State of the Relationship Address: Call me Jena!

As my partner slid her hands beneath my dress, pushing it up around my waist, I asked “Will you call me Jena?” This is something I had wanted for a long time but for whatever reason the femme side of my gender was rarely on display during my sexual encounters with her. She complied, but I could sense a little unease in her voice as she said my name. So I took over referring to myself in femme ways and relaxing into a roll I so desperately wanted to fill. Doing this for the first time and accepting that part of me was exciting and liberating. Everything inside me had been leading in this direction.

After this experience, I asked my partner how she felt using my femme name (admittedly, something I should have done beforehand). For a little background, my partner is a cis-woman and as straight as they come. By my telling of it, she has never found any part of a woman attractive in any significant way. She is attracted to male-bodied me and yet has been supportive of me wearing whatever female clothing I desire in private or in public.

Still, she said using a femme name for me was not something with which she was comfortable. It did not create any attraction for her. Quite the contrary, I got the impression that it created a kind of repellant visceral response (the opposite of attraction basically).

I want to be clear that I do not fault her for it in any way. While I think there are aspects of attraction that we can control and help shape, there is also a part of desire that cannot be forced. Accepting this duality has been central to my own journey of exploring sexual attraction and even gender identity. I accept and support her boundaries.

Additionally, for about two years we have had an agreement that I could be with other queer folks sexually. For this arrangement I would be non monogamous and she would be monogamous. This was actually her idea initially and one which she mentioned a couple of times before I actually accepted it as a viable possibility. We did this because I wanted to continue exploring my queerdom and retain my visibility as a queer person.  

During that time of being able to “date” (or whatever you want to call it) other folks I had talked to many folks but none who could muster up any interest that went much past the tip of their genitalia. I also found it hard to believe that my partner was one hundred percent okay with this arrangement. Accordingly, I didn’t want to proceed full steam ahead and do irreparable damage to our relationship. As a result, I had only been with one other person who was a dear friend of mine on one occasion.

So when I initially heard that she couldn’t accept calling me Jena I was worried but knew that perhaps I could still explore this aspect of me with others. I felt like I still had a lifeline and an outlet in which to revel in who I was becoming. A week or two later this too came to an end.

My partner told me that while our relationship arrangement made logical sense to her that she couldn’t accept it on an emotional level. Now that she had discovered and spoke her truth, I was happy to focus instead on monogamy. The clarity of monogamy has always felt reassuring and I find simplicity and beauty in the practice.

All of this creates a number of quandaries for me. Is my femme side in any form a problem for her that will eventually surface? For now, I am aware of the possibility, but am accepting that I have heard the truth as best as she currently knows it and am proceeding accordingly. 

The larger issue for me is that now that I am monogamous can I express my femininity in such a way that is still fulfilling for me while not being off putting to my partner? Is it possible to walk this line and leave everyone happy or will tending to her boundaries squelch my identity? Furthermore, is it even reasonable to walk a line at all where gender identity is concerned? Isn’t it more preferable to be who I want and need to be and let the chips fall where they may?

I don’t pretend to have the definitive answers, or any answers, but I do want to talk about what I have discovered while wrestling with these questions.

Realizing My Femme Side

In my past, I had kept my femininity shutoff from the outside world. I was closeted on purpose. Growing up I was surrounded by people who didn’t understand virtually any queer issues nor did they make an attempt. They mainly ridiculed and disparaged those who were different. Twenty some odd years ago, I shared a few pics with the person who was my first spouse. They were of me wearing her undergarments. Later when she was upset about something, she said, “I leave for a week and the first thing you do is dress up in my underwear.” I didn’t know exactly what this meant as it didn’t pertain to the argument at the time but I got the picture. I was expected to knock it the fuck off. 

I had reached out to someone I thought I could trust and I received a scolding that was the death knell to me living openly with her. I didn’t want to experience that again and in small minded (I mean small town) America it was sure to happen each time I tried to publicly become who I needed to be.

So I kept it all under wraps. I dressed in femme ways only when I was alone and my partner was gone. I never mentioned it to her again. Later with other partners I was able to bring this side of me to life but mainly did so only in the bedroom; the most private of spaces.

This year though I have started wearing women’s clothes (pants and shorts) out in public. It is still less than I would like to wear, but it is a process and I am in the middle of it. Still, dressing with femme clothes in public is removing the secrecy around my gender. It is helping to give me some visibility as a queer person.

Likewise, when I was chatting with folks on dating apps I was leaving it up to people to call me by my masculine name or my femme name. Those who chose my femme name lightened my step. It felt foreign to be called Jena but it also resonated with me and made me happy. Having this quality in my life makes me feel more rounded and gives me visibility as a queer person. It’s as if my figurative masculine edges are being sanded down a bit. I like that.

What I’ve Learned . . . Kinda

This revelation is another step in understanding where I have been and in some ways where I am at now. My desire to be femme during intimacy was because I had kept this side of me in relative secrecy. I’m curious to see if having the femme me on display in public will erase the need to be referred to this way occasionally by my partner. If this is the case then I’m not walking any figurative line at all. Problem solved.

Conversely, if I still have the urge to be more femme than my partner can handle then it will be unfair to myself to continue walking someone else’s path. It seems as if this is the more likely outcome. While dressing femme in private led me to also dress in public, the occurrence of the latter has not diminished the occurrence of the former. So it seemingly follows that using my femme name in public is still going to be something I desire during intimate moments as well, though that experiment has yet to be conducted.

It must be admitted though that in a monogamous relationship that one half of the experiment is missing. I can’t use my femme name during intimacy to see how much I need to express that part of me. I just have to wait and see if I think I want it used. If I do, the relationship will end and I’ll have to hope that I was correct and that I didn’t make the wrong choice. It has become a much larger burden under monogamy than it was previously.

I used to feel as if I had a clean slate to explore and write down who I wanted to be. Now the surface of my slate is hemmed in with words to direct my path. I can write down who I am so long as I do not obscure parts of the slate which already contain the writing of others.

Keep in mind, I’m not asking to go back to nonmonogamy. That didn’t work and anyway, I don’t need it. It’s just that now I don’t know how to proceed. However, proceed I must because there is no other option before me.

I have had a difficult time writing this because I do not truly know where I stand. Each line I put down on the page feels shaky and dangerous. How much of what I write here is being constrained by the boundaries of my partner and by my fears? Truthfully, I do not know. Only time will reveal that answer. I have tried to be as kind and yet truthful as possible. I know that being gender fluid is firmly a part of me. I’m unpacking it piece by piece and while it feels good to do so, I’m scared of the consequences that my thoughts on this page could have in my current relationship. Seeing it all typed out here is less than reassuring.

If the romantic aspect of our relationship does not survive then it is no one’s fault. In fact, it will be for the best of all possible reasons. That my gender identity does not line up with her sexual attraction is certainly no one’s fault. It is just one of those unfortunate things which can occur as people grow.

For now, my partner says she is comfortable with me dressing in femme clothes and is good with incorporating these clothes into our intimacy. This gives me hope and currently I could use a little more of that.

State of the Relationship Address: Down Periscope!

Every now and then in life I bump up against people that truly help me see who I am. Sometimes it is because they compliment me in a way that surprises me. Other times it is because of the juxtaposition between who they are and who I am. This latter scenario is my focus here.

Some of these juxtaposed folks suffer from what I have dubbed Woe-is-me Syndrome (WIMS). These people manifest some type of negative attitude which pushes others away, whether it be desperation, despair, or anger. They often have also developed a type of “me against the world” mentality. Unfortunately, when the terms of their existence are that stark, the world generally wins. As a result, they begin to feel as if everyone is out to get them and their mental well-being suffers.

They can become so dedicated to their gloom and doom outlook that attempts to give them another way to view a situation are often met with their blatant refusal of said alternative, a doubling down on their original position, and in rare cases, outright hostility towards a new view.

I have a friend that is in the grips of WIMS. Seemingly, everything that happens in the world brings them down and everyone who looks at them is trying to do them harm. They are so lonely. They lament all their failed relationships, while doing nothing to make new ones or correct the destructive patterns which have led to this isolation. Their inability to control their emotions has negatively affected their career in the past and present. It has become so bad that, once, a guy gave my friend a business card for a job. Instead of thinking about the potential good fortune, my friend began to wonder if the guy was trying to somehow find out where my friend lived to do them harm.

When I broach the possibility to my friend that their view of the world, and their place in it, is causing them harm it is first met with an acknowledgement of “yeah, maybe you’re right” and then a litany of their experiences justifying why they should be like this. Most of these experiences, dare I say excuses, are borne out of no greater logic than the business card incident I just described.

The thing is, I understand this mentality well. At one point, I was clinging to an ideology that was clearly doing me no favors.

This part of our tale takes us back about 20 years. I was an emerging feminist and a trained sociologist. As such, I am very familiar with socio-economic stratification and the mechanisms which perpetuate class, gender, and racial inequality. In fact, if I were to pinpoint the moment that my WIMS kicked in it was during my time studying inequality in America during the completion of my Sociology degree.

I was also educated in the ways that numerous marginalizations can create a greater disenfranchisement of the individual, which is dubbed intersectionality. This means, for example, that a woman can, and likely will, experience different treatment than a man. This treatment disadvantages her by depriving her of the same opportunities that a man could expect to experience. Further, a woman of color can experience even more institutionalized forms of disenfranchisement than could a white woman. A woman of color who doesn’t speak English will likely experience even more. Each subsequent status of other (we could add to the list, physically impaired, homeless, queer, trans, etc) creates more obstacles for this person’s equality to those who do not embody these traits. It is basically a compounding of disadvantages based on the ideology of this person as being “other.”

While I was learning this I was also living in rural Illinois. It was clear that I had a personal growth ambition that outstripped my racist, sexist, and homophobic counterparts. That sentence is a little harsh, but I’m going to keep it.

Because of these things I felt both the ways in which I was privileged and disadvantaged. Feeling thankful and guilty for the former and rather constrained by the latter. I continually struggled with who I was compared to what everyone else expected me to be. I only fit in because I did not know how to be myself when that meant pushing against those expectations.

I couldn’t explore who I wanted to be without the disapproving comments of others. I was being policed due to their insecure need for conformity. This made it difficult to sus out if I was queer and later once I accepted it to find out what being queer meant for me. 

Once I had included myself under the umbrella of being queer, I felt marginalized due to bi-erasure (being viewed as straight if with a woman and gay when with a man) and never quite seen as the multi-dimensional person I was. Moreover, there were folks even in the queer community, my suppossed family, who would rather me not exist. My sexual orientation was a threat to them. I was hemmed in on all sides.

I pondered my gender (hell, I still do). I feel a little non-binary-ish. I like to crossdress and enjoy the pretty side of things. If I could switch between a variety of male and female forms based on my moods that would be amazing. 

There’s a good deal of folks who don’t have the space for someone like me. They don’t want me to figure out who I am if it means deviating from the behavior of which they approve. I know what these types of people say about transfolk because they think I’m a safe audience. I know that the same disapproval and scorn is also waiting for me if and when I deviate from the norm. The simple act of painting my nails elicited disgust from midwestern bigots (and others). Imagine if I showed up in women’s jeans, a cute top, and eyeliner.

I hated the stereotypes of what it meant to be a man (still do). They felt so ignorant and violent to me. It repulsed me to my core and I lamented the strictures around manhood that I felt kept me locked in place. As a thin, slight young “man” I never had the physique that I thought was masculine and I grew up thinking myself less because of it (luckily, what was a burden then looks good in a dress now).

I also struggled with my working class status and the ways middle and upper class America protected and elevated their own. I had no such footholds in life.

Religion was another way in which I felt like an outcast. I was fresh from relinquishing my priesthood position and I was a fiery, newly branded atheist. It was a view that wasn’t accepted in middle America, but I don’t think I was actually marginalized because of it. However, my determination to teach everyone about the flaws in religious thinking definitely put me at odds with folks.

So as a queer, non-binary, working class, crossdressing, atheist I was somewhere in the venn diagram of intersectionality. I felt pretty alone and isolated and didn’t see anyone living the life I wanted. I had crafted my image around these various forms of disenfranchisement. I was angry and felt as if my anger was appropriate and shouldn’t be mitigated. I felt as if viewing the situation any differently meant I was giving in to the powers that be.

During that time, if anyone tried to give me a different view of things I would tell them that they were wrong and that these things which held me back were real. I was not being a pessimist, I was being a realist.

I still hold that most of this is true. All of the marginalizations I mentioned above are in fact real and the effects of them can be pernicious, make no mistake about it. Folks have been killed just because they were living authentically and some insecure, fearful, mostly male, person couldn’t handle it. 

There will always be systemic forces at work in society and I am not likely to move the needle on those things greatly. However, one of the things holding me back was something I could completely change and that was my response to those injustices.

The “me against the world” type of thinking was not making me happy and was pushing people away. So I figured out that I could keep going down the bleak path I was traveling or stake out new ground and a new outlook.

I needed to be the best version of me in spite of those socio-economic forces. I wanted people to be attracted to my calm and positive energy. I wanted to be a source of knowledge and wisdom. Additionally, I wanted folks to be challenged by the fact that all these comforting things come from a non-binary-ish, feminist, socialist, anarchist leaning, crossdressing, big ‘ol beautiful queer. I wanted them to see that people like me are not to be feared. We are just folks trying to live our lives.

This would be my contribution to myself and to moving the inequality needle. It would help me to bring people closer and to counter their expectations of how someone like me is supposed to look or act. I would be a teaching moment by simply being myself.

Detailing how I changed my outlook would take me far from the scope of my message here. For now, I will just say that I learned how to relax a little more each day and gave myself the mental, and sometimes social, space to become who I really wanted to be. 

My endeavor has yielded results. I’m still a work in progress, I think that’s always true when self-improvement is the goal, but there are moments when I get a glimpse of how far I have come.

Recently, I began having a conversation with a person that existed within the nexus of intersectionality. Things were a little off from the very beginning. For starters, we picked out a week in which we would meet in person. They quickly put that idea on hold. Their comments indicated that they had given themselves over to the prospect of meeting too readily for comfort. It was clear that they were used to patterning their behavior from fear and were now in emotional retreat.

No matter, I had the time and mental space to see if things could progress before they torpedoed our connection in one glorious explosion.

Unfortunately, when we spoke I would ask about them and they didn’t ask about me. After a month of conversation, I can say that they literally knew nothing about who I was aside from a few identity labels and a list of hobbies I provided on our first day of chatting. Instead, we talked about what was going wrong in their life. I began to wonder if there was anything else to them. 

Then things quickly came to a head. They made yet another disparaging statement, this time about despising something. I had grown tired of the gloom and doom. I needed an extreme last ditch effort to turn this around. I was done with the dynamics that were occurring so, as imperfect as the decision may have been, I decided to call them on it. I sent two sentences saying they could continue to be angry over what they can’t control or they could take the reins and create something new and wonderful in their life. Then I retired to get a shower. 

That was pretty much all it took to flood tubes one through four. They made a number of assumptions about me and then became angry at me over those assumptions. They became angrier still that I hadn’t immediately responded back. Because of all of this, they said they didn’t want to talk for a week.

After I completed my evening ablutions I discovered the drama that had played out on my phone. I replied with the reason for my absence and that I would be around in a week if they were still up for talking. 

That was all I sent. I didn’t justify my actions or defend myself against their allegations. There was no point in trying to have a rational conversation where none had existed prior. It certainly wasn’t going to happen now that they were triggered. Perhaps a week without talking would create a little levity and we could discuss what happened and why.

Not a chance. The next morning, I awoke to a message saying that the universe had given them a sign and our connection wasn’t going to work out. They told me to stay positive because it is a beautiful thing and that this was goodbye. Compared to the last message I received they at least seemed calm.

I was perfectly fine with this outcome and I wished them a peaceful life filled with happiness. 

Their response was that they don’t get to live a happy life because society won’t let them (insert angry screed about social forces here) and that my positivity was toxic and a result of my privilege. Therefore, they are going to block my phone number. Fire all torpedoes!

Yikes. What a rollercoaster.

I can only assume that all of this was a type of posturing. After all, there is little point in blocking me after I made no attempt, nor did I show any interest, in messaging further. I suspect that calling me toxic and blocking me was meant to do me emotional harm (a one-upmanship of sorts). However, quite the opposite happened.

I’m not at all bothered by any of this. As I have written about before, I consider these occurrences to be a blessing of sorts. We are just in two very different emotional places and that is perfectly fine. If my outlook is too shiny and triggers someone with WIMS then I totally get it. 

However, I do not acquiesce to casting the outcome of my struggle to become a positive person under the generic woke nomenclature of toxic. Quite the opposite, I left that encounter feeling better about myself than I have in years.

You see, after emotionally conquering society’s downward gaze and crafting my new outlook, I ended up in an abusive relationship. Over the course of a couple of years this person systematically tried to eradicate my positivity and happiness. During my down moments (near the end that may have been all I had) they would chastise me for being unhappy. It has been a long journey to work through the PTSD that was created during that time in my life.

Since then, I have wondered if my positivity was even visible. I have been fearful that it wasn’t. I thought that I had failed to become who I wanted to be.

To have this new person try to use my positivity against me in such an erroneous way meant that I was seen. I, twice, built myself up. Once after battling systemic inequality and then after enduring the mental beatings of an abusive ex. This let me see that the good in me is still here and thriving. I felt beautiful, because I knew my past and what I had accomplished to blossom into what I am now.

I am exactly who I need to be at this moment and that is an amazing feeling.

I hope you too blossom. Be responsible, be empathetic, be lovely, and always work to build a better you. I wish you peace and happiness in your life.

Horny Hometown

They say you can never go back. Sometimes though that isn’t true. 

I’m from a small town in the middle of nowhere Illinois. When I was a child I had a crush on a fellow classmate. He didn’t know it at the time. What I didn’t know is that he also had a crush on me.

Once we were out of school, I would occasionally bump into him at the store. I would say hello, hoping he would say anything back. It never really happened. Crushes can be weird that way. 

Twenty five years later we discovered our mutual interest and discussed possibly meeting up to fulfill some part of our desire. 

The thing I didn’t mention about this small town is that it is somewhat incestous. Through social media I watch people bounce from person to person, classmate to classmate; married to one and then another. It’s like a game of romantic musical chairs and when the music stops for the final time you die with the one you’re next to. 

I often wonder if anyone imagines potential romantic partners existing outside of that two mile square radius. 

My crush messaged me to say that another classmate was in a bar and had just made a couple of moves on him. He seemed very excited about it all. Nothing against either of them but I suddenly became aware of the dynamic I was considering entering into.

I don’t think I am above anyone that lives there, it will always be a home, but I don’t want to become another townie fuck toy. Someone who is just a tidbit of conversational fodder consisting of “hey did you hear who so and so had sex with!” A coupling with my crush would initiate me into the familial order of the small town orgy. It’s not that the talk alone bothers me, I’m sure I’ve been a part of the gossip round table before. It’s that I don’t want to become part of the culture and what it represents. I do not want to shrink back down to fit in there. 

I realized that during my return trips, I visit the same place I was at during high school, the same place I was at when I married at 20, the same place I was at when I divorced years later, and the same place I left 900 miles behind me 8 years ago. 

Nothing there has changed, except for me.

A Story of Depression, Dating, and Boundaries

A friend of mine shared a meme on Facebook that said never give up on someone with depression. I like that sentiment. If you have a long relationship with someone it’s definitely a reminder we need from time to time. Though lately, I have been struggling with this ethic and have come to a few nuanced opinions that run contrary. Chiefly, that when dating there may be times to walk away from someone who has depression (or other mental health conditions) and that it’s okay to do so. 

That sounds harsh and my gut tells me that it makes me sound like a horrible person. Historically, I have almost always extended myself to others even if I have little left to give. My gut informs me here as well; this is a bad strategy. Somewhere in between there must be a balance.

I have had people say that I’m an empath. I don’t believe in new-agey empathic ability, but I am highly sympathetic and value deep connections with others. People often say they feel safe around me and tell me things that they have previously told no one. This means, as a friend once told me, that those who are hurting seek me out for comfort. This is a blessing that without boundaries becomes a detriment.

Perhaps that explains my relationship history. I had an eighteen year relationship where the other person dealt with depression and mania. I was mostly on the outside looking in and was shut out concerning my partners thoughts and emotions. 

My next relationship was with someone coping with anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. They chose to talk about the problems they were having with our relationship only as they were packing their things to leave. Two years later, they said we couldn’t be friends. I didn’t really get a good reason for any of it, not that I have to. It was their choice to make. 

Last, I spent another two years in a truly abusive relationship with someone who was on the heavy end of the narcissist spectrum.

I had given myself over to these relationships and extended myself in ways that were both reasonable and not. Most of the time, the emotional flow and attention felt like a one-way street and to a large extent I understand. Having a mental health condition can make it especially difficult for someone to show up for a partner in the way it is needed. As the brain turns to bleak thoughts it can be hard to ask for help, discuss feelings, and to know what is real. People who have a mental health condition sometimes use all of their willpower to take care of themselves. They don’t always have the ability to look out for someone else as well (1).

Flash forward to my more recent dating life and I’m still running into people with some of these difficulties, but something in me has changed. Namely, that I don’t have the space for folks like this that I once did. I need a mutually supportive relationship; a connection with someone where we lift one another up. Otherwise, it’s a rush of goodwill and emotion flowing out without much in return. It leaves me depleted.

My relationships have taught me that it’s not my job to heal everyone. In fact, strictly speaking, it may not be my job to heal and center anyone but myself.

I came around in my thinking about a year ago when I started seeing someone that was dealing with depression. When we were together I could tell they liked me and I liked them. Still, they were understandably distant. Plans were canceled and messages were returned 10 or more hours later if not the next day. It wasn’t exactly the kind of behavior that fosters a solid connection or indicates interest. I had to end that relationship and I was honest with them and myself as to why.

People will come with their own baggage because, my gods, who doesn’t have that? Run from anyone who says they don’t. Should someone come along who has a mental health condition who can also care for me as I care for them then I will gladly accept them into my life.

For instance, I have a friend whom I dearly love. They push back against chronic depression and addiction every day. I’m not going anywhere in that relationship. They have let me in enough to understand what they deal with and they still manage to be there for me even though it must be difficult at times. 

That’s the kind of love that I want, and need, and it’s okay and even healthy to say so. 

So I’ve started a new chapter in my life. I don’t have the mental space anymore to pour myself out for others without anything in return and I’ve been bowing out from those situations when I feel the need. 

Those twenty two years weren’t a loss. I don’t view experiences that way. It has given me a hyper-awareness of when people aren’t able to fully step into a relationship. I still give folks the benefit of the doubt because I think people are deserving of that. If they cannot meet me where I am then I just step aside. 

Staking out boundaries for myself is incredibly hard to do. Still, this feels healthy and I want to stick with it. I want to put myself in a position to find someone who can show up for me as I can for them. This is part of how it will happen (2).

1. Though I don’t think this gives those who have a mental health condition an excuse for carte blanche, because who we are is defined in part by how we deal with others. I see people using things like introversion (not a mental illness) and depression as excuses for how others must make concessions for them and their behavior. That works to a degree. Just as others may have to make concessions to occasionally accommodate them, so too must they accommodate others. I think the key for those with a mental health condition is to know when to push their boundaries to be there for others and when to politely bow out in order to take care of themselves.

2. I wrote this when I was dating. As of this writing my tactics have been successful in helping me to establish a relationship that is reciprocal.

Dating Someone Much Younger (or Older)

One of my valued experiences in life was when I dated someone who was 18 years younger than me but it’s not for the reasons you might expect. There are no bro-motivations lurking here. I didn’t care one iota about their age. Rather, I didn’t want to pass on an opportunity for a meaningful relationship and always wonder about what might have been. It was more about me saying yes to life and taking a chance on love when it seemingly had little odds of success. In the end, the relationship didn’t work out, but I have zero regrets.

So, in case you have ever thought about a relationship offset by age, here are a few tips for how to make the most of it. 

I have written this with the older person in mind but there are tips here for the younger person as well. I also have age differences of 15 years or more as a focus but again, those in relationships with lesser gaps might find some pointers in what follows. 

This is also a heteronormative article because I think that amongst queer communities, which have non traditional relationships already, that age differences are accepted more than in the rest of society. I also don’t have any personal experience into long term, queer, age stratified, relationships. However, there may be some things that resonate herein for those folks as well. 

The first thing I want you to know is this;

The stigma is real

There’s a good amount of social disdain that will come your way from a relationship with a significant age gap. If this relationship is not something you truly want, then others will easily tear down your resolve. It is true that things are gradually getting better as more people are accepting that love can happen in non-traditional places. Still, the stereotypes are plenty and I can assure you that none of them are about you having a meaningful connection. 

I feel like older folks carry more stigma in these types of relationships, but I could be totally wrong as I’ve never been more than 6 years younger than a partner.

Older man/younger partner

If you’re an older guy, then other men generally want to high five you because they assume that dating someone younger is just about sex. Apparently, dating younger is supposed to be an accomplishment; a bucket list item of some sort. The downside is that these high-fivers are incredulous when you suggest that someone younger fulfills any purpose beyond the physical. Such dismissal is demeaning to a heart that has found so much more in another person.

Older men also face the stereotype of having a midlife crisis and the assumption is they are trying to recapture their youth. This mid-life crisis trope is easier for folks to believe. The truth is, sometimes two people’s personalities synch up and there is an attraction regardless of age. 

Also, when an older man dates a young woman, I’ve noticed that both parties face the ire of some older women. This is true even if the older women have no romantic or physical interest in the man. I believe that for these women, it’s the fear that one day they too might be replaced by someone younger. 

This makes sense given that most of what we are taught that is sexy in a woman comes with being youthful. It’s complete drivel but the notion is present nonetheless and it can shape people’s insecurities about your relationship.

It means that some older women have a fear about their relationship ending at the hands of someone younger. These older women can be a lot of things, but young again is not one of them. For these women there is going to be some resistance to your new relationship. That’s not your problem but it won’t stop some from trying to make it so.

Older woman/younger partner

Older women have to worry about the cougar trope and that they are preying on young men. 

Older women face a huge stigma for dating younger men. Even a small age difference skewed in this way is hard for some women to accept. I suspect this is based on the stereotype that men are more immature than their female counterparts. The thinking being that a younger man is even more immature and that no older woman would want to date such a person. Again, this notion is ridiculous but it doesn’t change the way some people think.

Unfortunately, because men seem more prone to fetish, older women also have to worry about young men fetishizing them as cougars. If you are an older woman dating a younger man then your worry can come from all sides.

Younger person

Aside from being seen as too immature for an older partner, younger folks are also viewed as having parental/daddy issues, being a homewrecker, naive, or a gold digger. There’s not much to find from others that says young people can seek legitimate love and companionship in someone older. However, I’m here to tell you that it can happen. Not only does it occur I have seen some wonderful lives and families formed as a result of two people putting aside age and focusing on one another.

This was a long way of saying that stereotypes abound and there is no safe haven if your relationship threatens someone else’s security. People will come at you from all angles to tear you down so they may feel better about themselves or their relationship.

I don’t say any of this to scare you, I just want you to know that if this connection is just about sex then be honest about it to each other. If you want a relationship that goes deeper, then be honest about that too. You will need to lean on each other often. Some folks will easily support you so you won’t be alone, but you will also hear negativity in regards to your relationship and it will come from within your social circle (family, friends) and without.

Don’t let the stigma bother you. Acknowledge that where you are now is a result of living your life to the fullest. Be honest, be fair, and love each other regardless of what the goal of being together means to both of you. 

Beware the power imbalance

In any romantic relationship both partners should have a balance of power so that decisions are made equitably. In age distanced relationships this becomes even more critical. 

Whether you realize it or not, the person who is older often exerts authority just by existing alongside someone who is much younger. It is important to make sure that what the older person says isn’t taken as law just because it has been spoken. This requires mindfulness and checking in with your partner. If they confirm this dynamic then you have to be willing to make the necessary changes to keep their autonomy intact. 

How you ask is important. You could say, “do I assert my authority too much when I speak about something?” This is an honest attempt to get at information for the good of the relationship, but it also triggers a desire in your partner to not upset you. In this situation, the other person has to establish your wrong doing by saying “yes you do this.” That can be hard for people to do because it adds pressure to an already tense situation.

A better way to ask is to assume culpability up front. Instead say something like, “how much do I assert my authority when I’m talking about something?” This helps the other person know that you acknowledge the behavior so they don’t have to be the one to call you out. They will either let you know the extent that this happens which can then be discussed, or they will let you know that they don’t feel that you act in this way. When wording this way it also opens a line of communication for this topic down the road if it’s needed.

It’s important to make sure the balance is equitable in any relationship because both people need to feel as if they are valued and are guiding the relationship.

Accept the age difference 

You’re going to think about how old you were when they were born. For me I was graduating high school when my past partner was born. If you think about it that way it’s freaky as hell. That’s the wrong way to view it though. It’s not like you were waiting outside the nursery at the hospital trying to pick out your next partner (unless you’re a fundamentalist Mormon and then all bets are off).

In reality, you found each other when you were both adults and assuming you have both said yes to this experience in a fully consensual way then you’re good to go. Stop thinking about the age difference before you were together and focus on the here and now. 

Also, don’t mention age as a factor in their behavior or their lack of knowledge. This is belittling. 

Sure folks who are significantly younger than you likely haven’t had the same amount of life experience as you. Don’t lord that over them or say stupid things like “you’re only 20 what do you know?” That is toxic behavior. You’re just seeing them for their age and not their worth in your life. 

Those from other generations have uniquely different ways of seeing the world. Try and learn a little something while you’re at it. Plus, just being older doesn’t make you intelligent. I can show you some pretty dumb adults parading around as know-it-all’s on any given day. 

You will die first 

That’s a harsh statement isn’t it? The truth is though that if everything goes to plan then you will end up on the other side of the dirt far sooner than your partner. Are you both okay with this?

This can feel like your time is fleeting and that you’re being deprived of a long life together. Dating someone younger brings your mortality into focus in a way most other relationships don’t. If you proceed, it’s important to focus on what you have, not what you haven’t, in order to make the most of your time together.

Your friend groups are different

I’m not saying it can’t happen but it’s unlikely that you’re going to bridge the age gap between your friends and theirs to create a unified group that hangs out together. That may be unrealistic in any relationship regardless of age. So if you’re 40 and hanging out with a group of 20 year olds, or vice versa, it might sometimes become a bit much. The dynamic between you and your partner is far different than the dynamic present in the elevated energy of a group. 

These situations will make both people feel their age. Each of you may have to develop a good deal of patience to handle these situations. Try to enjoy them as best you can though because that dynamic isn’t going away while you’re together. Luckily, things can get a little better as both friend groups age. For some reason the distance between 40 and 60 year olds is less than that of 20 and 40 year olds. 

I suppose that as we deal with the ups and downs of walking around on planet Earth we develop some similar life experiences as we age.

Make sure you aren’t overcompensating 

This is a general relationship warning that cuts across age lines. As a human, you will often crave stability, attention, or whatever energy from a new relationship that was lacking in a previous one. So as often happens, your next coupling may have too much of that quality. 

Here is one example of what this can look like if you are the younger of the couple. Let’s say you are dating someone your age but they are too immature for you. So you break up. Then you meet someone older who is calm, low key, and emotionally intelligent and you find it wonderful to be with someone so mature. You begin dating and life is great. One day though, this mature person doesn’t seem to hit your sweet spots in the same way and they seem too mature and without the excitability that you have.

This can also happen with the older person who may feel the exuberance of youth in their partner which becomes too much to handle down the road. No one is immune.

The takeaway here is that while seeking opposite personality traits from that of a previous partner can be exciting it is always possible that this same trait can become too much as the relationship progresses. If you let your emotional pendulum swing too far after a breakup then you can overcompensate in your next relationship. As you reach your emotional center again the sheen of your new partner can begin to wear off. 

This can happen with any personality trait and you can probably point to a time in your life when this dynamic was at play. 

Sometimes there’s no way to know this until it’s all said and done. Seeking an opposite can be just what you need or it may be too much. The key is to know what you need independent of others. 

For instance, maybe the person in your last relationship didn’t correspond throughout the day as much as you wanted. Your new potential partner texts you throughout the day. Are you going to want this same attention a month, a year, or a decade from now; or will it become too much? Can the behavior be altered to fit each other’s needs or is intrinsic to who each of you are. This is a small example, but it can result in some big issues centering around trust and primacy if neglected. Make sure to ask yourself probing questions about what traits are best suited to you in a partner, what traits your new partner has, and then proceed accordingly. 

Don’t make this a unilateral decision. Use this as an opportunity to open up and discuss the issue with your partner. You may find that they have similar fears and that the two of you can work together to solve them and grow stronger.

It may not last

I’m betting fewer age skewed relationships last than age approximate ones. It can be hard to bridge that gap and when it doesn’t work, it’s okay. People change as they go through life and the two of you won’t always change in complementary ways. We find out what we want in life by living it. 

If the relationship ends, don’t let the negatives rule your present. Instead, focus on the joys from the experience and let them shape your path forward.

In my case, as I said before, it was a wonderful experience for me and it taught me something very special about how to be present when life happens. I held onto that beautiful idea first and foremost and that has always stuck with me. Looking back, I wouldn’t have made the relationship last one more day than it did, and I wouldn’t wish it back either. There’s beauty in that.


The sooner you realize that the good experiences can shape your life more than the bad experiences, then you will be in a position to benefit most from what life throws your way. Let it make you better, not bitter.

So there you have it. These are all of the things that I remember thinking about and the dynamics I noticed while in my relationship. Don’t let the dissolution of my relationship or anyone else’s discourage you. If you think you’re doing this for all the right reasons then “grab life by the horns and hump it into submission” (thanks to the movie Dodgeball for that little gem). What I actually mean is, go for it and enjoy one another’s company. I know couples with huge age differences that are still going strong after years and years. It can work. There are success stories out there. 

Ultimately, you have to make your own decisions and guide yourself. May your path be true and happiness abound.

Why You Should Always Share Your Herpes Status

The other day I received a message on Grindr that I found disturbing. I know what you’re thinking, “of course you did, it’s Grindr.” However it wasn’t one of those typical messages and in what I presume was a first for the app there wasn’t a penis anywhere to be seen. 

Since most seem to use the app for hookups I have listed my positive herpes status front and center. In reply to my warm greeting they wrote back, “sharing your herpes status seems extreme when there are so many treatments that make it untransmittable.” 

Abrupt? A little. My initial message said nothing about herpes. It was about relationships and the emotional aspect of waking up with someone in the morning (a response to her profile). To begin a conversation by ignoring my message and delivering a critique is a dick move for sure but that is beyond the scope of what I want to talk about. 

The key issue at hand is about revealing your positive status. You can choose to do this whenever you would like so long as it is prior to any activity that might risk transmitting herpes to someone else. Unfortunately, that means activities using your mouth for folks whose infections could surface orally and your deliciously naughty bits for those where it could surface genitally. 

So let’s get to their claim. 

To be sure, there are antiviral drugs out there but there isn’t a single company advertising anywhere that their product will render herpes noncommunicable. The only way to say that definitively is if a drug actually eliminated the virus. This would be a groundbreaking claim as nothing has been able to do anything other than manage herpes to this point in time.

Viral shedding is a possibility and so far it doesn’t seem like anyone knows definitively when this is or isn’t occurring, just that it can occur. So while the risk certainly drops when on antivirals, there is no way to say with certainty that herpes is noncommunicable in any state of activity or dormancy. 

If we look critically at someone who feels it isn’t necessary to reveal that they carry a communicable disease to an intimate or sexual partner we have to ask why. Why would someone choose not to reveal this?

After all, disclosing this status doesn’t mean you won’t find someone and it doesn’t even mean you will never have sex again. Trust me on that point. However, it does probably mean that some people will decide to skip the opportunity to date or have sex with you because of it.

It’s herein that lies the crux of hiding a positive status. People don’t want to disclose their positive status because they know that it will thin out the number of people willing to have sex with them. They want to have sex and since they already have herpes there is no further risk to them (except for other sexually transmitables). All that’s left now for them is to not care about their sexual partners. 

I can hear them now. “It’ll be okay. They won’t get it.” Allow me to say that we most certainly can get it and there are no altruistic reasons for hiding your positive status, only selfish ones. 

There’s a lot of reasons the United States is experiencing a resurgence in the reported incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and infections. One of them is surely that someone decides it isn’t worth telling the people with whom they have sex. We are living in increasingly selfish times. 

The one thing I think about when my mind drifts through the how and why of herpes is “I wonder if the person who gifted me this wonderful little critter knew ahead of time?” I don’t regret my choices. I may have made each of them exactly the same all over again, even if I knew one or more of my partners had herpes. Herpes for me is not a life changer, it’s just something that can happen. 

However, even though I’ve made peace with it, there was a time when I would have been extremely upset to find that the person who gave me herpes knew their positive status and hid it from me. If someone suspects or knows they have herpes and conceals it from sexual partners then that is a reprehensible act. I would feel horrible if an informed partner contracted herpes while with me. The grief I would feel from giving it to an uninformed partner would be worse yet; a moral atrocity that would haunt me for the rest of my days. 

Hiding a positive status from someone where sex is eminent is violating the very notion of free and informed consent.

If you have herpes then you owe your partners the right to choose. Those of us with a positive status don’t have the right to make decisions for another person’s body and health. This is a matter of autonomy that no one should intrude upon. 

Personally, I want my partners to know that I respect them enough to help them experience the freedom, even the power, not just to choose but to walk away from the relationship if they want. If they do leave then we obviously weren’t a match. If they stay then I know I mean enough to them to be worth the chance. There is value in both outcomes. 

There’s something to be clear about at the close of this article which is that informing a partner doesn’t make you saintly. This is just what people should be doing for one another. Choosing to sidestep the act of doing another person harm is the bare minimum of what being a decent person entails. It’s just that there are so many self-absorbed folks out there that those of us with a modicum of empathy and respect shine by comparison. 

Be decent and share your status.

When Online Dating Goes Poorly

If you date long enough you are bound to have a succession of encounters that don’t go as planned. Romantic interests disappear, don’t show up, blow up over something small or just generally seem like train wrecks. Occasionally, when these occurrences stack up it can start to weigh on you. The question then becomes, what to think about these situations and how do you process what happened?

Trust me when I say that this happens to everyone. In fact, that’s what inspired this piece. I was watching my friends go through the same types of occurrences I was and it made me realize what a universal experience we were having. This was despite the fact that we were searching for vastly different types of people. Allow me to share a less than ideal week from my dating past so you can have a few examples. 

I met someone for a date that didn’t go well. Sadly, it was some of the most shallow conversations I have had on a date (I guess someone had to win that title). The one important thing we touched on was that the other people she had been out with didn’t feel as if she liked them so they quit asking her out. I also came to the conclusion that her repeated claims of independence served as a cover for her apathy and distance from others. However, since I generally give people the benefit of the doubt on first dates I decided to see her one more time. After all, maybe she was just nervous and we would have a better time the second go round.

Despite saying she would like to go out again, she would take 24 hours to return each of my messages. This meant that every day our conversation would progress one additional text. This is far from ideal and doesn’t exactly scream “I’m interested,” so I decided to make an inquiry. 

I asked if she had any interest in continuing our connection. I mentioned that the infrequent communication made me feel as if she wasn’t interested and I wanted to check in to see what she was thinking. I let her know that if she wasn’t interested in meeting up again that I would understand and there would be no hard feelings on my end. She replied quickly this time; I must be needy she said and she is no longer interested. I didn’t spend any effort trying to convince her otherwise. I thanked her for her time and wished her well. 

The second scenario involved a person who didn’t want to text except to set up a time and place of my choosing in which to meet. When I suggested we get together for a drink so we can get to know one another they ripped into me saying, “Would you approach someone you liked in public and ask to meet for a conversation?”

Since walking up to total strangers and asking for their hand in marriage has historically been fraught with problems for me, I tend to take a more cautious approach over a drink or dinner. Finding out who someone is and what they believe is important. It beats waking up one day after 20 years and saying wait, “you’re actually 30 years older than me, don’t speak any English and are running a fanzine for white supremacists?” Humph! Fool me once . . .

I tried to ascertain what this person meant as their text while full of emotion wasn’t exactly clear as to the meaning. They never messaged back. 

The final incident was with someone I enjoyed messaging. We were trading jokes and they had a sharp wit about them. Everything was going well and on day two when I went to ask them out they had removed our match and were gone. It felt unfortunate for me because I was looking forward to meeting. 

Situations such as these can be frustrating. It can be challenging to match with others and if those matches end up being the types of experiences I mentioned then it can be especially demoralizing.

So what was going on with these people and in similar situations how should you handle it? In truth, I don’t know what made them act as they did, and I don’t intend this to be dismissive, but I don’t need to know either. I also don’t think you should pay it any mind because if done properly you’re probably better off without their company. Here’s the first thing you should know. 

Be the best version of you. 

This is so vitally important. You should always be as kind, compassionate and understanding as you can. I’m operating under the premise that you want to be these things. If you’re one of those folks who wants to be a jerk all the time then be that, people will appreciate knowing to avoid you from the very start; just know the rest of this article is more about you than for you. So, if you aren’t rude, shallow, sexist, off putting, or exhibiting any other horrible traits then there’s a huge upside. 

You see, it’s worse to try and tailor yourself, however slight, to another person’s interests and then have things not work out. You will wonder “what if I was actually being true to who I am, would this still have happened?” If you’re honest and forthcoming and things go south there’s nothing to second guess. You were the good you and if they didn’t like that then it’s okay. After all, you want someone who will appreciate you for you. In situations like this, it was probably a simple mismatch in personality and not only is this common, but it’s nothing to worry about either. 

So once you’ve done some introspection and checked yourself then you’re good to implement these next ways of viewing your situation. 

It’s most likely not about you. 

I alluded to this above. Our personalities come out through any type of contact so you shouldn’t worry about a simple personality mismatch because statistically that’s going to happen most of the time. 

The other thing that happens is a lot of folks seem to get triggered nowadays and I think it’s partially because we have put dating at our fingertips. There’s nothing wrong with dating apps (in fact I think they’re great) but it does mean that more people are dating before they are ready. 

Think about the difference between dating now and 20 years ago. Back then, you had to tend to your appearance, go outside of your home, and work up the nerve to approach someone in person. This took a lot more resolve than it does now. Today you can put yourself online while laying in bed wearing your favorite crossdressing outfit (Ah come on, I know it isn’t just me). So it makes perfect sense that once folks begin messaging on dating sites/apps that they might decide they aren’t quite ready to be out there just yet. That’s perfectly understandable. 

The other thing is that it’s hard to know what’s going on in someone’s life. Everyone has their own demons and triggers and it’s not your responsibility to be accountable for them. I know that sounds harsh so allow me to expand upon that idea. Just like before, I’m not saying you can be a jerk but if you unknowingly hit on something that is upsetting someone then you aren’t to blame. 

You may text someone about a dog laying at your feet and make them realize they are too heartbroken over recently losing their pet and they aren’t in a position to be open to someone else yet. They may never respond to you again after this realization and that is their choice but it’s not your responsibility that a regular conversation triggered them. 

That was a fairy innocuous example (one which actually happened to me) but the point is, maybe they have had a horrible day, have commitment issues, an abusive relationship in their past, or any number of things. There is certainly a reason but you’ll likely never know what it is. It would be great if everyone who was triggered could have a discussion when it happens. That’s not how being triggered usually works; people tend to retreat, not open up. 

Just operate in good faith and don’t let it get under your skin. 

Try to assume the best and keep on rolling. 

I can hear you saying, “why do I assume the best?” It’s a good question and the answer is simple. You have two ways of thinking about this. You can internalize it and make it about you. This is a mindset that will eventually bring you down wondering if you’re good enough. This way of thinking can eventually become a form of self harm. Or you can say, “they must have had something going on in their life for them to act like that, I hope they find what they want.” This approach is a forgiving way to view someone who may be having a difficult time and it leaves you relatively unencumbered to venture on to someone else. 

Also keep in mind that if you date long enough then you will eventually become someone else’s mystery. Think of a time when you messed up by being triggered, didn’t text or call someone, or otherwise just dropped the ball. It’s alright. It happens, but you probably wanted the benefit of doubt in those situations so extend a few good vibes their way as well.

Ultimately, it is on them. 

Whether you know it or not, folks who respond poorly, negatively, or not at all, on a consistent basis are creating problems for themselves more than they are for you in that moment. 

For instance, remember the infrequent communicator I mentioned earlier? She said her past dates didn’t think she liked them. Given my experience, I’m pretty sure I know why. I could tell by her tone that this was causing her pain. It was much more painful for her than her seeming lack of interest was to me. 

It always sucks to have these types of things happen, but don’t let it keep you down for too long. Remember, you’re rolling on to other experiences and to find someone else. Some of these folks are likely to repeat their patterns again and again. You don’t need to be a part of that. 

Really. Count your blessings 

First off, the people I mentioned above don’t really seem like those you would want to date do they? A person who ghosts someone without a word, someone who thinks so little of another they can’t be bothered to respond for 24 hours at a time, and another person who feels it necessary to chide someone during their first interaction for following their instructions. 

If you were dating folks who react like this then things probably don’t look up from there. They are giving you their best foot forward and it badly needs some fungicide and a pedicure (because everyone looks better in nail polish). I know in my life letting these folks go has felt like stepping off the tracks in front of a screaming locomotive that is bound to derail. It’s one of those situations where I scratch my head as it passes and ask out loud, “what the heck was that all about?”

So take solace in what is probably a fact, and is certainly the main takeaway from this writing, they weren’t in the same mental space as you anyway. That’s okay. Thank your lucky talisman that you found out in the very beginning. Now you can free up that time and space for someone who can thrive with you. 

It’s okay to be upset. 

I don’t want you to think for a minute that you can’t grieve or be upset about some of the lost opportunities you’ll have while dating. Some folks you are going to become attached to quickly and your thoughts will drift to the what-if’s. When those connections sour it can make you feel as if you missed out and that can be even harder. Very few people would fault you for feeling that way. 

So by all means take some time to recover if you need. Cry if you feel it necessary as it is wonderfully restorative. Taking time to heal is what will keep you centered in the long run. 

All of this fades in time

There will be a moment when you won’t even remember most of these folks anymore. I know I wouldn’t have remembered the people I spoke of if I hadn’t started this article soon after meeting them. Don’t let the experience stick with you when the faces aren’t likely to. This is one blip in your life that you aren’t likely to remember any more than who sat behind you in second grade. So keep in mind that what bothers you today isn’t likely to do so tomorrow. 

Dating isn’t always easy and there are folks out there who seem to make it their duty to be difficult. Remember though, that things don’t always go according to plan and that’s to be expected. Know that it isn’t about you and that sooner or later you will be back to meet someone else. You’ll keep doing that until one day you’ve found someone special with whom to spend your time. Be kind, be self-aware, and keep your head up; the trains here run around the clock. 

Lessons Learned From Pulling My Head Out Of My Ass: State Of The Relationship Address

I’ve been spending my time since my last State of Relationship Address recovering from a horrible relationship and reaping the benefits of a new one with an intelligent, compassionate, beautiful human. However, there is a problem. Somewhere along the line, I lost my way; I forgot two of the tenants that I live my life by and I am paying the price from a lack of trust and security that now exists on both sides of the relationship.

I’ve always valued communication in a relationship. It’s sometimes hard, sometimes gritty, sometimes beautiful, but it’s always worth the effort. In the past, I moved on from a relationship because communication wasn’t there so I know it’s important to me. Another relationship I left because I was punished for communication. It’s that last one that matters more.

It smells like shit in here

In that last relationship, there was no reward for sharing my feelings. Sharing meant that it would trigger the other person and because of their insecurity, they would try to manipulate and control me. So I stopped. That didn’t work either but since the relationship was abusive it didn’t really matter, nothing was going to work. Little did I know, this survival habit had remained in place waiting for someone to come along who didn’t deserve to have it used on them.

Tenant 1: Communication is key, no matter what

I have been dating the beautiful person I mentioned in the opening paragraph. She is the brightest light I have ever had in my life and one of the strongest people I have ever met. She has been by my side even when I wouldn’t allow myself to be by hers. I kept her at arm’s length because I was afraid of talking about things that bothered me in our relationship. These things I would later learn were small and insignificant. However, when you don’t talk about your fears, you start to believe them.

That led me to end the relationship in a panic but I couldn’t stay away. I ended it a second time but kept getting drawn back. I realize now that I was returning for a good reason; I truly adore her. Instinctively, I knew I should be with her but my fear kept pulling me away.

Essentially, hiding my fear was a way of trying to protect her from what I thought would be hurtful information (and maybe it was), but the real damage is that I hurt her in an entirely different way which cost us more.

Tenant 2: Let the best version of me get rejected

Historically, I don’t hold back with people whom I am romantically interested in. If I get rejected, I want the best version of me possible to get rejected. The best version of me, not coincidentally, is also the truest version. I don’t want to meet someone and try to fit their mold just to get spurned anyway. I would always wonder how things could have gone differently if I would have just been me. I have never regretted being rejected as myself.

As I mentioned, I was a flight risk. Because I didn’t know when I was going to get overwhelmed and feel like checking out, I kept her at arm’s length to protect her (which is quite possibly the stupidest thing ever written).

Now, I love affection. I don’t mean sex, though wonderful, it’s not really what builds intimacy. I’m talking about walking hand in hand with a partner, pulling them close for a loving squeeze, coming behind her and sliding my hands around her waist while putting my lips on her neck as we prepare dinner, locking eyes with hers and staring deeply, and not so innocently brushing her butt with my hand as I glide past. These, and thoughtful compassionate words, are little touches that let someone know you are thinking about them, that they excite you, and that you love them.

Because I didn’t want her to get too close I kept myself from doing these things, the very things that would help her feel like I wanted to be around her. From her perspective, I was pulling away. My actions were ridiculous and predictably it had the effect that you would imagine. This made her feel as if another breakup was imminent.

Man it’s bright out here

The security rubberband finally snapped. We separated again, this time it might be for good. Now that we have nothing to lose, or perhaps because we have everything to lose, we are finally talking like we should have been from the start. It turns out she was holding things back as well because she was afraid it would push me away. I’m not sure that it would have but back then I don’t know if I was in a place to respond appropriately. We bared our souls to each other and I suspect we have more to go.

I learned a couple of things from this experience. The first is rather obvious, I need to live up to the standards that I set for myself. I let my fear and past trauma pull me from the correct path.

I should have been myself. I put the best version of me forward in the beginning and we won each other’s hearts. Then I became scared and let myself diminish. This allowed our relationship to wither. Now the person that she has come to know isn’t really me. I stopped being that loving, appreciative, fearlessly open person she fell in love with, and if we are split for good I have to live with the fact that I could have been more but was afraid. If I had remained true to who I was, we might be giggling in each other’s arms right now.

The second thing is something that I didn’t expect. Being honest with each other and talking through things has taken me from wanting to leave to wanting to begin again. More than that, I love the conversations we are having now. It’s not all easy to hear, for either of us, but I feel so much closer to her now. Talking about my fears removed their power over me.

I want to do the things with her so badly now that I never took the time for previously. I want to give her everything, show her she is loved, cherish and protect her heart the proper way, help fulfill her dreams as if they were my own, and provide the stability and belonging she so desperately wants. The difference this time is that I can do it. Our openness has actually given me that new relationship energy back because, let’s be honest, this is truly new.

What happens now

However, while we still have a relationship as friends, we are not a couple anymore. I am slowly coming to terms with the possibility that we may never be a couple again. I still have hope but I realize that sometimes the damage is too much and the risk for her may be too great; which leaves me with a painful conclusion. It’s possible I ruined the best thing I ever had. I may have woken up too late.

I’m trying to look on the bright side of either outcome. If I get a third chance, we are learning how to talk to each other better than either of us ever have with anyone. That coupled with eliminating my fear will let me show her what she means to me. Hopefully, I can be the person she fell in love with and support her like she deserves.

If we can’t continue, then my path there is clear as well. I will work to recover like I have before and take my lessons and move forward. Thankful for what I had and secure in the knowledge that someone wonderful can love me. Hopefully, eventually, someone else will come along again.

Either way, I want to be the person I’ve worked so hard to be.

Two Years and One Insecurity Later: State of the Relationship Address

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So this is somewhere in the second year of the blog. Sex, Love & Ire began after I was ghosted and probably catfished (fake profile) on a dating site. The event at the time was pretty hard for me to take.

After having this and other disappointing experiences I realized that something was amiss. I shouldn’t be having small emotional breakdowns over these types of scenarios. Dating shouldn’t be this hard, but why was it taking such a toll on me?

My thoughts drifted from this matter as I found myself in a relationship soon after. Ultimately though, I knew the answer to my question. I was afraid of being alone.

Flash forward two years and I’m single once more. I knew I had to make a change. I should be comfortable, even happy, being alone before I begin dating. I couldn’t keep fumbling around with those who weren’t a good fit for me in an attempt to satiate my insecurities. I also couldn’t keep trying to push myself into relationships when someone was a good fit. Those situations need to evolve at their own pace. It was unfair to everyone involved.

I decided to stop dating until I was secure with being single. Having been in a relationship for 20 some odd years it was never a reality I had to face. It was time I did.

And so it was that I set out on a quest to heal myself and become comfortable with where I was in life. My mission mostly looked like this: each time I felt the urge to get on a dating app I would ask myself why I wanted to do so. I discovered it was mostly because I was bored or lonely. When that answer came I knew I had to give myself more time. So I waited and went about my life. Easier said than done.

I started doing things alone that I usually didn’t. Going to concerts, meals, movies, auto races and trips across country all became a means to help me come to terms with spending time alone.

I can’t say how long it takes for the average person to get into a good state of mind for dating. Anyone who quantifies this is probably full of shit. Everyone moves through life at different speeds and we all certainly have our own levels of personal work to do.

For me, after three months I felt good about where I was. I started dabbling in online dating again. I didn’t think things would progress so quickly but the change I felt was remarkable. I went online, matching with people and conversing without the worry of whether or not they liked me. If someone ghosted me or barely responded I just figured they were busy or we weren’t a good fit and went on my way. When I have no matches for a week or so (this happens to me often) it was no problem. I was at ease for the first time and the whole process of finding someone felt healthy. I was more balanced and making better choices.

Then it happened; I matched and started messaging with someone. She wanted badly for me to call her right away so she could hear my voice. I wasn’t comfortable with this and maybe that should have been reason enough to decline. I don’t mind phone calls, but something about this request was a bit off. However, because I often push my boundaries we talked briefly.

The two minute phone conversation was heavily laden with sexual innuendos and even outright statements about having sex. This was all on her end because I am tragically bad at flirting; nearly incapable would be another way of putting it. Heavy sexual advances can actually make me uncomfortable (when I don’t know a person) and unfortunately that’s the only level of flirtation that I can detect. Everything I mentioned she steered back to heavy flirting. I wasn’t having it. She was driven in her need to flirt and something about it felt familiar and unstable. In some ways it felt like me a couple of years back.

I was on a strict timeline so I said goodbye and told her she would hear from me. “Do you promise” she said. “Of course” I replied and concluded our conversation.

That night I sent some follow up messages to her and each time I received a one word reply. I’m pretty verbose and a bit of a sapiosexual (finds intelligence attractive) so brevity and a lack of interest are obvious red flags for me. I stopped messaging, I’m sure she wanted it that way.

I started to think about our encounter and how similar it was to when I was actually stood up. So much of the language was similar. Even her voice and the tempo at which she talked so closely resembled my first encounter of being catfished that I began to wonder if it was the same person.

Two years ago, this would have sent me for another mini tailspin but I felt healthy and calm exiting this incident. The difference in my reaction was amazing. Here I had my first interaction with someone online and it was a total bust (well I dodged a bullet really) but it didn’t bother me. I didn’t cry, I didn’t start another blog (whew), it didn’t send me into any kind of emotional state. This was just something that happened and because I’m now okay with being single I could walk through that fire unscathed. Of course, I don’t like being played but I really don’t feel that I was. My new found comfort had allowed me to see the dynamics of what was happening. Not only could I sense the other person’s insecurity, it was a bit of a turn off.

I should take this moment to say that I know my security with being single won’t make me impervious; there will still be hurt. I will still find people with which I want to explore a relationship and they won’t feel the same. There is no way to guard against that and anyway, I don’t want to. Some things should hurt.

The remarkable thing about this experience was I realized that until the fear of being single is dealt with it will remain. When I was with someone that fear (arguably) went away but after the relationship ended it was waiting for me like a loyal companion.

This has been a valuable experience for me. I’ve learned that becoming comfortable in being single isn’t a way of giving up on finding someone, rather it frees me to be a better version of myself. When the right person comes along I will be available and when the wrong person comes barreling at me I can sidestep that collision. Dealing with my insecurity was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I see and know people that haven’t taken the time to be secure with themselves. You know them too. They are the ones that move from relationship to relationship with hardly a month between. For many this type of behavior doesn’t even seem extreme so used to seeing it are we. If any of this sounds familiar for you, consider taking a moment to become happy with being single. If you do I will promise this much; the version of you that exits this experience will be such a better person than you can imagine.

“Will You Give Me Herpes?”

Those were the words that were staring me in the face on my screen. I didn’t know what to think. Was someone pulling a prank or testing me in some weird fashion? As it turns out they were dead serious. This person had an STD fetish and while they didn’t want anything that could potentially end their life, they were very interested in contracting genital herpes.

I was taken aback for a second. After all, here was this aspect of me that I would gladly delete from my life if I could (pretty sure most with HSV would) and now someone else actually wanted this pesky little virus.

My answer came pretty readily. No, I would not intentionally give someone herpes. I have two goals related to this infection and the first is that my partners will be informed of my condition before engaging in any activity that is a risk to them. The second is to take every measure to ensure that I transfer this to no one. Life is unpredictable of course, but I need to know that I’m protecting who I’m with as much as possible.

If I were to have unprotected sex with them my first goal could remain intact as they would be informed. My second goal though could not survive. They explicitly wanted me to help them get herpes. Now, I don’t think that sharing herpes is as easy a task as it may seem but logistics was obviously not the problem here. I couldn’t bring myself to knowingly give someone this virus. Just for the sake of argument, even if I could bring myself to participate in this person’s fetish I would bump up against my next difficulty.

What if they later on they come to regret having herpes? This is admittedly a complex issue for me because I firmly believe in a person’s autonomy. People should be able to make their own decisions and those decisions don’t have to align with my desires. However, this decision does directly involve me and as an actor in this moral dilemma I get to have a say about how I use my body.

Putting aside the philosophical argument of whether full autonomy can ever be experienced I’m going to maintain here that it can. It’s one of the reasons I want to be completely truthful with those in my life. I want their decisions to be made with every bit of information possible. The more info they have the better decision they can make. If a partner knows my condition, the nature of the disease, means of transmission, and precautionary measures we can employ then they have as much knowledge as I do. We have at least reached parity on that front.

If I went ahead and tried to help them I would be respecting their autonomy. However, I had reason to believe that they weren’t acting in their best interest. To start with they had a STD fetish. Sometimes fetishes become almost like a pathology which would be cause for concern. I ruled this out though because in my very non-professional opinion there was a desire present to avoid injury such as HIV. I feel like this avoidance of harm sidestepped the pathology issue.

Regardless, fetishes come and go. This person was also 18 years of age and the younglings are still figuring out who they are and what they want. For fucks sake, I’m 41 (as of this writing) and I’m still working on that. It’s part of self growth and it’s a continuous process as we age. Our work is never done in this respect.

I dislike undermining someone’s autonomy but there is a chance that later in life they might regret intentionally contracting herpes. I don’t want to be part of that scenario. That is my choice. If they decide to continue trying to get some type of STD/I then that is their choice.

Another thought I had was isn’t life about experiences and wouldn’t not having sex be a lack of experience? As someone who is single I don’t have sex more days than I do, but it doesn’t feel like a lack of experience. Then again, on those days I don’t have an offer laid at my feet like this.

Ultimately, I concluded that perhaps I may miss out on a sexual experience or two with this person but that regret is much to do about nothing so long as I can avoid a much worse ethical regret. I don’t feel as if I’m missing out. Even if life is only about experiences (a notion I do not explicitly subscribe to) then this whole situation is certainly a much more unique scenario (i.e. experience) than having sex will likely ever be.

All in all, this is the right decision for me to make. I want to protect this person even though I’ve never met them and even though I am disregarding their wishes. I also want to feel good about my role in the world and my relationships with others. This is certainly a situation I never thought I would encounter and yet here I am.

I would say life definitely threw me a curve with this one but I am happy with the outcome. Maybe this person will fulfill their fetish. So be it. If that happens then at least I can rest well knowing I wasn’t part of it. That good feeling will last far longer than any from sex ever will.