At this point I have this trembling feeling in my stomach where you don’t know if something shiny is going on or if you just swallowed a wasp. We had only seen each other once, briefly, at a book festival in Melbourne. We bumped into each other and shared an obscenely early cup of coffee, one of those situations where you’re not sure if it’s a date and are too shy to ask. We talked Doctor Who and the anarchist theory, I admired his band t-shirt, and we both left feeling like the other wanted to keep things platonic, which was good, absolutely good, and not at all disappointing , and neither of us were nostalgic at all when we saw each other’s status updates go by over the years.
Finding out that we had always imagined ourselves was an unexpected treat. Something was different – different enough, at least, to go straight from Messenger to WhatsApp, which for no rational reason has always been my most intimate platform for me. (Signal is safer, of course, but that’s where all of my ex-partners hang out.) We explained that we were both wary of the shape of the heterosexual couple, which is one. of my favorite ways to flirt.
I had decided long ago that if I had to choose between being trapped in one of the traditional, structurally unbalanced heterosexual couples that sucked the spirits of generations of women into my family and being single, I would choose to to be single. I had actually specifically designed my life to never have to shape it around a man, and I was open enough to this fact that the issue had so far not been raised.
It’s not that I don’t believe in the institution of marriage. It would also make sense not to believe in football, which is clearly happening and surprisingly popular. I just didn’t see why this should apply to me, I didn’t understand the rules and would rather we could all get along without having to decide, and I was aware of how many people come out of it horribly hurt.
And it’s not that I’m not romantic. The opposite: I’ve never been able to maintain the level of flippancy required when I really love someone, and jump straight to sonnet writing. This rarely produces the desired effect, especially in straight men. If normal heterosexuality means pounding your heart into manageable contours, I don’t mean it. This year, however, the disasters of the pandemic, climate collapse, civil unrest and economic calamities have made the whole question of normalcy somewhat moot.
When I finally saw her face on Zoom, we started by watching a lot of old classic episodes of Doctor Who together and talk about the theory of protest. We found out we had the same karaoke song and talked about one day being able to go somewhere to empirically prove who’s the best at it. There was also an eight hour time difference, which we negotiated by calling to wake up. Without realizing it, it became every day, and every night, for weeks.
Distance helped. I could tell myself that I wasn’t really falling in love with him, and even if I did, there was no danger of it interrupting all of my carefully crafted plans. There was no way for us to move in on impulse. There were ridiculous levels of difficulty between us, even seeing each other in person. It was exciting to meet, via the emotional prophylactic of a screen, another person with all the emotional strategy capacity of a puppy to have their tummy tickled. It was safe to be vulnerable, to be non-neurotypical with enthusiasm. It was terribly safe to start caring about him, and what to do next was unexpectedly obvious. As I told her very early on, and this is an accurate quote: “I may be a traumatic-shaken wild and indomitable anarcha-feminist fundamentally personally and politically opposed to partnership as a principle of social organization, but I I’m not a fucking idiot either.