The masks we wear: from expecting to accepting (act three, romcom)
A denoument? In this economy? You betcha. Let's boogie.
Welcome to Act Three of a three part series called RomCom. Feel free to check out Act One: The Meet-Cute and Act Two: The Essay Formerly Known as Romcom beforehand, but you don’t hafta! You can read them after too (it’s like one of them movies you can watch in any order!!)
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The masks we wear
The other night, Lauren walked into the bedroom, our sacred temple, wearing a mask on her face. Like an actual mask, the inside of which glowed a fiery red.
Picture the phantom of the opera at burning man and you should have a pretty good sense of what I saw.
Was this – dare I say – some sort of RFP (role-play fore-play) situation?
Lauren was wearing a mask she “found on the internet” to help clear up her skin. ‘Red light therapy,’ though I am not sure if the therapy is for Lauren or for me.
As the killer from Scream got into bed, I kicked myself for not getting my affairs in order. Now the family would fight over my “good idea for a movie” notecard collection.
“It’s easiest to do right before bedtime, when you’re laying down,” she said, and turned off the lights.
The ‘it’ here being...what? Scaring your husband? Doing a premeditated murder? Testing me to see if I would be cool with this, now and forever?
Picture your person, your love, the one you share your bank info with, but instead of their face, you see a hovering mask, glowing red, drifting toward you. And as it gets closer to you, it begins to talk and it speaks JUST LIKE your wife who has clearly been disappeared by the devil or his cronies.
I knew fighting was useless, so I just laid there, ready for the princess of darkness to eat my soul but no, my punishment was much worse.
“Lauren” was talking about why it was probably time for me to get a new car because my 2009 Prius kept dying and/or having the catalytic converter stolen.
And to Lauren-devil, this conversation is totally 100% normal. What she sees through her industrial mime-mask eyeholes is the world as she’s always seen it.
But me? I see HELL ITSELF. Though I can’t scream or run because everyone knows you don’t run from the devil. Nor do you make a Faustian bargain w it.
So I have to talk about my car as if this is a totally normal thing to do, discussing leasing vs buying a used car like we’re at a Denny’s.
Then we read our books. In silence. Well, “Lauren” read while I watched the real life V from ‘V for Vendetta’ out of my periphery, promising God I would finally start to believe in him FOR REAL if he just saved me from this.
I began to scribble down a will, hoping someone would find them and do what was right. That’s when this pic was taken.
I was scared. I’d forgotten what Lauren looked like entirely - all that existed now was the Invisible Man’s emo brother mask guy and me.
Five minutes later, the devil freed “Lauren” from his grip and she took the mask off. She had done the prescribed amount of time, she said, even though she “couldn’t find the little manual” for the thing she “got from the internet.”
I fell asleep, hoping it was all some nightmare.
It wasn’t. Or if it was, I was still deeply in it. The next evening, I was in the living room re-reading “5 Ways to Defeat Satan’s Attack on Your Marriage”, but none of the tips from #1 - Check Your Own Heart to #5 Stay On Your Knees - were working.
Lauren was in the bedroom, and we started talking through the walls like ghosts about a work issue she was having, each in our respective stations – should she take this one job, and why? – when all of a sudden she came out of the bedroom. Well, not her exactly.
Nor the devilish devil. No, it was a different being altogether: an Avatari god of blue light who, I can only imagine, vanquished the devil inside Lauren and overtook control of the mask, and who, as it so happens, was in need of some career advice.
But that wasn’t the crazy part, really. What I found fascinating was just how fast wearing the mask had become a normal part of our lives. I accepted Lauren and her mask of many color coded spirits and, from then on, have acted like it is mostly, if not entirely normal.
Remember Crit from Act Two? The bad guy who criticizes everything about your partner so he doesn’t have to criticize you. Obviously he showed up to for all this mask hullaballoo but, he wasn’t critical. Maybe even the worst lil monster Crit can soften eventually, realizing that its just so much more chill and nice and good to not be a critical asshole. Maybe.
That’s where you come in
Lauren and I have always been terrified of becoming a couple that simply resigned themselves to the relationship they were in. It had to be an active choice, always. Not every single day because then we’d have no time for making sandwiches and watching movies, but at least, like, once a week.
I still choose you, do you still choose me? Will we be each other’s Pokemon for one more week?
It’s a paradox, the whole thing - it doesn’t feel like a choice but it must be, we accept each other so that we may accept ourselves, and somehow I can talk to Lauren like a normal human being even when she’s a hipster ghost fire fighter.
“Love is an activity, not a passive affect; it is a “standing in,” not a “falling for.” In the most general way, the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving.”
― Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving
Once the roller coaster of love stops, we’re left standing there, in love, with one another. The thrill is gone, but in its place comes something much better: the knowledge that even though there are parts of myself I may never fully accept, I know Lauren accepts them. And she’s the coolest, so maybe I’m not so bad.
And of course, vice versus.
Though we can’t always accept ourselves, we can accept each other, and in so doing, enter the kingdom of co-dependent heaven.
Here’s a quote from James Baldwin, who’s clearly had some experience with lovers wearing red light therapy masks.
“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word "love" here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace - not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
— James Baldwin
In one of our earliest gchats, October 2011, I said ‘wowies.’ We were talking about me meeting Lauren’s parents, and it scared me, so I said ‘wowies.’
Lauren asked why I said that, and if I was freaking out.
And I did, sort of. Not really, though, since I kept using the phrase, which became a stand-in for “ohhh shit this is moving fast we’re getting more and more serious and that scares me because it means there’s more I can lose and more I can hurt.”
We’d preface things with, “I know this is wowies, but...”
It became a catch-all that could mean anything from ‘I don’t wanna scare you, but I wanna spend my life with you” to “this is gonna be a real hard conversation about money, so get ready...”
Like we were softening each statement, protecting ourselves and each other while at the same time saying ‘holy shit this is the best thing that’s ever happened to my life,” the subtext being “this is becoming my life.”
The wowies was fear of the unknown. Which explains why we say it now about buying a house. We didn’t say it much about having a kid, I don’t think, even though that was and continues to be the biggest wowies of them all.
I still think wowies a lot, but it isn’t because I’m scared.
Wowies, I say, I cannot believe this life is real.
Wowies, how did I get so fucking lucky to hang out with this cool woman for the rest of my days. Sure she’s possessed by the devil for a few minutes each day, but we get to build a family and make a home and try to figure it all out until we realize, again and again, that with the good stuff, the really good stuff, you can’t figure it out, so all you can do is look back, take it in, and say
It costs $295 to have this dude do an exorcism over zoom to get the devil out of Lauren
And I’ll tell you what, I’m all outta cash and also I have to get a new car apparently so: if you love this work and want to support it, become a paid sub. OR just sign up for free. Both are sick.
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💬 Party in the comments
The romcom is over. How do you feel?
For any of the readers in their 40s and older - what stage(s) come next for Lauren and I?
What big or small or medium things am I totally missing about love?
How do I get the devil out of my wife?
Alex, this was funny and beautiful. Lauren is amazing for letting you take those pics. “The bad guy who criticizes everything about your partner so he doesn’t have to criticize you.” I think you nailed it there. My husband and I have been married since 2005 and dating since 99. We love each other much, enjoy each other so much and sometimes are pulling our hair out at how differently we see or don’t see things. Marriage is a long conversation, and we are learning to be really good listeners.
I haven't finished reading this piece yet. Actually, I just started. But I had to comment about that mask of Lauren's because Christina got the same mask "from the internet," and it freaks me out!