This summer B and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. According to UK tradition this apparently was our “woollen” anniversary – although a more appropriate material for us would surely have been plastic seeing as we spent our anniversary weekend at Auto Assembly! Who says romance is dead? Now a Transformers convention may not be too many people’s idea of a romantic date but it’s fitting for us in many ways as our geeky interests and passions have always been an central element in our relationship. Like any partnership, ours has had its ups and downs over the years, but we’re glad to still be going strong after 7 years of marriage and almost 15 together as a couple (yeah, we didn’t exactly rush down the aisle).
We’re often asked what is the secret behind our successful marriage, and I’m not sure there is one – although friendship, compromise, stubbornness and yes, just sheer luck certainly all have had their roles to play. But even if there’s no magic formula we’ve learned a few things over the years about making a relationship last and we thought we’d share them today. Now, relationship advice isn’t a topic we’d normally cover here on AddAltMode but, as you’ll see, it isn’t a million miles away from our regular programming. This is a geek blog, and over the years we’ve come to realise that the fact that we’re both massive geeks isn’t just a key element in why we get along so well, it also provides a shared language and some handy frames of reference for many of things we’ve learned on our journey together to date…
10. Accept evolution but don’t expect change
People don’t stay the same, we are the sum of our experiences, good and bad, and we gain in experience all the time. But this is gradual evolution rather than immediate change. Since B and I first met, our interests have evolved a lot (and being geeks, when when one or other of us discovers a new fandom we tend seriously to embrace it) as have our priorities, expectations, even our career plans, but all of these alterations have been gradual. Meanwhile, our core natures – the way we view the world and respond on an instinctive level – have remained pretty much the same. It’s like Pokémon: if you start with a Bulbasaur then you may very well end up with an Ivysaur but you can’t turn them into a Charizard. I think a lot of people end up disappointed in love either because they struggle to accept that their lover’s interests have evolved over time, or, alternatively, because they set out kidding themselves that they will manage to change some major aspects of their significant other’s personality (spoiler: it won’t happen).
9. Make compromises but also know your deal breakers
From the utterly mundane “I’ll do the washing up if you hoover the stairs” through to slightly more fraught issues like finances or visiting relatives, making compromises is a normal part of any healthy relationship. Given that our hobbies and interests are very similar, B and I don’t usually experience the sorts of cultural compromises that you often hear about couples needing to make: at the cinema, for instance, we invariably want to see the same films anyway. But in general, give and take is just a part of sharing your life with someone. However some things are simply too important for negotiation, you should recognise what these factors are for you and lay them on the table early on in a relationship. Children, for example: if one of you wants to have three kids and the other wants a childfree life then having just one baby is no kind of satisfactory compromise for either of you. I’ve been playing a lot of Telltale Games’ Poker Night at the Inventory lately. There are elements of luck and performance in poker but also a lot of calculation. Some starting hands just have no hope of success and it really is better to fold at once than see what happens and keep haemorrhaging money along the way. Fortunately B and I established early on that we were on the same page when it comes to our own non-negotiables, otherwise it would have been game over a long time ago.
8. Blow off steam over the little things if it helps you stay cool in a crisis
Life is stressful and we all need to vent at times; while your partner should never be your punchbag just because they’re around the most, the occasional argument is probably more healthy than bottling up all your frustrations until the point where the volcano finally erupts. B and I find that we tend to argue regularly over fairly trivial issues: we’ve had some pretty heated showdowns over stupid things like mowing the lawn. This isn’t great but it is a release valve and we’ve found that though we might quarrel over little annoyances, when it comes to the really big problems we always work together calmly and get them solved. One of the most stressful things to happen to us was when the people who were meant to be buying our old flat unexpectedly gave us an ultimatum, we had 4 days to finalise the sale and move out or the deal was off. It was a really stressful time but there were no tears, no shouting, we just immediately started packing, looking for somewhere temporary to stay, and making the necessary arrangements. Over-dramatic responses are an indulgence we save for the things that don’t really matter, and for video games of course. When life is stressful it can be so cathartic to chainsaw the crap out of a few zombies in Left 4 Dead 2. This is something we both understand, and why Steam and Valve are such appropriately named companies!
7. Cultivate “alone together” time
As a pair of introverts we both need quite a lot of space and “me time”; this is something that’s always been the case. B’s shift work means that finding time apart isn’t normally an issue for us. It goes without saying that it’s great to do things together too, but there’s also a middle path.
Over the years we’ve come to recognise the value of being “alone together” that is, being in the same room, but not necessarily engaged in the same activity. B might be on his PC while I’m reading a book doing or working on something on my laptop, each in our own worlds but still connected, occasionally sharing a joke or an update on what we’re experiencing. When we first got together and lacked confidence in each other we would have worried that this behaviour was anti-social but with time we’ve learned that these moments are actually to be treasured. Particularly for introvert couples it’s important to find ways of recharging your batteries without disconnecting from each other completely. Light a nice scented candle, switch on some atmospheric fairy lights to create a pleasant shared space you can both inhabit then log-on and luxuriate in your separate virtual/imaginary worlds. We do this a lot.
6. Take the RPG approach to character comprehension
I noted above that people evolve: it’s possible to acquire new skills and interests or unlearn some bad habits, but deeper personality traits are fairly ingrained. There are always going to be things that puzzle or irritate you about your other half’s behaviour. That’s certainly true for B and I: we’re opposites in many ways. He’s a stoic, fuelled by order, logic and maths; I’m more highly strung, all about emotion and language, and oh how I thrive on praise. We’ve joked before that he’s the More Than Meets The Eye Ultra Magnus to my Rodimus, and there’s more than a germ of truth in it, however much it makes me sulk to accept it. Sulking? Oh, how very Rodimus. These differences are complementary and make us a great team in many ways but sometimes they can cause disagreements. Like when I need B’s help with a cosplay build and he can’t understand why I’m having such trouble with something as “simple” as calculating an angle or figuring out a shape. It occasionally frustrates him that, and I quote, “someone so clever can be so stupid.” But then again, I sometimes find it incredible that it can be such a lengthy, laboured process for him to write a post, letter or report when finding the right words has always come fairly naturally to me.
Bottom line is, we’re smart in different ways. One way to remember this, and to see it as a positive rather than a negative, is to embrace the language of RPG character creation. We all only have a limited number of points to spend. Want super strength? You might have to forfeit some charisma. When B is frustrated by my occasional slightly embarrassing struggles with basic geometry I remind him that logic was my dump stat to enable many of the other character traits that he really admires in me. Sometimes it helps.
5. Co-op gaming beats competitive play any day
I’m sure there are couples out there for who find competitive gaming a healthy and invigorating part of their relationship. But you only need to glance at the number of webcomic strips out there on theme of “Mario Party Ruins Friendships” to realise that for a large number of couples, playing against each other is entering the danger zone.
We both love video games and will play casual competitive games like Mario Party as part of a larger group (usually when plenty of alcohol is present). That kind of environment takes the edge off any souring direct competition but over the years we’ve learned that competing against each other is nowhere near as rewarding as co-operative play. Whereas co-op modes often used to feel a bit tacked on and offered a sup-par experience to single player or PVP, it’s great that so many games are now built for co-op play. Our love for the Borderlands franchise is pretty evident on this blog, but the thing that’s kept us hooked on these games in particular is the fact that they really are stories to share and play through with a friend. If either of you have a competitive streak our advice isn’t quite “make love not war” so much as “make war together.” There’s so much more fun to had, and rows to be avoided, playing as allies rather than adversaries.
4. Be open to each other’s interests
Being married to a fellow geek is a lot of fun. It’s great to enjoy the same cultural properties as your partner: you can stay up late dissecting a film or video game plot, or reading comics aloud, and those “I’m not letting you waste twenty quid on a plastic robot” type arguments don’t tend to crop up too often. Admittedly, as we have a limited budget for such things, we do sometimes disagree on the whos but rarely the whys. We don’t always like exactly the same things as each other but we both get why this stuff matters. When you’re dating a fellow geek I think it’s important to be open to any passions or interests of theirs that are unfamiliar to you. That way you may just find your new favourite thing, which is sort of what happened with me and Transformers. I’ll admit this is a franchise B got me in to: he didn’t force it upon me but his love for it was clear and already being a robot fan it didn’t seem like a huge sacrifice to plug in and share a few games of War for Cybertron, and look how far down that particular rabbit hole I’ve fallen since. Likewise there are plenty of bands (mostly post-rock and goth bands) that B loves who he only encountered thanks to me; and indeed I’m the one who introduced him to Borderlands! Our unwritten rule about going to gigs, films etc where one of us is much more into the property than the other is this: “I’ll come if you pay.” It has proven culturally enriching for both of us over the years. If you marry a geek you’re also welcoming their geeky passions into their lives, so might as well embrace that. Come here Ultra Magnus, it’s hugs time.
3. Always safeguard your individual identity
Kind of an extension of the previous point really, but worthy of individual emphasis. Even in the interests you come to share with your other half it’s important to maintain and embrace your individual perspectives. Let’s think about Transformers (again) for a minute, shall we? One thing that the recent Combiner Wars line has shown really clearly is that while combiners work as a team and are stronger together each member still treasures the individuality of their alt-mode and it’s those differently skilled and built individuals uniting that makes for a stronger combiner. Bruticus is a particularly great example: he’s such a formidable opponent because each of the individual Combaticons knows their agreed role within him playing on their individual abilities in combined form. By contrast, remember how angsty those bots are who don’t have a functional non-combining alt-mode (cough MTMTE Ambulon cough).
Applying this TF wisdom to a geek relationship basically means this: two geeks in love are likely to have many more shared interests than your average couple. But that doesn’t make you clones (unless you’re, like, really into Star Wars cosplay or something!) It’s important to recognise and kindle individual perspectives even in shared interests. Even liking the same properties doesn’t mean you have to like identical aspects of those properties or even respond to them in the same way. We may both love Transfomers but one of us expresses that by admiring Ultra Magnus and designing and 3D printing ‘Bot accessories; the other one has a slightly dodgy Starscream obsession and loves building and wearing TF cosplays. Different strokes for different folks, even within the same fandom. Similarly, there are so many albums where we both love the band in question but our favourite tracks are almost never the same ones. And I think that’s a healthy thing. So there you go, relationship advice courtesy of Bruticus et al, who’d’ve thunk it?
2. Avoid home “console wars”
The TV remote is stereotypically the cause of so much domestic strife, and for couples who both enjoy gaming, control of the console can cause similar disharmony. You’re both really in to different games, who gets to play when? We’ve had this battle in the past with our Wii: B just wanted to finish Mario Galaxy but I was working my way through Okami. There are number of potential solutions and it’s important to find one that works for you both. You could embrace point 5 and just go for co-op games but that way you will miss out on a lot of great single player action. You could create a rota, or – more drastically – get a job that involves shift work which will solve the problem by guaranteeing you plenty of evenings apart (B’s shift patterns get me down sometimes but they do leave me plenty of time to pursue my own games!) But the best solution we’ve found is just to eschew console wars entirely by becoming PC gamers. I’m not wading across the whole toxic battlefield of PC Vs Console pros and cons here. But from the point of view of maintaining a harmonious geek relationship let’s just say buying my own gaming laptop was one of the best investments I ever made!
1. Maintain an element of surprise and spontaneity
A lot of serious academic work has been done on the language of lovers, highlighting the way that people who are close grow to match each other’s tone and develop their own lexicon of references and in-jokes. Living with a fellow geek can level up this phenomenon further still (right up to 11!) Take all the usual in-jokes and allusions built from shared experiences and memories and then add in the cinematic, literary and pop-cultural references of which we geeks are notorious quoters. B and I speak like this a lot, it makes us feel close and it’s wonderful to live with someone who after 15 years can still make me giggle like a little girl at some obscure pun or chain of word association that has meaning only for the two of us. Such familiarity is a joy, yet its less positive flip-sides can be stagnation and predictability. It’s not easy to maintain the element of surprise in a long term relationship but occasional surprises are well worth striving for.
An example of this is that wedding anniversary trip to Auto Assembly. We’d never attended that convention (or any big, residential fandom event) before and both being socially awkward introverts the prospect was almost as intimidating as it was exciting. I think if I’d just asked B if he wanted to go we could easily have discussed it and talked ourselves out of it. It’s so easy to stay in your comfort zone. So instead I was brave, just plunging right in and booking convention tickets in secret almost a year ahead of the event and then keeping that secret for several months so that I could present it to B as an entirely unexpected Christmas gift. The look on his face made all the subterfuge worthwhile (and man, it was a tricky secret to keep at times) and after Christmas we then had nearly 8 months of looking forward to it to enjoy. Secrets in a relationship can be poisonous but there are such things as good secrets and bad secrets. In our experience, the right kind of positive subterfuge can be a way to keep things fresh and interesting.
Bonus tip: Cosplay!
Do couples who cosplay together stay together? I’m not sure if it’s fair to say that nothing brings people together quite like dressing up as your favourite game, film or comic characters. But I am positive that there’s no surer way to confirm that you 100% love and trust someone then that moment when you have to ask them to hot glue your gauntlets together while those damn things are still on your arms. Those sorts of moments cement – or should I say hot glue – bonds for life.