks or months after they decided (and something I’ve been chewing on, it was almost always their decision) that I was no longer the person they wanted in their life; they’d hit a firewall. They’d ask a question I no longer felt obligated to answer. They’d read something on Facebook and want to know what I was talking about. They’d hear a rumor about something I’d done or not done, and want to know the whole story. Or they’d just want to talk about something that requires a different password.
They’d bounce. I’d say no, or change the subject, or sometimes would be forced to re-explain the whole password allegory, which I had told them when we first got together as a warning. It’s become part of my “okay, this is actually a relationship” patter – to explain the whole password thing and how my exes are continually frustrated for a while, because they are used to reaching out for something and being granted all-inclusive access, and then when things change they reach for the same thing and they are denied.
And it hurts. I know it hurts them, because they tell me so. They don’t understand that on Monday, they could have a casual conversation with my about my health situation, and by Wednesday that was something I no longer felt inclined to share with them. They’d push for details about a new relationship, or my future plans, or try to figure out what I meant by that very carefully worded answer. Eventually, it would come back to this conversation about passwords, and how they should have considered that having that administrative password meant more than just gaining access to my genitals, but it meant that they got to share the glory and awesomeness that is my life in all it’s gory details, and now they were just a footnote, a single chapter on love and loss, one more dead dream I buried in the backyard.
Then, it comes up again. They’re terrified or ashamed or frightened of what I could possibly be saying to those who still have access; that every little reference to them on the Internet might be rife with meaning they don’t understand anymore, and even a casual reference might be a coded insult to those who have the key. They get very paranoid, and they ask. “Please don’t air our dirty laundry for everyone to see.”
It was totally okay with them for me to write about other relationships that died, or to pour my happy emotions and thoughts about who they were and all the great things they did for me, but the second those feelings were the slightest bit critical, or negative, or could reveal that they aren’t the bastion of perfection that they loved reading about a year ago – what was once something they loved about me became something else, threatening maybe.
Back in the days of Livejournal, I used to tell people when they complained about what I wrote about them (always with aliases, but those in the know knew who I meant), that maybe if they acted honorably, or treated me well, or made decisions they weren’t ashamed of, they wouldn’t have to worry about that. That there are ways of ending a relationship without fear that I will write the truth about their cruelty or dishonorable behavior. Mike is very invested in this fantasy that he is a Knight, a faithful servant of humanity, an example of chivalry, one who treats those in his life with honor and respect. Of course he doesn’t want me to write about the many times he lied, or hid the truth, or did things that were anything less than that image he so desperately cultivated. He even has a damn tattoo of Tiwaz, the rune for Tyr, the God of sacrifice and justice. He took that mark knowing that others who betrayed Tyr’s ideals of loyalty and honor have suffered real life consequences. He still shows it off by rolling up his sleeves whenever he can. And yet, when things were falling apart, and I told him bluntly that there will be repercussions that have nothing to do with me or mine, and everything to do with this lifelong mark on his arm, this reminder that can only be lazered away with terrible pain and expense, to live up to an ideal.
In the handparting, Mike made it clear to me that he wants to have some sort of friendship with me, that he wants to find a way to relate to me as Family. No matter how many times I’ve told him I feel he broke his oath to me, that at our handfasting he promised before our friends and F/family, our Gods and guides, that I was now a member of his Family in a deep and meaningful way – and that you don’t treat your Family the way he treated me. He has said that he wants this, very much, to live up to this oath and find a way for this to happen.
I can’t help but wonder how much of this is because he’s felt that firewall, that uncomfortable feeling of knowing there is more going on beneath the surface and he just doesn’t know how to unlock the code to know it all. He may be struggling against becoming yet another footnote, a single chapter in the autobiography I’m writing in my head, the grand novel of that which is Del’s life. People who know me will attest that being a part of that story makes them feel something, like it matters in some way, and being dropped by the roadside as the merry band travels on is painful.
But what I can’t seem to explain is that is exactly what it feels like when you’re forced to fall out of love with someone. It’s not like it happens all at once, especially when it happens in a moment, a single conversation. When Saif dumped me, on Monday we had had this lovely date where we literally danced to Frank Sinatra and told each other how much we loved the other, and by Wednesday he wanted to demote me from being his primary to being just some person he dated, so he could pursue another relationship without restrictions. How the hell am I supposed to fall out of love with someone in three days?
My only respite is to revoke the password. It’s an immediate action, a defense mechanism of sorts, something I can do to make it clear that they’re not the only ones dishing out the pain and suffering. Not once have I read a single word, privately or online, or had a conversation wherein the person who killed my dream of a partnered future, admits to me that they, too, had to fall out of love with me in bits and pieces. I don’t know if this is hormonal, or something to do with socialization around birth sex, or if it’s just that I don’t operate like other people, turning the stream of love on and off like a faucet. My love is more like a raging river that now I need to find a way to dam, to seal off, in perpetuity, because I’ve never given someone who has done something like that a second chance, and luckily I’ve never been asked to. (At least, not that I remember. It’s possible Joey wanted a second chance, but there was no way on earth that was ever going to happen after what he did to me, and so there was no tension, no decision to be made really, about whether or not I was open to trying again.)
Then we’re back at the beginning. Now that they know the password is gone, and with it goes the sense of security that I will likely refrain from writing about their dirty underpants on the bathroom floor or the fights that go on for days or anything else that my Irish sensibilities keeps me from talking about lest people know that things aren’t perfect inside the relationship. But there’s no way I can hide all the logistical and emotional effects of being dumped, of a marriage coming to an end, the moving out and the name change and the feeling alone and the support settlements and everything else.
Yet I try. Other than obliquely reference that infidelity was involved, I don’t say anything outright mean or cruel. I don’t call him names, or say bad things about his mother, or bring up anything I know he told me in confidence. I also ask those close to me, who are sometimes just as hurt as I am, just as betrayed, because they, too, bought into his image of honor and fidelity, not to vent their rage and/or sadness where others can see. Even when we as a group or one of us singly has to interface with him, like working at an event or even just being at the same party, we have gone to great lengths to treat him with general civility and kindness, even when under the skin we are seething to do something, anything, to make him see what terrible decisions he has made. We even go so far as to never name the person who he cheated on me with, never say anything about her at all, partially because we know she would love to find that chink and turn it into a dramatic soap opera, and we’re not willing to give her that satisfaction. (Even when she tries to tempt us into it, calling me names and insulting me in places where they can plainly see.) We hold our heads high, and know that we are being the better man collectively.
It leaves me to suffer the most only in conversation. The deepest wounds of any breakup involve the secrets, the close confidences, the weak and fearful parts of ourselves that we open up to another person, that now are shredded like a top secret document, beyond all ability to recognize ever again. The parts that take the longest to process, to move through the pain and get to the scab and finally the scar; they require information that hides behind passwords, that the general public don’t get to have. I hide my sobbing and my rage in moments when I am alone, or with someone who can hold that space for me as sacred, as a trust that cannot be broken.
Today I decided I think I need a new tee shirt. It will say:
Warning: I am writing my autobiography as we speak, so be careful what you do or say to me.