secrets to a long-lasting relationship


Fifteen years and still smiling.

OURS IS THE TYPICAL LOVE STORY: girl meets girl, girl tells girl she’s straight, girl falls in love with girl anyway, and they live happily ever after.

Maybe our story isn’t so typical, especially the fact that we’ve been together for fifteen years. Our parents’ age bracket excluded, I can count on one hand the number of couples we know, gay or straight, who’ve been committed longer than us. Lots of people seek our relationship advice. Well, one person did. Once. Sort of. A gal at the bar asked me, “How do you do it?” but later I realized she was referring to my remarkable ability to walk in three-inch heels.

I can’t tell you the secret to the heels, because then I’d have to kill you. But since March is my anniversary with my partner, in celebration I thought I’d share our secrets to a happy and long-lasting relationship.

First and foremost, have a lot of sex. With each other, that is. That’s all I can say about this topic, because my parents read my column. You should have it all the time, in all kinds of creative places. But never at your parents’ house, of course. That would be wrong.

Don’t lie. It should be obvious that lying will only get you in trouble. Except when it saves your butt. For example, when she says, “Does it look like I’ve lost weight?” the correct response is definitely not “No,” because that would be calling her fat. The correct response is also not “Yes,” because then you are saying she was fat before. “I think my cell phone is ringing” is an acceptable lie in this no-win situation. Also, if your girlfriend is plastered up against the wall refusing to come to bed until you find and kill that spider she just saw, it is good to tell her you killed it so you can both get to bed before 7 a.m.

Don’t cheat. This is a smart idea because it also helps you keep the “no lying” rule. Learn from example: Cheating is not the easy way out. Look at what happened to Tiger Woods. You don’t want to lose your endorsements, do you?

Recognize that the thing that drives you crazy about your partner is the exact same reason you fell in love with him/her. If you lose your perspective, you won’t appreciate the irritating behaviors that are part of the original charms that attracted you. He/she is a package deal. Carefree? Also late for everything. Creative? Spontaneously rearranges the cupboards so you can’t find stuff. Passionate? Road rage. Musician? Drunk. Sexy bad boy image? Prison sentence. Sensitive? Gets upset over every little thing. Stable and responsible? Boring.

Hire a plumber. The number of relationships destroyed by stressful attempts at home improvements is growing, thanks to the arrival of big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes. Many projects are doable, and even fun (nothing like a day of painting with the huzwife), but for the average guy/gal, tearing out walls, laying down tiles, and installing windows is ill-advised unless you are eagerly looking forward to divorce. If you are fortunate enough to have a skilled partner like me, then simply leave the house when she starts a project so you don’t freak out when she begins knocking holes in the walls. Come home two days later, and you’ll hopefully be greeted with built-in bookshelves and a dirty martini. But heed my warning: Do not, under any circumstances, undertake a project in your home that involves wrenches, pipes and the potential for leaking. Also blow torches and gas lines.

Don’t write about your partner in your weekly column. This might be a good time to say that any similarities to actual persons, places or events are merely coincidental and the product of a feverish imagination. (Happy Anniversary, Lovey! Here’s to another fifteen + years.)

-Amelia Sauter


follow your nose

Does this ring make my nose look fat?

Click here to enjoy an audio recording of Amelia reading this story aloud.

IN THE FASHION WORLD, I’M ALWAYS OUT OF STEP. I haven’t bought Uggs yet – thank god. I’m still wearing skinny jeans, while everyone else has moved onto boyfriend jeans and Jeggings. My hairstyle is unintentionally vintage, I will forever love ballerina flats, and I haven’t changed my earrings in a decade. You can call me individualistic, or perhaps I’m lazy. When I was younger, my style choices were more deliberate.

At the not-so-wise age of twenty-one, like many other optimistic youths, I wanted to be different in order to express my rejection of the establishment. At the time, my best friend bought me the satirical 1967 picture book, How to be a Non-Conformist, which detailed step-by-step instructions on how to be different, exactly like everyone else was trying to be different. I planned, though, to be differently different: I was going to get my nose pierced.

I fell in love with the glitter of nose jewelry like a magpie drawn to gathering shiny bling for its nest. If I had a nose ring, no one would mistake me for being conservative. I would be sending a message: I am a free thinker. I dare to be different. I don’t vote Republican.

Twenty years ago, almost no one had facial piercings. And by almost no one, I mean that exactly three people in the whole of Ithaca had nose rings: a beautiful, exotic woman named Cat who was passing through for the summer, a college intern at my office, and a long-haired tattooed guy named Rosy who worked at Oasis Bakery. Rosy had pierced both of the women as well as himself. No specialized body piercing parlors existed other than Claire’s Boutique, who only used their piercing guns on earlobes. No one dreamed of puncturing lips or eyebrows yet, let alone the nether regions. Except perhaps Rosy.

I found Rosy lurking behind the counter at Oasis, and I told him of my desire to join the ranks of the rebels. He instructed me to come back the next morning with an earring, specifically, a stud.

I arrived at 7 a.m. the next day, excited and nervous. Rosy was a man of few, if any, words. Muscular and stocky, the bullring between his nostrils added an essence of danger to his already fierce image. He motioned to me, and I followed him wordlessly down into the dimly lit basement of the bakery where he sat me on a stool. That early in the morning, the building was deserted other than us, and silent except for the sound of Rosy passing my stud back and forth on a sharpening stone until the tip was ground into a gleaming point.

Then Rosy pulled a carrot out of his pocket and began to peel and shape it with a knife. I watched, afraid to ask why he was doing this. When the carrot was about the length and width of my pinky, Rosy sat facing me on another stool and pulled me in close to him, pinning me between his knees.

As my body pressed up against Rosy and I felt his breath on my face, I contemplated how I had chosen to follow this man into a soundproof basement in an unoccupied building, this large, muscular man who had a knife and who could easily overpower me with one hand tied behind his back. I told no one I was coming here. And, I had requested that he injure my body for the sake of decoration. This could have been one of the stupidest things I’d ever done.

“Hold still,” he commanded.

He cupped my chin with one hand and firmly jammed the carrot deep into my right nostril. Letting go of my chin, he took the sharpened stud and slowly, excruciatingly, pressed it through my nose and into the carrot. The sound of the stud penetrating my cartilage snapped like a hook piercing the lip of a fish.

I gasped, tears welling and overflowing from my eyes. Rosy leaned back and handed me a tissue. It was over. I was a new woman, with a bright, red nose, watering eyes and a tiny gold gleam where once only skin had been.

I looked at my reflection in every window and mirror I passed that day, so pleased, despite the redness. People stared, unused to the sight of facial jewelry, which both unnerved me and added to my pleasure. I would eventually grow used to the fact that people gawked everywhere I went. Walking down sidewalks, or through the mall, heads would turn. One woman even tripped and fell as she rubber-necked my adornment. Months would pass when I saw no other person with a nose ring. At Indian restaurants, I was an unusual attraction, and the male owners always visited my table to compliment my style while their wives frowned at them from behind the cash registers. Everywhere else, I was a freak, and somehow that was immensely satisfying.

The night after I got my nose pierced, however, the stud fell out while I was sleeping. In the morning, I found it under my pillow. The hole had already begun healing over. I returned to Rosy’s torture chamber for a re-piercing of my already sore nose. This time, he twisted a nose screw into my raw puncture wound. The nose screw was a corkscrew-shaped earring that Rosy himself had fashioned from sterling silver.

For the next two or so years, I wore the silver nose screw. I had no other options; surgical-quality body jewelry simply did not exist yet, and I couldn’t fit an earring back on anything else I put into my tiny nostril. At least once a month, my piercing became infected, and a big whitehead erupted beside the nose screw. Each month, the infection healed, and a little bit more tarnish from the silver crept into the skin around the jewelry, creating a permanent, gray ring-around-the-collar effect.

Despite the discoloration, I refused to remove my beloved nose ring. When body jewelry became available as the piercing bug spread, I drove to New York City and bought a proper ring that prevented future infectious volcanoes, though it couldn’t erase the gray silhouette tattooed on my nose by the tarnish. Ithaca would not see its first body piercing shop for a few more years, and as piercing boutiques opened, millions of other young people’s noses, eyebrows and lips displayed jewelry, each body part shouting, “I am different!” (Nipples and genitals were pierced, too, but their voices were a bit more muffled under all those clothes).

I was disappointed as piercings popped up everywhere. I didn’t feel like a trendsetter; I felt more like my idea had been hijacked. A pierced nose still represented a radical choice, albeit less freakish. More than once, my employers voiced concerns. When I was thirty-four and applying to work in a winery tasting room, the owner told me I would have to remove the nose ring. I told him that he’d have to pay me a hell of lot more than $7 an hour to get me to take that thing out after all I went through to get it pierced fourteen years earlier. He let me keep it in, and I’m still wearing it now.

This is the place where I might be expected say something universal about my experience and the impulsiveness of youth. Something about how trying to be different isn’t so different and might even be kind of stupid. At least I’m supposed to warn you about following a big stranger with a knife into an isolated basement and letting him shove a carrot up your nose. But I have no regrets, other than it caught on as a fashion trend. I’d do it all over again, carrot and all.

survival of the cuddliest

The author with Bullabart, circa 1975.

WHEN I WAS ABOUT TEN YEARS OLD, I was traumatized by one of those ethical who-gets-to-survive questions. I’m sure Miss Presti was just trying to build character, but asking a fourth grader with a tendency toward anxiety attacks to make a life-and-death decision seems less like nurturing and more like water boarding. The question was something like this: Okay, little children, your house is on fire and it’s going to burn to the ground. All the human beings get out safely. You only have time to save one belonging. What will it be?

I’d never worried before about the house burning down. Going to hell for talking back to my mom, yes; getting hit by a car, absolutely. Fear of dying from an undiagnosed acute medical condition, and fear of my parents divorcing would both come later, in sixth grade. In fourth grade I now had to add my house burning down to my growing list of looming worries.

What would I save? I realized immediately I had not one, but two possessions to which I was deeply attached: my pet rabbit Tootsie and my stuffed dog Bullabart. Instinctively, I knew I should save the rabbit, because the rabbit was alive and the stuffed animal was not. I knew by then that ethics required the construction of hierarchies, and obviously the sacredness of life was at the top. I also knew that quality of life was a critical consideration in the hierarchy of needs, and I needed Bullabart to fall asleep at night. Period. His presence was not optional. I left him at the library once, and I didn’t realize he was missing until the library had closed for the evening. I barely survived a fitful night of angst, and when my mother fetched him in the morning from a bookshelf in the children’s section, oddly missing his tail, I vowed I would never part from him again.

So now I had to make a life-or-death choice. Always the rational rebel, I argued with Miss Presti that I must to be allowed to rescue two things, but she wouldn’t budge from the original assignment. On the verge of tears, I chose to save Bullabart. I justified that maybe Tootsie could count as a person, since she was alive, or alternatively that Tootsie’s cage was technically not in the house, since it was in the backyard against the outside wall of the house. I could pull Bullabart from the flames, and then once outside, I could make sure Tootsie was safe, too. I didn’t tell Miss Presti my secret plan to save them both.

In my mind, I had cheated. Which led to an intensified fear of going to hell. It’s no wonder I spent a good part of the fourth grade in the nurse’s office with a stomach ache, lying on a cot while Mrs. Neary encouraged me to pass gas, which I sure as heck wasn’t going to do. I was on the verge of puberty, and I was convinced that everyone noticed everything I did at all times, from tripping on an uneven sidewalk to blinking my eyes. What if one of my peers walked into the nurse’s office for a cough drop at the moment I farted? That would ruin my life forever.

The teacher’s query took other forms over time, in other classes, by some other adult whose goal it was to build moral character. The infamous life raft dilemma, with a varying cast of characters. I recall an old person, a child, a pregnant woman, a priest, and the captain. I never knew how to make peace with the idea that I alone was deciding who would live and who would die. Who would I save? If Bullabart were on that life raft, my decision would be clearer.

The what-would-I-save quandary has followed me for thirty years, echoing in my brain and intruding into my daily thoughts. What would I save? As I aged, I loved new and different things that became my priorities. Roller skates. My class ring. Cash. And still Bullabart. (I didn’t stop sleeping with him until age 23, when his body began decomposing. A nameless teddy bear filled the void briefly, and then a woman permanently took Bullabart’s place in my bed, while he retired to the closet.) The question continues to pop into my head, demanding an answer. What would I save?

I pondered the concept recently while using shoe polish for the first time on my worn-out black, scuffed shoes, now sleek black with a blinding shine as if I was in boot camp. Shoe polish: What a great invention, like white out, dental floss and the French press. Could I live without these things? If the creek behind my house flooded, if my home were foreclosed, if a bomb hit Trumansburg, what would I be willing to sacrifice as I prepared to flee? What would I save?

The truth is that what-if ethical dilemmas piss me off as much as they make me anxious, because I am neither on a life raft, nor is my house burning down, nor are we in the midst of a war in Trumansburg. Today, I do not have to decide between my French press and my Sharpie collection. I know my fourth grade teacher was trying to help us develop ethical decision-making skills; I just think she should have passed out Xanax with those purple mimeographed handouts. For me, being presented with such dilemmas was comparable to warning an obsessive-compulsive hand washer in jest that stepping on cracks breaks your mother’s back. If they hadn’t thought of that one yet, they will now, and will they ever, at each and every sidewalk crack they have to step over.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for those people who can make the right decision in the face of crisis, like to risk one’s life to tackle a gunman. In that situation, hopefully I’d make the right choice, too. I think I would. That is, as long as Bullabart isn’t the one holding the weapon.

-Amelia Sauter