Untethered: After a Breakup, Spinning Out of Control (Literally)

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!


For the first few days of the breakup, I was in shock. I hadn’t expected it, had watched myself from outside myself. Still, it was done.

As the shock seeped down through the strata of my body and my mind and settled into something like the first few stages of grief, I was filled with the urge to move my body. This urge did not manifest in craving the ways I ordinarily moved, but in a longing for new, faster, (more furious?) modes.

So, being one to give into what are surely harmless impulses, I immediately engaged in the following, in chronological order:

Roller-Skating at a Rink for the First Time Since I Was a Child

The weekend following the breakup, I got in my Subaru and drove up to Western New York, sometimes crying ON THE HIGHWAY while going 70 mph. Sure, those Fast and the Furious guys can Tokyo Drift, but have they ever attempted to drive while crying so hard they can’t see? I imagine, actually, maybe, tenderly, yes. Still, it’s not shown. I stopped at my favorite queer-friendly Hot Dog joint in Erie, PA (Lucky Louie’s, if you’re ever in town — also this commercial starring a drag queen is tops), and arrived at my sister’s where she let me crash on her couch. The very next day, the two of us were seized with a desire to do something, anything, and we settled on roller skating.

We wanted old-fashioned, four wheels-per-foot roller-skating, with blacklight and disco balls and Day-Glo murals. We found a rink and cemented our plans. On the way, we stopped at our dad’s, and while we sat out back with his wife, he recounted a story from his high school days. He went to a roller rink with a date, got in a fight with another boy, and had his date come to his defense, yelling “Leave him alone! He can’t even skate!” as he struggled to get up off the floor.

My sister and I drove out of town to the rink, in an area made up of old housing stock and a dive bar. When looking around for someone to rent skates from, we caught sight of several teens with staff shirts doing tricks in the center of the rink. Eventually, one of them noticed us, zoomed over, and provided us with skates in our size. We sat down in a plastic booth and pulled the worn leather weighed down by heavy wheels onto our feet. And I guess I really am my father’s son, because as soon as the skates were strapped on, my sister and I locked eyes, only in that moment understanding the true extent to which we were screwed.

It was a wall-clinging, hand-holding, grimacing time getting acclimated to the fact that we had strapped wheels to our feet. We soon realized we’d paid to humiliate ourselves for the evening, but then comforted ourselves with the fact that we weren’t the only ones struggling, or the only adults struggling for that matter. It was a no-judgment zone, except for the occasional eight-year-old asking us if there was anything they could do to help. We both only fell once, my sister on her butt, and myself into a vogue-style split situation that only bruised my ass a little.

Still, when I got the rhythm together and was zooming around the rink, even making turns, all while a bunch of teens skirted the edge of death on one leg or jumped every time they passed my sister, it scratched that itch I had, the one that said I needed to physically feel like I was flying. And hey, someone complimented my Gay Chaos socks, which do indeed glow under blacklight. I left sore but satisfied — and with a plan to return to the same roller rink with my sister next time I was in town, which I will be by the time you’re reading this.

Spinning and Sliding and Falling and Chafing on a Slippery Pole for Some Reason

So, it had never occurred to me that this might be the case, but you know how sliding down a metal slide in shorts can hurt the heck out of your legs? That’s what a pole-dancing pole felt like on my legs whenever I tried to grip it with some very sensitive patches of skin!

For some impulsive reason, I paid about $12 to go to a pole-dancing class. It looked fun! Instead of the wheels on a skate spinning, you are the thing spinning! My brain had been screaming at me to GO FAST, and it refused to be silenced by the reality that I am in my thirties and not always that capable of going that fast — or of picking up new physical skills right away!

It was harrowing. Even though my spins were SNAIL-PACED and executed with the grace of a fish out of water, it still felt, to me, like I was careening out of control. I thudded to the ground more times than I can count. Still, the more experienced dancers in the class were warm, supportive, encouraging. There was a culture of clapping for someone when they nailed a trick that caught me off guard for just a moment before it utterly charmed me. When I managed an elbow stand and to grab the pole with my ankles, and the class applauded me, for that singular upside-down moment, everything became warm and fuzzy, no matter how anxious spinning around made me. I’ll probably be back, if only because I’m stubborn and enjoy cheering on people who’re trying to do a hard thing.

Normal Dancing but With a Queer DJ Playing Italo-Disco and Also Spaghetti

I love going dancing. This is a fact. Imagine my surprise when I almost dry-heaved with nerves while I parked my car up the block from the venue. I considered turning around, giving up, not going in. But I’d already promised a friend I’d meet her, and I didn’t want to flake. So, I made my way past the boys smoking outside and into the venue. Wearing a mask still makes me feel like an outsider, but I made it work, enjoying the dichotomy of a crop top + an N-95. I found my friends, found a can of something, and found the dance floor where another friend and queer, awesome-as-all-get-out DJ was spinning Italo-disco for a small but ever-growing crowd of people dancing; some solo, some in couples or groups, and each with a range of enthusiasm from rocking side to side to full on throwing themselves around like they’d just invented some kind of disco-mosh.

When I managed to communicate “break up” over the roar of disco by miming breaking something  with my hands to my friend, she assured me with her voice that somehow carried: Breakups happen for a reason. She proceeded to note that people have told her she’s a great friend to be distracted with while flipping her blonde curls back and batting her eyes in a way that communicated she fully embraced her party-girl status. I laugh because it’s true, but also not a bad thing. It’s a neutral thing, and maybe even a good thing when you need it.

The whole dance situation is called Spaghetti Disco because at midnight, the kitchen staff brings out trays of free spaghetti. When the spaghetti happened (the spaghetti-ing?), I was trapped off to the side of the stage by a series of ultra-passionate dancers but became aware of the spaghetti when people brought it onto the dance floor to drop forkfuls of pasta into their open mouths while swaying their hips and spinning. Despite being marinated in a combination of sweat and the smell of marinara, I left the disco feeling cleansed.

Maybe next time, I’ll try the spaghetti.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!
Related:

Nico

Nico Hall is Autostraddle's and For Them's Membership Editorial and Ops Dude, and has been working in membership and the arts for over a decade. They write nonfiction both creative and the more straightforward variety, too, as well as fiction. They are currently at work on a secret project. Nico is also haunted. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram. Here's their website, too.

Nico has written 226 articles for us.

17 Comments

  1. hope that you’re hanging in there as best as you can, nico – sending love and compassion.

    and as someone who is happily independent, i’m really excited for this. we so prioritize partnered romantic relationships to the exclusion of others in ways that i think can be deeply harmful (to the partnered relationship; to friends and family and other potential romantic relationships, if you’re poly; and to the self), and i’m looking forward to hearing your (always insightful and eloquent) explorations of this space.

    • Thank you, Gina! That’s super kind. Some days (and moments) are better than others, but I’m alive, you know? I’m also really interested in exploring and thinking about and writing about relationships that aren’t partnered romantic ones. They’re something I know I need to put energy into on this journey and I’m really glad you brought this up <3

  2. If I were you, I’d be so proud of myself for listening to my body!

    Those new stimuli seem like a healthier reaction than the one I had for a year after my 10-yr relationship permanently ended. 😂 Friends and AS advice columns helped me until I could get professional care 💗🙏 Glad you have your community, too!

    Just last week I rounded some sort of bend on all the denial, bargaining and depression. I’m onto acceptance, including accepting that grief and building new neural pathways looked differently and is taking longer than I expected.

    Thanks for turning yours into art!

  3. What you are doing is so great. I truly wish I had been able to do the same when my marriage ended horribly a few years ago. I had always prided myself on my self-reliance and enjoyment of my own company, but wasn’t able to rest on this when life got incredibly tough, instead needing external validation that I was desirable and worthy of love after my ex made me feel neither of these things. While my life is back to being good, I regret not turning inward more as a source of healing and fulfilment. Go well Nico. I’m looking forward to reading more :)

    • Thank you Kerryn. I’m sorry you felt that way after your breakup because you ARE worthy of love <3 I can't promise I don't or won't need external validation — we're all only human, right? But I truly want to do things differently this time, this breakup.

  4. thanks for this Nico – I am in the same boat of trying to turn inwards after a very difficult breakup, along with similar community goals. same city too! Keep moving, dancing and swimming have been very cathartic for me

  5. I’m sorry for your breakup, sending compassionate thoughts your way.

    I realized a while ago that I’m essentially dating “me”, going steady in fact, and it’s great and satisfying. I wasn’t sure at first how I’d feel going out and doing things by myself, because the world is so couply isn’t it ? But after a bit of letting go of what others may think, etc., I found it really wonderful.

    I also realized that being always coupled, I never really took care of “me”, so now I’m in the process of figuring out what that feels and looks like. It’s quite the journey !

    • Yeah, it’s a weird mindset shift because I’m just like “oh shit I think I might be a whole person, right here, by myself.” I’m glad that going steady with yourself has been going so well!

  6. hey name twinsie. i love this for you! i have been happily dating myself for two years now with no regrets. cheers to your next life chapter! sending much love right back at ya. ❤️

  7. I started to write some horrible fluff, now safely deleted, but I can’t stop myself altogether.
    You gave me support through some very difficult times through Autostraddle, I’m holding you in mind now. I know things must be hard, but your writing is still wonderful, speaking truth and being entertaining.
    Sending much love. PS I was only allowed ‘wholesome’ UK Sindys, but they were of a BDSM bent too!

    • Helen, I feel like surely all fluff must be welcome here. I am so glad AS could be there for you, and thank you for your well wishes and for reading.💖💖💖 Also, BDSM doll solidarity 😈Love that for us.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!