9: Random Encounters

“Discovery requires experimentation.” – Daniel Whitehall, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I’d initially told you that there were three stories to tell that took place on the same weekend. In truth, it’s actually four, as there’s an additional one that influenced events in one of the others. The former isn’t of any huge importance, but it’s amusing, so today you get two tales (well, maybe 1.5) for the price of one.

I met Nate almost as soon as I entered the game room on Friday. He was at the convention as the killer counterpart to my detective, and after losing stock upon stock I instantly blamed him for amusement’s sake, claiming that he’d written my name into his notebook. After I learned, to my disappointment, that he’s much better than me at my game of choice (Melee, if anyone’s wondering), we each spent the remainder of the weekend bantering back and forth about the other’s impending doom whenever we saw each other. Even during lessons for the dance where I met Caitlin, I occasionally told his partners that “if I die this weekend, assume that the man you’re dancing with is Kira.” (This, incidentally, was when I first noticed Caitlin, making a mental note that at some point later I wanted to try talking to her.)

Unlike Caitlin, I didn’t notice Kim at first. At least, I didn’t notice Kim in the way these stories tend to go. She was actually one of the other entrants in a karaoke contest at the same con. The first thing about her to catch my attention was that she had trouble getting the D at the end of her song. As her competition, I wasn’t complaining. (The end of her night, on the other hand… We’ll just say that I still wasn’t complaining.) This changed later that evening, after I came back to the karaoke room to meet up with Caitlin. As I was waiting for her, a Jinx cosplayer who could have been an anatomically correct Hestia came up to me and struck up a conversation, inviting me to a party that was happening later that night and showing off some of the more distracting elements of her cosplay. (Amusingly, it wasn’t until later that I realized this was on purpose.) I’d tried to make further plans to hang out with Caitlin, but since those fell through I naturally took Kim up her offer. Thinking that it’d be amusing to have both a Light and an L at the same party, I’d asked if I could bring a friend along, intending to pass this along to Nate. Once he asked me if he could “bring his bros,” I felt obliged to run this by Kim, who noted how funny it was that everyone was looking for action yet inviting guys. This line of thinking got a bit more specific once my typical deadpan snark came into play (“So does that include you?”), and soon we found ourselves skipping most of the party. (What didn’t happen here, you might notice, was any real game on my part. I later learned that Kim already had something like this in mind by the time she approached me. As a side note, if you’re ever among otaku, it’s not “reciprocation.” It’s “equivalent exchange.”) Nate actually bailed, but (in a hilariously meta sort of way) things got pretty amusing nonetheless, as it turned out that Kim could very easily pass for Misa-Misa, and that things could’ve turned weird if he had showed because she ships yaoi.

We kept in touch, and from time to time we met up and continued our escapades. Neither of us wanted anything serious (I was still burnt out on the very concept of this after Stacy), but we did enjoy spending time together and wanted to keep that as an option when geography permitted. (I later learned that she can also make pancakes that are worth cheating on my diet for.) My dynamic with Kim was something of a paradox. She was a gorgeous girl that I could nerd out with, and sleep with, without worrying that it’d delve into relationship territory, but such a dynamic was literally the ideal of what I wanted in a girl at the time. I still didn’t want a real relationship (especially with the distance thing), but as we’ve established I’m prone to friend-love, which made things difficult to define when combined with our arrangement. My romantic and platonic attachments get difficult to distinguish after a certain threshold as is (more on this when I get around to talking about Amber), so I was no longer sure if “friends with benefits” or “open relationship” was more accurate, even with the lower level of attachment involved. This said, even if I do have a preference for being able to condense things to a tl;dr, I didn’t necessarily care what the label was.

Kim was the original source of my questions about polyamory. I’d attributed all of this to Stacy, but on some level, when I wove it into that tale first I sort of cheated. (Ha, see what I did there?) All of the circumstances with her that influenced it were definitely pretty major, but the idea that I could have a thing with Kim and still (theoretically) have other entanglements was the moment that it clicked for me that maybe this was what I wanted, in a broader sense. (This was the first time I’d ever been with someone casually, so the idea had really never occurred to me prior to this.) When I met Kim I was just burnt-out on the idea of anything serious, but it wasn’t until experiencing something that wasn’t that I started homing in on the possibility that “serious” was less of a concern than “exclusive.” (In fact, for a brief span of time there was both emotional involvement with Caitlin and physical involvement with Kim without either developing into an actual relationship, much less something exclusive. It was like having one girlfriend across two people, and while each of these two dynamics worked it was great.)

I won’t get into the details of how things ended, because aside from how that was solidified (my finding out after the fact that she was in town for a show three blocks from my apartment), there really aren’t any. I tried to converse at infrequent intervals, then eventually got unfriendzoned (using “friendzone” strictly for convenience here, I still wonder if a more accurate definition is to sleep with a previously friendzoned person or to remove a friend from one’s life) as I felt more and more like I needed some sort of fix. Interestingly, this is the first time I ever noticed a very active sort of denial; I wanted to be wrong, which is really strange for an egotistical bastard such as myself. On some level, I saw things tapering off, and dreaded it, as I always do. But nothing changed. It’s not even as if I were really thinking that far ahead with her; remember, I obsess over loss, whether past or impending. Even with everything in front of me telling me otherwise, I was trying to believe that things weren’t happening the same way that they had before. Definition of insanity, right? (Incidentally, some recent studies have been linking addiction, whether to substances or otherwise, toward a lack of any stronger bonds. Given that my own addictive tendencies manifest most toward human connection, this is absolutely fucking terrifying.) I do sort of wonder now why more people don’t see this whole concept of “needing” someone as a bit creepy (and this is me talking here) instead of just really romantic (Dobler-Dahmer effect, I guess?), but I suppose I’m getting off topic. In this case, the specific events aren’t that important.

The whole chain of events pinpointed a certain irony: the feeling of being alone is the thing gets me itching for contact the most. And it’s not even being alone, necessarily, but feeling it. This is the single important detail about when things started getting distant; the first really obvious point was during my own moment of need for human contact, in which the vast majority of my friends were out of town at another convention (where, incidentally, they met Kim, at which point one of them who saw what she looked like immediately messaged me “good job”). Solitude by choice isn’t nearly as much of an issue, as my Netflix history can attest to. (I, um, may have a history of doing things like going through an entire season of House of Cards within a 24-hour span, or playing through all of Journey in one sitting. I’d highly recommend either, by the way.) When I genuinely can’t reach anyone, though, it has a way of doing crits to my mental state.

Probably the most important thing I’ve learned here is the value of distraction. The entire reason I managed to keep from acting like my usual self after things is that whenever I wanted to ping Kim I instead fired up my GameCube and played Melee. (Fun challenge: complete event 51, with Captain Falcon, drunk.) This is, to me, the less frightening side of the Rat Park study referenced above. While the author citing it posits that the inverse of addiction is connection, when connection itself is an addiction, why can’t one simply replace it with a different, healthier attachment, or even by connecting to something non-sentient? As I said before, Melee isn’t going to leave me, and if I can throw myself into something, I can counteract the urge to further throw myself into someone (no euphemisms intended this time). And I’m starting to learn how to leverage this; currently, anytime I would think of Caitlin I just start diving into a tangent on how the hell I’m going to do my next cosplay (Quattro from Zeta Gundam, if anyone’s wondering). The latter, incidentally, is my first experiment with actively cultivating an obsession, as opposed to just falling into one, even as the experiment itself is one I fell into. Ultimately, one of my goals is to develop a process for this that I can repeat, in order to force my brain into progressing in other areas as well — essentially, to stop being stagnant and be awesome instead.

Since starting this project, it’s become a lens through which I start seeing a lot of my relationships – both in terms of my own ways of dealing with them and how they relate to each other. This, unlike a lot of what I end up saying here, is (mostly) a good thing. It’s an intriguing shift of perspective, and more importantly it’s a sign that I’m actually starting to apply a concept of pattern recognition to my relationships. (I did mention this already talking about Caitlin, but it happened with Kim first.) It is problematic that every connection I make now becomes something that could bear writing about, but I think that’s outweighed by the fact that I’m no longer repeatedly getting the same bad ending. To that end, Kim actually reminds me of Ramona in a few ways. Both are smarter than most people I know (though in different contexts).They’re both people I could have enjoyed various nerd things with if we’d stayed on speaking terms. (Ramona: games. Kim: anime. As it turns out, both: Trek.) Certain *ahem* physical stats are similar. And, to a point, the ways they stopped speaking to me shared some parallels. Thankfully, the similarities at that last point end with the cut contact. Kim doesn’t hate me so much as she just doesn’t like me, and by then I’d developed an actual coping mechanism or two that I could use to keep from repeating my catastrophes, so it didn’t really get any worse from there. I even ran into her at the last con I went to, with anticlimactic results. We had a brief conversation, and nothing managed to collapse on me. (A running theme in my interactions that weekend was “Everything went better than expected.”) For that matter, the coping mechanism or two that I picked up in the process proved helpful in holding off with Catilin. (As of this writing, it’s day 60, assuming you don’t count an incident after about a week in which I managed to dial her with my face, after double-tap-to-wake turned my screen on during a separate call. Thanks a lot, HTC.) I’m pretty sure progress isn’t supposed to be quite as depressing as it was at the time. Nonetheless, it’s a stat boost, and solid evidence that using my overleveled INT to compensate for a dismal willpower stat is a method worth pursuing.

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