I married a man who doesn’t like to make a big deal about his birthday. I don’t understand this, and I can’t relate to it. I come from a big family, where every birthday is an opportunity to express to a loved one, in a very specific way,
“I’m grateful you’re alive.
I’m happy you’re in my life.
I cherish the day you born,
because it represents the origin of you,
and because your very existence enriches my entire world.
Today, I celebrate your life.”
From my family’s viewpoint, your birthday isn’t about you. It’s about the once-a-year opportunity for the people who love you to let you know just how much you are valued to them, in a manner that is uniquely relevant to you alone. I do my best to respect his position, as much as I’m able, but sometimes, I just can’t.
I tried to explain to him at one point: when he married me, he married into my family, and to some extent, to our way of life, which may mean — at least for birthdays divisible by 10, and, to a lesser degree, ending in 5 — I may not have a whole lot of control over how much I can “reign in” my family’s desire to make a big deal. Let’s face it, hon... my folks are crazy about you — every few years you’re just gonna have to suck it up and let them show it. All things considered, there are far worse problems to have.
Minion turned 40 in July of 2016. We had been married only nine months by that point, and I was still six weeks away from becoming pregnant with Firebird. This was going to be the first major milestone in age he’d reached since we’d been together. (I’d already had my big 4-0 shebang two years earlier — Minion had helped put the event on at our place, back when we were still occupying a setting suitable for hosting happenings.)
In some respects, that era feels like more than a dozen lifetimes ago, not just because so much has changed in our lives, but also because the reckless, sinister nature of the powers that be seeming hell bent on driving us all off a cliff these last few years has aged so many of us disproportionately to the actual passage of time since then. Back then, there was still hope we could avoid the impending doom of living a dystopian nightmare brought to life; for a few more months, anyway, we would still be blissfully unaware the window remaining for indulging such fantasy was rapidly drawing to a permanent close.
Minion and I found each other through a shared social circle of gaming nerds; we’d both been relatively new additions to that group when we met, but I’d quickly become a sort of pseudo “right hand man” to the collective’s communal leader — for a while. When I had a falling out with the gang’s “kingpin,” the passive aggressive “excommunication” that followed extended effectively to Minion, as well, by proxy — a case of “guilt by association,” I suppose. He took it well enough in stride, but his amenability by nature does nothing to assuage my sense of responsibility that I’d robbed him of “his peeps.”
Minion has never been super outwardly social with most people, but he’s always had a few special environments he’s comfortable enough in to be willing to relax, let his guard down, and just have fun connecting with others. He enjoys occasionally keeping company with other likeminded intelligent, quick witted folks entrenched in nerd culture — we both do. Our shared favorite pastime is gaming events.
So, naturally, when his 40th rolled around, I planned him a big gaming party. I sent out invitations a few months in advance to a couple dozen friends who might be inclined towards either celebrations or gaming, or preferably both. Only a small handful were going to be able to join us, most of them my family — I did get about three takers from our strictly social sphere, but that still felt to me like a letdown compared to the gatherings we’d both become accustomed to.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’d been hoping for a stadium filled with a writhing throng of raving fans or anything, but when you want to share your joy in hailing the life of someone you’re bonkers over, a couple of buds and a couple of brothers seems a little... anticlimactic. So, since I had a little time prior to the big day (I usually start planning for his July birthday around mid-April), I thought maybe I could remedy the situation by finding a few key new players the old fashioned way — you know, via the internet. After all, that’s how I’d met the friends who’d introduced us, and... yeah, okay, I guess in hindsight, maybe that didn’t out work so well after all, but, hey, I got my Minion out of it... it’s worth a shot, right?
I didn’t bother creating my own post — I didn’t really want to have to deal with the hassle of fielding all the potential spam and weirdos I might get from it — but it was worth the effort to just have a quick peek at what was already out there... maybe I’d luck out and find exactly what we needed. I filtered the “strictly platonic” section of the Craigslist personals by couples seeking couples, and the key word “gaming.” And there it was:
New to the area Couple seeks local gaming friends:
Mid-40s, educated, intelligent, non-smokers, light social drinkers,
recently relocated, looking for new friends into board games,
card games, tabletop roleplaying games, and strategy games.
...and from there, it went on to list a handful of the Eurogames they already owned (including Settlers of Catan — one of our favorites), and general logistics about location, etc. It was potentially perfect. I couldn’t have written a better ad myself.
I reached out right away, hoping to set up a meet & greet soon after for the four of us, to get to know each other, and feel out how we would all interact together in a gaming setting. Coffee & cards was on the table, but settling on the details turned out to be a challenge — Minion was working the swing shift, 2PM – 11PM, which put a damper on our social life, as it relegated any non-work activities to weekends only. Unfortunately, though, there wasn’t a Saturday or Sunday option open for both of us at the same time between then and Minion’s birthday... we kept in touch, but with all the planning and prep work that went on behind the scenes,* time slipped by quickly, and before we hardly knew it, the event was creeping up and nearly upon us.
*This was going to be a semi-surprise party for Minion — I was going to have to tell him something was going on, because he would need to be prepared to be in social mode, but gaming with friends is usually a pretty safe bet, so that wasn’t going to be too much of a concern. If he’d known about it for too long beforehand, though, he wouldn’t have been okay with me going to all the trouble I did to make it special... Minion doesn’t like anyone making a fuss over him. Being his wife entitles me to special fuss-making privileges, though, and being my Minion means he has to put up with me making a fuss sometimes. :-)
They’d been the ones to recommend the event location I eventually did choose, though — it’s a games store which also includes open gaming table space available to anyone at any time during business hours, and also has a special separate section for private parties, free to book as long as snacks are purchased from their kitchen. I’d never even heard of it, but it ended up being the perfect venue, as well the supplier for one of his gifts. (Not to mention a favorite place to splurge “extra money” — not that we hardly have any — ever since.)
So I decided to take just take a chance and go for it — having it in a public setting minimized any risk of potential creepiness, and, really, what was there to worry about? I mean, we’re of similar ages, in the same social class, education, background, etc.... and, after all, they’re nerds... that pretty much means we practically already speak the same cultural language... becoming better friends at that point is most likely just a matter of picking up on their distinct dialect. What did we have to lose?
The Craigslist couple represented just two of the small number of fun folks who came out to play and to help us kick off Minion’s 41st year right. Minion liked them instantly, and I did, too — they were clever, lighthearted, and fun. Knowing the event was for his birthday — which I’d themed all things Star Wars — and having heard the story of our Princess Bride themed romance, they showered him with a veritable goodie bag of amazing presents, including a Princess Bride themed card game, and a Star Wars collector’s edition Monopoly set — neither of which were acquired cheaply, I’m sure.
I was dumbfounded — the invitation had clearly outlined, “no presents, just presence,” but I couldn’t even be upset — they were obviously very serious about wanting to be gaming buddies. It was a thoughtful gesture, and kinda sweet. I was genuinely touched.
Normal ice-breaking conversations flowed between us effortlessly, their easy-going mannerisms were a comfortable match to our own, they blended in naturally with our other friends and family, game play was delightful, and it was an all-around great experience. They were some of the last to leave, as we played nearly until closing time, but by the end of the night, I was pretty sure we had the solid beginnings of a newly forming friendship. And I might have continued to think so, until we added each other on Facebook.
I’m capable of maintaining friendships with people who fall into a different political perspective, and have, at times during my life when a different political perspective mainly boiled down to a matter of preference over how tax money is spent — during a bygone era when civil debates over such matters might lead to an agreeable compromise, and a satisfactory resolution for all involved. But so many other factors that shouldn’t even be related to politics have since muddied the waters. These days, choosing a side often equates to an indication of which kinds of people in the world matter most to you, as opposed to which types don’t matter at all.
Many of the folks I’ve been close to in my life who might have formerly considered themselves to fall “across the aisle” from where I stand, have been forced in recent times to switch their position as a result of the changing political landscape. Being fiscally conservative in some areas doesn’t have to mean one must also be willing to allow others to suffer, and when it doesn’t, reasonable people draw a defined boundary at a fixed point and boldly declare, “This is not who we are; we cannot condone this.” Those people have remained my friends, even though we may still disagree on some issues which don’t directly impact the general well-being of many others, especially those who might not fall into their own class or standing.
In this brave new world, when your outspoken social media profile blatantly expresses passionate, unwavering support for a megalomaniacal autocrat whose every self-serving act wreaks the kind of havoc that leaves desolation in its wake for anyone he deems beneath the “ruling class;” whose campaign for leadership promised a return to a lesser evolved stage of history that would strip many of those who are already disadvantaged not only of legal class protections, but even basic human rights, and which shows no regard for the economy, no concern for the environment, and no respect to our allies — then I don’t know if it makes any difference how much we might otherwise have in common. Some lines simply must not be crossed. My family will not be the token members of your social circle who allow you to feel good about yourselves and let you believe you’re not racists simply because you have “black friends.”
I mean, sure, it could be argued that wearing a red hat, reposting bigoted challenges such as, “Why isn’t it considered acceptable to show ‘White pride?,’” or sharing Charlie Daniels quotes amounting to thinly veiled threats against our entire system of government calling for violent action maybe isn’t quite the same thing as discovering public anti-Semitic statements, or finding images of burning crosses on lawns with your buddies in white hoods — but really, how close to that line do we need to get? How much repropagated hate speech should we be expected to tolerate before we say enough? For example, when you say,
“I trust Fox News to bring me a realistic, inside scoop perspective on all the world updates most relevant to my life;” ...what I hear is,
“My ingrained white privilege makes me oblivious to my own inherent racist tendencies,” ...and what you have also informed me about yourself is, you have chosen to remain willfully ignorant, malevolently apathetic, and consciously uncompassionate... which is about all the insight into who you really are I’ll probably ever need. At that point, does anything else really matter?
I never confronted our new friends about how serious they were in their convictions... by that time, we hadn’t really invested enough in them to bother putting in the effort. I wasn’t ready to write them off immediately... I just didn’t know quite where or how to take things from there. As it always does, though, life gets in the way of the best intentions, so if you’re not moving forward, you’re losing ground.
After enough time had passed, I noticed they hadn’t reached out to us, either. I couldn’t help wondering if their schedule had become too swallowed up by external obligations to communicate about the next time we might get together, or if discovering we were “snowflake libtards” was enough of a shock to their system they were as much at an impasse to take any next steps as I was. In the end — probably sometime post-November of that year, when I’d had my fill of twinges spiked by celebration at this new world order — I blocked them from my view, and moved on with our lives, resolving the next time we consider making new friends, we’ll be sure to check their baggage first.
LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 18 - Topic: MILKSHAKE DUCK
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