I was attempting to pitch my first tent in the middle of an unseasonable downpour at my first camping music festival. It was cold, and I was miserable. My boyfriend was keeping a close eye on me, monitoring my moods and body language for any sign that I might soon detonate. I was this close to exploding. It was raining and cold, and I couldn’t find gumboots in my size at Target, so my espradrilles were soaked.
They let me wait in the car.
I’m not the type of person who likes setting up a tent. Shopping for a tent, yes. But it’s the coordination of the assemblage and the perseverance amidst the elements that I can’t stand. Primarily the perseverance. I get bored finding pegs and inserting poles in the dirt, like a grubby puzzle that I can’t solve without the help of another. And if you set your tent up on a crappy foundation, the whole thing will blow away and you might as well pack up and go home muddy.
But once it’s up, you have a nice little hidey-hole to lay your head and rest until the sun comes up. Maybe even a semi-stable make-out cave.
This is why I find relationships much like pitching a tent in the middle of a summer storm. It’s a shit battle to persevere, and sometimes it’s just easier to lay supine and forget your end of the bargain.
This is why my boyfriend and I fight so much – I forget that relationships are hard work and perseverance. And it’s why I found myself stealing gentle kisses from my boyfriend’s little sister’s best friend, our matching lip sticks camouflaging any tell-tale smearing.
It was a three-day music festival, and my boyfriend’s sister invited us along to join her group of girlfriends for the weekend. We pitched our tent next to theirs and shared a trestle table full of dips and crackers and a mightily strong fruit punch. We made flower crowns and used baby wipes instead of showers, and painted our faces with glitter. And when we went to go watch Father John Misty play in the amphitheater, I found myself taking care of her when she was stabbed in the eye with a glow stick. Maybe it was the fruit punch, or maybe it was the MDMA she’d kindly been offered from a stranger in line at the compost toilet. But when I looked in her eyes – one red and swollen from a tube of green hydrogen peroxide – I felt a tiny chorus of insects circulating in my stomach, about to burst into a giddy song. She beams so brightly, as if her joy needs another outlet other than her face glitter.
To say we were perfect, kindred-strangers, is not entirely factual: we had met previously a year ago at a house opening. My boyfriend and I, plus her and another friend, were planning to move in together. We didn’t due to irreconcilable differences over Must Have Amenities, and I never saw her again until she was pulling me down to sit with her in the dirt.
Between us sprung the kind of intimacy that’s borne from alcohol, drugs, and monogamous boredom. She is speaking in bold streams about the breakdown of her seven-year relationship, her abortion, and her brother. Then she grabs my hand, tells me that I am so, so pretty, and kisses me quickly, like a gunshot on my mouth. She is thankful that I care about her eye so much, and I tell her that it is no problem. No problem at all.
My current boyfriend is the first guy I’d dated in years, and a total surprise to friends who’d believed I was a lesbian when I told them. I liked how feminine he was, and how in touch with his feelings he appeared to be. I loved that we were both writers, and that we were both terribly, terribly self-absorbed. But you become fatigued when you date someone so much like yourself in every way bar physically.
Yet we have our irreconcilable differences: he wasn’t really the kind of writer I was looking for, anyway. He wrote, yes, but sporadically and mostly album reviews. He cared about my feelings, but only when he knew he was losing me. He liked watching TV more than anyone I had ever met.
But he’s not the only one at fault. I’m projecting when I tell him to control his temper, hypocritical when I fault him for stealing MY avocado, and downright nasty when I announce to the whole restaurant that he can suck his own dick from now on, thank you very much. We are unhappy together, but we don’t like the alternative: no one to help feed the cats, an empty space next to your pillow and no faithful best friend, who forgives you even when you’re at your worst. A toxic relationship is far more preferable than loneliness.
Maybe that’s why I kissed back my boyfriend’s sister’s best friend – to escape the monotony of what would otherwise be a marriage minus the formalities. A prison surrounded by an emotional force field. I enjoyed the softness of her lips, the smell of her shampoo, and her lack of neediness irrespective of an inflamed eyeball. I expected to feel guilt, to feel lust howling within me like a delighted little banshee. And I do, for at least a week after, as I stalk her via social media, ask mutual acquaintances about her sexuality and personality. I want to know her, to see her again, and finally that old feeling becomes an echo amidst the minutiae of everyday life.
What I also find is the gift of renewed compassion and appreciation for my boyfriend. When she doesn’t respond to my texts, I’m haunted by the specter of one-night-stands since past. If you give in to your lust, they get bored. If you don’t, they get bored. It’s hard to win in love and lust when you’re single, and I remember that I am not. I abandon these feelings like a bad love affair that never even made it out of my imagination.
Whatever was happening with my sense of reason that night seemed to have been remedied by time. Maybe it was the pixie dust wearing off, or maybe it was the spatial distance between my day-to-day life and that of the other world of the music festival. But I soon began to stop thinking about her, stalking her and enquiring about her wellbeing. When I see her walking across the road in front of me, I don’t even say hello.
But I was all over my boyfriend. More than anything, a feeling of guilt muddled with cheeky hedonism saw me clutching at my boyfriend’s arm more tightly, caressing his head more often, and biting his ears just a bit harder.
I suggest to him that we go to camping music festivals more often. ‘They are such fun,’ I say.