The older I get, the more I appreciate people who perform emotional labor for myself and others. These skills are undervalued, underemphasized, rendered almost imperceptible by this culture which says emotional labor isn’t labor at all. Anyone who makes that claim simply doesn’t understand how much they have benefited from the emotional labor performed for them by people in their lives. If they saw it for what it was – if they recognized it while it was happening, instead of breezing past it in an entitled huff – they would be in awe. They would be grateful.
I feel this way about so many people in my life who perform emotional labor for me regularly: the friends who sit with me calmly when I’m sad, the partners who remember which small things upset me and which small things bring me joy, the therapist who puzzles through my motivations with me, even the baristas and waiters who remember my usual order. They are all giving me an exquisite gift made from compassion, intuition, and mindfulness. I do not take it for granted.
I feel this way about Carly from Tiny Lantern Tarot as well. Our reading last year opened my eyes to many worrisome patterns I was perpetuating in my dating life; Carly helped me see these issues by reading my cards, drawing on her knowledge of me, listening to my questions and concerns, and simply being present with me. (Carly uses both she/her and they/them pronouns, so I’ll be alternating between those in this post.)
This past week I went back to see Carly for another reading – specifically, a reading about my sex life, which Carly calls a “pussy fortune.” (They’re quick to point out, of course, that this language doesn’t resonate with everyone and there are many other things you could call a sexy tarot reading. My pun-brain is whirring… A “pre-dick-tion”? A “whore-oscope”? A “get-off-ecy”?!)
I’m a sex-nerdy, kinky, non-monogamous queerdo, so if I’m going to open up to someone – in either a personal or a professional capacity – I need them to be cool with all those things, or even involved in those communities themselves. Carly totally gets all of that, and I feel 100% comfortable unpacking sex/kink/poly things with her. If you are similarly inclined and live in or near Toronto, I would highly recommend booking Carly for a reading; their knowledge of and comfort with these areas of sexuality sets me deeply at ease.
She made me a cup of coffee and we settled onto the couch in her little turquoise office. We discussed some questions I’ve been wondering about: 1) How can I adjust my approach to dating to attract more people into my life who I’m emotionally and sexually compatible with and who want to date me? and 2) What areas of sexuality should I explore next, in my personal life and in my work? (Sex is inextricable from work for me. My sex life fuels my sex writing; my sex writing fuels my sex life. I cannot discuss one without the other.) I watched as they shuffled their gently glinting black-and-gold cards and laid them out methodically on a navy chest repurposed as a table, and we began the reading.
It was a long reading, full of thoughtful silences and the internal whir of one “aha!” moment after another. One of my favorite things about Carly’s readings is that she leaves long, comfortable silences in between sentences and cards. As a journalist, improvisor, and podcaster, sometimes silences make me panic – they’re “dead air” and that’s bad, right?! – but they are incredibly useful in a setting like a tarot reading. Sometimes I need a good ten or twenty seconds to absorb and process something one of us has just said – to turn it over in my mind and look at it from all angles – and it’s in those long pauses that I connect the dots, find the common threads, reach revelations. In everyday life, we so rarely get the opportunity to take a breath, think, and decide at our own pace what we want to say next. Carly holds space for their clients in ways both figurative and literal, and it is such a gift.
They pulled many cards and we discussed many facets of my dating life, sex life, and work life, so I won’t go into detail about all of it – but here are a few key concepts that have stuck with me in the intervening days…
Listen to your body. Trust your body. Let your brain take a backseat. This message came up in multiple cards. It’s something I frequently struggle with, as an anxious weirdo who over-intellectualizes and over-analyzes sex. Sometimes my body really does know best, and that’s hard to accept; I want to be able to conquer all problems with sheer brainpower! But my body is at least as smart as my brain, and I need to let it do its thing.
This has come up in my dating life a lot lately. I’ll force myself to go on a first date (and then sometimes a second or third date!) with someone because they seem like a good fit for me, logically. But my body knows different: my shoulders get tense as I enter the plan in my calendar, my eyelids feel heavy as I force myself out of bed the morning of the date, and I’m fraught with anxious nausea as I slide my shoes on and head out the door. There is a difference between good-nervous and bad-nervous, and I can distinguish between the two if I silence my brain-chatter and listen to my body. Nine times out of ten, my body has a better sense of whether someone is good for me than my brain does, and I should heed that more often.
This lesson also plays into more established relationships. It’s been over a year since I found out my ex-FWB was chronically abusive to other partners of his, and I keep reflecting on all the warning signs my body noticed that my brain decided to ignore. I didn’t feel good around him, I never got excited to go see him, and he often said creepy things that grated on me – but I kept assuring myself these were small things that ultimately didn’t matter, since the sex was good and he was, on the surface, “nice.”
Contrastingly, I recently had sex for the first time with a new beau who I believe is actually nice, and afterward, he breathed in my ear, “I have a good feeling about you.” I had a good feeling about him, too – in my body, not just my brain. Our bodies are wiser than we give them credit for.
Say what you mean, and mean what you say. One of the cards Carly pulled for me this time, the Seeker of Feathers, also came up in our last reading, which I gather means I haven’t learned its lesson yet. This card is all about honesty, assertiveness, telling the truth, even when doing so is hard. I think most of us could stand to get better at this.
Sometimes I tell dates I like them and want to see them again when I kinda don’t. Sometimes I tell dates I’m cool with us keeping things “chill” and “casual” when I utterly am not. Sometimes I tell dates I’m “not sure what I’m looking for” when I actually know I’m looking for a committed primary partner.
Sometimes I tell partners I don’t care that I didn’t have an orgasm, when I actually do care. Sometimes I tell partners what they’re doing feels great, when I actually know what would feel better. Sometimes I tell partners our sexual incompatibilities are solvable, when I’m actually frustrated to catastrophic levels with one crucial mismatch or another.
I get myself into trouble when I lie, distort the truth, or omit pertinent details. I end up going on dates with people I barely like, making out with people I’d rather just cuddle, having sex with people to whom I should’ve said “good night” hours ago. To be clear, these experiences are consensual; they just lack the passion and enthusiasm and “oh yes”-ness that I consider vital. If there isn’t mutual excitement in a romantic and/or sexual interaction, why am I even there? What is the point?
I told Carly about how I struggle with letting people down, even when I know I’m not feeling a connection. She reminded me that dating is inherently risky and most people know that. There is always a risk of rejection, sadness, conflict, disappointment. That’s just part of the deal. I don’t have to protect people from that. Trying to postpone those feelings often just worsens them in the end. “Stop going on second dates with people you know you don’t want to keep seeing,” Carly advised me. Okay. I’ll try.
Consider your intentions. One of the cards Carly drew – the Ten of Feathers – was meant to represent how others observe or interpret me, and it indicated a fall. Chaos. Mental health struggles, addiction, loneliness, fears.
I felt a rush of embarrassment when they explained this to me. I flashed back to Kat Williams advising against being a “car-crash blogger” – a blogger who only writes about bad things that happen to them, in an effort to get clicks and sympathy. I often write about difficult stuff – but is that what I want to be known for?
As I blathered about this internal crisis, Carly reminded me that having a public image laced with conflict and chaos isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And I realized they were right. I’ve received so many nice notes from readers telling me that my writing about soul-crushing experiences – unrequited love, rejection, insecurity – helped them understand and get through tricky situations of their own. This was a nice reminder that I should consider my intentions with regards to my work: writing sad stuff isn’t necessarily bad, it should just be something I deliberately choose to do, if and when I do it.
We also talked about how I should be more deliberate and intentional in my dating life as well. If I’m going out on multiple first dates a month with new Tinder suitors, I should ask myself: why? What am I hoping to get out of this? Am I actually having fun, or am I just doing this because I feel like I’m “supposed to”? If I’m having sex with a lot of people, is it actually as fun and exciting as I want it to be, or is it just exhausting? Am I pursuing romantic relationships because they’re what I’m “supposed to” want, or do I actually want them?
These are all questions for which my answers tend to oscillate, but the important thing is that I’m pondering them at all. Things get messy when I wander into new endeavors with no idea what I’m really doing – whereas, if I know exactly what I’m hoping to get out of an experience, I’m likelier to have a good time and get what I want.
Just like last time, I left Carly’s house feeling inspired, emboldened, and amped up. Their perspective, advice, and the simple act of listening to me had helped me shake loose some areas that had felt stuck. On the subway ride home, I stared at the notes I’d scribbled in my journal, and it felt like I was looking at a road map to a more satisfying sex life.
If you want to book a reading with Carly – which you should, ’cause she’s fucking terrific – you can make arrangements to come see her here in Toronto. They also occasionally travel to other locales; follow them on Twitter for updates on that. Carly also writes a tarot advice column called Ask a Feelings-Witch, to which you are welcome to submit questions.
I’m never entirely sure how I feel about witchy, magical practices – whether I believe they actually help or they’re just made-up silliness – but what I know about tarot is that it bridges a gap between the magical and the practical. The cards tell you some things, and you can connect those messages and lessons to the events of your own life, in ways that are often shockingly illuminating. Whether you believe tarot is a mystical practice imbued with the supernatural, or merely a secular window into your own psyche, I think it can be a helpful tool. After all, if you ask me, all the best things in life have a little ambiguous magic in them – and the wisest people are those who are open to mystery, to the unexplainable, to being surprised by life.