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On Dating : You Can Only Change One Thing - kale & cigarettes
On Dating : You Can Only Change One Thing

On Dating : You Can Only Change One Thing

Early March, 2020

My apartment is dark and the screen is bright and I feel like we are all becoming less human somehow.

It appears Joe Biden is ahead of Bernie Sanders in the primaries. It feels like a scam. We can all feel it. No way they were going to take it from Bernie again. The Dems branded themselves as the honest ones. Still, I walked over to the church and filled out my provisional ballet (registered Independents can’t submit standard ballots in primaries) and begrudgingly took my sticker and made a snarky post in my story about how they ran out of stickers that said I was better than you so I grabbed the next closest one. 

I was still high atop Love Mountain this morning and most of the day. Maddy and I texted at a rigorous pace and covered many topics from physical attraction to the shock and wonder of being with a person who was making strides to see and understand you as a full human. 

We spent our last hangout walking through the city drinking wine out of a kombucha bottle stopping at all the landmark NYC spots to take photos of Flat Stanley for my nephew’s school project. We spent hours in bed and on the couch. Laughing. Fucking. Falling in and out of sleep. She walked around my apartment naked in her glasses. I made tea. We fell back asleep. I woke myself up from snoring and we stayed there, wrapped around each other for hours, before eating city bagels with turkey and listening to Moscow jazz records.

It was rich in my stomach and heart and I felt myself bumping into the top section of my emotional range in which I am still somewhat in control before it starts to spill over and I become a hot mess. 

Even something good can be bad. 

She called me after work because I made a joke last night that I always call her first. 

“You really do. It’s just how it works. And, to be fair, I like seeing your picture come up on my phone when you call so I’m just being selfish really,” she said. 

But she called me tonight. And we talked for a few minutes before she walked into the gym. Then she called me after the gym but I was with Ashley sitting on her porch hearing all the latest juice.

I called Maddy back while I was walking and thought how it is interesting that there are things I just don’t tell her yet. Like about the divorce flare up. Or how I texted Alexis today and said she had until the middle of next week to get her lawyers to do some actual work. They called me yesterday and said I had to approve the postponing of our hearing that was coming up in a few days. 

“Oh you mean because she is on vacation in Tokyo and won’t be able to make it?” 

“I can’t speak to that Mr. Hensler. I just know it needs to be postponed.”

“That’s fine.” 

She didn’t like my text. I told her I didn’t like that this was still a thing and it needs to be handled or I’m going to get a nice lawyer of my own and start from the beginning. 

I felt bad about giving her a zing in her chest on her vacation but also she has been giving me a hammer to the throat repeatedly for the last month and half so I guess it’s part of the battle. 

I learn one major thing about myself in every relationship. And rarely can I change that thing because I’m too caught up in resenting the other person for bringing it to light in the first place.

But I can usually adjust the behavior with the next person. I’ve gotten incrementally better at relationships over the last decade. As unfavorable characteristics come to light, I try to start fresh and address them earlier each time. I’ve left behind a trail of regrettable behavior but at least it’s not for nothing.

With Alexis, I learned that my anger and frustration was just fear. I was afraid of so many things and had no tools to express it. I would blame her or shut down or feel irritated by her behavior. I would narrate the situations to justify my anger and come up with the solution of needing to leave her to get away from all of it. I made everything about me.

She asked me once, “Kirken, do you think you could be just 10% nicer? That’s all I need.”

That still plays in my head today. Do you think you could be just 10% nicer? I think of what a waste of a wonderful opportunity. A good, loving partner willing to work with me and grow together. And I couldn’t get there. I was blocked. And then I think it wasn’t a waste if I learned something and try to do better next time.

Mark helped me see that I was just scared. I didn’t have the best model for communicating feelings growing up. A lot of us didn’t. And it shows up every day. Scared people expressing anger when they really want to be asking for assurance and support.

I can tell that I’m more patient now. The conversations in my head are like those in A Beautiful Mind. He still sees the non-existent characters but he doesn’t let them control his reality. I feel anger come up and think, what am I afraid of right now? And then I try to express it. I listen to Maddy and take interest in her life. She feels supported and important and I am deriving pleasure from that. She tells me that it’s different with me. I agree because it is legitimately different for me too.  


When I got back from my walk we transitioned to FaceTime so I could see her face and look at her full lips and soft eyes. 

We talked easily about work and about what we would do if Germany invaded the world again and instead of incinerating people they just made couples pick only one form of physical touch to engage in for the rest of their lives.

“Would you pick kissing, sex, cuddling, holding hands, back scratches….what would it be. You can only pick one,” I asked her.

She thought for a while. She couldn’t understand why they would do this and I told her it was because they were offended by affection. 

“I guess kissing. Because you can do it anywhere. You can’t just have sex anywhere even though I feel like that’s the real answer.” 

I was torn between kissing (for the same reason) and cuddling. 

“I just feel like in wartime we need reassurance that we’re safe and the best way to do that would be to hold you. Unless kissing could be anywhere on the body and I could just eat you out all the time. That feels safe too.”

“Oh yes, I like that loophole.”

“We could try it for a year, just oral sex,” I said.

“Count me in.” 

“Maybe just a week for starters,” I continued. 

There were some dull moments when I felt judgment creep in and began having the vibrating jitters of panic and detachment take hold of my previously love-filled heart. 

“How well do you think you know me? Does it feel comfortable looking at me?” I asked her face.

“Pretty comfortable. We’re definitely getting there.”

She’s always warned that she has a threshold and once she feels comfortable it’s an outpour. I can see it coming and want it to come and also worry that when it does come it will be too much for me and I’ll run away.

She wrote me a letter back. Said she mailed it and then felt sick to her stomach because it’s gushy.

“Why did it make you feel gushy?” I asked her.

“No, I can’t play this game. I’m bad at it. I’ll just give the whole thing away. Just wait. It’ll be there soon.” 

We hung up feeling good about each other. I started writing and when I got to the sentence about seeing her eyes on FaceTime I picked up my phone and sent a text that I liked looking at her face when she lies down and I want to be there kissing her soft lips and wet tongue.

Before I could set my phone down it vibrated back. We had done it, sent simultaneous thinking-of-you emo texts.

“Some facts: I like you. I’m not asleep yet. I’m not asleep because I’m thinking about the fact that I like you. I’m going to try to turn my brain off. I will continue to like you and think about liking you tomorrow.” 

We went back and forth discussing whether or not we were okay. I said I needed a pacemaker for my emotions that gauged when I was getting out of control.

We are ridiculous, she said. 

Yes, in a good way, I said. 

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