Yeah, I Love Valentine’s Day

I don’t know many people in my feminist circles who are pro Valentine’s Day. Even those people in relationships tend to eschew the day as commercial and unnecessary. “Why not just show the person you love them EVERY day?” is a refrain I hear fairly often in criticisms of Valentine’s Day. “Why do you need a specific day to remind you to celebrate someone you love?”

Well friends…I love Valentine’s Day. I love spending a month or two months in advance planning an elaborate gift or activity for the day. I love figuring out exactly what will make my partner’s eyes light up and make them break out into a huge-ass smile. I like giving gifts because they show I’ve been thinking about someone. I like hand making cards, as that’s what my family has always done. I like writing nice messages to people I care about.

And yes, I could do all of these things any other day of the year. In fact I do a lot of these things on an average day. I get a disturbing amount of joy from writing a friend a happy message on Facebook telling them that I’ve been thinking about them and I love them. I come up with excuses to pamper my boyfriend whenever possible. I frickin’ love showing how much I love people (I feel a little too hard sometimes). I know I’m not the only person out there who feels this way, and I’m even fairly certain that some of the people who hate on V-day are people who like to do these kinds of things the rest of the year.

Unfortunately, it’s not generally considered socially acceptable to randomly gift someone something that you’ve spent three months working on, or that costs above about $20. Sometimes I want to do those things. The little stuff is great and I love doing it, but when am I going to be able to get my SO that fairly expensive gift that I just know he’d love and won’t get for himself?

The answer is of course Valentine’s Day. For me, the Hallmark Holiday is an excuse. It’s an excuse that lets me do all the things I want to do anyway. It gives me a socially sanctioned time to go a little bit overboard, which is great for someone who is a chronic overachiever. It can be overwhelming or feel like pressure if someone does an incredibly nice thing for you out of the blue. But when someone treats you on your birthday or Christmas or Valentine’s Day? It makes sense. It’s socially sanctioned. It no longer feels like your sweetie has suddenly become an obsessed stalker. It takes some of the pressure off the individuals.

And yeah, maybe it’s a little selfish. I like having a day where I can expect a little back, since not everyone is as excited as I am about gift giving and caretaking.

Human beings like rituals and calendars and schedules and markers. We have birthdays as a special day to celebrate a particular person and mark the passing of time. We celebrate anniversaries as part of recognizing the beginning of things. I don’t entirely understand why having a particular day to celebrate the people you love is much different. It’s part of having those reminders to cement bonds and create rituals that illustrate to others where our values are.

Of course no one has to partake in holidays, rituals, or celebrations that don’t feel meaningful to them. But there’s nothing about picking a certain day and using it to make a big deal out of things you care about that makes you a corporate sell out or overly invested in material things. It’s possible to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a shallow way, with hearts and flowers and nothing that you actually enjoy. But it’s also possible to celebrate it by cooking a meal together, watching your favorite show, playing music together, and creating gifts that both parties care about.

Yeah. I love Valentine’s Day.

 

Why I Ship Spuffy

One of the oldest debates in fandom is Spuffy vs. Bangel. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer immediately and then report back. Done? Ok, good. Now I realize that this debate hasn’t really been active in quite a while, but it’s one that’s close to my heart and one of my friends recently told me that he doesn’t think Buffy and Spike should be together. I immediately told him we could never speak again until he changes his mind, and in the spirit of that I will now definitively tell you why Spuffy is the best ship ever (ok maybe not, but I do think there are some truly beautiful things about their relationship).

Now I am the first to admit that in season 6 their relationship is abusive. Wholly abusive. Spike does not in any way understand consent (he badgers her until she has sex with him many times, will physically restrain her when she tries to leave his presence, and regularly ignores her requests). Buffy on the other hand just uses him and then proceeds to insult him, berate him, yell at him, beat him up, and generally act emotionally abusive (“you’re not a man. You’re a thing”).

But Spike is right when he points out that they understand each other: both of them are broken people who don’t understand how they fit into the universe and are attempting to fulfill roles that will never be quite right for them. Buffy will never be the perfect, motivated, “good” Slayer that she was before she died. Spike will never be the big bad that he was before he got his chip. Both of them are struggling with feeling pointless, and both of them see themselves in the other. Spike has always had a talent for truth telling (see season 3, Love Walk, when he tells Buffy and Angel that they will never be friends) and he is the only of Buffy’s lovers that doesn’t idealize her in some way: he sees her dark bits and he loves those bits. He loves her complexity and her struggle because it makes her human, it makes her relatable, it makes her stronger: he sees that she has to choose over and over to continue in a life that isolates her, and she does it because it is right. He doesn’t try to sugarcoat that fact for her, he simply reminds her that it makes her an amazing human being.

Beyond their recognition of similarities in each other, one of the more amazing things about Spike is that he actually improves himself because of Buffy: he goes to get his soul. Some people might interpret this as the ultimate nice guy move (I got my soul back for you, now date me!), but if you look at his face after he realizes that he nearly raped her, he is fully disgusted by his own actions and wants to change. His motivation is more that he doesn’t want to hurt her anymore. There are few examples of relationships in media in which one party recognizes that they have behaved badly towards the other and then chooses of their own volition to make serious changes to their self and their life in order to be better and do better. I am amazed at the strength of Spike’s love that it allows him to do this. Not even Willow could. When Tara left her over magic using, Willow kept on going. But Spike, the moment he realizes how seriously his lack of soul is fucking up his relationship with Buffy, makes a change.

Once season 7 rolls around, things are very different between Buffy and Spike, not only because Spike has a soul, but because both of them have healed somewhat as people. Any relationship between two individuals who are deeply depressed will be fucked up. So while season 6 is part of their history, I don’t see that relationship as the best representation of what they can be together, because it isn’t the best representation of either of them as people. So let’s look a bit at season 7, shall we?

Once it hits this season, Spike has fully recognized Buffy as an autonomous person. Angel, Parker, Riley (especially Riley), all try to manipulate Buffy’s actions in some fashion. They want her to love them or not to love them or to be less strong or fulfill her destiny. Spike does none of these things. He backs her up, he challenges her when he disagrees with her, but he truly recognizes that she can exist fully without him and that he does not need to get her to behave in any particular way. Buffy in return begins to see Spike as someone deserving of compassion, someone with a complex history whose heart has been broken over and over and who simply needs love (see: “Can we rest now?”). While she doesn’t know if she can love him, she is content to be with him in a wholly present fashion that is incredibly healing for Spike. From the looks of it, no one else in his life has ever done that (certainly not Cecily and Dru was never really what you’d call present).

There is a great deal of tenderness in their relationship in season 7. Each of them has moments of complete vulnerability during which they show the parts of them that hurt the most, and in return the other listens, holds them, and simply reminds them that they are worthy. Each of them has come through a great deal of loneliness (Spike in his human life and when Dru left him) and confusion, and this gives them far more understanding of what the other is going through. What’s beautiful about this is that it shows how deeply two broken people can love. While season 7 doesn’t contain any crazy sex or passionate kisses, I would argue that it has the most passionately loving scenes in the whole series. In the last episodes when Buffy stays in an abandoned house with Spike, he gives her a bit of a pep talk. It is honest, loving, intense, and emotional. It is perhaps the most passionate thing I’ve ever seen in my life. That mix of gentleness and deep passion for the other person is what makes their relationship work so well. They hold each other so carefully because they know what it is to be hurt.

Spuffy has always given me hope that even if we have a past of pain and cruelty and confusion, we can learn from those things the compassion to love imperfect people. It doesn’t pretend that either party is good. It recognizes each of their faults and allows them to exist as they are while still loving each other, and even to love each other because of their faults. I don’t like aphorisms about learning from your pain or how bad things make us stronger or better in some fashion. But if there is one relationship in all of media that would convince me that having hurt in your past can expand your ability to have compassion, to care deeply for someone, and to make yourself vulnerable, it would be this one. The quiet moments in which Buffy simply asks Spike to hold her show so clearly how two people can take care of each other in the worst of situations.

If you’re not convinced of the beauty of Spuffy at this point, you have no heart. And so I will leave you with the most touching speech I know of, from Spike to Buffy.

“You listen to me. I’ve been alive a bit longer than you, and dead a lot longer than that. I’ve seen things you couldn’t imagine, and done things I prefer you didn’t. I don’t exactly have a reputation for being a thinker. I follow my blood, which doesn’t exactly rush in the direction of my brain. So I make a lot of mistakes, a lot of wrong bloody calls.  And 100+ years, and there’s only one thing I’ve ever been sure of: you.  Hey, look at me. I’m not asking you for anything. When I say, “I love you,” it’s not because I want you or because I can’t have you. It has nothing to do with me.  I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I’ve seen your kindness and your strength. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You’re a hell of a woman. You’re the one, Buffy.”

Talking Over

Yesterday I posted about a personal experience that I had. I identified certain things about my identity and mental health, and mentioned some things that were helpful for me in terms of both of those things. The majority of the post was about things that pertained to me and me alone, with the suggestion that perhaps others could try as well because I had found it helpful, so maybe it would be helpful for others as well.

Now overwhelmingly, the response has been positive, but I did get one comment that summed up for me all that is wrong about talking over another person and their experiences.

Well first off she should stop telling people she is asexual. As she isn’t. She made several references to sexual or romantic relationships she has had in the past. And never once did she say oh I hated the sex part….

Second she right love is awful painful for a borderline and most do get clingy. But this whole if I don’t have sex with you I can love you so hard thing is kinda of not really true. She just removed added simulation to her emotions. Yea borderline emotions are intense and painful.they lead to thinking crazy. But the key part she left out is.you don’t have to act on those feelings. Or thoughts. That once you start learning how to wait them out you learn how to think through them and separate the borderline b.s from what’s actually happening…

All she did was remove an emotional trigger.. and her fb experiment will bite her in the butt when all those friends don’t start giving that love back when she crashes again. But that’s just what I think.”

Normally I don’t take the time to respond to comments like this because they’re awful and just deeply unhelpful, but the problems with this comment are problems that I see over and over and so I wanted to take the time to break down why this isn’t actually constructively engaging with the ideas that I presented. This is a classic example of talking over someone.

So first and foremost, when someone identifies themselves (whether as asexual or bisexual or pansexual or whatever) you don’t get to tell them they don’t identify that way. Identity is complex and personal, and no human being is the Grand High Judge of Sexual Identity. This is one of the most common ways that sexual minorities get fucked with: by others defining what they are and why. It hurts absolutely no one for an individual to identify in the way that they find most compatible with their life experiences, but having your identity undermined or denied is quite painful (and especially for asexual individuals leads to things like corrective rape). As a corollary to this, if you are going to play Sexual Identity Police, at least understand the definitions of the identities you’re policing. Asserting that someone can’t be asexual if they don’t explicitly state they hated all the sex they’ve ever had fundamentally misses what asexuality is, and worse it demands that anyone who is asexual give personal information about their sex lives in order to legitimize their identity to randos on the internet.

Basically, the next time someone tells you how they identify and you feel the need to challenge it, remember that what you’re essentially doing is ignoring someone whose identity puts them in a vulnerable position because you Know More and don’t care about whatever thought they have put into identifying that way.

Now the rest of the comment seems like it’s less harmful because the commenter specifies that it’s just her opinion. The problem comes when she imperiously declares what will happen in my future and what I’m doing with my emotions. This is a nice bit of mind-reading and psychic abilities. I’m impressed.

When someone with a mental illness brings up something that they tried that seemed to help them out, telling them that they’re wrong and that they’ve actually just hurt themselves is incredibly invalidating. While you may have had a different experience from theirs, that doesn’t mean that you get to ignore the words that they have actually said or the experiences that they’ve actually had. If your depression didn’t get better through exercise but someone else says “I tried exercise and I’m really happy with how well it’s working. If you’re interested you could try it too”, the appropriate response is not “You don’t actually feel better! It’s all a lie! Exercise doesn’t work!”

The secret (not so secret) about experiences is that they’re personal. Different things work differently for different people. It’s easy within the mental illness community to get defensive or catty when someone else copes differently from the way you do. It sucks to see someone else doing well if you yourself can’t find good coping mechanisms. But despite how easy it is, it’s a horrible plan. If someone isn’t asking for advice, don’t give advice. If someone did something differently than you would have, you can just move the fuck along. The more we perpetuate the idea that there’s a “right” way to recover, the worse off everyone will be. It’s simply not true that her way of dealing with BPD is the same as my way of dealing with BPD, but that doesn’t have to come with a judgment.

I don’t really care if this person fundamentally misunderstands why I did what I did or how my asexuality is interacting with my BPD or doesn’t get that the point of my experiment wasn’t to just take sex out of love but rather to see what it was like to be open with love and love more people more fully. What I do care about is the implications of her comment that I’m doing something Wrong because I didn’t do what she’d do. I care about the implication that she gets to decide what identities and treatments are better for random people she’s never met. I care that this is considered appropriate dialogue on the internet.

It’s not dialogue. It’s talking over.

 

Preemptive Nostalgia

I am leaving the country in about three and a half months. I’ll be gone for a year. I really don’t know if I’ll live in the same state again when I come back, or whether I’ll come back after my master’s program is done. I’ve never lived outside of the state of my birth. The longest I’ve ever been gone for is a month. I’ve lived in the same city for all of that time except the three years I spent at college (only 45 minutes away).

What I’m saying is that it finally feels like I’m leaving home for the first time.

What’s odd is that it has become highly apparent to me that we only begin to value things when we’re about to lose them (ok not always but oftentimes). Part of this is that we don’t always take advantage of opportunities right in front of us until we’re about to lose those opportunities. I’ve been noticing that I’ve started to feel a tenderness towards places that seemed mundane and boring for most of my life, and even more than that I’ve felt a deep desire to explore the city I’ve lived in for 23 years. I suddenly feel as if I’ve been missing out on all the amazing things that are right in front of me (and that I knew were there), but really just didn’t feel motivated to get up and do.

It feels like a kind of preemptive nostalgia. I know that I will miss all of this when I’m gone. I know that there are so many things of comfort to me here, places I’ve known my whole life. I know that there’s a level of “home”ness to this city that I doubt I will ever find elsewhere: I have memories from my every year of my life here, I know the city itself extremely well, I know nearly every free activity that is available, I know the theaters and the bars and the restaurants and the music venues. While I may come to know another city quite well, it’s doubtful that I’ll ever have the same innate knowledge of another place again, the knowledge that comes from living here, having a mother that lived here, and grandparents that lived here, and learning the stories that they tell of the city and its history.

There are few situations where I will ever be able to take advantage of a feeling like this. I’ve very intentionally been looking for ways to get out and engage with the things that make my home what it is. I’m going to plays, festivals, parades. I’m looking for new ways to see the city by biking around lakes (once it warms up I hope), leaving the apartment, getting outside. Because I know ahead of time that I will leave and I am starting to feel the fear of change, I get to savor the time that I have left here. I get to make the effort to see things positively before I go.

I wonder if there is ever a way to have this kind of preemptive nostalgia in other situations? When we’re feeling frustrated with a partner or a friend, what would it be like to imagine not having them around anymore? When we’re frustrated with school or a job, what would happen if we think of it ending? Especially when relationships are going sour, we rarely see the end of it as a time to reflect on the things we loved about it. But what if we did? It’s hard to break up with someone, and we often agonize over it because we don’t want to hurt the other person, there are things we still love. But what if we could look at the relationship with the kind of nostalgia we have when high school ends or when we leave a place we love? Perhaps it would hurt less, and remind us more of what was good.

Or maybe this is just a way of letting myself be sad for longer, of not really existing in the moment and enjoying what I’m doing. Maybe it’s a way of only appreciating things once I don’t have to experience them anymore. For now I will simply see it as an opportunity to appreciate in the moment.

Mistaking Romance for Sex: Intersections of Mental Health and Sexuality

Yesterday I discovered a new blog about asexuality and spent some time diving into the archives. As someone who is still trying to sort out their identity I spend a lot of time asking myself if the experiences of other aces resonate with me, and as I read a theme started to pop up: an inability for ace individuals to understand or empathize with sexuality or sexual desire, and because of this difficulty with understanding flirting or innuendos.

At first glance this sounded nothing like me, but when I wasn’t paying much attention something hit me: I am deeply incapable of telling when people are hitting on me or flirting with me. I can tell when other people are flirting with each other, and I understand the types of things that one is supposed to do to be considered “sexy”, but I’ve never had any clue how to do them myself and when others try to flirt with me it often goes flying right over my head. For most of my life I’ve assumed this is because I have cripplingly low self-esteem, and I was one of those people who could never imagine someone flirting with me. But now another possibility had presented itself: what if I never noticed or could flirt because I have always tended towards asexuality?

This was the first of a series of realizations that perhaps having a sexual orientation/identity other than straight, allosexual, monogamous, CIS etc. and having a mental illness might lead one to misinterpret one’s emotions and attractions, or may mean that one’s presentation of their identity looks significantly different from others’. It may make it a little harder to parse what exactly your identity is.

Here’s the thing that’s been bothering me for a while: how is it that I suddenly can identify as asexual when I happily identified as allosexual without even a thought that I might be chasing the wrong things for almost 10 years of active dating? I certainly don’t think I was repressing any feelings of asexuality. I actively pursued relationships because I felt attracted to people. I have been actively sexual and enjoyed the experience at times. How can I be asexual if I never felt any confusion about what sexual attraction was, if I never felt as if I was missing out on a feeling that everybody else had, if I never felt that something wasn’t working about my allosexual identity?

But then I read one person’s musings on the fact that it makes sense for them to be aromantic and asexual becuase they rarely feel the feelings that are supposed to be “romance” or “sexual attraction” (e.g. nervous, excited, obsessive, racing thoughts). They say:

“I’m a pretty chill person. I don’t get excited, overjoyed, scared, or stressed out much. Most of the time, I just feel calm, comfortable, and slightly positive about life. My emotional reactions are quieter, shorter, and fainter than most people’s (except for laughter – I laugh a lot). It’s not that I suppress my emotions, I just don’t feel them very strongly in the first place. I’ve been like this ever since I was a child.”

And it hit me: I am the exact opposite. I have all the feelings of being romantically attracted to someone ALL THE TIME. I am always nervous and obsessive and excitable and have huge swings of emotions. I am hyper-romantic.  When I fall for someone I fall HARD. And because I have this overwhelming attraction to someone on a romantic level, I think that I’ve always just assumed that I was also attracted physically: I mistook my hyper romantic attraction for sexual attraction (just another minor consequence of compulsory sexuality and the tendency of our society to conflate romance and sex).

The thing is, I can’t imagine anyone who didn’t have extremely strong emotions doing this. Strong and sudden and whole body feelings of “want”. I can’t imagine anyone who didn’t get taken away by their emotions would ever find themselves so romantically attracted to someone that they’re convinced the want is actually a want for sex.

But that desire, that feeling of “need” is the same kind of feeling I might get towards my fluffy cat, or a beautiful picture, or a philosopher I find particularly fascinating (often with some added element of “I just want to hang out with you all the time” that indicates romance). Genitals don’t come into the picture. It’s simply the strength of the emotion that got to me.

And here’s where we come to mental health. Because that tendency to get utterly overwhelmed by emotions is one of the borderline personality disorder traits that I have. The tendency towards obsession and anxiety is part of my generalized anxiety disorder and eating disorder. The particular intersection of this intense emotion and a society that says “if you love someone you want them in your pants” may have fooled me into thinking that what I wanted was sexuality when in reality I wanted deep connection, a special relationship with someone, care, romance.

It’s fairly obvious to me that as a society we don’t spend a whole lot of time being careful about the ways we speak of attraction: you LIKE someone or you don’t. And if you do then you want to date them. And if you want to date them then you want to have sex with them unless you’re not “ready” or you’re repressed or you’re too self-conscious, then you’ll want to have sex with them at some unspecified point in the future. This means that if someone feels any sort of strong emotion towards another person, they feel pressured to identify as “attracted”. Additionally, the identity that goes with attraction is not supposed to be fluid: if you feel any attraction towards the same sex, you’re gay. Any attraction towards the opposite sex, you’re straight. Any attraction to both, you’re bi. Similarly, if you have any desire towards one overarching relationship, you’re monogamous and if you have any desire for more than one partner you’re poly. End of story.

If you combine this with any sort of mental illness, it seems like a recipe for confusion and frustration, because often mental illness means emotions and desires express themselves in all sorts of new and interesting ways. Example: for those with BPD, deep amounts of care for someone often mean that you spend a lot of time “testing” them (for fear they’ll leave you) by doing odd things like not calling or talking until they do so first. I would imagine that for someone with OCD it would be difficult to distinguish feeling obsessed from feeling attracted. For those on the Autism spectrum, sensory stimulation can be overwhelming. How to tell if you’re sex-repulsed or simply experiencing a sensory overload?

When you perceive the world differently from others, or experience emotions differently (more or less heightened) than others, how can you tell what category you fit into? How do you see the parallels between your own desire (or lack thereof) and the desires of others? Especially because mental illness can make it difficult to understand and effectively manage your emotions, the “all or nothing” approach to dating and romance seems to be perfectly suited to further confuse the issue and lead to misunderstandings of identity. Almost everyone feels some amount of attraction to all kinds of people. Almost everyone feels some element of desire for stability and some for freedom and new experiences.

How do you interpret these feelings if a. you’re not stellar at identifying your feelings in the first place b. your feelings tend to be significantly stronger or weaker than other people’s c. you tend towards all or nothing thinking d. you’re not very good at coping with emotions or making healthy decisions when in the grips of emotions? How do you incorporate the feelings you have into a sense of identity when your feelings might change rapidly or you don’t want the things that are supposed to be a part of “attraction” (or you want more, e.g. kink)? And if you’re already struggling with relationships, boundary setting, expressing needs, or simply being effective at communicating, how do you learn to create your own kind of relationship rather than using the template that’s already available?

Now none of the elements of understanding identity are unique to those with mental illness, but what mental illness can do is obscure things and simply make life a whole lot more complicated. It can also amplify certain emotions or diminish others, so that the attraction or repulsion you feel might be HUGE or barely noticeable.  And all that makes it a lot harder to parse out what kinds of relationships are good for you and what kinds of relationships you want.

 

What is Love?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of love and intimacy, the ways we express love, and how one can express love and intimacy without a strong reliance on physicality. This morning I had a moment that I realized expressed perfectly the kind of love that I want in my life and I have to admit I’m pretty damn grateful to have someone who would express this kind of love for me.

I’m currently out of town at a conference for work, about 2 hours north of where I live. I carpooled with a coworker and left my car behind. Without thinking I took my keys with me (because I wanted to be able to get into my house when I got home). However last night I realized that we’re slated to get a huge snowstorm tonight and that after huge snowstorms they typically call a snow emergency. That means you can park on one set of streets overnight and one during the day and if you’re on the wrong street you get towed. A very expensive tow in the range of $300.

So I started freaking out because I didn’t have a spare key at home and my car was likely going to get towed (for the second time this winter) and there was no way I could afford it. So I texted my boyfriend who was back home and told him what was going on. After some discussion of options and the best plan he drove two hours this morning to get to me and pick up my keys, then turn around and drive 2 more hours to get home before the storm. The most serious champion awesome pants in the world.

And after my wonderful, fantastic boyfriend had come and gone it hit me that I knew of almost no other people who would be willing to offer to do that without me even asking, get up at 4 in the morning to get here early enough, and not act in the least bit put out. It hit me that he had just expressed to me that he cared so much about me that he was willing to put his whole day on hold to make sure I was ok. This to me is love.

Since beginning to identify on the asexual spectrum I’ve had a few feelings nagging at me that I’m incapable of intimacy or of ever expressing my love in a way that my partner understands. I know that these feelings are probably mistaken, but I’ve wanted to try to identify how I can express my love and that has led me to thinking more about what love is. This moment crystallized it for me.

I don’t want to say that sacrifice is love or that putting the other person’s happiness before your own is love because those things are setups for abusive and horrible situations. But it seems to me that illustrating to someone that you care about their well-being, that you’re willing to work to help them, that you are a priority in how you divide your time and your life is a major way to illustrate love.

I hate the idea of a “love language” because each of us uses completely different gestures and words for the way we love. I would prefer to think of it as if we were each Prince and got to design our own symbol to replace the word love. Mine would be a rainbow dolphin riding a unicorn with kittens coming out of its butt. My Prince Love Symbol consists of things like reading poetry to my bf, including him in conversations that explore my emotions and thoughts on a deep level, trying foods that are new and scary (last weekend I tried both bone marrow and squab and he was ecstatic), being patient and interested when he needs to talk to me, spending as much time as possible with him, back massages, our secret handshake, staying up late to watch The Big Lebowski, finding the exact perfect Christmas present that speaks to him and what he loves.

Many of these things are not things that other couples have or do. These are my unique ways of expressing that I care and want to make him smile. That is intimacy. No one form of intimacy is necessary in my mind to show love (although basic respect is a definite must). It’s kind of awesome the particular patterns of intimacy that different couples or triads or whatever form in expressing affection and love.

Society tends to spend a lot of time looking at a few particular forms of intimacy: sex, money, cooking and cleaning, grand gestures. But none of these are really necessary to express your feelings for someone. For me, I couldn’t imagine my relationship without late night talks and good meals together and our sweet kitty babies and a bit of teasing. That doesn’t mean I expect that anyone else needs to express themselves in that way. And their methods of intimacy don’t delegitimize mine.

The problem is that no two individuals have the same constellation of expressions of intimacy and love. So you have to mesh two different methods of expression and it can be extremely difficult. One person might want a form of intimacy the other isn’t interested in. So part of intimacy is seeing what another person’s Prince Love Sign is and interpreting it to your own, thinking about what might appear to them to be love and doing it for them, and finding places where you overlap.

So maybe love is the process of translating intimacy. Maybe it’s caring enough to take the time to see what someone else loves and wants to bring to the table and reflecting it back to them. Maybe it’s the process of building up the little moments of intimacy, the moments that say “I am here with you completely, thinking of you, wanting you to be well”. Maybe it’s the willingness to speak someone else’s language for a bit. Or maybe it’s eating raw oysters then curling up together for a night of fantastic poetry and kitty cuddling.

Most of this is just speculation but I would love to hear others’ thoughts as I try to understand what it means to work someone into your life and how you can express the depth of your feelings for them.

Truth-Tellers and Love

I am a hardcore Spuffy shipper. Oh yes, I ship them to Mars and back. For those who don’t know, Spuffy is the pairing in Buffy the Vampire Slayer of Buffy and Spike, and shipping…well shipping is the unholy obsession that some of us have with certain pairs of people who we desperately want to get together because we live vicariously through their beautiful relationships. I have a lot of feels about Spuffy. I have a lot of Thoughts about Spuffy. But it’s been a while since I watched Buffy and right now my love for that pairing is slowly being usurped by a love for Belle and Rumplestiltskin (the last episode kills me. There will be spoilers of it in this post). And I’ve started to notice a lot of parallels between these two couples, particularly between Spike and Belle. This might strike some as a little odd considering the fact that Belle is a sweet girl who sacrifices her life to save her kingdom and sees the good in a beast whereas Spike is a soulless bloodthirsty vampire who keeps trying to kill Buffy. But the reason I love these two relationships is because each of these characters is a truth teller.

 

One of the things that I have always loved about Spike is that he sees right through the other characters in the show and says what needs to be said. From the point where he starts getting developed as a regular character this happens. In Lover’s Walk in season 3 he calls out Angel and Buffy, saying what no one else will say: “You’re not friends. You’ll never be friends. You’ll be in love till it kills you both. You’ll fight, and you’ll shag, and you’ll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you’ll never be friends. Love isn’t brains, children, it’s blood…blood screaming inside you to work its will. I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it.” And from this point forward Spike becomes the truth teller of the show, even when he manipulates others and skews the truth to get his way. I think we see it most intimately in season 7 when Buffy has been kicked out of her home by the potentials, and Spike comforts her in the abandoned home. He doesn’t comfort her with empty words, he tells her exactly how he sees her and exactly how amazing that makes her.

 

In many ways, Spike is even a truth teller at the darkest points of their relationship. In season 6, he’s the only one who can see where Buffy has been and who asks her about it. He’s the only one who sees her when she’s truly falling apart. And he KNOWS that she is using him: in “Gone” he doesn’t want to have sex with her because he is in love with her and doesn’t want to be used anymore, he only wants to be with her if she’s willing to be seen with him. He knows exactly what she’s doing and he does call her out on it. In many other instances, Spike sees the good in Buffy, names it, and she grows. In season 6, Spike sees the darkness in Buffy, names it, and she grows more fully into that darkness. But either way, he is telling her the truth of herself. That forms the crux of their relationship and in the long run his ability to tell the truth is what allows their relationship to flourish. When Buffy is turning into something horrible, truth-telling destroys them, but when she is at her best, it saves them.

 

And I believe that there are some brief moments where truth-telling is what saves Spike too. In Seeing Red when Spike attempts to rape Buffy, she is finally able to tell him the truth of what she thinks he is, of the facts that he has no soul, of the fact that he cannot and has not respected her. Only through this truth-telling does Spike manage to find his soul and grow into a person who would NEVER do that again. And in the end, when Buffy gives Spike the amulet, she is telling him the truth that she sees him as a hero and it is only through that truth that he can save others. While Spike is more often pulling their relationship through with his truth, at crucial moments Buffy is able to tell Spike who he really is. When he is truly broken or when he desperately needs help to complete an action, she brings him back to who he is.

 

In a remarkably similar way to Spike, Belle is a truth-teller. From the beginning, both Spike and Belle see something that draws them to their respective lover. I believe that each of them sees nuggets of truth that no one else can identify. Belle knows from the beginning that Rumple is not as dark as everyone thinks he is. Belle is truth-teller in a slightly different way from Spike though: sometimes she comes straight out and tells Rumple who he is, but more often she tells the truth through her actions. She knows that Rumple will not hurt her for freeing Robin Hood. She knows that he will not kill Robin Hood. She acts in accordance with this knowledge and that proves to Rumple that he is who she believes he is. She reminds him verbally over and over that he is not dark and that there is love in his heart. She even reminds others, and in their relationship telling the truth to everyone is hugely important because Rumple’s reputation is an important part of his self-perception.

 

In the most current episode, Belle has forgotten who she is, and yet I still believe that she is a truth-teller. She sees through Rumple’s “best behavior”, the act and the façade that he puts up to try to win her over. She sees that there is darkness inside of him (because no one can deny that). He has been repressing his feelings of rage and impotence for a long time in Storybrook in order to try to win back his family, but it seems that he feels he is worthless and useless when he does this because in Storybrook love is more complicated than it is in the Enchanted Forest. Just as when he first became the Dark One, Rumple feels a need for power in order to protect himself, particularly when he has lost the love of those he cares about. Lacey sees this. Lacey sees that he has this overwhelming need to be safe through power. Belle is still telling the truth even when she is not herself.

 

But I suspect that what is really necessary right now is for Rumple to tell the truth. Belle is just as lost right now as Spike was in the middle of season 6. Belle needs her truth-teller to kick her in the chest and tell her to get her god damn soul back. Rumple has not stepped up yet. He’s tried, but he doesn’t know how to tell truth like Belle does and he has not been pushed in the same way Buffy was. Rumple needs to learn how to tell Belle’s truth before anything will break. I am highly looking forward to that moment.

 

The thing that I love about these relationships is that they ring true for me: the strongest and deepest relationships appear when you can see someone for who they truly are, both good and bad, and when you can help them become more themselves. This is true in media, but it is even more true in real life. Relationships live and die on truth-telling, and it is inspiring to me that relationships like these exist in media, relationships in which individuals are not afraid to tell the truth to each other no matter how terrifying it might be. And the reactions portrayed are real. Sometimes when you hear the truth about yourself you grow and change. Sometimes when you hear the truth about yourself you fall further into whatever you are at that moment. But truth-telling is always central to relationships.