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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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?