In 1996, I had become a grownup and I didn’t much like it at all.
If you’d reduced my life to a checklist, it would have appeared I had everything: My first corporate job, with an actual salary, working at Borders Book Shop headquarters? Check. My first apartment, living on my own, having finally moved out of my mom’s house? Check. My girlfriend, having moved out to Michigan with me? Checkity-check.
But the job was stressful, and my girlfriend and I were tearing each other apart.
My girlfriend and I had matching social anxieties; we were both terrible about meeting new people, and so for two years we never made a friend. All we had was each other, trapped in an apartment because we didn’t have the money to go out – and the apartment was a hoarders-style horror of comic books and ferret shit and sculpie clay smeared all over the floor, junk piled up in such quantities that we had to adopt a rolling seaman’s gait just to cross the living room. You could not see our carpet, lost under a sea of things.
We fought all the time.
And when I say we fought all the time, I meant it. There were daggers in our laughs, in-jokes made at each other’s expense, so even our fun times had boxcutters clutched within soft gloves. Her strain of messiness stressed me out and mine stressed her out, and we didn’t agree on money, or the lives we wanted to lead – but we had no friends. And we were both terrified of the other leaving, of being locked up alone with literally no one.
But that’s how couples worked, I thought. I’d been raised in a welter of psychotherapy, so I believed that if we just aired our grievances honestly enough, for long enough enough, then this abscess would drain. It had to.
This is where I met Gini.
Because at the end of the day, I had my closet. The apartment was too small for an office, but there was a walk-in closet where I’d stuffed my computer, and in my retreat I found the Compuserve Star Wars Discussion Forum.
We tell our friends “Oh, we met in a Star Wars chat room,” but that’s actually a lie because nobody remembers BBSes. I’d call out on my modem, download individual forum threads at an exorbitant rate, and then reply to all my online friends – the only friends I had.
Gini was one of a gang of regulars. She was married, and lived in Alaska, and we argued about everything. Everything. We debated politics, and abortion, and America’s reliance on oil, and I didn’t bother to hold back to tell her when she was a fool because that’s the way this chat room worked, and she schooled me on any number of topics and actively demonstrated how I was an idiot….
…and for four years? Not a spark of romance. Just good old-fashioned internet tussling.
But goddamn if Gini didn’t make me smile. She was smart. She was cutting. And she held her fucking own against anybody.
She was one of the dim sparks that held me together while my girlfriend and I slowly tore each other apart.
Then my girlfriend, quite sanely, left.
I was astonished. We hadn’t been happy in some time, but… we’d been arguing. And still, I was convinced that if we just analyzed what was wrong, endlessly churning up all the ways we were incompatible, we’d stumble upon a solution.
That’s how therapy worked, you see. You talked until it worked.
My girlfriend was tired of talking. And so she moved back to Connecticut. Where she made herself a much better life without me, and I say Godspeed to you, sweetie, thank God you were smart enough to go.
And I did not die of loneliness. Driven by desperation, I made some friends. I dated around in Michigan. And still, I spent time on the Compuserve Star Wars forum, because I loved the people there, and…
…I loved Gini.
That was a slow revelation, of course. I got a flicker of it when she mentioned she was getting divorced. And another when she was flirting with someone else in the chat room and I got jealous. And I emailed to tell her that I’d never flirted with her only because I was “half a heartbeat away from falling in love with you,” and…
…she loved me too.
This was, of course crazy. I still credit my mother for keeping a straight face when I told her, “I’m quitting my job to move up to Alaska and marry this divorced woman I met on the Internet, and take care of her two kids.”
But damn if that’s not what we did.
And Gini and I moved in together, and in a beautiful world I would have learned all the lessons from my ex-girlfriend and she would have learned all the lessons from her ex-husband, and the story would be over.
But as it turns out, Gini and I argued all the time. Over a lot of the same issues. We had screaming arguments over money, and jealousy, and messiness….
…but there was one difference.
I still remember that beautiful day dawning – and it was literally dawning, because Gini and I had fought all night. Ten hours of debate over who was fucking up more in this relationship, that kind of agonizing argument that continued because we both sensed the other was almost reachable, just a few inches away from seeing our point, and so even as Gini washed up for work I sat by the tub and we fucking kept arguing.
And the light dawned.
And she turned to me and said, “You’re right. I’m being shitty here. I shouldn’t do that. I’m sorry.”
And a miracle happened.
The thing was, she was being shitty and I was being shitty and our relationship was this feces-encrusted tangle of unforgiveness. And I could have fucked up badly at that point, so badly, if I’d crowed and said, “Yeah, goddamned straight, you are fucking up, see what a horrible person you are?”
But when Gini saw her faults…
…I saw mine.
And I apologized, too.
I don’t even remember what the fight was about, which is terribly stupid, considering it ate an entire day for both of us. All I remember is the golden light of the sun playing across our bathroom, Gini with shampoo in her hair, us holding hands, feeling like something tremendous had changed.
And it had.
And that was when I learned there were two kinds of arguments: the kind that just keeps knocking you down, and the kind that knocks over the rotten parts so you can rebuild. And with my ex-girlfriend, I had made the stupid mistake of needing to be Right so often that I was dead-set on Godzilla-stomping her dreams to prove my point, and she dug in deep trenches and gave nothing because she wasn’t wrong…
…but when Gini admitted she was wrong, everything changed.
I don’t think we could have survived without that single moment in the tub. Because of the two of us, only she had the strength to be wrong.
And here we are. Today is our fifteenth anniversary. Fifteen fucking years together, and we have grown to support each other. We are a construction project continually in the making, investigating what’s not working, knocking down the bad parts, finding ways to bolster the weak parts. Remaking.
What we have made is beautiful.
We’ve endured heart attacks, and death, and more death, and the inevitable fractures that come with polyamory, and financial stress, and job stress, and all of that has been accompanied with, as Gini wisely said during our vows – because even then, she could see things far better than I – us “cheerfully bickering our way through life.”
We argue. A lot. Continually. Fiercely. Sometimes angrily. But that works for us because we are passionate, and we are builders, and what I didn’t understand back in 1996 was that the arguments only work if you’re willing to be wrong.
In 1996, I had become a grownup and I didn’t much like it at all.
In 2014, I had become a husband. And I loved it. I loved every moment of it.
As I love her.
Happy anniversary, Gini.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.