Life After Dating: Writing While Coupled
Over the weekend, my boyfriend Michael visited his mom and his sister, who was home from school for the weekend, out in the burbs. He told them he was going to propose to me soon, and his sister said she already knew that because she reads my work. Whoops! I’m so glad I don’t talk much about our sex life here.
The reality of working as a writer, and specifically as a woman writer, while in a relationship comes with a few problems. I can’t say anything too specific about Michael, and I’m glad he has such a common first name, because it makes him hard to identify. Part of that gladness stems from the fact that there are nutso predators on the Internet who might take issue with what I have to say and decide to make my life worse by making life worse for the people I love. The other part of it is that I am an unconventional woman with strong, non-mainstream opinions, and I don’t want them to be attached to my boyfriend’s public persona. Dating someone doesn’t mean you agree with everything they say or believe, after all. My job in terms of his career is to show up at the annual holiday party and be charming. His bosses don’t need to know anything else about me lest they start believing that because I’m unconventional, Michael is also less conventional than they’ve been led to believe (he is less conventional than he comes off, but not in the leftist/feminist/sex positive/gender nonconformist/takes clothes off on the Internet sort of way).
Another is a sort of small, vague feeling of resentment that I get sometimes: I get that along with talking about your personal life comes feedback and opinions about your personal life that’s based on what you write, not on what you live (and you can only do so much with a blog post to portray what the day-to-day reality of your relationship is really like). But because I have the authorial voice in the public portrayal of our relationship, the negative opinions (when they’re voiced) fall on me rather than him. I question myself sometimes: Is it that I really am X, Y, or Z, or is it that the summary snapshot I provided of our relationship makes me sound that way?
There’s the fact that I feel like, as a woman writer who’s employed by a women’s blog, I have to write about my relationship. I’m certain that if I were a man writing for a men’s blog, or any other web site, I wouldn’t feel obligated. The reality of women’s publishing is that it has centered around beauty, sex, and relationships for a very long time, and that a certain level of confessionalism is expected (and simultaneously reviled) of women who write. And being a leftist/feminist/sex positive/gender nonconformist, I’m not sure I’m totally comfortable with that. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the fact that Michael’s representation of our relationship isn’t subject to the same scrutiny as mine, and that it wouldn’t be if he were to find himself employed by a blog or a publisher. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the fact that because I’m a woman who writes, there’s a general demand for or expectation of me to share the details of my life and my relationship, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the backlash that I can usually expect to accompany that sharing.
And at the same time, I do think that sharing experiences can be helpful, but I’m also aware of the fact that women writers aren’t just writing for people who would benefit from us sharing our experiences; we’re also writing for people who just enjoy the voyeurism of it all.
And then there’s the very basic problem of what to share and what not to. I have topics I could discuss about myself that would fall under the broad lines of content that this blog covers, that I can’t justify sharing because I haven’t talked them through with Michael yet: Our communication in our relationship comes first. There’s the fact that my family reads this, and his too, apparently, so while I think we have a really healthy, responsible, wonderful sex life, I don’t share information about it: We have to live with and in our families, and I don’t want them to feel disrespected (and at the same time, I want to honor the things I feel strongly about and who I am — it’s a tough line to walk). There are aspects of our relationship that other people could benefit from reading about that have (generally) to do with Michael’s good and bad habits, his physical health, his mental health — but that’s not my post to write, even if it’s from my point of view: His privacy and consent matters more than, well, really anything.
We live in a world of chronic over-sharers, and I’m not going to say I’ve never been one of them. This job — blogging, and particularly blogging for women – demands a lot of reflection about what’s appropriate or not to share, because we want to and need to be relatable, but we also have to live with the people we write about. It’s not so different from the struggle not to be the friend on Facebook who statuses every argument, every resentment, every good hump session, every meal, every mood, every passing thought. It’s the struggle to make the value of your thoughts lie both in what you do say and why, and in what you choose not to, and why. The “why” really matters, and the “why” should always be “I want to be kind and respectful toward the people I love.” For that reason, the best strategy is to practice empathy and put their feelings first, accept some amount of censorship, and, in a worst-case scenario, just find other things to talk about.
Follow me on Twitter.