Category Archives: Relationships

Grace and Frankie: What’s Different

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the first episode of Grace and Frankie you may want to hold off on reading this.

As a child of the 80s, a teen of the 90s, and a higher ed student of the 2000s–my growth has largely been paralleled to the identity of queerness on TV. I remember the Ellen sitcom, the Rosie O’Donnell Show, and Will & Grace.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy came out a season before the premiere of The L Word, a show I watched for the first time with a college girlfriend, sitting crosslegged among a den of women on the floor in a queerish sorority group house–I didn’t start watching Queer As Folk until I was in graduate school, stressing about my first live-in relationship (the year QAF was in its final season). These shows changed my life because they were proof that change was possible. There were many other shows too, that had queer characters. These mentioned shows were a bridge. In some ways they were a disappointment, but they ended up leading us away from the token model (i.e. Ross’s lesbian ex-wife on Friends) and pulled the character center stage. But there was still a long way to go.

Much like the integration of people of color onto the small screen in the mid 20th century, the first TV shows that dealt ‘openly’ with queerness did it in a very particular way. Avenue 1: to show that the minority exists as an element of humor–the odd character that is guessed or thought to be queer but isn’t spoken about. (I acknowledge that for characters of color, there didn’t need to be a reveal–TV is a visual art after all–however, this meant that stereotypes were King.) Friends took Avenue 1.

Avenue 2: the overtly mentioned or understood sassy gay friend or the token character to make the show relevant in a demeaning way–thereby upholding the hierarchy of straightness. The French anti-friend coworker Michelle in Gilmore Girls is a good example, but a little late to the party. Will & Grace is an arguable version of this, but you can see the bridge idea working here. Will is both the sassy gay friend and center stage. And by the addition of the second gay man (so crazy!) the show has a new angle. We can already see that some shows worked with queerness on multiple avenues.

Avenue 3: To have a gay character was to show the plight of a character, to showcase how different (troubled, weird, cool, exotic, fabulous) that person’s life was from the mainstream US population; this was finally a way to make the queerness central to a show’s drama. Ellen did this.

Then came Queer Eye–an ensemble cast completely made up of gay men. So new! But you don’t need to inspect closely to see that the show’s origin is the belief that gay men are different from straight men–that in fact gay men can do some things better than straight men because gay men are more like women than straight men. THING LIKE shop for clothes, groom themselves, prepare meals, be thoughtful. Yes, straight men can have gay best friends too–and this way, they can be better for their wives and girlfriends. The show had a LOT of women viewers.  Typing “more like women than straight men” makes my soul gag a little, but the point has to be said. Because without it, I can’t get to why I enjoy the idea of Grace and Frankie so much.

Only yesterday, Netflix unveiled the first season of a half-hour show starring Jane Fonda and Lilly Tomlin as two women in their 70s whose husbands come out later in life as a gay couple. While the drama of the premise and the first episode (the only one I’ve watched so far) has to do with queerness–it isn’t the ONLY thing that the show hinges on. These female characters are complex. While they aren’t happy about their impending divorces, Frankie (Tomlin) is more heart-broken about losing her best friend than anything else. Grace (Fonda) is livid with Robert–but you can see that she’s upset with herself a bit too. She feels betrayed–for good reason, but she feels guilty for not having noticed the relationship her husband was having for twenty years while she was off doing other things. But the most striking drive of the show is simply about the prospect of being alone later in life. Where do these characters go from here? These characters, like so many other people, find themselves single after decades of togetherness.

Now, come Monday morning, there may very well be a lot of media outlets that call this show fantastic and also a bit “same old” when it comes to treating queer issues like capital-D drama, but there is definitely something different here. First, the main characters may be brought together by circumstances regarding queerness, but they are not queer themselves and their troubles are larger than queer/straight–their trouble is loss of an identity. Second, the fact that the queer characters talk differently about themselves–proud, resilient–is a turn. And, finally, it’s the straight characters providing the comic relief this time, and not at the a queer character’s expense.

Marriage Is What Brings Us Together Today

Subtitle from AWP15 Challenge– 1. We are afraid to write what’s true, but it always seems to be the most relevant.–@CherylStrayed

What’s true?

Today: I get ready for school. I put wax in my hair, a blazer on my shoulders, blush on my cheeks. Everything is routine. I reach for my ring.

February 2015: It’s the first day of school. I greet my classes and talk about my cats and my D. It feels just a tiny bit false when I say fiancé this time. The ring on my finger says otherwise.

Speculation, April circa 1997: When I was in ninth or tenth grade, I got asked to hang out with a group of artsy kids on a weekend night. It was a coed non-sleeping sleep over. We listened to music and talked like we were five years older. I remember a girl leaving her rings somewhere. I can see the image on a shelf or a hearth. I think I told her to grab them. We all wore multiple rings. We trespassed in the neighborhood backyards after midnight. We drove to Waffle House.   She must have taken them off before and never had them in the car. The rings, I mean. The next day, I remember being blamed for her not finding them. It was ridiculous. I knew it was ridiculous, but I still went home, eager to make friends with someone I didn’t like, and I found a ring that my mother had. It was a small diamond, on a white gold setting. It meant a lot to me, and I gave it away. For some reason I thought it was a good idea; I’d sacrifice something I loved, something I knew was valuable to me and my family, to make amends for a wrong-doing I didn’t believe I’d committed. She didn’t say thank you.

*

February 2013: After good years, and bad years, and mountains of love and fighting for what I wanted and what she wanted, and becoming what we wanted, on our sixth anniversary I was asked (at the end of a day long travel trip) to be married. We were in the DCA airport, in the exact spot where years ago, I had heard for the first time that D loved me. It’s a romantic story.

March 2013, San Juan: We purchased an engagement ring on vacation–under sales and friend pressure–even though we both had doubts (about the ring, not each other). The ring was too big, and to this day I still wear the cheaper, beloved ring she bought as a placeholder, the exact match to hers that we both liked more. And the diamond, gorgeous but a size too big, stays in its box.

I have a friend who has a tattooed ring. I keep hoping she will write about it at some point, but she hasn’t. I understand.

What’s true: This week, an old friend, one of the people D and I were vacationing with when said diamond ring was purchased, recently asked us about the wedding. K, like others, admits to feeling awkward about asking but asks anyway (with good reason): “Did you have to change your wedding guest numbers?” The world assumes we are getting married in July (with good reason). That’s what we said, the last time anyone really asked. But this spring is a series of awkward conversations. People have been expecting invitations. We don’t know how to say the things that should have been said months ago.

In the only holiday letter we’ve managed to get out in our eight years of being together–nearly seven years at the time of writing–we mentioned that we were in fact engaged and that we were hoping to get married in the upcoming year. We had been engaged then for nearly a year. Another anniversary has come and gone and so much has happened and nothing has happened. We are not getting married. Not last year, not this year. Not next year. We are not getting married. No worries. It’s okay. Yes, we’re still together. We love each other. Yes, yes.

Speculation: Other people have done this before. They must have. Where are the stories and movies and TV shows about the couple that got engaged and then got unengaged but decided that everything else was good? I’ve seen movies like And Away We Go about non-married couples having babies. We are not having a baby. I’ve seen movies about couples who assume they aren’t getting married, who have a hard time, then accept it, and then eventually get married anyway. That used to be our story.

November 2014, Florida: One week last fall when we went out of town for a friend’s wedding, we felt it was easier to satiate people when they asked or hinted. Yes, we’re getting married. Yes, next year. Over the course of a few nights and a couple of days, we started our own drinking game. When they ask about the wedding nonchalantly, take a sip. When they ask about how you met, get a shot. When they want to know the story of the engagement, finish your drink. People at weddings (with good reason) love to talk about marriage and weddings. We love Love. And people love D and I together. We are an especially good poster child for the straight liberals who like cute queer couples. We are the kind of couple that even not-so-liberal-straight people can’t help but smile at. D wears her suspenders and dances with an eight-year-old boy on the dance floor. I cut in after a few. Pictures snap snap snap.

What’s true: I love our friends and our life. I love wearing this ring. I love D.

What’s true: Before we went to the wedding reception in Florida, we had to get in touch with our wedding planner, whose next pay installment was due, and tell her we weren’t going any further.

Today 5:57 PM: A friend texts from NY “Why’s it easer to be open on paper than in life?”

“Because on paper we have time to prep and primp and rip all the band-aids off–we have more control.” I have D. I have (say it, in your best Elizabeth Bishop) control. I am not getting married.

Being a Groupie: a runner’s guide to relationships

Why people run has been cataloged in many places and my friend Jean has been quoted more recently here.  In fact, I was asked just this past week how I got into running by a student. I started rambling about my past and by the time I got finished, I realized that the first reason I run hasn’t changed at all. The world is still chaotic and I still need a sense of control. However, the way I run has changed.

While I used to independently pound down Connecticut Ave in NW DC to the sound of Magneta Lane’s garage rock, or delight in quieter Rock Creek hours spent dictating lesson plans to myself, now I much prefer to find my place among a pack, where others contribute to the mental scenery. In the past year and a half, I’ve gone from strictly running alone, intimidated and anxious about the compatibility of any possible partner, to running with at least one other person 95% of the time.

It might not be a secret that running with someone creates an easy platform to leap from when analyzing friendships–or group dynamics even. And, as with other intimate relationship goings-on, there is a huge difference  (ahem) between doing it alone and doing it with someone else. This guide can help you traverse these tricky trails.

What I’ve [re]discovered: Running with a group or with a partner is a tiny–but serious–relationship in itself, sometimes only lasting as long as your trainers are on, and should be treated as such. Follow these tips to get the most out of your time with a running buddy or group.

1) Risk Management
Regardless of how far or how long you plan on being out, things you should always have when running that come in handy especially when you are running with others: identification, money*, cell phone/GPS transmitter. As a solo runner, it may be obvious that these items can greatly e-ffect the outcome of any possible snags in your running preparation or execution. Having a running buddy does make adventure safer–safety in numbers–but you should still bring the necessities. When running with a partner or with a group this rule is like having protected sex on a date. Failing to bring one of these items will distance immediate solutions to potential health risks. No one is saying that these items are brought because using them is the plan, but not planning to bring them could enable danger.

Case in point: two weeks ago, I went for a 14-mile jog with my fiance and the aforementioned Jean along Chicago’s lake front path (LFP). We ended up not running a door-to-door route and hence, once we had struggled through our last miles, our much-needed post-run protein shakes sat chilling in a refrigerator about a mile away. In pain and dehydrated–we hadn’t carried enough water–we didn’t want to run the extra mile, but we also didn’t want to wait to get something in our bodies. Five minutes spent in a well-known pharmacy and convenience store chain on the walk back and we were three proteined and electrolited smiles by the time we could take our shoes off. While our long-term health wasn’t in extreme danger in this instance, our muscles were glad to have the immediate hydration that some cash made real.

2) Vulnerability with yourself versus vulnerability with others
Regardless of whether you want to be vulnerable or not, running outside is an act of vulnerability. The better you are at being vulnerable, the better the run. Lacing up and stepping out onto the path means you exert against the weather, against time, against other responsibilities and against your own strength to keep going. But make no mistake, running alone is not the same kind of vulnerable as running in a pack or in a pair. When you run with others, you need to accept their vulnerability as a part of the plan while offering your own limits and struggles up to them.

Running in a pair, for instance, can be majorly stressful if neither of you is willing to admit you want to slow down or to speed up or to stop or stretch. These silences can also lead to injury. A greater sense of knowing yourself is needed on buddy-runs because you aren’t just catering to your own goals and limitations. You need to be able to share both with others.

Drew and I have become quite good at this. We talk about plans and routes over several days so there are no surprises. We keep tabs on how each of us are feeling about the upcoming run as well.  However, there are days when I forget to tell her I’m not at all excited about running five miles in the morning (for instance, this moment, as I type) or and she forgets to tell me she is trying to figure out if she can run at the work-gym instead. These can lead to awkward moments or upset feelings, like when your partner is bright eyed and ready to go, giving you no sympathy, while on your end, forcing each eye to stay open feels like throwing a hand full of crushed limestone into a skinned knee. I have been on both ends of this. Remember, your run-buddy can’t help you, motivate you, or give you the tough love you need if she doesn’t know you need it.

3) Have a plan/be flexible
this is similar to the other two mentioned already, but it needs to have its own number anyway. Having a plan isn’t just about carrying the necessities or about communicating your pre- and day-of needs to a buddy. Having a plan means really considering where you will start, where you will finish, where you will place water (or who will carry it) and how much, if you will want or need to stop and where, what you might wear or bring to the start so that you can have it when you’re done…The more you plan with a buddy, the more comfortable you will feel talking on the run and making split decisions if necessary–to ditch the Camelback or add the extra 1/2 loop. In short, “having a plan” is less about being vulnerable and more about being street smart so that when life doesn’t go according to plan, it doesn’t phase you (that much). So much of my relationships (ones that fail and ones that succeed) are about how people plan together and what occurs when the plan isn’t an option anymore. If you can’t compromise on a plan, it’s a sign that you need to find a new buddy.

Being flexible is about understanding the vulnerability of others and incorporating that into your plan, as well as being understanding with yourself when your body is not as willing as your mind. The more flexible you can become, the better the running relationship.

4) You must be willing to share
I’ve already mentioned goals and limitations–but those aren’t the only things you share on a long run. To get the most out of running with someone else, you should leave the mp3 player at home and make time for conversation and intermittent silence. This is bonding time afterall. And this is what turns a gaggle of individuals running in proximity to one another into an actual running group. Until you spot a tree in the distance whose leaves look a little like a jutting eagle beak and have no problem just blurting it out to see if anyone else see it, you are missing out.

Back on the 14-miler a couple of weeks ago, we were running down to Chicago’s Museum Campus–Jean, Drew, and myself. I spotted the Ferris wheel and told them about the first episode of the newer Dr. Who series. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, and Drew mentioned a moment in Men in Black that has a similar concept, which led Jean to think about two things: 1) the new Field Museum exhibit coming up that will have old artifacts from the World’s Fair and 2) the type of dramatic irony used in shows that keeps us yelling at our screens. This conversation was a delight. Had I been wrapped up in Nikki Williams or Bastille, songs I hear too frequently anyway, I would have missed out.

And remember that silences can be a blessing too on a group jog. Running is a real-life moving picture experience, where you can gaze at the sights and people watch, knowing there is a common experience happening that doesn’t need immediate, whispered commentary. Think of it as collecting notes for the after party.

The Live-In Girl

The new school year has started, which means the now-blank tables are pregnant with piles of papers and the amount of sleep I average per week will start to dwindle. What isn’t changing is the fact that I negotiate this shift in seasons with my favorite person, for better or worse, dirty apartment or not.

It was six years ago, this recent August, that I moved to Long Island and into D’s two bedroom, on-campus, staff apartment at Stony Brook University. It was not the first time I’d lived with someone, but it was a bigger relationship risk than I’d ever taken. I was leaving my town (Washington DC), my other best friend, my place teaching at a great school. But it wasn’t all bitter: I was also breaking free of my rent situation with two monsters, starting a new full-time job working with youth, and as mentioned, getting to see the love of my life way more than every third weekend. In short: it was time for change.

 

This week, admittedly spurred by the “Tall Men With Feelings” episode of Orange is the New Black, I’ve spent some time thinking about what makes long distance relationships work and how to make short-distance relationships (that feel otherwise) also work. I once had a LDR from DC to Osaka, Japan.   When it didn’t work with the overseas girl, it felt inevitable, but when I started seeing a woman in Chicago while I was in DC, nothing felt inevitable. Nothing was.

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The first time I lived with a girlfriend had been in DC and it was a bad decision–not the initial move-in, but the start of us dating after that. She and I were close friends. She had been some help after my previous relationship–with Osaka girl–had fallen through. I was in a bad way. And then things got a little worse. After one of my then-roommates in a twenty-something house took the liberty of forcing me to get in his car for a date with him, tossing my phone away, and professing his love for me, I chatted her online, packed a bag, and went to sleep in her second bedroom. Over the next few weeks I slowly moved all of my stuff out of the house while Creep was at work and then I was gone for good. A month or so into living with my friend, she wanted us to move forward. I was hesitant but took the risk even though it felt a lot like defecating where you eat. I enjoyed being around her and the family we were creating with our network of friends. Also, I was broke, sad, and felt like I didn’t much have a choice (but clearly I did). It was selfish; I wasn’t into her as much as she was into me, and I could have saved us each a lot of grief if I had been honest with both of us early on. That’s not what happened. Instead, we ended up dating, moving to a better place in the fall, getting a second cat, and then breaking up the next spring before the lease was up. It wasn’t a long distance relationship, but I think about that particular failure of judgment any time I think about how long distance relationships end–since the beginning of our relationship came on the tails of a failed LDR.

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Seven and a half-years after I started seeing that Chicagoan, I’m sipping coffee on a Sunday morning next to her in the third place we’ve lived together. What people don’t talk about when they talk about long-distance relationships is that point when they become not long-distance relationships. When it does work, and how you know it. That instant when you realize that it can’t be long-distance anymore because you miss the person too much in the quiet and small moments of your day. When talking on the phone until 4 or 5AM every night isn’t enough. When you’ve been spending more money than either of you have on weekend trips more frequently than you’d planned. It seems inevitable, looking back, that I would have moved my life to NY, but at the time, it just seemed necessary. There were plenty of things I enjoyed about my life in DC, and plenty of things that made me anxious about moving. But I chose to move. It seemed like the only choice at the time that would keep my life moving up, even if I wasn’t sure what that meant.

Whether you’ve been in a long-distance relationship or not, how or why did you decide to move closer (or move in) with your person?