Untethered: Turning Dancing, D&D, and Body Piercings Into Friendships

Welcome to Untethered, a new column by me, a person who has basically never been single in their whole adult life. Herein, I’m publicly committing to, above all else, dating myself and building community around me not based on the relationship escalator — for the indefinite future. I’m curious about what that looks like, genuinely, and hope you’ll explore that with me!


Did the berries ripen earlier this year? So many plump raspberries rotted on the vine, sour burgundy juice streaming down over black slimy mold. Newly invasive spotted lanternfly nymphs crawled and hopped all over the brambles. I would photograph them, to preserve this particular moment in ecological collapse, while I picked raspberry after raspberry, wrapped in a thorn blanket of brambles that could not touch me in my overalls and thick buttondown.

Still, when the days are too hot, when acidic sweat is dripping down your face and your lungs are catching on themselves because they’re clogged with wildfire soot — you have to admit that no amount of stability will save you. No, it’s the community bonds that we form, or in much less fancy language — it’s the friendships that hold us up and see us through.

But one of the things about not having spent significant time being single is that my friends have often been tangled up with partners. When the partnership dissolves, even if they don’t “pick sides,” people usually still choose one person to hang out with. So, now, I’m looking at the small lineup of friends who are still in my world, and the much larger cadre of people I might only ever see in passing.

Over the past month, I’ve realized if I want more friendship in my life, I’m going to have to be almost aggressive about a) following up with people I’m friends with to see if they want to hang, b) finding new people to be friends with and c) being open to experiencing the magic and the beauty of other peoples’ chaos.

***
It was a Saturday, and I’d gone over to my ex boss / current friend’s house to read Tarot as part of a fundraising party she threw because she needed help paying for a new roof. As I hung out, I realized this party was filled with 30 and 40-somethings in the arts in 2023 and that every single person was asking the Tarot about their career, their path ahead. Everyone was also unmoored and unsure and hungering for something more than lying down beneath the crushing wheels of the monster truck of time.

Then, my friend cracked my head open with a real shocker. She’d been thinking about me since I’d expressed to her that I felt like I was losing my community for a number of reasons. So, this straight woman had remembered I have wanted to try playing D&D for forever and when this group of queer theater adults wrapped up a two-year D&D campaign and were looking to engage in a series of one-shots and board game nights for the summer, she asked them if I could join.

I asked her “Did you set me up with a polycule, J?”

“Pretty much!”

A few texts later, and I was scheduled for my first ever D&D one-shot campaign where, of the group, I knew one person decently. I arrived, brought my vegan chickpea salad to add to the food my friend’s fiance was making for everyone, and made friends with the cat while a bunch of delightful queers popped into the cozy living room in ones and twos. A cloud of pot smoke and tacos which some people — but not me, gawd — had with THC laced hot sauce (???) later, and we were sitting around picking an animal to play as from a series of choices. We wound up with an owl, a loon, a kitten, a fawn, a lizard. Yours truly was a pony. Between the party posing as Applebees characters, getting a room full of monsters drunk on beverages made of thousand island dressing + broken glass + vodka, and trying to punch a magic bubble repeatedly — all via theater kids really laying into their voices, I had so much fun I transcended to a higher plane. I also learned what happens when you roll a 20, about some of the mechanics of the game and what a “one-shot” is in D&D. For anything I didn’t understand, the table was happy and eager and patient when it came to explaining. Every time someone pointed out which die was the correct one, and each time the other players welcomed my voice into the melee, my heart grew like, I don’t even know, three sizes (with advantage). My therapist is probably right: I need more people who don’t actively resent me in my life. And given the chance, I might see I am not the worst person on earth if I give new people the chance to get to know me.

***
Jellyfish, Pittsburgh’s own queer disco DJ duo (who you might remember from Spaghetti Disco), put on JELLYFEST last weekend, with a dizzying lineup of queer entertainers, the culmination of which was two floors of under-the-sea decorated dance rooms filled with sweating, fanning, dancing, writhing, kissing queers. In the lead-up, I was busy, mostly in my Instagram DMs, talking to friends and almost-friends about going.

It was another night of going out dancing solo, with the hope of seeing people, but this time, progress! I didn’t almost dry heave. Yay! I felt like I had the hang of things, in fact, until I spotted a couple friends of my ex, who I’d hung out with on more than one occasion, whose homes I’d been in, who we’d planned to go camping with. I went up and said hello and then, immediately, that I wasn’t sure I should have. What followed were their hands on their chests and a lot of reassurances that it was fine, followed by “how are yous” and “it’s so hards.” They were not wrong, but it was also clear the conversation couldn’t progress beyond that. These were now former friends. After I complimented the home-crafted silver snake C had around their neck, I waved goodbye and avoided them for the rest of the night — but not resentfully, just because that’s how it is.

After I got caught in the middle of a drag show for like 20 minutes, I finally found my friends. Though locating people in a crowd filled me with dread (I’m relatively face-blind LOL), I managed.

There was one friend I was certain was there but who I wouldn’t see for at least an hour. Someone had wanted a cigarette, and we all needed air. My friend, S — the one who bills herself as an excellent distraction — caught me scrambling up a dirt pile to sit on a concrete wall outside. S called out to me “Nico! I knew that was you! It would only be you climbing something like that in practical shoes!” I’m not sure what that says, but from that point on, there was an ever-expanding and contracting group of dancing bodies that found each other and lost each other and found each other again. And, inevitably, at one point, a Barbie Girl remix played across the speakers while the queers who’d come decked out in tight pink dresses and delightfully hairy armpits truly had their moment.

***
“Let’s put holes in ourselves!”

For the purposes of this, I’ll just refer to the queer chef I found on an app looking for platonic friends as Chef, because that’s fun and we all liked The Bear, didn’t we?

So, Chef and I are talking, trying to see if we’re friend material. He’s poly-saturated and looking for platonic connections. I’m, well, you know my circumstances — in need of friends who don’t know my ex. We get on the topic of dangly earrings, and then of piercings. He’s wanted his bridge pierced for some time. I share that I’ve wanted my nostril pierced for years.

He declares, then: “Let’s put holes in ourselves!” which is, in itself, iconic and something that says “friendship” to me. We make a plan to simultaneously meet and get pierced together at a place where he thinks he can get a discount. We book it, and then we wait.

Then, he’s late (due to work), I’m on time, and the piercers are so sweet and nice about waiting for Chef to get there before piercing him. They take me back first, and I try to, as I must always with strangers, explain to the piercer what an ‘Autostraddle’ is. He presses me for an example of something I’ve written while he gets the needle ready, and I quickly explain about Gandalf Big Naturals, as one does.

Afterward, we go to grab some beers and cheers to each other. “Happy Hole Day!” I shout while we clink glasses and affirm each others’ piercings look awesome. We talk about work. He tells me about his woes at a restaurant where the owner won’t hire a dishwasher, but, I kid you not, has hired a magician that visits tables on Thursdays and Fridays.

After a while, we part ways but make plans for the last of the raspberries I managed to salvage and freeze. He wants to make them into a raspberry liqueur. Naturally, this completely activated my childhood Redwall Brain. This is now the fate of the frozen raspberries. No question. So, I’ll finish this by sharing this meme with you before I follow up with my chef friend.

a meme of Chef from The Bear screaming and cooking, and text reads "GOOSEBERRY WINE, BEETROOT PIE, CHEESE AND MUSHROOM PASTIES, NUTBREAD CAKE ICED WITH CLOVER HONEY"

Did you know Brian Jacques, author of Redwall, dropped out of school and ‘took to the sea’ at 14?

In the midst of climate change and being single and building everything back up from absolute scratch, I have to ask, is it now…hot and sweet and friendship-stuffed “Redwall Summer?” Is it? Maybe? Please?

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35 Comments

  1. “Everyone was also unmoored and unsure and hungering for something more than lying down beneath the crushing wheels of the monster truck of time.”

    aren’t we though.

    enjoying this series! i am less able to get out and do the things but very much in the same place of (always, always) desiring to build up more solid, meaningful friendships. also, if you are on the same platonic friending app as i am (although if your chef friend’s gender is different than yours maybe you aren’t?) i cordially invite you to refer to your matches as your bumbs, hard b at the end- i find this drastically enhances the experience, luv 2 update my friends on how it’s going w my bumbs

    • The app is Lex actually, which, I really feel like it’s gotten super platonic and event-planny since its start? But that also varies by region (I check it whenever I travel because I’m always so curious about what queers are up to and how it varies by region.) I’ve heard weird things about the gender restrictions with Bumble for friends! I do love the idea of calling friend-dates bumbs, though.

      • oh yeah and they made an intentional shift in that direction last year, right? lex has always been trash in my city (and i find the format weird) so i didn’t even think of using it- i’m glad has been fruitful in your area! i guess this means we need to workshop a deeply stupid term for lex-based friend dates.

        bumble’s friend mode has gone through some pretty silly iterations over the years- the last time i downloaded it, a couple years ago, they had progressed enough to have a nonbinary category but not enough to not then ask you, in effect, if you were a boy nonbinary or a girl nonbinary. pass. i’ve had it again for a few weeks now and they no longer do that, they just funnel you off into the pool of other people who choose ‘nonbinary’ as their gender. which.. is honestly not the worst as a filter, even if i do not agree with the underlying philosophy. i maintain that nothing will ever be as good as okcupid’s ‘i don’t want to see or be seen by straight people’ option. until then, it’s me and my bumbs, just trying to get by in the cold cruel world

        • Yeah honestly the like a “queers only” option would be fine? Why not have that? Very odd. And yeah, that’s what I heard about Bumble was that if you’re nonbinary you only see other nonbinary people which kind of severely limits your friend pool. I don’t however identify as either a “girl nonbinary” or “boy nonbinary” nor have I ever heard those terms. So IDK.

          What about lexties. Like besties. But from lex.

          • i am being slightly hyperbolic- it didn’t literally ask if you were a boy or girl nonbinary but it -did- make you choose whether to be shown to people looking for men or people looking for women, which i experienced as being exactly the same thing in effect. poorly done!

            okay yes lexties, or.. lol, flexes, like (f)riends from (lex)? it does not immediately lend itself to this particularly flavor of dumbassery but i am undeterred

        • This is really a reply to your below comment since it won’t let me respond.

          That’s really weird. Like a boy-seeking-nonbinary or a girl-seeking-nonbinary? Love it (by that I mean hate it) when things will go around their ass to still gender things.

          Lexos maybe?

          • hahaa lexos is exactly the right tone, i’m sold and will be here eagerly awaiting future lexo content, salute emoji

  2. This series is really excellent❤️

    On the lighter note, I feel there HAS been something garden-wise that’s just been very weird this year. In the UK so completely different climate, and we’re getting an old fashioned british summer (never above 20C and raining), but somehow blackberries are already ripe ??? the fruit that means september??

    • Thank you so much <3 <3 <3

      Yes! The wild blackberries around the neighborhood were early this year. I was like "weren't you guys August berries??" There's something going on. I swear there has to be.

  3. Loving this series, very relatable right now, and it’s fun to root for you in this ~journey~. I’ve spent a lot of my adulthood attached to another person, and at 37 I’m recently out of a relationship that also meant a social circle upheaval. No animosity, it’s just like you said where I’m keeping a couple friends, but not all, and it’s all shaped differently now, and I guess this is just how it is.

    I’m figuring out how to just exist without flinging myself into another relationship, while ultimately wanting partnership, how to fully acknowledge myself as a queer person, how to prioritize friendship, how to let things develop into their own shape at their own pace.

    • Caroline, thank you so much for reading! I’m also really glad that this is so relatable for you, and I’m cheering you on right back! And yes, I am wishing all of us perpetually-not-single people a ton of luck when it comes to not flinging ourselves back into a partnership. <3 Sending you love.

    • Same, Caroline and Nico. I have the added struggle of living hours from a populated area and thus having to consider moving after I fought so hard to get exactly where I am, just because the isolation without a partner(s) is killing me. I’m resentful of the Capitalistic Nuclear Family set up, even in queer land, where many people don’t have time for those outside their households!

      • Oh no! I hope that you find your ways to better pastures. Personally, yeah, it can be hard at our age to find people who are into inter-community care and hangs outside their households even among queers, but I feel like, once you tap in, that network has a lot of tendrils. I’ve been like hmmm I can see it. They’re out there! Sending you so much love!

  4. teeny bit distracted by the berry on the home blurb… it has a strawberry top and a raspberry bottom… is that a berry i don’t know, or a metaphor that i’m missing?

  5. Omfg Redwall summer I’m obsessed. I love this column!!!!

    Also I know that you know this so I’m gonna explain something you know but: you make friends often by consistently being at the same place. And asking for what you want. Seems like you’re nailing it!!!

  6. This is charming and nourishing. Really looking to more of it.

    (also if you want to Combine DnD energy and Redwall energy in a very little maths/ lots of feelings kind of way, I recommend reading about a (very queer) ttrpg system called Wanderhome)

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