In mid-February, I couldn’t stop crying about boys. All in a row, I’d crossed paths with a series of people who I adored, who felt almost mystically perfect for me, who nonetheless couldn’t or wouldn’t date me for various reasons. Such is life, I suppose. And although I knew I’m worthy of desire and would find someone awesome eventually, and although I kept telling myself “This too shall pass,” tears still kept pouring down my face as I sat in bed wailing along to Missing Ember.
“It has been a year and a half since the end of my last relationship,” I wrote in my journal, “and whereas that break-up initially made me feel wonderfully free and independent, now I just feel weirdly unmoored. I miss the emotional support and consistency of having a primary partner.”
After writing some more and effectively soaking my journal with tears and snot, I fired off an email to Carly from Tiny Lantern Tarot. (Carly uses both she/her and they/them pronouns, so I’ll be alternating between those.) I had read an interview with Carly on Up, Down & Out and loved her nonjudgmental, intuitive and queer-friendly approach to tarot, and since my emotions were so tumultuous at that time, I felt I needed some direction. Some types of emotional turmoil call for a visit to a therapist, or a long phone call with a best friend, but for some reason I craved advice from someone wise and witchy. “I have some concerns around romantic and sexual relationships in my life that I would love to get some guidance on,” I wrote in my initial email to Carly.
A few more emails and a couple weeks later, I headed to Carly’s home office for my reading. They made me tea and we sat on their little couch. We talked a little bit about my concerns around romantic relationships, and then she drew some cards.
Carly uses the Collective Tarot, a deck whose illustrations are bursting with queer people, people of color, and a diverse array of bodies. This immediately felt right to me. Tarot cards are usually traditionally gendered and free of flagrant sexuality, and my life is… not those things. Carly’s calm manner, and the cards themselves, affirmed to me that this was a safe space for me to talk about my queer/sexy/kinky life, if need be – and that’s important, when you’re getting a reading about relationships!
Two of the four cards Carly drew were major arcana cards and the other two were face cards, which they told me meant the issue at hand was an important one to me. It certainly was!
The card at the center represented “the heart of the matter,” and it was the Seeker of Feathers. Carly explained that this card is about communication and assertiveness. “It’s more important that you say the thing,” she explained, “than that you say the thing nicely.” I’d gotten into a habit of downplaying my needs, of telling people I was okay with my romantic and sexual entanglements being “chill” and “casual,” when actually I wanted something more. This card told me to be more honest with potential beaux about what I want – and I interpreted that to mean honesty about not only my feelings but also my desired relationship structure (non-monogamous) and the kind of sex I want to be having. I’m not always good at communicating my needs if I think they might ruffle feathers, so this card reminded me to do so regardless.
The card on the left represented “what to do.” It was the Code, which features what appears to be a queer kinky person flagging red for fisting. (So, so, so awesome.) Carly told me that this card refers to boundaries, borders, and communities, and recommended I consider the communities I run in: in what ways do I fit into them, and in what ways do I stand out? In the places where I stand out, do I want to accept that and be proud of it, or do I want to adjust my approach so I fit in better?
This card made me think about how often I feel like a baby/newbie/impostor in the sex-positive communities I’m in. Though I’ve been running in these circles for years, it’s still hard for me to accept that I’m a valued member of the Cool Kids’ Club. I’m well-liked and respected by the members of that “club” who know me; there’s really no reason for me to feel like I don’t belong. This card reminded me that I should dive even deeper into that scene, unapologetically and enthusiastically.
Naturally, given the kinky content of the illustration, this card also refers to power dynamics. As we talked about my issues with anxiety and feeling out of place, Carly suggested that maybe I need to develop a power dynamic with myself: be my own dom, so to speak. This might involve bossing myself into doing stuff that is slightly uncomfortable for me, but will help me grow and meet potential partners – like attending social events that make me nervous, talking to new people, and entering new social scenes. I found it strangely helpful to have my anxiety re-framed in this way – as something I can challenge bravely if a cute toppy person tells me to, even if that cute toppy person is me.
The next card represented “what to think,” and it was the Apprentice of Bottles. Carly explained that this card usually evokes a person who is very charismatic, charming and shiny, but then turns out to be shallow and disappointing. They weren’t entirely sure what the card was trying to tell me, but it made a strange kind of sense to me: a lot of my emotional upheaval at that time had happened because I was idealizing people I had a crush on. Some of these people appeared to be my perfect partner, but of course, they weren’t actually perfect, and in many ways we would’ve been a bad match if we’d gotten together. I felt like this card was telling me to take people off the pedestals I’d put them on – and also to consider what qualities I actually need in a long-term partner, rather than just the dazzling qualities that capture my attention in the short-term.
Carly told me that this card can also refer to first impressions: making a big splash, and then retreating. We talked about how I often worry that the first impression I make is misleading. “I’m a sex blogger” is usually one of the first things I tell new people about myself, and I think it gives some people an incorrect impression about my personality, my priorities, and what kind of relationship(s) I might be looking for. Carly encouraged me to experiment with the way I talk about myself – which I started to do later that night, by removing the phrase “sex blogger” from my Tinder profile. I figured it’ll be easier for me and potential matches to discover each other organically if I roll out information about my sexuality more slowly. (Preliminary results: Tinder dudes have indeed been less skeezy and more curious about me since I did this. Innnteresting.)
The final card represented “what to avoid,” and it was Strength. Carly told me this card refers to strength not in the traditional/brawny sense, but in the sense of emotional bravery and vulnerability. At first, she was puzzled that this card came up in the “what to avoid” slot, since obviously, these traits are usually a virtue in relationships. “The only thing I can think,” they said, “is that maybe you have a pattern in your dating life of being too vulnerable and open, of letting too many people in too quickly.”
I almost started crying when she said this, because it was so amazingly true and there’s no way Carly could have known that. I give far too many people the keys to my emotional kingdom, and it results in me getting hurt a lot. When I choose to invest emotionally in someone I’ve just met or barely know, at first it feels like an exciting rush, but it quickly gets heavy and painful, with very few exceptions. “Vulnerability is necessary,” Carly told me, “but not everybody deserves your vulnerability.” They were so right, and I made a promise to myself to be more careful about getting invested in people who haven’t yet proved they deserve my heart.
I left Carly’s house with an immense sense of clarity and inspiration, like I’d just been given the road map to my next stop on life’s path. The despair of feeling unloveable had lifted. I was still just as single, my life just as devoid of serious romantic prospects, but that felt less important and less permanent than it had before.
Now, here’s where shit gets weird. Two days later, I met a boy on Tinder. We went out. We hit it off. We started dating. I leapt headfirst into a relationship with him, before knowing if he even ticked all the boxes that matter to me (“Is he a feminist?” and “Is his sex drive compatible with mine?” being the two key ones in this case). I was so desperate for a boyfriend that I viewed this dude idealistically, filling in the blanks and paving over problems to round him up to a person I could date.
I should have communicated my needs more clearly, more quickly. I should have held out longer before calling him my boyfriend and pinning my hopes on him. I should have remembered that first impressions aren’t everything and people change as you get to know them better.
These are all things that Carly told me in my reading with her. But it was like the universe wanted to hammer these points home. And hammer, it did.
In the end, I learned these lessons the way I learned so many math and science concepts in school. Someone smart explained the lesson to me – and then I had to put what I’d learned to use in the real world.
Well, I sure learned quick. I won’t make those mistakes again. And if I do, maybe I’ll pull a few tarot cards to learn how to fix it.