By Cheryl Fazio
#Fearless Family Writer
I used to attach a great deal of significance to grand gestures. I was in an abusive relationship and always waiting for my ex to make some unequivocal declaration of love that would dispel all my doubts; I was waiting for something that would somehow make the cheating, manipulation, and lies all magically okay. Now I’ve been married almost a year and I have a new perspective on grand gestures.
My relationship with my spouse, Senia, progressed incredibly naturally. We met blogging about George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Specifically, we met blogging (and writing erotic fanfiction) about probably the most objectively villainous family in the ASOIAF universe, House Bolton. Most infamous for their practice of flaying their enemies, and occasionally wearing cloaks made from the skin, “Bolton fandom” was understandably a very niche subgroup of the larger ASOIAF fandom.
I found this subset at a fortuitous time. Apparently, I’d just missed a lot of drama involving clashes between Bolton fans and some people on the Internet who honestly, truly believed they had the moral right to tell people they’d never met what they could and could not enjoy in fiction. I was thankful I had missed the internet clash, because I had never engaged with anyone or been actively involved before, and my skin wasn’t yet tough enough for me to have survived and still remain active.
At some point as I gradually dipped my toes further and further into Bolton fandom, and soon after I started following Senia on Tumblr when they posted about another fan who was going to be visiting from abroad. They were planning a meet-up of House Bolton fans and made a post inviting other fans in the NYC area to come join. I desperately wanted to go, but I was too anxious to message them and let them know. This was my first foray into actually being active in the fandom and my lack of confidence had always been a major obstacle. I had always lacked the confidence to share any of my fanfiction online, or even just engage with other fans, and I was fully prepared to miss out on this experience as well. I just didn’t think that I was ready, or worthy, or any other number of self-deprecating things that your brain tells you over and over when you have depression and anxiety.
That would have been the end of it, except at the same time I was resigning myself to missing out, Senia had received an anonymous message from someone who said they lived on Long Island and wanted to come to the meet-up, but was too shy to reveal who they were. Since Senia knew that I lived on Long Island, they messaged me to ask if I was the person who had contacted them. I, of course, hadn’t even been able to overcome my anxiety to even say something anonymously, but I answered the message and asked if it would be okay if I came along anyway, even though I wasn’t the person who had originally reached out.
We went to the Bronx Zoo. In the days leading up to the get-together, I got my nails done and got my hair cut. I wore what was, in my opinion, my coolest outfit. I brought Long Island bagels to try to get everyone to like me. It was all very high school, but I was a brand new baby queer on top of being a newcomer to Bolton fandom, and I wasn’t sure exactly how to deal with how attractive I found Senia. The dual ideas that exploring your sexuality and gender at twenty-five years old was a valid thing to do, was still mind-blowing enough.
After that day at the zoo, we made plans later in the week to hang out, just the two of us. It took almost six months for us to cuddle; by that point, we had a close-knit group of mutual friends and we “didn’t want to ruin the friendship” by dating and potentially breaking up. A mutual friend had to practically lock us in the room to get us to confess our feelings for each other. We didn’t even kiss that night. That took us at least another month.
The kiss finally happened after we went on a hike together in the woods near Senia’s parents’ house. We were searching for Satan’s Lair, an abandoned military complex rumored to be rift with devil worshipers and supernatural occurrences. We took a trail that ended in a graveyard and the tension as we laid in the grass to rest were so unbearable we almost didn’t make it back to the privacy of Senia’s bedroom. I remember the dust from the trail still clinging to my boots in the days and weeks after; I refused to wash them.
During the course of our ensuing relationship, I went through a lot of changes. I came out as a nonbinary demi-boy and started using they/them pronouns. I came out (as far as sexuality goes) to my conservative Italian Catholic parents. I graduated from law school and decided a career in law wasn’t right for me. Forgoing the bar exam, I decided I would, somehow, get back into writing again and begin developing myself as some kind of almost-artist, academic type person. I began developing a support system that was actually that—supportive. And always, through all these struggles, Senia was there to listen, to hold me when I cried, but also to help me find real solutions.
When we got engaged, there was no fancy proposal, no plan. There wasn’t even a ring. We were riding on the subway, talking about how our current lease was due to expire in a few months, and were trying to decide whether we should re-sign or move out. We both confessed that each envisioned living with the other, to quote Senia at the time, “…forever.” Marriage seemed like the natural next step.
I used to think the only way to know if someone “truly” cared about you was to have them prove it with some unexpected, sweeping surprise. I waited almost eight years for my abuser to show me I meant something to him via one pivotal moment that would forever change my life and my perception of what he thought of me. Instead, gestures like Senia bringing me coffee in bed because they’ve memorized my order, scooping the cats’ litter box every night because I work at a cat cafe and scoop litter all day, and the way we tailor who does what chores to meet each other’s specific needs, mean more now that any dramatic, one-time effort to “prove” how much the relationship means.
The things that provide the same emotional response as those imagined “grand gestures” are no less grand for being small. And though they are understated, our relationship does have what I’d consider to be “grand gestures” now—on our wedding day, in their vows, Senia asked that I do one thing that, while difficult, meant the world to me because no one had ever asked it of me before. With them by my side, they asked that I follow my dreams. With them, I am here today doing my best—even writing this is part of that next step.
Thank you to Cheryl for sharing their wonderful story!
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