At this point, I got that tremulous feeling in my belly where you’re not sure whether something brilliant is happening or you’ve just swallowed a wasp. We’d only seen each other the one time, briefly, at a book festival in Melbourne. We’d met by chance 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 discussed Doctor Who and anarchist theory, I admired his band T-shirt, and both of us came away with the impression that the other one wanted to keep things platonic, which was fine, absolutely fine, and not at all disappointing, and neither of us were at all wistful when we saw the other’s status updates go by over the intervening years.
Finding out that we had always fancied each other was an unexpected treat. Something was different—different enough, at least, to move right from Messenger to WhatsApp, which for no rational reason whatsoever has always felt like the most intimate platform for me. (Signal is more secure, of course, but it’s where all of my ex-partners hang out.) We talked about how we were both suspicious of the heterosexual couple form, which is one of my favorite ways to flirt.
I had long ago decided that if I had to choose between being trapped in one of the traditional, structurally imbalanced straight pairings that sucked the spirit out of generations of women in my family and being single, I would choose to be single. I had in fact specifically designed my life so I would never be obliged to shape it around a man, and was open enough about that fact that the issue had so far failed to come up.
It’s not that I don’t believe in the institution of marriage. It would make as much sense not to believe in football, which also clearly happens and is surprisingly popular. I just didn’t see why it had to apply to me, I don’t understand the rules, and would prefer it if we could all get along without having to decide, and was aware of quite how many people come out horribly injured.
And it’s not that I’m unromantic. The opposite: I have never been able to maintain the requisite level of laid-backery when I really like someone, and switch straight to the sonnet-writing. This rarely produces the desired effect, particularly in straight men. If normal heterosexuality means hammering your heart into manageable contours, I don’t want it. This year, though, the colliding catastrophes of pandemic, climate collapse, civil unrest, and economic calamity have made the entire question of normality somewhat moot.
When I finally saw his face on Zoom, we started out by watching a lot of the old classic episodes of Doctor Who together and talking about protest theory. We found out we had the same karaoke song, and talked about one day being able to go somewhere to actually empirically prove who’s better at it. There was also an eight-hour time difference, which we negotiated by calling to wake one another up. Without noticing, it became every day, and every night, for weeks.
The distance helped. I could tell myself that I wasn’t really falling for him, and even if I was, there was no danger of that interrupting all of my carefully laid plans. There was no way we could impulsively move in together. There were ludicrous difficulty levels in 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 capacity for emotional strategy of a puppy getting its tummy tickled. It was safe to be vulnerable, to be enthusiastically non-neurotypical. It was terrifyingly safe to start to care about him, and what to do next was unexpectedly obvious. As I put it to him early on, and this is an exact quote: “I may be a wild and untameable trauma-twitchy anarcha-feminist fundamentally personally and politically opposed to het partnership as a social organizing principle, but I’m also not a fucking fool.”