The one piece of romantic advice my mother gave me was "Don't ever marry a musician." I wasn't sure why at the time -- after all, she's still happily married to a guitar player after 30 years. Growing up, I always thought my mother was lucky to constantly inspire songs. My parents' relationship history is woven into a lyrical archive.
Sure, being someone's muse is a hot ticket in the world of artist dating. There's something impossibly seductive about hearing the story of your life amplified over a sea of bobbing heads. After all, how many Beths wished they inspired the Kiss song?
But what I learned early on is that dating anyone who produces art about their personal entanglements can be dangerous. Sleater-Kinney said it well with "Don't tell me your name if you don't want it sung."
Then, when I began seeing girls, I became the dejected hopeful artist sitting on the edge of my bed with lyrics scrawled on the cigarette pack she'd left behind. That was dangerous, too.
Before coming out, I dated a dozen or so musician guys. On Valentine's Day several years ago, my then-boyfriend wrote a song about me. My heart leapt. I was 19 and already a source of inspiration for a semi-famous local punk rock boy.
He brought me to his room, kicked a pile of laundry off a dilapidated chair and motioned for me to sit down. Plugging in his guitar, he began singing -- quietly at first, then building up into a frenzy of emotion. I was in love. Not with him per se, but with the idea of this song.
It didn't matter that it was written while he was tripping on acid and hating me for torturing him with my aloofness after I forgot about a date. Also among my crimes: sleeping with his female roommate, never giving him head and discreetly selling off his record collection. I guess the chorus was a kind of kiss-off. It basically involved him screaming my name in an angry way until the distortion and his voice blended and finally crashed into an ending.
But despite the fact that it painted me in a negative light, I appreciated it tremendously. When the room was silent and he was sweating and breathing hard, I clapped ecstatically. "Didn't you listen to the words?" he demanded. "It's about how you always break my heart!" Still grinning, I pushed him onto the bed and we had amazing makeup sex. He handed me a copy of the recording as I left in a post-coital daze.
I still put that song on mixed tapes.
The next time I broke my mother's rule I was 20 and living with a boy in a one-room basement apartment in Ottawa. We had nice, quiet sex he called "the best sex ever" and a drum set in the living room. I'd decided that I wanted to settle down and have a nice home.
So I was trying out this arrangement despite a nagging sense that something significant was missing. I hung on to an idea that I should try to commit to a domestic relationship. I came home on Valentine's Day to find that he'd spray-painted the wall of our one room with a decal of his band's name. His buddy grinned in disbelief as I immediately began packing my things. "Isn't it romantic? C'mon!" Did I mention that the band was named after me?
This devoted act was the catalyst for my moving on. By the next day, I was bus-bound for home, decidedly single and more than a little curious about the butterflies in my stomach in the proximity of girls.
I like to tell stories about breaking boys' hearts. It makes me look tougher than I am and it's better than any stories about dating girls and heartbreak. Because, boy, did I get my come-uppance when my sights turned to the ladies. The coming-out pamphlets were freshly crumpled in my purse when I realized I was in for some major karmic slaps in the face.
For example, my first girlfriend, Hannah, liked to do things like break up with me on my 21st birthday, sleep with my women's studies professor to prove that she could, and occasionally ignore me in public. She inspired many a tortured folk song. It was then that I understood my punk rock boyfriend and why he kept coming back to me when, clearly, I had no real investment in him. Indifference is sexy. At least it is when you're 21.
Hannah sat in the front row of those always-too-long open-mike nights, hand on the leg of her "secondary partner" (as described in our oh-so-revolutionary polyamorous agreement) and smiled wide when I ripped her to bits in an ode to jealous rage.
The secondary lover, accosting me at the bar afterwards, her eyes wide-eyed in that hippy way -- "What a beautiful song!" -- hugged me far too long.
Hannah was outside smoking, writing her number on another girl's cigarette pack when I went outside to load my guitar into a cab.
She finally broke my heart after stringing me along for a year and a half, living in my apartment for free and sleeping with my best friend on the sly.
I attempted to cure my heartache by running away to Santa Fe for two months. Sitting in a café talking up a new flirty friend, I pulled out a photo-booth picture of Hannah and me. The new friend grinned widely.
"Hannah!" she yelled. "I slept with her on a Grateful Dead tour years ago! I was so in love with her!"
So I've given up writing love songs. I moved to Toronto and decided instead to write fiction containing thinly veiled quirks and mannerisms belonging to a myriad of exes, with the boys and girls equally represented on the page.