Before then, I had been in the camp of indecisive folks who couldn’t possibly imagine getting ink on my body and feel confident that it was going to be something I’d want for the rest of my life.
Then our dog Quincy got sick with cancer for the second time, and we knew she wasn’t going to make it. Quincy was our first dog, a miniature dachshund who came into our lives unexpectedly six years earlier just after I finished college. Brendan and I didn’t expect to fall in love with her as deeply as we did, but that sort of love often comes around when you’re least expecting it.
Quincy went everywhere with us; when people invited us places, they just expected her to come along too. When Brendan and I got married, we eloped on a dog-friendly beach in San Francisco just so that Quincy could be part of it.
For a while Brendan and I had been kicking around the idea of getting a tattoo for her, a simple replica of Picasso’s dachshund sketch. When we found out that her cancer was back, it seemed like the perfect time to go through with it, to keep a little part of her with us forever. We took the sketch and added a little tongue to personalize it for Quincy’s signature look—her tongue always hung out of her mouth because of a surgery she had the first time she got sick. We got inked just above our right ankles, where the top of Quincy’s head would be if she was standing next to us.
Every time I see the tattoo, I’m reminded of the love I had for that little creature, the way she opened up within me a capacity to feel more deeply and experience affection for a pet in a way I never had before. I’m reminded of the way that Brendan and I became a “we” of three, the way we had been encouraged to open our hearts and include another living being into the love we shared.
After my first tattoo, as often happens, I was immediately excited to get my next one. It would take a little while until that happened, but for my 29th birthday, I got a simple script across my left forearm:
They are actually song lyrics from a British musician named John Smith that I discovered as an opening act at a concert years ago. From the first time I heard them (which was long before Brendan and I became polyamorous), those seven words seemed like the perfect distillation of everything I had learned up to that point in my life. The older I got, the more I realized that nothing matters more than the connections we make while navigating the strangeness of existence. I had been finding more fulfillment through relationships (including platonic ones) than I did through my job or any personal accomplishments and came to value love, in all its forms, above anything else.
Those words became a mantra, and as Brendan and I eventually opened up our relationship, they became the principle that I used to guide all of my thoughts and actions. For a long time, I thought I knew what it meant to “do loving well.” After all, Brendan and I had been together for over a decade, so I had to be doing something right.
It turns out, I didn’t know what it meant to “do loving well” so much as I knew what it meant to love one person well. As we expanded our relationships and grew a polycule, I learned that there were multiple ways to love, multiple ways that people wish to be loved. Where one person experiences love through a touch on the waist or a comforting squeeze on the shoulder, another experiences it though a phone call to say that you’re thinking of them. I was familiar with the idea of love languages, but it wasn’t until I experienced the diverse ways they were manifesting in my relationships that I truly understood what they were.
In planning this tattoo, I wanted the words to be somewhere visible, a place that I would see every day. I chose my forearm to remind myself that love flows through my hands: through touch, through words that I write, through acts of service.
As 2020 comes to a close, a year in which we’ve all needed love more than ever and I’ve been acutely feeling its absence, I’ve been staring at my arm lately and reflecting on these words a lot: where I’ve succeeded in doing loving well and where I’ve failed. Navigating the world as a polyamorous person in a pandemic has meant relearning how to love, has meant recalibrating hopes, desires, and expectations to this new reality. I know I will continue to learn and continue to make mistakes, but putting love above all else is an act that gives warmth through the cold, provides a beacon through times of darkness.