Category Archives: Relationships

Obituary for a Relationship

broken heartsMy relationship with Katie recently came to an end.  We met online New Year’s Eve 2006 and had been together for about 7 years until we recently went our separate ways.  The cause of death is still under investigation, and probably will continue to be over the next few months in therapy.

There is a certain paradoxical quality to still caring very much for a person’s well-being, yet feeling that the relationship should end.  I suppose it’s much more common than television, movies, and literature make it out to be.  It certainly does lead to some extremely bittersweet feelings and a whole wash of different emotions. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the cause of the breakup, partially because it’s not relevant, but mostly out of respect for Katie’s privacy.

During our final therapy session together, the therapist turned to me and said, “Dan, even though you initiated this breakup, you’re certainly experiencing the loss created by it.”  In the sad state I was in, I knew it was true, and yet I didn’t really know what it entailed.  Of course when someone is a fixture in your life for so long there will be a loss when they leave.  I felt ready to deal with that.

After we said our goodbyes, I started picking up the pieces of my life, analyzing what was necessary to keep in this new open future before me.  The sadness began to slip away and be replaced by excitement about all the avenues open to me.  There were new people I could meet and vast amounts of free time open to me.  I began to immerse myself in performing music, gaming, and socializing.  I dedicated larger amounts of time to swimming at the local YMCA.  And naturally I lost about 10 pounds on the “breakup diet” (which consists of wondering why you should bother eating).

Just as things were really starting to look bright, I began noticing certain stressors in my life causing an inordinate amount of angst.  I was starting to feel panic and emotional exhaustion.  After an exhaustive analysis of the situations causing me stress and finding no clear solution, I decided to revisit the idea of loss that the therapist had suggested to me.

DING DING DING DING DING!

In my excitement to move forward in my life, I had neglected to take the necessary time to grieve over the loss of my relationship.  Even though the reasons I had for ending it were wholly valid, it doesn’t change the fact that a huge chunk of my life over the past 7 years had gone away.  I began to notice strong emotional stimuli, such as certain songs or locations, would overwhelm me with sadness.  Despite my encounters with the stimuli, I still couldn’t figure out how to bring my feelings to the surface and address them.  It was seemingly random and it greatly affected my mood at any given moment of the day.

I am so fortunate to have a strong network of amazing friends to talk to during this time.  In one conversation when I brought up the question of how one grieves the loss of a relationship, my friend suggested I hold a memorial.  One one hand, the concept of it was absolutely ridiculous.  Who holds a funeral for a person who is still alive?  As I thought about it, though, it began to make more sense.

The cultural institution of a ceremony to mark the passage of a life is ubiquitous.  Most people wouldn’t dream of deciding not to have a funeral after a loved one died.  Despite the pain and the sadness, we need to mark the importance of that person in our lives.  We need to share the pain of the loss with our close friends, and we need to have our community come together and be a part of the commemoration of that person’s influence in our lives.  We need to know that our living loved ones stand with us in our greatest moments of despair.

I began to picture what that would look like in my situation.  I imagined my closest friends sitting with me as I talked about what I had lost when the relationship ended.  I could visualize their comforting me as I said my last goodbyes to this huge part of my life.  I felt intense pangs of grief, but I knew that when it was over I could start to rebuild from a more peaceful and resolved place.

Perhaps it’s good I could imagine it, because I couldn’t bear to make it actually happen.  Between the grief, the intense emotions, and the rawness, it felt too masochistic, even though I could recognize the catharsis that would follow.  So I did the next best thing: I started pulling up all the songs about death and loss.

Maybe it’s a bit odd that I actually have a few to choose from.  I decided to start with one from my past: Maggi, Pierce, and E.J.’s For (Blue).  The album is a tribute to the late Jeff Buckley and is filled with songs about loss.  And sure enough, by the time I reached track 3, Space, I found myself able to expose and come to terms with some my own sensation of loss.

I continue to be surprised by how this process parallels grieving the death of a person in your life.  There was the language of “loss” the therapist offer to me.  In looking for solace from my other therapist, Google, I found a site that cited the Kübler-Ross 5 stages of loss and grief as common reactions to the end of a long relationship.  I dismissed it at the time, but I was clearly not willing to face the truth of the matter.

I know I’m far from done my healing process.  As the brilliant Carmaig De Forest says in another song about death, “I know that life goes on / I know that time heals all wounds / I know that this one isn’t healing anytime too soon.”  However, understanding what it is I’m actually grieving is the first step.  Understanding how I can go about grieving it is an important next step.  Day by day, moment by moment, I’m coming closer to a point where I can integrate this chapter into the rest of my life and be at peace.

The Crack Seen Round the World

Two days ago one of my gamer friends forwarded me a link that was making rounds in the Magic the Gathering community.  Odds are good that you’ve seen it as well.  Apparently a man went to a high level tournament, found people with exposed “plumber crack” and posed next to them.  He then posted the results to Reddit where it jumped to Buzzfeed, Kotaku, and… Jesus, is that Time.com?  And it has shown up on my Facebook feed about 5 times in the last few days.

crack photoLooking for the link?  Well you won’t find it here.  Your Google skills are masterful enough.  Looking for a better picture?  Again, I’m sure you’ll have no problem seeing it once you Google it.  The picture I’m including just shows the man and what he was intending to ridicule, and protects the identity of just about everyone else caught in the picture.

Wondering why?  I’m absolutely furious that someone would do something so cruel and invasive, and in the name of the game that I love.

Whether it’s motivated from a truth or a cultural bias, throughout my life I have had to be on the defensive about my love of RPG’s, video games, tabletop games, and Magic the Gathering.  I clearly remember the time as a 15 year old I was accosted by a group of boys while entering a comic store and asked if I was going to “jerk off to the comics I was buying.”  I played the RPG Vampire the Masquerade in dark basements where we never spoke about the campaign outside of that safe space.  I have gone through relationships in which my partner told me I was too old to play Magic.

I even remember a time recently when a fellow Magic player and I were at a bar and someone asked us how we knew each other.  Before I could say anything, he blurted out “we play cards together,” and changed the subject.  Apparently “cards” can be interpreted as “poker” which is much more socially acceptable.  Even though I never call up my Magic-playing friends and ask to play “cards.”

Vampire

Vampire the Masquerade circa 1994

Maybe that’s why some of my closest friends are those I met through gaming.  We had to endure isolation and potential ostracism to do this thing that we loved so much.  I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but it’s true.  The picture to the right is of 4 people in my gaming group from high school, and I still am in touch with them all today.

Over the years I have acquired 20 or so close friends who play Magic the Gathering.  They are a diverse group: men and women, large and small, socially awkward and smooth.  I have friends in this group who follow every sporting event and others who just don’t care.  I have married friends, single friends, polyamorous friends, straight friends, gay friends.

And this is why I get so angry and sad when an article like this goes viral.  Because instead of seeing the diverse group of fascinating, empathetic, and unique people that are allured by the complex game of Magic, they see a bunch of overweight slobs who dress poorly.

Let me get this out of the way too: in no way do I blame the victims in this situation.  There have been calls of “well if they had found clothes that fit, they wouldn’t have been in this embarrassing place.  Maybe this is a wake up call for them.”

Sorry, you don’t get to dress your cruelty as a public service message.  Even if this was meant as a PSA (which the creator alleges was part of his inspiration), this is a terrible way to do it.  Publicly embarrassing strangers for how they look is absolutely unacceptable.  The photographer specifically chose to focus only on these people, thus this is the perception that outsiders see of who a Magic player is.  Way to make a PSA that hurts the community as a whole.

Remember that these are actual humans with lives that go beyond the unfortunate fame they unexpectedly acquired. In an email thread, a friend of mine posted the following:

“Having been ‘that guy’, I don’t find this funny. It was pointed out to me once and a large production was made out of it, really fucking juvenile and I wanted to punch people, hard. Yes, I own a belt (several actually) and always try to wear baggy enough clothes to cover up, sometimes it just happens.”

And there’s this this tweet:

"I know someone who's crack is pictured here and he is extremely embarrassed. He wishes this had never been posted." on FB

Yes, the people exploited in these photos might have had the option to be more on top of how they were exposed that day.  But the guy who posted it also had the option of whether to post it or not.

So what do I want to get out of this?  Why am I writing?  Mostly to explain to the people who are sharing this on the Internet why I don’t think it’s funny and why they might want to think twice before perpetuating this story.  I also want to defend this game that has brought me so much happiness.  Not from the people experiencing a temporary wardrobe malfunction, but from the large population that desperately wants the stereotype of what a Magic player is to be true (sadly including the man who posted these pictures).  Unlike the two dimensional snapshots taken at this tournament, each of us is a human with a detailed, complex life.  If we could only get our fellow gamers to treat us as such, maybe the rest of the world would see that too.

Sofa Searching

I have two couches in my living room that have taught me much about the process of discovering want I want and how to achieve it.  A bold statement to be sure, but I find myself returning over and over again to the lessons I’ve learned from them.  Allow me to introduce the fiendish duo.

There is the futon:

futon

It has a spring mattress, a sturdy wooden frame, and a hideous pair of throw pillows I found at Big Lots.

Then there is the purple monstrosity:

purple sofa

It is pretty massive, deep, and both scratched (from my cat) and stained (not from my cat).  Backpack sold separately.

So how have these sofas started me on the journey to finding the things in life that I want?  Well, it’s simple.

They’re terrible sofas.

Both are so large and tall that anyone not me-sized sits with their legs dangling over the edge as if they were a small child.  As mentioned before, they’re also a bit beat up, and old purpley here was never especially pretty in the first place (quick shoutout to Samantha for providing this freebie for me; please don’t take my dramatic license as a lack of gratitude).  But the single most heinous crime defies the very tenants of sofasity and is punishable by couch banishment: they aren’t really comfortable.  And if your sofa isn’t comfortable, what is it really doing besides acting as a scratching post for the cat and a backpack shelf?

A while back I finally got up the momentum to start looking for replacements.  The first lesson I learned: couches are expensive.  If you’re looking for something beyond IKEA furniture, you need to be prepared to have some savings stashed away.

And for Swedish furniture aficionados out there, look deep into your souls and answer me this: have you ever sat on a luxuriously comfortable IKEA sofa you build yourself?  I didn’t think so.

So suddenly I found myself on a budget for a purchase with a slew of variables: color, size, hardness, support, material, texture.  It was time to start looking into the alternative providers of comfortable living room furniture.

Only, that wasn’t the tack I took.  Instead of poring through the bargain basements, perusing the thrift stores, and aiming for the Targets, I instead went and found the most expensive furniture store I could find.  My idea was that until I had a clear idea of what the top of the line was, I wouldn’t have a frame of reference for my options.

If I tried the best, highest end sofa, I would know just how comfortable I could be, or at least the options of comfort I would have.  With all the variables at my fingertips, I could then isolate the features of a good sofa.  At that point, I wouldn’t even necessarily have to buy that expensive sofa that met all my needs.  I could experiment with lesser models and see if there was a tipping point between quality and price.

I don’t mean to get dramatic here (Dan, look deep into your soul… you know that’s a lie).  However, I was suddenly reminded of a pithy homily:  “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail” (shoutout to Andrea who has that on the wall of her office).

Yes, I tend to stretch far in my analogies, but the heart of the message is actually quite similar to my quest for the ideal couch: If you knew the infinite possibilities available at your fingertips, what would you do to make what you desire a reality?  In my case, I just replaced the soul search with a sofa search.

Let’s just split the difference and call it a soulfa search.  I’ve been dying to type that this entire time.

I was thinking of how I looked for a new sofa when a friend of mine called last week to discuss relationship issues she was having.  In that situation, most times it’s not acceptable to go out and test the best available models for some comparison shopping.  Instead, it’s more a matter of taking a step back and considering what an ideal relationship would look like.  How would your partner treat you, and how would you treat your partner?  What would you be getting out of the relationship?

Once you have that mental picture in your head, you need to do some analysis of whether the envisioned relationship is both realistic and sustainable. If the answer is no, you have to step back into your desires and find why it is you want something that is unsustainable.  If the answer is yes, you have to ask yourself why you’re accepting something different from what you want.  That’s not a leading question either; there are plenty of reasons one might stay when they have envisioned a reality that more directly addresses their desires.  It could be a dread of dating, the malleability of our satisfaction, or the idiosyncrasies of the situation.  Regardless of the reason, it’s important that you know it.

I came across another sofa-searching moment when I recently left my full-time job.  I knew I was dissatisfied with what I was doing, but I wasn’t sure of what type of full-time job would satisfy me.  I needed to explore my options and expand my palate.  So rather than hopping into another full-time job out of fear of the inability to sustain myself without one, I rented a rather expensive “couch” in the hopes that I’d find it both comfortable and affordable.  Without the empirical experience of the huge amount of options available, I wouldn’t be able to know for sure whether this was the type of life I wanted to lead.

There’s an epilogue to the sofa search that may seem to disprove my entire point: I ended up hating all the really expensive sofas.  They were uncomfortable, over-stuffed, rather hideous-looking, and homogenized.  None of them approached what my ideal sofa would be, and I still have ol’ purple and the futon today.  However, all this said to me was that I might be looking in the wrong places.  I’ve begun to expand my quest for the ideal to other places, such as thrift stores with huge varieties and friends’ sofas.  I know that the key to finding comfort is first finding what it is I actually want, and the key to finding what I want is to tear down to barriers of shoulds, coulds, and preconceived notions.  Once they are out of the way, I can focus in on what I’m desiring and why.  Only then will I have a clear picture of whether the effort to incorporate it into my life is a worthwhile endeavor.

Maybe it’s for the best that I haven’t replaced my pariah sofas.  Haven’t they done enough for me to warrant the slightest consideration for clemency?

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