Anniversary Edition!

Today, I’m going to talk about my very favorite topic, my partner, StGryphon.

Isn’t that the best face? <3

I figure, this is perfect timing because here I am, trying to tell y’all about marriages and relationships, and who the hell am I to discuss all these things? Like, who died and made me the queen of all things love? Well, nobody died, luckily, and I have no illusions about being able to make all relationships the best, but I can share my experience and insight and wisdom, and maybe I can help yours.

The story begins before I met Gryphon. This is my third marriage. The first one was to an abusive alcoholic/addict, which produced two kids.

It took me a few years to figure out that it was an unhealthy relationship because… well, you’ve heard me talk about legacy software, right? Yeah, real world experience. I had so much malware installed, I’m still sorting it out sometimes.

The second marriage was supposed to be better, and in a lot of ways it was, but it was riddled with illusions and ideas about what Should Be, on both our parts. I knew more than I did the first time about healthy relationships and how to find them, but I still had a lot of pretty bad scars and actively bleeding wounds. That marriage produced three kids, one of whom died. Remember how I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that disparate grieving styles will tear apart a marriage? Yeah, more real world experience.

Single Life

So, I was on my own for quite some time, single mom with four kids. Just to sweeten the deal, my youngest kid developed a severe and debilitating form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. On the scale of 1 to oh-my-god-this-sucks-donkey-dick for how bad this is, this is probably off the charts. LGS comes with multiple daily seizures, multiple types of seizures, and severe developmental delays, which trigger the worst expression of non-verbal autism. Hi, have more relationship stress!

Well, that specific type of stress made dating or building relationships really hard. At one point, I had twelve First Dates in a row – with no second dates.

I did have a few “longer” dating stints. There was the guy who assured me that paying to get my tubes UNTIED was totally in his budget – without even remotely considering that I had them tied for a reason in the first place.

Sure, I’m a “great mom,” but there comes a time when HELL TO THE NAH, BRUH. And then there was an actual ex who roofied me because I guess he had an alleged fetish caused by severe childhood trauma.

Oh, and then there was the guy had a medical condition for which the doctors made exceptions to get him in for diagnostics because he had no insurance, and he spent his entire recovery period cussing and screaming at them… yeah, not great character there, man.

Yeeeeeah, waaaaaay too much malware. We’re not even going to get into the ladies that I dated back in the day, I’ll just get depressed.

The good news is, I didn’t date any of those yahoos for very long. I didn’t date anyone for very long. Between having an utterly broken “sniffer” for relationships and struggling with crushing depression – partly from having an utterly broken “sniffer” and partly from having neurological imbalances – and also having PTSD and caregiver fatigue from dealing with the youngest and his condition, I was pretty much a hot mess of messiness.

And yet… I still had this impulse to try to date, to at least try to connect with someone, because it’s also important to have emotional support in order to be a better parent. I came close a couple of times, but finding all the right pieces I needed in the right order was pretty far out of whack.

My method of choice? Online dating, of course.

I nerd hard, and I do most if not all of my shopping online. It really saved a lot of time and trouble and irritation, and it gave me an opportunity to do what other relationship introduction styles didn’t: I got a chance to learn a lot about myself and how I interact with others. (Writing profiles is hard. You gotta think about things.)

Of course, way back in the days of my first (and second) marriage, online dating wasn’t really a “thing.” You met people at places where you had common interests. In my case, I met all of my previous co-breeders at the comic book shop where I worked – and all in the same week or so. It was weird.

Online dating? A totally different game, as we’ll discuss in more complete details next week.

The Fateful Day

I put a reasonable amount of effort into my online dating profile over a period of time, building it up in response to what worked for me and what didn’t. I was on OKCupid mainly. I particularly liked the weighted percentage matches because I could see directly what my matches agree or disagreed with me on. Like, a 90% match could be great. We like a bunch of the same movies, we’re in the same fandoms, we’ve got similar tastes in music… but if we didn’t match up on other topics like gay rights or the definition of toxic masculinity, we’re going to have a bad time.

When I saw someone that I had a good match with – usually over 92%, if they’ve filled out more than 50 questions – I’d check out their profile to kinda see what they looked like, what kinds of things they were into, and if they actually, you know, wrote things.

So, this guy kept showing up on my matches.

Just look at that face! A tiny bit of a smile, a tiny hint of a dimple…

Our compatibility percentage started in the high 80s, and every time he came up in my feed, that number got higher and higher. This isn’t unusual because people frequently will answer more questions, or they’ll go back to update their answers on questions that they’ve changed their mind about (a feature I personally love). This was over a few weeks, and I looked at his profile a few times – reading through, looking at his main profile picture, reading some of his questions – and every time, my interest grew, but I talked myself out of contacting him because, I mean, look at the guy! He’s adorable! He’s probably full of himself, or he’s got women beating down his door… he’s tall and nerdy and handsome and smart… he definitely doesn’t have the time for me. He’s not going to be on this site for very long.

And then it got to be two weeks, three weeks, and he’s still there… so, I dug into his profile a little more. I looked at all his photos instead of just the first two, and two of them seriously tipped the scales way in his favor.

This was the first one:

A freakin’ Elmo hat?! And look at that goofy smile… Anyone with that wasn’t going to take themselves seriously was already fourteen thousand cool points ahead of every single “smouldering sexy half-smile” out there.

This was the second one:

Freakin’ digigrade stilts in a satyr costume?!? That he made himself?!?

He’s a maker?!?

And as we all know… I am a pan-sexual.


So, here’s the thing about me, and you probably noticed this: I’m a bit verbose, but not without purpose. I went through his profile, I picked out some things that I really liked, talked about them a bit, threw in a couple of jokes, mentioned some things about timing and when we might be able to chat–

And I got a bloody message in my inbox right at that same moment.

From him.

And, as it was not the best designed platform from a technical perspective, when I clicked over, I lost everything.

Except… his message to me was actually just as thoughtful and well-designed as mine. He made it clear that he wasn’t really a writer, but he wanted to make sure that I knew that he was interested in me as a person and not just looking for a dtf. The biggest thing was that we’d both listed this one kind of obscure movie in our profile, the Man from Earth, and he wanted to know why I liked it enough to list it.

… like, wow.

We chatted over the next couple of days, a lot. Talked about so many things, even got a little flirty – I’m rubbish at flirty, but it was easy with him. We tried to work out a time when we’d be able to see each other, and we thought maybe it might be following weekend… no, wait, how about this coming up Monday… ooh, I think my Saturday opened up… okay, how about Thursday, tomorrow? SOLD!

There’s this other weird little thing about me – I mean, there are a lot of weird little things, but this one is important. Part of my autie experience is that I have a few different types of mild synesthesia. One is that I get a sense of someone’s “flavor” – as in, some people taste like beef stew, some people taste like cheese that’s gone off – when I make skin contact with them, like shaking hands or touching an arm or whatever. The other is that I have a really hard time recognizing someone from pictures. Once I’ve met them in person, I can spot them in almost any picture from any time period at any age, but before that? Nah, it’s really hard. Like, I’ve made a total ass of myself more than once walking up to the wrong person when we’re meeting for the first time. (Name tags are one of my favorite inventions.)

So, I walk into the restaurant for our first date, and I scan around the place, and there’s this HOLY SHIT THAT’S A FUCKING ZING GODDAMN I GOTTA TALK TO THAT GUY moment, and it’s the dude sitting in the corner booth – except I’m not completely 100% sure that that’s the guy I’m supposed to be meeting, and I have this moment where I decide that that’s the guy I’m going to talk to anyway, and if that’s not the guy I’m supposed to be meeting… oh, well.

And then I got really self-conscious about the drawing ink that was still on my hands, and I worried that my skirt was too short or maybe ill-fitting and was my shirt wrinkled and I got a little weak in the knees and wasn’t sure if I was even going to be able to eat anything with all the damn butterflies in my stomach… but goddamn, I had to talk to that guy.

By lucky coincidence, he was the person that I was actually and for real supposed to be meeting there.

All about the food, yo

When we were still texting each other, we hit a couple of high points of the things we liked, things we didn’t like, and there was one thing that we each mentioned that was one of those weird things: being gluten-free.

Now, the reason it’s weird is that there were times when someone would find that out about me and totally pull a “ME TOO!” And then we’d go out and they’d order a burger or a chicken fried steak, and if I brought it up, they’d say something like, “Oh, I don’t have it that bad,” or “it’s okay to cheat every now and again.”

My dude, if I eat wheat, I’m an anxiety-ridden basket case that can barely leave the house. I suffer extreme meltdowns, freak-outs, crushing depression, and severe hyperactivity, usually within a few hours. Every single one of my worst autie and ADHD traits gets cranked up to 11. There is no “cheating.”

So, it really mattered to me that when we were on that first date, he ordered his burger without a bun and asked if the fries were battered – first, before I ordered.

It really is the little things.

Rules are made to be… considered and weighed and sometimes… compromised?

I had some pretty strict rules that I followed in the course of my dating life. The first was the Six-Week to Six-Month Rule, wherein I did not want you to meet my kids, nor did I want to meet your kids, for a minimum of six weeks. The third worst thing in the world is to meet a kid and fall in love with them, and then find out that the parent you’re dating is a complete shit-heel. The second worst thing is to not have enough of a relationship to know whether or not the parent you’re dating is the one that turned the kid into a complete shit-heel. The first worst thing is my kids getting attached to someone’s “good side” and then finding out that they’re a complete shit-heel and then having to disappoint my kids that the person they really, really liked is not going to be around ever.

Another rule was that if someone doesn’t want to spend time with me, or make time with me, that’s on them. I have shit to do. I’m not going to put my life on hold for some son of a bitch who doesn’t know how to answer texts or pick up the phone.

And, yet another rule was that if you don’t want to be with me, that’s cool. No pressure. My job is not to make you like me or pursue a relationship that you don’t want to be in. You wanna break up, cool, but that’s in. No takesy-backsies.

And… well, fuck.

So, first, Gryphon and I made a date to hang out on the morning of July 4th before he took his daughter to their annual watch-the-fireworks thing. This was roughly a week after the first date. We’d met a few times between these two days, except… when it was time to meet up for breakfast, he didn’t answer the phone, he didn’t call, he didn’t text me back.

And I was fucking crushed.

Like, I had never in my life cried over someone like that, particularly after only having known them barely a week. I was upset enough that I had to call my woobie (emotional support non-sexual lover) to talk me out of a depressive tree. My stupid brain took me to all kinds of places that were weirdly attached (I don’t really make traditional “attachments”) and I had to work my way back to not being a blubbering puddle.

Buuuuuut, it turned out that he was just an insanely deep sleeper and was naturally nocturnal and totally would have answered the phone if he’d heard in through his abyss of slumber.

When he finally DID answer, he invited me to pop up to the place where he’d taken his teen-aged daughter to see the fireworks (they did an all-day camp-out kind of thing there), and he assured me that I wouldn’t run into her because she’d be off with the boyfriend all day…

… which, knowing what I know about kids, wasn’t going to be the actual reality…

… and there’s this “no meeting the kids” rule…

… and before I could consciously process that whole logic train, I was in the car, on my way, twenty minutes down the highway.

And, of course I met his daughter, and of course she was amazing, and of course it was awesome…

… and it just got weirder from there.

I’m not going to go through the step-by-step everything that happened, but I can tell you that all my rules went out the window. I met his mother, whom I immediately adored, I met his sons, whom I immediately adored… and he thought my kids were pretty cool, too.

Because we both have special needs kids.

Advanced Extreme Relationship Sportsball for Dummies

This is a major thing that I need to confess: I didn’t just break my rules, I broke all the rules. And, no, I don’t mean things like “don’t cheat” or “don’t lie” – that’s just common sense be-a-good-human stuff. Those don’t get broken, duh. I mean, I let myself come back after we broke up. Like, three times. I put up with a lot of really bad words, I threw out a lot of really bad words. Things got really scary more than once.

I stood in front of the storm of his undiagnosed clinical depression, taking more than a few rough hits, and I won’t say that I didn’t blink, but I sure as fuck didn’t back down (like the proverbial idiot). Over the course of several years, shit got real, shit got rough, and shit got reinvented again and again, refining our relationship through repeated trials by fire. (Did you know that shit is actually really, really flammable?) And, it’s not over. There will be plenty of hard conversations that will make it better, and sometimes it’s going to get worse first.

Why the hell did I put myself through all that? Well, “why did I put him through all that” is just as valid – and important – a question. I’ve had lots of years of examining that to actually have an answer.

I grew up in a functionally dysfunctional household. Both of my parents were (are) undiagnosed autistics with completely different sets of symptoms that were mostly incompatible. My father was severely clinically depressed for many years – even suicidal at some spots – and had all kinds of PTSD from being raised by an abusive alcoholic. (Abusive alcoholic…? Where did I mention that before…?) He was ultimately diagnosed with bipolar disorder, type 1, along with a laundry list of other things. My mother was the obsessive interest type that shut down and isolated for weeks or months on end, with little to no emotional support to her family when she did shut down, which was something that she also (didn’t) learned from her parents. She insisted that any autistic traits I might’ve inherited were purely from my father.

Don’t get me wrong, neither of them were maliciously cruel or distant or neglectful or abusive. They were the products of their undiagnosed syndromes, their personal cultures, their own upbringing, not to mention the toxic underpinnings of patriarchal dominance and gender imbalance. When they were growing up and well into their adulthood, there were no words to describe the kind of autism that they had or the kinds of emotional and psychological stresses they suffered. There was not enough research to support my suggestion when I was 12 years old that I was ADHD, so it was dismissed – but, again, not maliciously. They did what they felt they could do. (And it’s not like I was an easy kid to raise, either.)

But science marches on, and I knew instinctively that there had to be some kind of answer for how I felt about their performance as parents compared to what I needed as a human. I felt enormously screwed up and wrong-headed about so many things. I had a lot of failed relationships for a lot of different reasons, as testament to all the positive traits I didn’t learn as a kid. As I pursued my own therapy (there was a LOT of therapy), I learned more and more about the difference between malice and chemical dysfunction, about abusive behavior versus meltdowns, about dishonesty versus misinformation. I learned about grieving and forgiveness, about five love languages, about seven types of love, and about how to demystify relationships of all types.

So, here’s this guy, Gryphon, and immediately I see the hallmarks of PTSD and clinical depression. But, he’s also got this compassion and this character and this confidence that was just enough that I felt… comfortable with it.

… wait, what time is it…?

Funny story, back from the beginning of our relationship. I hate being touched when I sleep. If I was with a partner – dating, spouse, lover, whatever – and there was sleeping involved, it was enormously difficult for me to get to a point where I could actually, you know, fall asleep. If I was living with someone, it was all, “That’s your side of the bed, that’s my side. The cuddling has been completed, now get away.” A lot of this has to do with the “touch-taste” synesthesia, I think, especially towards the beginning of the relationship, and the rest of just sensory overwhelm. If I’m not living with a person and they want to do the “fall asleep cuddle,” I can’t stand it. I have to wait for them to fall asleep and then go sleep on a couch or sneak out at 3am or whatever. If they fall asleep touching me, it kinda leaves this… tactile echo, maybe? I can’t just shrug it off and let it go, I have to get the hell away from them. It has nothing to do with them as a person, I’m mostly sure, but it does have a big impact on how well I could see them as a more long-term partner.

Well, the first time I stayed the night at Gryphon’s house, we had a very lovely time, and then he did this full body, octopus-level cuddle, and I started to flip the fuck out mentally. My brain was all, “Well, fuck, I don’t know how I’m gonna—” ZZZZZZZZZZ

And I passed completely out.

I woke up with the sun streaming on my face at 8 in the morning, deeply confused.

Well… that was… weird? Maybe I was just really, really tired.

(The youngest was still in the deeper throes of the epilepsy and had a lot of nighttime seizures that often stopped his breathing, so I didn’t get a lot of sleep myself. I only stayed over with Gryphon when Short Stack was at his dad’s.)

Then, the time came again when we had another Very Lovely Time, and then he did the full body, octopus-level cuddle, and I’m expecting that— ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Nope, passed smooth the fuck out again.

And I had to really think about this for a long minute. In terms of emotional response, this was all stuff that I’d never experienced before. I had previously met people and immediately felt an attachment to them – “You are my human now.” I had not, however, experienced it to such a degree that missing a date (especially a breakfast date) caused me to actually cry in real distress. Whenever I heard someone’s “crazy ex” story (they don’t always say that, that’s just how I categorize them), I normally looked for how the speaker was culpable (they’re always culpable to some degree). When I heard his, I explained what the ex in question was emotionally going through – it was, after all, about birthing special needs kids, and that’s a whole realm of specialized emotional trauma – instead of just nodding and dismissing it. If it were any other person, I would have blow it off and not said anything because, hey, if he wasn’t smart enough to figure it out, that’s on him.

I’m not a “starter girlfriend.” I’m intelligent, compassionate, and kind, but I have a lot of advanced needs. I need someone with emotional intelligence and experience and their own things to do, but also have some overlap with me, and also be the right kind of kinky but not too over the top, and they have to know what equality looks like, and be willing to share tasks and responsibilities but also respect my own brand of independence… that’s a poor rough starter sketch, but you get what I’m saying.

Nah, nothing about Gryphon was “same” from anything I’d had before.

I took a step back and thought about why I was able to fall asleep in this guy’s arms and no one else’s, and it finally hit me.

I was home.

Now, most people think immediately that “home” is the place where you “feel the safest” and “no one judges you” and “everything is perfect,” but that is a grossly unrealistic expectation bullshit fairy tale and a recipe for disappointment and disaster every time.

“Home” is where – and what – your heart is, and my heart is fraught with turmoil and scars and wounds that never quite healed right. My heart is never going to be content if there is not a battle to fight – which means that if you think your demons are done and safely locked away, if you are never willing to unpack them and share them, I have nothing to offer on that front. And if I can help you battle your demons, I want you to help battle mine. It’s only fair. My heart is aggressive compassion and burning down systems that no longer serve us and letting people make their own mistakes – but also having a secret backup net ready, just in case. My heart is not peaceful and calm. It clangs with the noise of weapons being honed and sharpened, with armor being repaired, but also with plows being made for massive gardens. Mary has a kitchen in her heart, but mine’s a Viking village.

I used to have a book of poems by Marge Piercy, The Moon Is Always Female, and in it was this one, “For Strong Women.” It goes like this:

A strong woman is a woman who is straining
A strong woman is a woman standing
on tiptoe and lifting a barbell
while trying to sing “Boris Godunov.”
A strong woman is a woman at work
cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,
and while she shovels, she talks about
how she doesn’t mind crying, it opens
the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up
develops the stomach muscles, and
she goes on shoveling with tears in her nose.

A strong woman is a woman in whose head
a voice is repeating, I told you so,
ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
why aren’t you feminine, why aren’t
you soft, why aren’t you quiet, why aren’t you dead?

A strong woman is a woman determined
to do something others are determined
not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom
of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise
a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
to butt her way through a steel wall.
Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole
to be made say, hurry, you’re so strong.

A strong woman is a woman bleeding
inside. A strong woman is a woman making
herself strong every morning while her teeth
loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,
a tooth, midwives used to say, and now
every battle a scar. A strong woman
is a mass of scar tissue that aches
when it rains and wounds that bleed
when you bump them and memories that get up
in the night and pace in boots to and fro.

A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.

What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

— “For Strong Women,” by Marge Piercy, from The Moon is Always Female.

I got this book when I was 15 or 16 years old, and it might’ve saved my life quite a few times. It taught me that being a good woman – being a good person – was not being perfect but rather being the right kind of strong for whatever a situation called for.

So, what does that have to do with this guy?

It didn’t seem that Gryphon ever got the benefit of being accepted completely and truly for who and what he was – and it also seemed like he wasn’t allowed to accept all the parts of himself. But, he wanted to. He knew there was something off in his head, but toxic masculine culture or patriarchy or whatever never let him examine it long enough to heal. But he wanted to.

There is a weird other synesthesia that I have – I call it one of my superpowers – that I can taste when someone is being honest, and separately also when they are telling the truth. It’s not infallible, but people are rarely consistent when they’re lying. Gryphon truly wanted to be happy, but he didn’t know how. Lots of things got in the way, lots of things just didn’t work out, and sometimes it crushed him, but he always came back around to trying again.

During our first real fight, I saw the window that I needed to understand exactly what I was dealing with, and I realized that I had a huge level of culpability and a massive amount of work to do on myself to get to a good place, for him and for me.

Gryphon wasn’t just frustrated or angry at me for… whatever it was. I remember that it was a minor thing, and I was still trying to find my language to speak to him about things I was uncomfortable with. (It’s different for everyone, we’ll get to that later when we talk about Chemistry.) He was screaming at me, I was crying, he was telling me that I didn’t really love him, that I didn’t care about anything to do with him – but his eyes… they were begging me to not listen.

He was having a meltdown.

I know what that is! I myself have had several. My kids have had several. They are not easy, but this tells me what’s going on!

Okay, so, a little aside: If a person gets jammed up over a control issue with someone else – they’re trying to control the other person because that’s what they’ve been trained to do by Patriarchy or whatever – they will scream and yell and be violent directly or indirectly to make the other person do what they want them to do. This is the hallmark of abusive behavior, for the most part. I call this the “control tantrum.”

A meltdown is vastly different. We count it among the autie traits, and one of the features is that the person pushes away from their partner. It comes from a very different emotional place than a control tantrum. For most people, having a meltdown is an uncontrolled state where whatever emotion is bubbling over pretty much has to run its course until it peters out.

Here’s the hard part: if a person doesn’t know anything about meltdowns, they tend to think that the gob that comes out of their pie-hole is “the real truth” when it’s really just extreme misdirected emotion talking. When you have an intense emotions, but you don’t realize that they’re the result of getting overstimulated or over stressed, your brain casts about for something to latch onto that may or may not be the actual thing you’re upset about.

Yes, it’s true, your emotions are always valid in that they are definitely what you’re feeling, BUT that does not mean that they are accurately rooted or justified by actual circumstances. Part of emotional health and emotional intelligence is examining where your feelings come from and redirecting your impulses into the healthy range. (I have had a really hard time learning this myself.)

The other hard part is that someone who has meltdownsbut was never taught that it’s a meltdown (this is a recent awareness in psychology circles, after all) doesn’t know the difference between them and the control tantrums, so they often characterize themselves as “abusive” or “shitty” or “unlovable” by assuming that the behavior is always directly indicative of the same motivation, as defined by Patriarchy. Having a meltdown does not mean that you are a naturally abusive person any more than self-harm means that you are chronically suicidal.

Wait, what?

True side story: self-harm is not about suicidality. It’s about invoking various types of endorphin triggers as a coping mechanism in place of emotionally healthy coping skills. If no one tells you that, it’s easy to get sucked into disinformation. (Yes, we’re going to talk about all of that later, too.)

Now, just to be clear, I don’t know all this stuff about meltdowns and what they mean and how much damage they can do because of how Gryphon was acting: I know about it because it was a state I got triggered into way too often over way too many years. I knew I had a history of violence, and of shutting down, and of turtling up. All he was doing was everything I had done before, to varying degrees.

Does knowing anything about that mean that I was able to navigate those moments and redirect that energy all the time like a goddamned boss? Oh, fuck no. Remember, I’m still just as messy and imperfect a human as they come, but my advantage is that I have a lot more knowledge and information to call on to do a proper autopsy after something stupid has happened, because of my therapy journey.

And there were a lot of autopsies. There were deep depressions on both of our parts, there were fights, there were screaming matches… and just imagine little ol’ me, just about 5’2” and clocking in at 125 pounds or so, standing up to great big him, 6’1” and just around 200 pounds, ready to go blow for blow with this guy because I’ll be goddamned if he’s going to insult my ancestral chicken coop that way…

Meltdowns are not rational things. His meltdowns would often trigger my meltdowns, and his depressive cycles would make my depressive cycles even worse, because we both have Seasonal Affective Disorder…

And then there was the little issue of my undiagnosed ADHD (remember that part?) leaving little clutter spots everywhere, which made him twitchy as fuck, leading to more meltdowns as his “angry balloon” got bigger and bigger until it exploded – which might trigger either a meltdown from me or a depressive episode…

Holy Balls, why the hell are going going through all this shit?!?

Before you get any ideas, no, it wasn’t because he is “the One for Whom I Am Destined.” I don’t believe in ideas like that. If I could experience “home” with him, I’m sure I could find it somewhere else, eventually. And maybe I could get another Zing from someone else if just looked hard enough. (Zings are never the same twice.) And maybe … none of that matters, because I chose to stay and work out this one.

I won’t lie, a huge part of it is my overwhelming stubbornness. My sheer brick-wall obstinance is legendary among angels and devils alike. Some inner logic that I may or may not have access to consciously decided to apply that epic trait to this relationship, that I wasn’t going to let this one die, let alone over a fucking meltdown. (ANY meltdown, there have, as I’ve said, been several on both sides.)

The other massive part was compassion. It wasn’t just compassion for him, it was compassion for myself as well. One of the biggest cornerstones of my personal philosophy is that what you do for others, you also do for yourself. This is intrinsic to not just being the kind of person that you want to be but in being the kind of person that makes the universe a better place as a whole. It’s an idea that’s greater than the Now, greater than even the human race or the planet, but it is reflected into the smallest grains and atoms as well. It’s an idea that’s very hard to put into words because it’s the opposite of selfish, but it’s also beneficial to the self – and you have to measure the action against whether it is truly beneficial to you and all others.

It’s the kind of compassion that recognizes that if a romantic relationship just doesn’t have all the ingredients to be successful, even though the Eros is there – the passion, the Zing – then it’s not going to be a good experience. It’s the kind of compassion that doesn’t let you stomp your little feet and shake your little fists just because the Ego doesn’t get its way. It takes a lot of self-reflection and self-awareness. It takes a lot of training, a lot of mistakes, a lot of bruised egos and crushed hopes, and it takes a lot of incessant dreaming and maybe some trust that we can figure this out. It takes a lot of trust.

Now, trust is another word that we’re going to get into in a lot more depth later, but I want to address how it was specifically applied to this situation. Trust is not “someone does something good, so I know they’re going to always be good.” Trust is being able to discern the projected results of an action accurately, and thus also being able to discern the causes of an action accurately – sometimes even if the route of that causality is not clear.

A lot of people might call this “faith,” but I personally abhor this term because it’s too often assigned to things that will never have confirmation. “Faith in God,” for instance, relies heavily on a sort of pareidolia or confirmation bias, seeing patterns or causes in random or unrelated events. “I prayed and this thing that I prayed for happened!” Cool. Did the actual result have anything to do with you working for that result at the same time? “I prayed and prayed and nothing happened! I must not have prayed hard enough!” Maybe the reason nothing happened was that you didn’t put for the work to get the thing done?

No, for me, the far better word is trust. I had to trust that Gryphon’s Eros for me (or maybe Pragma) was strong enough to survive the episode. I trusted that my own Pragma was enough to get me through the frustration and fury and my own stupid off-brain episodes until the sun came out again. I trusted that my Storge was big enough to stand up to his long-running perpetual states of sadness and anger, and I trusted that his Philia with me was strong enough that he would remember that I was always his friend first, with his well-being at the front of my mind.

That meant that if it turned out that I was not good for him – truly not healthy for him – then I would willingly leave.

“But what about all the meltdowns and freak-outs? Isn’t that kind of indicating that you’re not healthy together?”

You know, I can see how you’d think that, but no, for two reasons. The first is that correlation is not causation. He’d likely had just as many meltdowns and freak-outs with me as without me. They were probably going to happen anyway, regardless of who he was with, because they are an established pattern that was never corrected prior to us.

The second thing is that, quite often, the one that you feel safest with – safe from judgment, safe from rejection – is the one that you will end up working out the worst of your wounds with. This is why kids who are stressed out will be “perfect little angels” at school and then turn into holy bloody terrors at home. It’s because Mom will Always Love Them. They can unleash their directionless anger and panic and anxiety on Mom because She Will Never Leave Them.

But, they’re children. It’s the parents’ job to teach them better ways to handle their anxiety.

Gryphon’s anxiety and anger wasn’t directed at his mom, though. (He probably wouldn’t have survived to adulthood, were that the case.) It was unleashed on other people, mostly people in romantic relationships with him, but not exclusively. Those people did not have a Trust Of Permanence from him or for him, nor did they know enough about his brand of anger to understand that it was a meltdown rather than something more nefarious or malicious.

This is not dissing on his exes. Everyone has their own range of tolerance and experience, and every relationship has its potentials, expectations, and offerings. I just happen to come from a very dark and weird place that was willing to respect and help heal the dark and weird in him. We are each, in part, created from the sum of our experiences, and each of those experiences deserves a modicum, at least, of gratitude. (Gratitude for what… that’s determined on a case-by-case basis.)

Equality means equal culpability, nameen?

For my part, I’d gotten past the worst of the “meltdown” phases and was entering a whole new range of neurosis to dissect. Poor Gryphon had to tolerate the Great ADHD Battle as I tried to justify not taking medication because (and I quote) “I’ve gotten on just fine without it.”

Narrator: She had not, in fact, gotten along “just fine without it” as evidenced by the years-long stream of derelict projects, inconsistent career attempts, abandoned enterprises, useless coping strategies, and, of course, the every-present perpetual decline towards entropy.

… yeah, I totally lost that one, by which I mean, I won. Taking meds for the first time (instead of relying on a pot and a half of coffee a day) was finally being able to see a movie from beginning to end and realizing that there was an actual plot. I noticed things that needed fixing around the house before they became massive problems. I remembered things. My follow-through on any given thing was no longer dependent on the completely bizarre and unpredictable whim of my hyper-focus.

For both of us, the cycle of Seasonal Affective Disorder has probably been the hardest thing to keep a handle on because it tended to sneak up on us both, and our darkness feeds on each other until we forget that there things like “love” and “light” and “happiness” and “food.” And, every time it happens, we learn a little more about how better to battle it next time.

Because, we are determined that there will absolutely be a next time. And one of those “next times” will be a winter when we are respecting our darkness instead of listening to the Black Dog Lies. When we manage that, it will be easier to do the next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.

Behind every successful relationship are a lot of hard, uncomfortable conversations. Sometimes those happen in whispers, sometimes they happen in screams – but as long as some part of us is willing to listen honestly, even past the deafening din of exploding munitions and howling missiles, we stand a chance of learning and growing together. It’s never a 100% chance – I’m not going to be unrealistic like that – but it’s close enough that it’s worth the trouble.

Then there was cake!

So, it was seven years ago today that Gryphon and I did the Legal Thing. We got married in his mother’s backyard in an intimate little wedding with only about 20 or 30 people total, ourselves and our kids included.

His mother “walked me down the aisle,”

and it was his brother, Professor Charles Porterfield, who performed the ceremony. We wrote our own vows: seventeen stanzas of haiku each, to make sure that we were sharing equal time. I pulled out my little book with all the scribbled notes and re-written pages,

then he pulled out about 50 feet of receipt paper to read his vows from.

He wore the leather knee-high buckle boots we got for him at the Ren faire,

and I wore his mother’s pearls.

Our respective oldest-children-in-attendance were our Best Men/Maid of Honors (gender reversed), because when you marry a woman from the mountain, you marry the mountain. Or man. Whatever. The point is that you don’t just get the person, you get everything that’s every made them them, including whatever family they’ve already created.

I made the wedding cake because I’m a cheap bastard that doesn’t want to spend $800 on a crappy gluten-free pile that tastes like sandy cardboard. It was a three-tiered dark chocolate bacon dobosh torte because, in many ways, our relationship was predicated on bacon.

I accidentally tossed the bouquet into the massive tree at least twice (maybe three times?),

and we had our first dance to… some song that might’ve been Vast, or it might’ve been Train, or it might’ve been some other band because, frankly, I don’t remember, because that’s not what was important.

Adventure is out there!

What was important was that we knew it was the beginning a massive adventure for the both of us.

It wasn’t going to be some bullshit tiptoe-through-the-tulips thing, and it wasn’t going to be a “better days from here on out” thing, and it definitely wasn’t going to be an automatic “happily ever after.”

Adventures don’t work that way. Adventures are stories that have loss, trouble, fear, doubt, and more trouble. Adventures lose people – Gryphon’s father died, for instance, and I lost one of my dearest friends, Jack – and adventures have doldrums. There’s spans of dialog and there’s long paragraphs of description, and there might even be a couple of “Little Did He (or She) Know”s. Adventures even change between First Person perspective and Third Person perspective, but you should never let them be told in Second Person perspective if you can help it.

The hardship is what makes it an adventure, because the promise is that in the Fifth Act (or Third Act, depending on how you’re counting it), there will be a crescendo of joy and light and triumph.

When your story is written for adventure, it is not at all uncommon for the first volume to center around the two main characters battling each other in all the different ways. The goal is to let that major climax at the end of the first volume culminate in those two main characters bonding on a level that makes them a cohesive and inseparable team. Then, in the next volume, they can go through the hardship and the battles and the difficult times together, back to back. They become each other’s strength, they become each other’s inspiration. They help each other become the best parts of themselves, and they heal each other’s pain. They are two pillars of the temple, together in purpose but not redundant. They are the strings of the lute, apart but vibrating with the same music. They are sword and shield, they are bow and arrow, they are lance and spear.

This is officially the longest consistent relationship either of us has had. We’re both “fixed,” so the eight children that we have between us had better be enough. We’ve gotten two dogs together and a cat, though the bearded dragon does have seniority over me. I’m cuter, though, and a way better conversationalist.

There were plenty of times I could have given up – and, if you ask my smarter friends, probably should have. And there is no doubt that it’s totally the same for him. I am not an easy partner, and he probably should have left at least a few times. But… something past the stubbornness kept us going, and whatever you want to call that – Eros, Pragma, luck – I’m grateful for it.

Our marriage isn’t perfect, but it’s perfect for me. I can’t speak for him, but I have it on reasonable authority that he’s pretty okay with it. There’s still work to be done, for sure, but it’s our work to do together.

I love you, baby, and happy anniversary. Here’s to seventy more.

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