5 Lessons I’ve Learned From Writing About My Relationships On The Frisky
For the last five years (longer, if you include the six months I worked on the site before we actually launched), I’ve been editing The Frisky. But I’ve also done quite a bit of writing for the site, particularly about sex and relationships. In addition to humorously, I hope, commenting on the state of dating and male and female behavior (“10 Types Of Emotional Wheelchairs” remains a favorite of mine), I have shared a whole heck of a lot about my own personal life. My intent was always to shed some sort of light on universal experiences through the lens of my own. I think I was often fairly successful at it — and it certainly has been both fun and cathartic for me — but I also made some mistakes that informed how I write about my personal life now. Here are some lessons I’ve learned over the last five years blogging about my personal life for The Frisky.
Lesson #1: Be Honest With Yourself And You’ll Be More Honest On The Page
When I started at The Frisky, I was in a serious relationship of nearly four years. Two-and-a-half months before the site’s launch, on our fourth anniversary, my boyfriend proposed. When The Frisky went live, I began writing about being engaged and the somewhat slow process of planning a wedding, but mostly ruminating on what it meant to be becoming someone’s wife. It was sort of like Andrea Grimes’ Hitched column, only lacking in personal insight. Or that’s how it seems to me now when I reread those old “So I’m Engaged” columns — how much I wasn’t revealing about my own fear of getting married and my unhappiness in my relationship, not because I was intentionally hiding anything in my writing, but because I wasn’t able to face them myself. Yes, I was in love with my best friend and there was much that was wonderful about our relationship, but there a lot that was missing too. I wasn’t the most honest writer back then, because I wasn’t being that honest with myself.
Lesson #2: Give People The Respect They’ve Earned
The most honest “So I’m Engaged” I ever wrote was about my dad (who passed away this past November). We had had a very rocky relationship over the previous 10+ years and for a variety of reasons, I felt very conflicted about inviting him to my wedding. I knew I didn’t want to invite him. I knew my reasons for not wanting to invite him were sound — he was unpredictable and I hadn’t seen him in years; would I really want my wedding day to be the day we had our awkward reunion? I also didn’t trust that he would behave, because at so many other important times in my life, he hadn’t. But i felt guilty. He was my father. I should invite him. Didn’t he have a right to be there? Wouldn’t it hurt him to not to be included? Ultimately, I reached the conclusion that I wouldn’t be inviting him, and wrote about my thought process in a “So I’m Engaged” post. I didn’t intend for him to see it. But he did. And he didn’t talk to me for a year, until months after my fiancé actually broke off our engagement. While my dad, I believe, was mad at me for feeling the way I did and less about the fact that I wrote it on the website, I felt badly about how he found out. I wouldn’t apologize for my feelings, but I’m eternally sorry for not giving him the respect he deserved and discussing it with him first. I took the column down and haven’t put it back up.
There’s a saying that goes something like, “If it happened to you, it’s yours to write about.” And I, for the most part, agree. But I think that if what happened to you involved other people, you have to do your best to give them the respect they’ve earned. My dad earned more than I gave him in that instance. I like to believe though that he, having been a writer too, would ultimately understand that my honesty in that piece was an important milestone for me.
Lesson #3: Write When You’re Angry, Edit When You’re Not
Writing about my dad might have put a huge crack in the dam, but the sudden ending of my engagement opened the floodgates. I don’t want to belabor the details too much, because years have passed, but I was blindsided when my fiancé unceremoniously ended things one Sunday afternoon. Once the initial shock and devastation started to wear off, I felt fucking humiliated about how glowingly I had written about our relationship for the past six months. Luckily, my embarrassment was put at ease by how supportive readers were and I threw myself into work. That included writing exhaustively about my breakup, which seemed to go on and on for months. For the most part, I’m proud of how I wrote during that time, as raw as it could be. Some days were better than others, vacillating between intense woe (I genuinely felt like I had missed out on my one shot at love), fury and, mostly, disappointment. I had already been let down by the most important man in my life, my dad. Part of what drew me to my ex was the feeling that he would never disappoint me that way. That safety trumped all the doubts I had; that safe feeling fueled every not-quite-completely-honest “So I’m Engaged” post. When I discovered how unstable we were, and had been for a while, I just gave up on telling myself how I should feel and embraced, for good and for bad, how I really felt.
Which is not to say I didn’t make mistakes. I definitely snuck in some snarky and irrelevant jabs at my ex and his new girlfriend (now wife) that weren’t necessary and probably made me look more catty than funny. Those moments were written in anger and while anger is a genuine place to be writing from, I now try and give myself a little time to reflect on whether it’s really worth hitting below the belt. At least when it comes to people I know. Most of the time, I share the snarky remarks with friends and coworkers, and edit them out of the finished product.
Lesson #4: This Isn’t Couples Therapy
I hadn’t dated in five years, and as my ex was my first real boyfriend, I didn’t actually have all that much prior experience with dating. I was single and still reeling from my breakup, which meant that the first few guys I dated were destined to be trial runs … I wasn’t really ready for anything serious, as much as I may have mistaken the strong feelings I had for these men to be serious. It was like I hadn’t had a drink in years and took my first shot of alcohol — I got drunk quick. At first, the writing I did about these relationships (two in particular, a guy I nicknamed Chicken Parm– mostly in a regular column called “Dating Amelia” — was totally blissed out. But as I got to know them better and our incompatibilities were revealed, I made the mistake of overanalyzing those discrepancies and the flaws I saw in their ability to be good partners in my writing. Yes, these were conversations I was having with them too, so it wasn’t like they thought everything was hunky dory, only to discover I was writing about how much things sucked. But looking back, as much as I was writing about what happened to me, I was also writing about what was happening to them, while it was happening, and that sharing those troubles with the blogosphere may have been cathartic for me in terms of processing my feelings, but was terribly unfair to them. Ultimately, both relationships ended, and would have ended regardless of whether I had ever wrote about them in that manner, but since then, I’ve been much more mindful of not equating writing about my relationship issues with actually dealing with my relationship issues.
Nearly two years ago, I had an intense three month relationship with a guy with Autism. Though I wrote a few pieces during our relationship that dealt with positive affects the relationship had on me, it wasn’t until well after we broke up that I wrote a lengthy piece about his Autism and what affect it had on our initial spark, ability to communicate and eventual breakup. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to have the same insight into those things if I had written about them while we were in the throes of trying to make things work.
Lesson #5: Keep Some Things To Yourself
For the last, oh, year and a half, I’ve been in love with someone very special. He’s not my boyfriend. We are not together. It’s exceedingly complicated and yet totally simple. That’s basically as much I’m going to say about the particulars. I’ve written one post about it, specifically about how much timing matters, but aside from that a few vague mentions, I have left this relationship off The Frisky. Part of the reason is certainly that by writing about it publicly, it will be open to judgment. That judgment would naturally be based on whatever I wrote about us, and I know anything I did write would be lacking in important details, details that make all the difference. So why bother? But more than anything, this person, and the bond we have, is one of the most precious in my life, regardless of what direction it progresses in the future. For whatever reason, I haven’t wanted to write about him. So I haven’t.