Despite assumptions from people after they meet my heavily tattooed husband, I am no fetishist. Oh sure, they’re smoking hot on him, and on my lifer Twitter husband #2, Joe Budden, but I’m equally attracted to the bare-skinned sector. I rely on judging chiseled good looks, great genes, shoulder broadness, and sexual performance. I don’t discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, or how many underground punk shows you attended in Baltimore before 1999.
I have stumbled into some wisdom by way of the random inked-up warm bodies I’ve encountered over the years. There’s poetic insight everywhere if you look on the right armpit, left butt-cheek, or adjacent bathroom wall. Just keep your eyes peeled and your standards weird.
The following piece compiles the lessons derived from a few actual tattoos on actual men I’ve been involved with. I apologize if I piss off any wives or girlfriends (or boyfriends?) that Google-stalk me in the process; it’s purely anecdotal and I promise doll, HE’S ALL YOURS. I don’t miss him and I’m still laughing at how good he thinks his… credit is.
“You Reap What You Sow”
Yeah, you kinda do.
He was a DJ from Pittsburgh that my BFF had a rare one-nighter with. When she recounted their drunken evening, we lawl’d about his tattoo – “you reap what you sow” – fearing it trash-religious, or perhaps just the imprint of a total derp. He knew everything about music and was a really cold iceberg of a mystery babe, so we hoped we were wrong about the derp-age.
When he and I kicked it many moons later, she and I were equally floored to find out he was excruciatingly intelligent, go the fuck figure, and the tattoo lesson here revealed itself as I peered at this Lou Reed song-inspired quote on his back, and it glared back judgmentally in harsh first rays of light as I pondered my garbage recent life choices. He shoved me away and left brusquely, and didn’t return my texts very often except late at night, and I thought of battery of poor moves.
From A) of falling for people with insurmountable emotional limits who would be unable to love me back, to B) of trying to be repaired by a man instead of trying to repair myself, to C) in making treacherous life choices that kept leading to more of them, to D) wow all of the above are really terrible.
Was I going to be reaping what I was sowing? Bridges seemed to be in flames left and right lately. Lots of booze in me, the boys on the hardest drugs they could find, the never-remedied panic attacks, the pronounced isolation, the fucking relocating every four weeks – what would result in these repeated actions/inactions? All I could see from there was, nothing good. At the very least, it would continue to cycle as I took these long tiresome journeys to find nothing but dust at the end, on some Grapes of Wrath type shit. #steinbecking
I dug this guy, but it wasn’t working out at all. I knew I needed to reframe every way I was living life. He was unreliable, probably not that into me, and afraid of my mood swings, so he sowed his way right out of my life, and reaped the benefit of me moving on, too.
What I learned from him was a hard lesson for a creative person. I learned that words, wits, and chemistry cannot be the basis for, nor can it be what totally sustains, a romantic relationship. It was when I realized how much the absence of stability was a gaping space.
Red Hot Chili Peppers symbol.
You can’t undouche a douchebag.
There is no amount of college soccer butt, nor looking exactly like a young Detective McNulty even shirtless, nor Trevor Noah accent (*swoon*) that can make you understand the motions and motives of an arrogant young man with a Blood Sugar Sex Magik tattoo on his back. He is the kind of man who has already become bored of you after four weeks and tells you this to your face, he implies that you are not classy enough when you house a french dip sand and knock back martinis at dinner with his boss, he thinks your cuticle beds are really embarrassing.
I mean, I don’t even dislike the Chili Peppers, I had that same t-shirt in 4th grade (you know, because I turn 167 years old next summer), but there was just something about the cocky way he advertised it. Like it was cooler than anything you’ve ever liked, and he had a TATTOO, so, you guys, you have to note that while he’s a very responsible and respectable citizen he’s also rebellious and lives on the fucking edge. What a Jason Statham!
Really though, he just needed a girl who could say “wow!” to every single thing he uttered and mean it even though 45-75% of it was absolute bullshit and an absolute bore. As a much older, more life-experienced woman, I just felt annoyed by the competitive confusion of our generation gap and his militant egotism.
Sure, he was sharp and attractive, and whatever I guess I wish him well. His tattoo just reminded me that, at the ripe young age of 29, I was ready to partner up with older strange guys that are mostly just me with junk rather than an entirely different species.
(Example: my husband has a Deftones White Pony tattoo on his jugular. And that’s just so right for a pair of alt-nerd weirdos birthed in 1982 who shout Pixies songs at every low-grade corner bar in Philly.)
“To (sic) Tough To Die”
What doesn’t kill you makes you “to” tough to die.
Sometimes women are lucky and tattoos don’t teach us mere lessons, they also teach us about proper grammar! When my longest term ex and I met, I saw one of his tattoos (“TO TOUGH TO DIE”) and chuckling I said, “ah, so you never got it corrected or anything, that’s kind of funny”, and he said, “corrected to what?”. UH. Then I – let’s just consider me the Himmler of the grammar S.S. – proceeded to date him for a long while because he sang Springsteen songs in the shower in a strong Boston accent #powerless.
When he dumped me for a 21-YEAR-OLD CAPITOL HILL INTERN (COME ON!!!), I was crushed like glass. I honestly thought I might dissolve in a pile of ire and insult. However, therein laid the lesson – hey, wasn’t I “too” tough to let him, a cheating, lying, brutal alcoholic, ever destroy me?
But this would make me stronger! I not only survived that breakup with mostly healthy techniques (necessary solitude, leaning into close friendships, two proper rebounds, yoga, therapy, a two-year eating disorder, okay maybe the last one wasn’t healthy LOL), but when I saw him briefly a few months after the split, he had already cheated on the intern with another intern, he wanted me back, and I was completely over it and ready for something better. I patronizingly patted him on the back, he hugged me and talked about how great my ass is, and I said “yeah it is” and walked away – for good.
And that’s because he taught me this beautiful life lesson.
You boldly add the O that ALWAYS BELONGED THERE instead of overlooking obvious erroneous choices you once made, and you work on yourself – all by yourself – adding another layer of coping and strength to your heart’s little resume once you’ve survived it all.
For my ex, this saying meant getting shot by a Sri Lankan drug lord in Lowell, Mass. at a corn-ah sto-ah, then not dying, and tattooing a weird penis-shaped grey bullet and these words over the wound, and continuing to suck at life 4-Eva.
For me, it meant getting over the wrong dude and hella moving on.
Omg, GROW UP.
This lesson is pretty self-evident.
Ever since I lived as a teenager there, I have wanted to depart Virginia in every imaginable way. This guy’s tattoo was a clear deterrent, announcing to me that some things are far better left in the past. It made me reflect when I saw it on him one morning and thought quizzically, “wait, Virginia? I’m still there?” – even though I lived in Philly and he was visiting me, it was more like I was visiting my own history by way of spending time with him drinking vodka and Gatorade and watching Maury reruns in the day and making fun of other idiots from our high school like a pair of tedious cunts.
When it came to being in my late twenties and I was grasping for my easy years, this younger boy from high school became an appealing window for a nostalgic summer fling. I got sucked right into the drama vacuum and frankly, the reverb sucked: I lost friends, we created problems in both of our families, I almost got an assault charge for punching him square in the nose outside of a hometown haunt.
So his tattoo lesson said to me: hey, you’re 28. Game over. Don’t go home, teenager Meg, you’re drunk on wine coolers and stoned from Catherine’s one-hitter. Time to date an adult and, perhaps more importantly, go be an adult.
“Taking steps is easy/standing still is hard” (R. Spektor)
I met my husband when I was swirling out of control like a school of geese and ducks on the damn Wissahickon (#insidejokeswithColleenSieber), and he was flailing separately as well.
The funny part is, he and I are both pretty cool folks, we just met at two mutually complex turning points; these pivots where we could’ve crashed and burnt with buttery-smooth ease, or we could choose to laboriously and painfully rebuild (him)/build for the first time (me) our lives. We gradually, and with our share of hurdles, chose the latter, and steadiness has changed me in enormous ways – more positive ones than making sensationalized major shifts ever did. As a girl who had moved across the East Coast seasonally and always needed a Carrie Mathison caliber escape route, meeting a divorced man with three sons under the age of 7 and a lot of commitments on his plate scared me to fuck.
But man, he was smart, and he was adorable, and this is lame but when he kissed me for the first time in a bar alley, my back against a quarry-rock wall stabbing my bare skinned shoulders on a sticky city night, it felt like I was born, like I feel as if I took my first breath ever. (I think that happened in The Notebook too, right?)
And it became so much more than that.
He lent me a sense of patience that I’d never known or embraced in a partner, and a love so brazen that eventually nothing could bust it up. Four years later, I’m the wife to a rare beauty of a man (the definition of a raw diamond found in a real rough patch), and even crazier, I am a stepmom (still weird to say) to three angel-faced boys who adore me for some reason, you remember, when you’re young and dumb and you dig anyone who will jump on a giant trampoline with you.
Now, instead of instinctively fleeing bad times in hysterics (see: 1999 to 2012), I keep more steady when I shake. And there were times, holy shit, that I have shaken so hard that my teeth chattered and my steering wheel swerved under my palms. But now I do that less – not never, but less – because I have found a love to fall back into, my gangle of arms folded across my chest like in the campfire trust circle games that I always opted out of because of my universal distrust for being safe, with a newfound faith that someone will be there behind me now.
These words on his fingers became some kind of mantra for me as much as they were for him – he looks down at his hands to see it, and now I see those hands holding mine tightly whenever I’m most afraid. And interestingly, a tattoo like that is a constant reminder to keep going, even when your foundation is rocked and you are in pieces that you think you can’t pick up. As long as renewing and sharing love can save you, and you can slowly learn to save yourself in that process, you may steady up in the end, or at least, for awhile.