Dan and I were married in a small ceremony on 22 November 2021.
When I first entered my “early mid-life crisis” in late 2014 at age 34, all I knew was that something is not right, and that I desperately needed to figure out what. I began a years-long quest to understand who I am, what I am, and how I ended up in the condition that I did — deeply depressed, uninterested, unproductive, and nearly physically unrecognizable. For most of my life, I have struggled against the background noise of low-grade suicidal ideation, as well.
To recap: I got divorced, moved from Texas to Minnesota, and lost 70lbs.
As part of this quest, I reconnected with many people and lost places from my past in the search for answers. I needed, more than anything, to make sense of my life experiences and my memories. I sifted through the fragments, remnants, and in some cases, gaslighting, to uncover the truth. I carefully dissected all of my failed friendships and relationships, identifying the common elements.
In this way, over time, I was able to discern my own self-defeating cycles. That, combined with a growing awareness of what healthy friendships and relationships look like, enabled me to release the tremendous burden of undeserved guilt, self-blame, and shame that I had been carrying. A burden that was placed upon me by people invested in defining me, rather than allowing me to define myself.
I eventually found my answers, but they have come at substantial cost.
In early 2019, I was diagnosed with ADHD. In late 2020, I was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. With this fresh perspective and knowledge, I was finally able to work through the abuse, mischaracterization, misinterpretation, ostracization, trauma, and other mistreatment I have endured since I was a child.
I have always had an overwhelming desire to be good, but being bombarded by mixed messages from people with their own agendas, popular media, and society, has often left me confused and unsure what the right thing to do actually is.
I am honest-to-a-fault in a world where sincerity is a handicap.
While well-camouflaged due to my intelligence and sheer stubbornness, I am severely socially impaired. I have speech processing difficulties, auditory sensory issues, touch sensory issues, mild face-blindness, a degree of mind-blindness that I have to consciously counter, and I tend to take statements literally. I often miss hyperbole and sarcasm. Consistently contradictory information or instructions will generate unbearable anxiety, and eventually cause me to meltdown or shutdown. Over-stimulation will rapidly cause me to shutdown. I stim when agitated. I rely heavily on mirroring and elaborate internal “programs” or “scripts” to navigate social situations. Until beginning ADHD medication, I also struggled with impulsiveness and extreme executive function impairments.
Once the mechanics of how my brain works became clear to me, I could finally explain to myself why I created “Jin Wicked” in the first place, more than twenty years ago. I could finally unravel the layers of deliberate training and learned behaviours I adopted in an effort to pass as, I know now, neurotypical.
Inside — I could finally hear, see, and be, my authentic self.
In January and February of 2021, I underwent hysterectomy and double-mastectomy surgeries. Following my double-mastectomy, for the first time in my life, I looked into a mirror and I recognized my own reflection. Shortly afterward, I came out as agender/non-binary. The ever-present suicidal ideation stopped. Freedom and peace, unlike any I had ever known, overwhelmed me.
By this past summer, I had the experience and tools to recognize and exorcise the remaining toxic friendships and relationships from my life. I began focusing my social energy on the people who had shown, through their actions, that they truly cared about and wanted the best for me. I instituted a personal zero-tolerance policy for red flag behaviours directed at me or others.
I had done the hard work. I knew myself. I felt whole.
The reward for this was my Holy Grail: a true soulmate-type connection.
On 26 July, I was experimenting with gouache paints at my friend Mat’s art studio, when he told me about a friend of his who had miraculously survived falling from a three-story apartment roof. Mat spoke highly of his friend, while regaling me with the details of his long and complicated recovery process. I had no idea who Mat’s friend was, but I was moved by Mat’s intense concern.
An hour, or perhaps two, later, I met Dan for the first time when he suddenly appeared in the studio and sat down near me. He was carrying a duffle bag, and for reasons unknown, began slowly showing me the contents of the bag, including an old pair of bowling shoes and a paperback copy of Dante’s Inferno. It was only when he brought out a pill box and started explaining the many medications he was taking, that I realized this was the friend Mat had been describing.
The beginnings of our strange chemistry were noticeable upon that initial meeting, but at that time I had far too much going on. About a month passed before, one night, I messaged Mat to ask how Dan was doing, and share that I had been thinking about that copy of Inferno. Someone suggested that we hang out together at the studio again, and on 1 September, the six-year anniversary of my move to the Twin Cities, I picked up Dan and we passed the day getting to know each other a little. We rapidly learned that we had a lot in common.
One of the first things Dan did that day was hand me the most recent of his combination journals and sketchbooks to read. I sat and slowly went through it, cover-to-cover. I recognized his journey, pain, and struggles were similar to my own. I remembered what I had needed to hear and receive, but did not, when I felt like all hope was lost and I had no reason to go on. I did my best to offer him unconditional acceptance and a sense of safety. I was able to finish healing my own wounds by being the person I needed then, and did not have, for him.
While Dan’s journaling is not public like my art, blogging, or comics, we both communicate and deal with things in extremely similar ways. We connected on a level that neither one of us had experienced before. Of all the men I have known, Dan was the only one brave enough to hand over his heart in a book, show me his authentic self without any reservations or regrets, and say, “I trust you.”
I learn by mirroring people. Dan’s genuine vulnerability unlocked my own.
Within a couple of weeks, we were nearly inseparable.
I adore Dan, and think he is the handsomest feller I ever saw.
This is the first relationship I have ever been in where everything has felt easy, good, and natural, instead of awkward, emotionally unavailable, like pulling teeth just to communicate/get anything done, being taken advantage of, or worse. Even the best of my past relationships were avoidant or destined to fail.
Dan is a musician that dabbles in the visual arts. I am a visual artist that dabbles in the musical arts. Our creative energies fit together as smoothly as we did.
Dan read my books almost immediately after I gave him copies, and he enjoyed them. He is interested in my work, not feigning interest to get close to me. He is actively interested in participating in my projects and doing collaborative work with me; something I specifically decided I wanted back in 2015.
Dan treats me like a whole person with my own hopes and desires; not arm candy, a fixer-upper project, his personal property, or a trophy to be fought over and bragged about. Dan treats me like an equal partner; not a status symbol to attach himself to, a meal ticket, or an accessory. Dan is not using me as a “second chance” at failed ambitions. Dan never tells me what to do.
Dan celebrates and supports my successes. He is not envious or jealous.
Dan is understanding of the fact that I am autistic, and he is mindful of my communication and sensory issues. He does not treat me cruelly, humiliate me, shame me, or attempt to convince me I am broken, sick, unwell, etc. when I act like an autistic person. He does not try to diagnose me or define who I am.
Dan does not make me feel like I have to camouflage or hide my autistic traits and act “normal,” which is exhausting and eventually leads to autistic burnout. He does not “punish” me for stimming, or self-soothing behaviours, like other people have in the past. He lets me be me. As a result, my anxiety levels with him have always been non-existent. Individuals who trigger my anxiety have become an automatic red flag. Healthy social interactions do not trigger my anxiety.
Dan listens to me, and puts in the effort to understand the intention or meaning behind my communication, instead of twisting my words to fit a biased — usually bitter, cynical, and negative — interpretation. Rather than assuming the worst and reacting with anger or indignation, he allows me to explain myself.
Dan makes sure I understand him correctly, and is always willing to help me when I am confused. Dan’s actions match his words; he is consistent. He never undermines my sense of stability by, for example, saying and promising nice things, and then denying them or acting passive-aggressively toward me.
Dan accepts who I am, and what I feel I need to do, without any judgement.
While our interests are not 100% the same — that would be boring — we are alike and compatible in all the ways that matter. Even our few disagreements or misunderstandings have been undramatic and resolved without any lasting hurt. We are both compassionate, inquisitive, easy-going, playful, “giving” types.
We have an uncanny amount of overlap in the kind of — mostly creative and sometimes outdoorsy — activities we both enjoy, and now share with each other. We do things together. We make things together. We learn things together. We draw and write notes for each other, now, in Dan’s sketchbook journals.
Dan has a large, loving family that has welcomed me with open arms. I was as instantly, unusually comfortable with them as I was with Dan. I know it cannot be easy watching Dan reclaim his independence following his accident, and I am humbled and honoured by the trust his parents are showing in me.
Dan and I are both committed, and doing the hard work, to grow and improve ourselves. Dan and I are both committed to the goal of thriving — together.
Whatever planet I am from, Dan is from at least the same solar system.
Sometimes, I confess, it is still difficult to see myself as worthy of this pure kindness, love, and peace. The roots of being browbeaten to feel defective and unlovable run deep. Teaching oneself how to distinguish and nurture a healthy relationship is a monumental task. But it gets easier. And it is worth it.
Days before she died of metastatic breast cancer in 2010, during her final hospital stay, and in one of her last moments of consciousness and lucidity, my mother tried to stand — clutching at me and desperately crying that she wanted to live to see my wedding day. It was extremely awkward, as I had no desire, nor plans, to be married at the time. I never wanted a “wedding” or its cookie-cutter “traditions.” I had no interest in any of the ceremony or the circus of it. (My first marriage, which did happen shortly afterward, was painfully utilitarian.) It was not until meeting Dan that I understood why this ritual matters to people.
When Dan suggested the night of 20 November that we elope the following Monday, my first thought was, “What took so long?” My second thought was, “The person for me is definitely the one crazy enough to suggest we elope after barely three months, when we almost immediately felt like an old married couple that has been together for ages. And then do it.” He was positively giddy.
We both did the “date your future spouse for years first,” and, well, neither of those worked out. By your early 40s, I feel, you know what you want — and you are entitled to act on it. Neither one of us has much to potentially lose, except time. Overwhelmingly, we have received almost nothing but support.
I, curiously, already had a dress, which was purchased by a weird compulsion earlier in the summer before I met Dan. Everything else came together in a little over a day. We were married at the “Chapel of Love” in the Mall of America, which is absolutely absurd, delightfully cheesy, and quite perfectly incongruous for two unrepentant weirdos — and broke, anti-consumerists — of our sort.
I wore my mother’s pearl necklace, and a choker made of tuxedo agate and river shell beads that I strung a few hours before our wedding to match it. I assembled my bouquet of silk sunflowers, red cabbage roses, and ivory ribbon. Sunflowers have been a symbol of hope and perseverance for me since moving to Minnesota, and red roses are a reference to the Rose from my favourite book, “The Little Prince,” in addition to being a symbol of love.
Being with Dan has felt like finally coming home to the place, and family, where I belong. I am exactly where I should be, and I could not ask for more.
Dan and I are both looking forward to a very, very uneventful and very, very quiet life of shared artistic and creative pursuits, baking and cooking, gardening, love, music, peace, and small adventures. We are currently navigating the steps necessary to get Dan’s vehicle back on the road safely, so that he can gradually ease back into working, when he is ready. We make an awesome team.
I cannot wait to begin building our life together.