Thoughts and experiences from a guy who has dated, argued with, loved, been embarrassed by, failed, offered joy to, and danced with women. I want to inspect what it is that is confounding, interesting and lovely about my relationship to women. . . and what shade of pink is that?
I recently started dating someone–it began maybe Christmas of 2012. She is a few years older than me, super smart, chatty, sharp, beautiful and talented. Of course, I’ve always thought of myself as interesting, intelligent, and reasonable, so I never really considered it an issue that I had duct tape seemingly everywhere around my apartment. It was holding my wallet together, holding a light fixture in my apartment up, keeping handbills and newspaper articles tacked to one of the walls in my apartment. I even used it on my drapes to mend where my cat had torn holes with her claws.
The first time my girlfriend saw this she didn’t say anything (I think we were drunk and I think we were about to have sex–why ruin that!?). It was on our third or fourth date that she took a deep breath and said, “Okay, I have to ask, what the hell is up with the duct tape?”
My immediate reaction in my mind was, What do you mean? What thing with the duct tape? I was just using it as a cheap way to fix things, and, besides, who cares about that little bit of slap-it-togetherness?
Two things were interesting about this exchange:
1) She had to muster the courage to confront me about it. As if I would be offended by her bringing it up. As if it was such a defining part of my characteristics that even the idea of change would mess up my brain.
2) That, after a talk, we set a date to go to IKEA and get some new curtains (and maybe try the luxurious Swedish cafeteria!) How mundane it might sound, or how dangerous even, to go to IKEA in a new relationship, but really how thrilling this was with her–to remember you’re an adult who can buy a new trash can or a new towel for yourself!
Until she said something, I hadn’t seen what the symbol of those pieces of grey tape symbolized. I knew it wasn’t a tactic of home repair everyone took advantage of, but I didn’t see it so much as weird, than as just fine, something worth ignoring. It may have been a matter of cash. Before my girlfriend, much of my expendable dough went to bartenders and pot dealers–not aesthetics–now, not so much. Having not dated anyone significant since moving to Seattle some six years prior–a whole different story–I didn’t feel I had anyone to impress.
Besides, there was the safety angle. I live in a Seattle ‘hood called the University District full with yellers, drunk frat boys and the occasional, terrifying gunshot. I originally told her, “It makes my apartment look run-down. Now no one would want to break in! We’re safe!”
But in camouflaging my apartment from those folks, I realized I was also camouflaging it from those who may be interested in getting to know me.
Having her reach out opened my brain to the idea of more aesthetic self-respect. A quick anecdote: throughout my life I have written poetry. I fancied myself a free-verse poet for years, thinking the idea of poetic form useless, on the whole.
Then a close friend and excellent poet told me, “The absence of form is still a form.” I think of that debate between William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost, where Frost said free verse is like playing tennis without the net.
“Ah,” replied Williams, “But if you can imagine the net!”
In other words: take note of what you’re doing, even if it’s noticing what you’re not doing.
My lady and I sojourned to IKEA the next weekend where she very patiently walked the store’s labyrinth with me and helped choose new curtains, a bath mat and potted plants. And since, we have cleaned up my apartment, throwing away bags of old papers and baggy clothes that no longer fit.
It’s not that I wanted to change for her, it’s that I realized changing myself was good for everyone–including me. I allowed myself to grow because of her.
To harken back to another poet, Mr. Bob Dylan, “If you ain’t busy being born, you’re busy dying!” And I ain’t trying to die over some silly duct tape!