An advice column for folks who don’t like to be told what to do.
I am in a thing. I have been saying that for months. I am in a thing and I am choosing it. I am sharing clues when I get lost in self-sabotage, and I’m making intensive communication efforts. It is grown, and honest, and not frilly, but deep and meaningful and FUCK.
I am falling in love.
Now, as a poly artist and a Taurus, that is something I do with ease and willingness. But the rub is, this time I am future thinking with this person. Like, I want to plan a vacation where we go somewhere we’ve never been before so I can see how we handle conflict. They helped to trim the tree with my teenager, and the teenager voluntarily shared music with them!
How do grown folk who know better actually want to do this? We are old and jaded and nothing is forever… what the hell makes me think THIS is a good idea?
Oh, and how will I wear my queer when dating a cis-man? Do I have to shave pink triangles in my hair lest someone think I’m straight? Oh, Oh, and is “manfriend” an age-appropriate term for a grown cis-man one is dating? Is that a thing? I just have so many questions…
My grandfather was a college music professor, and he used to say that his favorite students weren’t the young, shiny, new stars, but the “returning students”. Returning students were grown folks who’d been out in the world working jobs, raising families, suffering the indignities and heartbreaks of real life, and managed to come back to school to get a degree. They were humble, less captivated by their own bullshit, and treated the opportunity to learn like the gift that it is.
That’s how I feel about older folks like us falling in love. I think it’s goddamned glorious. Not because it’s a shiny Hallmark movie, thank god, but because it’s warts, baggage, hard-won wisdom, and dark humor. We come to it battered, ambivalent, cranky, and self-protective, but still somehow willing to show up, still somehow believing that life has sweetness, and we get to have some.
That, my friend, is so fucking poignant it makes me weep. I mean, give me grey-haired, awkward, complicated, redemptive, transgressive love every damn day.
When my marriage ended I figured I’d just be single forever. Maybe I’d take a lover here or there someday, but a life partner? Not a chance.
I had no template for the kind of relationship I wanted because I’d never had it, or even felt like I’d seen it. And I will confess to a certain learned cynicism about men, who are mostly the folks I partner with. I couldn’t imagine there was a man alive who was actively working on his emotional material, had his own relationships and sense of self, who was interesting and sexy and playful and insightful and creative, who would give me a ton of personal space with no resentment, see me clearly and also…love me.
Then this middle-aged writer, philosopher, single dad, trucker showed up and I thought, Oh, shit. That was not what I was expecting, but also exactly what I asked for, so now what am I going to do?!?!
I remember in the first few months that we were dating I would think of something I wanted to share about myself, just some random story or feeling, or sometimes it was a long-held secret, and it would feel like I was standing at the edge of a 1000-foot cliff. My heart would race like it was trying to win at Daytona. If I say this thing, I thought, I may just fall off the edge and die, but I don’t want to be in a relationship if I can’t be exactly the one that I am, so I’m just gonna jump. If I’m going to die, if this is the moment that kills things between us, better to know now.
I would open my mouth, the words would pour out, and… nothing bad would happen. Sometimes nothing much would happen at all. He’d just smile at me, or pull me close. Sometimes he’d kiss me. And sometimes he’d respond, offering up his own thoughts and feelings and secrets. Who knew love didn’t have to be terrifying or painful, that it could be exhilarating and safe? So, I just kept doing it, kept leaping off the edge into I did not know what, and here we are years later.
I think that’s the thing about love, particularly at our age. It’s not one leap and you’re done. Resting in happily ever after fantasies is not on the menu for us. As you say, we know too much. We know too much about ourselves, and how much work it is to keep growing and showing up for life. We know too well that things don’t always last forever, and sometimes they shouldn’t. So, we have to take the leap over and over again, with eyes wide open to all the possibilities for beauty and heartbreak. What courage that takes!
I don’t think I will ever want to get married again. I don’t think my wild heart understands those kinds of promises anymore. But I can see choosing to take the leap, to keep showing up to the best of my ability over and over again, day after day, until look! It’s a lifetime.
The love I’m in now is no fairytale. We fight and negotiate and walk away from things that we’ll never agree on. There are betrayals and misunderstandings and apologies littering the ground, along with laundry, kid’s toys, and junk mail. We build an altar to love, climb inside, and fill it up so full I think I might burst, then fall out and away from each other and have to find our way back in again.
Some days I feel so seen, and I am not at all sure that was such a good idea. It is all too much togetherness and peopling and obligation and I would like everyone to leave me alone now, perhaps forever, thank you very much.
Other days we walk and talk together, we sit around the dinner table laughing with all the kids, I spoon up behind him in the bed, he wakes me in the night to kiss me goodbye, and I think thank you, thank you, thank you.
When I was in college my roommate and I visited my grandmother in Memphis on a road trip. In typical fashion, she “invited all the ladies over for tea and cake”. The women of my family showed up, one by one, except for my cousin LaRose. LaRose, my mother’s cousin, breezed in over an hour late, in a mint green, suede mini-skirt suit with her hair done up halfway to heaven, and proclaimed, “I’m soooo sorry to be late, but my companion and I were at a matinee of the Opera.”
LaRose was married for decades, but her husband died in middle age of brain cancer. So she went and got herself a companion who went on trips with her, to matinees of the Opera, took her out to dinner, and then went home to his own house. I have no idea if they were ever lovers. Such things matter to me now, but at the time I didn’t care at all. I just remember sitting there on my grandma’s couch at 21-years old and thinking I want a companion.
I think “manfriend” is a little awkward myself, but more accurate than when I call mine my boyfriend. Maybe companion suits you better, or if that’s too Southern, sweetheart. Maybe you’ve got yourself a fella? I like those old school terminologies. They connote a certain sweetness, and for sure this later-in-life love business has some saucy sweetness to it. The saucy part mostly comes from me; my companion is the sweet one.
Because we live and are raising bonus kids together, though, I mostly call him my partner, but it’s a bit contractual, you know? I like that it’s gender-free, however, because like you, I’m also queer. I prefer leaving his gender an open question for folks I don’t know, even though I’m aware they mostly assume I’m talking about a man because I look like a middle-aged, married lady.
You certainly could shave pink triangles in your head to signal to the world that you’re not straight. I can empathize with the desire to not be misidentified and publicly claim our tribe. I think those of us that are bisexual, pansexual, demisexual or any other orientation that puts us in the position of “passing” as straight depending on our partner of the moment struggle with how to live our queerness in the world. Paradoxically, it is a privilege we have to be accountable for, and a burden at the same time. Queering your appearance is one way to balance it all, but not the only way.
At this point in my life, my feeling is that anyone I actually want to know personally is not someone who would assume I’m straight just because I’m living with a cis-man. If I don’t want to know you personally then I don’t really care about your opinion. Being able to not care and still be safe is part of my privilege. Being public consistently about being queer is how I try to balance the scales.
What I really care about at the moment, though, is that you’re in love! What a gloriously good idea. I hope you delight and adore each other, that you challenge each other and help each other grow. I hope there is plenty of sauce and sweetness to keep it dreamy, and just enough sorrow and atonement to make it real for as long as it serves you both well.
Thank you for walking this journey with me. Love to you and yours.
Do you have a question about relationships, sex, parenting, politics, spirituality, community? Send them to me at email@example.com with the subject line “Walk With Me”. Let’s walk each other home.
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