As you may or may not be aware, this weekend I got married to Topher Hallquist, sometimes known as Uncredible Hallq. Since I just got married and am now on my honeymoon, I think it is perfectly reasonable to brag about how great my husband is. If you do not wish to read this post, less sappy blogging will continue tomorrow.
Before I dated Topher, I didn’t realize how easy it could be to date someone. Before I dated Topher, all of my serious relationships spent lots of time getting worked on, or (more often, because of my horror of relationship processing) not getting worked on despite the obvious and glaring problems that were harming the happiness of both myself and my partner. I am used to my relationships being one of the stressful things in my life– a good and valuable stressful thing, but still on the list of reasons why I feel like shit all the time. Not so with Topher.
Partially, I think, it’s that we’re very well-suited to build a life together. We like a lot of the same activities (long walks, vegan Chinese food, cuddling, talking about books, browsing the Internet next to each other on the couch in companionable silence, snarking at Eliezer Yudkowsky). Partially, it’s that the disagreements that would have become a huge Thing in previous serious relationships just… don’t. I’ve been in relationships where my partner buying me the wrong ring means I’m angry at them, and I start sniping, and they start sniping, and then we have to have a huge discussion about What Getting The Wrong Ring And Our Subsequent Sniping Means For The Relationship, and it’s a huge time-consuming mess. Topher has the mysterious power to laugh at such things and then they transform into funny stories we can giggle about.
Similarly, I am very much a rationalist, and Topher very much is not. I’ve been in relationships where this would lead to constant low-level bickering about whether Eliezer Yudkowsky is a good person, and then I get defensive of my rightful caliph, and then we stop bringing up the topic, and a huge part of my intellectual life doesn’t get shared with the person I’m in a relationship with, which is depressing. Instead, Topher seems to understand and respect why the rationalist movement is important to me (friends! spirituality!), even though he doesn’t share them himself, and he is happy to agree to disagree on the issue of whether Elizer is a cinnamon roll. (He totally is, though.)
So instead of being a source of stress, Topher is a source of strength that makes it easier to deal with other things I have to do in my life. When I’m having a bad executive functioning day, I can ask him to decide what I should do. When I’m frightened by people I don’t know at a party, I can ask him to stay near me and then I feel less scared. When I’m having a hard time doing something for a job, he’ll hold me and validate me.
Come As You Are, my favorite sex advice book, discusses four aspects of attachment: proximity seeking; safe haven; separation distress; and secure base. All four manifest uniquely in my relationship with Topher.
Proximity seeking means that it feels good to be around them, and you want to be close as much as possible. It is nice to spend time with Topher even when we aren’t doing anything special. I like writing while he’s reading GURPS books, each of us on our separate laptops; I like cuddling and reading and telling each other the interesting things that are in our books.
Safe haven means seeking out your partner when you’re under stress– what Emily Nagoski calls the ‘tend and befriend’ way of responding to stress. I think that’s a lot of what I mean when I say “dating Topher is easy”. When I’m stressed, interacting with him makes me less stressed rather than more stressed; it makes me feel like my emotions are understood, my problems are solvable, and we’re on the same team tackling this together.
Separation distress means being sad when the person is gone. You’d think borderlines, given our abandonment issues, would experience a lot of separation distress, but interestingly I don’t. Like a lot of borderlines, I lack relationship object permanence– if I’m not actually interacting with you, our relationship doesn’t exist. My relationship with Topher, however, continues to exist when he’s gone. I experience this strange bizarre feeling called ‘missing someone’, and to be honest it is kind of unpleasant and I would like to return it to the store and get my money back.
Secure base means that the person is your emotional home. You know that they’ll come back when they go away, and they’ll be there if you really need them. Knowing about their presence gives you the strength to explore new things that you might be frightened of otherwise (think of a toddler who wants to check that her mom’s there before she investigates the new toy). And that is how I feel about my Topher.
I seem to have found the one man on the entire planet who doesn’t mind dating a borderline. This is a rare gift, because borderlines are, for most people, incredibly hard to date. I had resigned myself to finding someone who put up with my mental illness because of the other good things I bring to the table and to trying to spread the burden of dealing with me across multiple partners so no one person was too harmed. However, Topher does not seem to get upset by borderline things, with a few exceptions (such as legitimate suicide threats). He thinks my clinginess is adorable and somewhat flattering, my fits of borderline logic about why he secretly hates me are hilarious, and my helplessness is cute.
He does not seem to face any particular difficulty in setting boundaries. Many people have trouble setting boundaries with suicidal people: after all, they’re suicidal! Surely that has to trump anything as petty as my own happiness. (Not if you want a sustainable relationship, it doesn’t.) Even if they do set boundaries, the process of overriding their guilt about setting boundaries is difficult; they can get resentful of their partner’s mental illness, feeling like their partner is constantly demanding things they cannot give. And if they figure out how to set boundaries without feeling guilty, a lot of times that corrodes their compassion for their suicidal partner: the suicidality is seen as a thing the suicidal person is doing to them; in extreme circumstances, the partner may see the suicidal person as manipulative and faking their suicidality. Topher does not do this. Not only does he set boundaries, but having accepted the arguments that setting boundaries is an important part of a healthy relationship with me, he doesn’t feel guilty about it. And he continues to have empathy for my suffering.
Topher makes an effort to do things that make me happy. A lot of it is little things– kissing my forehead when I wake up, getting me my favorite candy from the store, watching TV shows with me. I feel tremendously grateful to him for all the goodness he has brought to my life. In particular, I would like to mention that he watched Disney Descendants, a Disney Channel original movie directed by my unproblematic fave Kenny Ortega about the children of classic Disney villains, of his own free will, simply because I liked it and wanted to talk to him about it. Frankly, any person who would watch a Disney Channel original movie for you is a keeper.