Tag Archives: marriage

Marriage counselling part 1: clearing the decks, building skills


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My husband and I have been going to couples counselling now for around three months, seeing the fabulous Frances Amaroux who specialises in working on relationships. She has chops as a poly counsellor and understands the intricacies and complexities of building relationships within a poly framework, whatever that may be for the couple concerned.

When we first began seeing her, our relationship was under a lot of stress. We’d just lost our baby in early pregnancy and were trying to unpack the fallout. My husband was struggling with the anxiety of going through the visa process to qualify for permanent residency. We’d sunk into a state of constant conflict and competitive arguments, with a big empathy gap on both sides (despite me thinking at the time that my husband was the only one lacking empathy – I’ve since realised I had some work to do as well). Neither of us was enjoying the day to day of relating to each other because of some serious relationship skills deficits on both sides. Our first appointment was pretty rough, and revealed starkly just how much we were struggling.

Frances was robustly caring, yet pretty frank that we had a lot of work to do. She was also frank about all that we had going for us. She sort of presented us with a choice: break up, or work on our relationship. Neither of us wanted to break up. We just wanted to not feel so miserable all the time.

She took us back to the basics – she talked about the three circles to be cared for: our individual circles or “I spaces” and then the third circle of our relationship or “we space”. I know, it sounds hippy dippy but hey, it’s good stuff to contemplate and getting ‘back to basics’ has been good for us, and in three years we’d just been feeling it out and hoping for the best. She quickly assessed some of our biggest hurdles, and gave us simple tools to start taking them apart.

Thankfully, both of us had a starting point of goodwill, and I’m grateful that’s the case. Knowing that about ourselves, and each other, is the best start. Cunning Minx, a poly commentator who has been podcasting with the amazing Poly Weekly for over 10 years, mentioned in a pod-cast I was listening to the other day that “the assumption of good faith” was a really important ingredient in communication and negotiations. That really struck me and I’ve taken it quite to heart. I now try every day to assume my husband is working on things in good faith, and try in as many ways as I can, to reassure him I am doing the same. That assumption makes a HUGE difference – because how can you possibly work out a problem if you’re convinced your partner is out to get you? Instead if you’re uplifted by the assumption that you’re both trying your level best to work things out with each other’s well-being in mind, you’re liberated from a certain cynicism that really shrinks trust.

We both love each other enormously, and thanks to Frances we’re no longer in constant “emergency” mode. We’re getting increasingly skilled at checking our ego at the door of our marriage and instead focusing on being well in ourselves, taking care of each other’s wellbeing, and taking care of the “third circle”. We’ve concentrated on being ambiently aware of each other’s mental health, how the other person’s day is going, and we’ve also started to assess our individual happiness – how much we are taking care of ourselves personally (because this has a huge impact on how we relate to each other, obviously.) I think my husband has been doing too many practical things for our relationship, and not taking enough time for exercise or hobbies, and he is starting to address that. I’m trying to take better care of my health, and I’ve taken up crochet, which really comforts and engages me. Having a hobby again is great – something just for me. Poly is still kind of on the backburner, but is on the “discuss again soon” list now that things are settling down. Getting our relationship right before engaging with others has been a priority.

Some of the key skills and ideas we’ve learned include:

  • The importance of developing ambient empathy – being aware of each other’s wellbeing and state of being as a basis for making decisions and communicating with each other. We do this by checking in through the day with texts, phone calls, emails or whatever works and using a numbers system – asking how each other are on a scale from “1-10”. That establishes a bit of a baseline from which we can ask questions. “How come you’re only feeling a 5? What’s happening today?” Or “I’m glad you’re an 8! I’m a 9 because I’m getting a lot done at work today.”
  • Not flooding. I’m a BIG flooder. When D asks me a question or we discuss something I TALK AND TALK AND TALK and he only really processes the first two things I’ve said. Using the numbers system above helps make emotional information a bit more concise, and then he can seek out more clarity, little by little, and get a picture of what’s going on that he actually understands. Nothing is gained by me talking if he is unable to process what’s being said. So slowing down and chunking out information is important.
  • Active listening. A lot of lip service is paid to this, and sure I’ve HEARD the term a million times but actually practising active listening well is pretty hard. What is active listening (other than something I need to practice a lot more?) It is when somebody talks and you reflect back to them, paraphrasing and without judging or commenting or adding to it, what they’ve said to make sure you’ve fully understood them. They can then clarify if you’ve not totally grasped it. When you have fully understood them, you can move on to the next point. “So what I hear you saying is that you felt pressured when I asked how long it would be before you can get your citizenship?” Reflect, seek clarity, reflect. Rinse and repeat. It seems like such a simple thing but it really reduces the chances of conflict based on misunderstandings.
  • Owning your shit and not talking for others. This is pretty important because we were both shocking for it. Rather than just talk about how we personally felt about something, we were talking about what each other thought/felt, which was causing a lot of aggrieved feelings. Pretty much nobody likes being spoken for, especially when the other person is making a bunch of negative assumptions. Increasingly, we just try to speak about our own perspective and then inquire as to what each other are actually thinking/feeling.
  • Topping up on affection. Frances encouraged us to keep, as much as possible and is consensual, a constant drip feed of affection and care flowing between us. It could be something small – a touch of a knee, a kiss on the head, a nice friendly text, a shared joke, a cup of tea made, or generally reminding the other person you think they’re pretty cool. Keeping the other person aware that you love them, and they are loved, means the “trust account” gets filled up all the time. When shit hits the fan, we are finding we are now so much more resilient and accommodating of each other because of that baseline of care and tenderness.

I’m really glad we’ve started this process in the aftermath of the loss in early pregnancy of our baby, Elliot, because I think it will make us stronger parents. Both of us (and some of our friends if I’m being honest) were feeling scared about the consequences for a child of our poor communication; my pregnancy with Elliot had really highlighted some of the major flaws in how we connected. And rather than split up and waste the last three (mostly really enjoyable) years, we decided to work on our stuff collectively so we could deal with the issues at hand before I got pregnant again. I am so glad we did! Things are looking so much better, and now that we’re feeling functional again and can go weeks without conflict (and when conflict arises, we are dealing with it SO much more carefully and thoughtfully) I feel we have a fighting chance of having a relationship that actively supports the well-being of another life.

We just got the great news that my husband has been made a permanent resident, which is a huge weight off his and our shoulders. Now that lots of pressures are off, we can breathe a little, and try to enjoy each other as we prepare for the next stage of our lives together.

Next up on this blog: negotiating “job roles” as we embark on our next pregnancy! TBC…


Snarling 12wbt: slashing waste, plastics and stress levels


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One of the big perks of meal planning over the last week is that is has brought into sharp focus an issue that has plagued our household (and driven my waste-conscious husband crazy).

We have a massive problem with plastics and wasted food. Our shopping routine before now went a little something like “loiter the aisles of coles buying random ingredients with no plan or list”. This led to loads of annoying outcomes, such as:

  • Wasted food. Every week I would throw out at least a quarter of the food we’d bought because of poor planning and over buying – meaning that produce would go off before I had a change to use it. David is very conscious of waste – he grew up in a home where you just did NOT throw away food (and my grandma would be pretty upset with me for the amount of wastage that has gone on, having grown up in the depression). Over time this has become a source of real angst for me but poor organisation, tiredness, and not stopping to think about what will actually be cooked and when has meant the problem has gone on and on.
  • Use of plastic bags. A lack of organisation of everything to do with eating in our house has meant that I wind up doing almost all of the cooking because I just refused to plan. The lack of a plan meant that I was magicking up meals out of my head largely on a whim every few days and not cooking to recipes. This meant that my husband, who has Aspergers and *needs* order and clear direction to function happily, could not really contribute to cooking or shopping because everything was locked in my head. The result? Shopping was incredibly stressful, because he didn’t know what we were buying or why. It was an inexplicable mystery (to me and him!). We often wound up in a fight. My therapist suggested we just shop online, and for the longest time that has seemed like a good solution. But the cost to the environment of letting someone else shop and deliver to us, has meant PILES and PILES of plastic bags, because we were unable to use our reusable ones. We also use zip locks to store food in our fridge. I don’t really like rigid stacking systems because we have a small fridge and a combo of containers and bags makes fridge tetris heaps easier. Also, I’ve been using zip locks each day to take my lunch to work because spillage and mess is the worst.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve made an appointment with myself to do my grocery shopping in person and use my cloth bags. You have NO idea how good it felt to not bring home a swag of plastic again.

And a small miracle happened this week. We did the shopping and we didn’t have one single argument. It was actually fun. We smiled and cracked jokes. Because there was a shopping list, we divided it up beforehand and went our separate ways with purpose, and before I could blink it was over and for the first time in a long time we had emerged from Coles without marital disturbance. David noted that shopping on a Saturday evening was a great time of day to go, because it was very quiet and few people were there.

David has said he’s willing to start taking his lunch to work as well, to eat a bit healthier and more sustainably financially. Like me, he hates mess and spillage. So I’ve bitten the bullet and ordered us some goodies from Planet Wise Inc to store our lunches and food – a US company that manufactures reusable wet bags and storage bags. I’ve got a wet bag in chevron gray and yellow coming – whee zigzags! – and David has a houndstooth wet bag winging it’s way to him. I also ordered six of the gallon size reusable clear zippered bags for storing produce in our fridge, which we will combine with reusable containers. Everything is washable and the lip of the bag pops in, so it stays open and dries well in the air.

As for food wastage and the labour of cooking? Because we’re now cooking to a plan, and we know how much food to buy, there’s way less wasted food getting chucked in the bin. I hope we can become even smarter with that over time – freezing what we don’t use. I’m keen to keep thinking and refining systems so we’re wasting as little food as possible. When so many folks don’t have enough food to eat, chucking food away is pretty gross. And a waste of the money we work hard to earn.

Best of all, the recipes and plans mean I can just give David my 12wbt password and it opens up like a treasure trove for him – so now he can contribute to meal preparation with the structure he needs to feel happy and secure. I can see now why what we were doing before would have felt like a huge stressful question mark, and it created SO much conflict between us. Being able to practice his cooking skills with lots of time to think about it in advance, with a format to fall back on, means I can do less cooking which takes heaps of stress out of my week too, and addresses the massive gender disparity that often goes with domestic labour around food preparation.

So, thanks to the meal planning tools of the 12wbt, lots of good things are happening to reduce stress, reduce waste, and it has really gotten us thinking about our abuse of non-reusable plastics and packaging. We’ve gone from a mounting pile of plastic bags to cloth that doesn’t cost the earth. Hooray! I hope we can keep it up, and keep enjoying the flow on benefits of ordered food systems to our relationship. I can already feel the difference!


The art of crying alone: living alongside an ASD partner


“He would always speak the language of the heart with an awkward foreign accent.” – Orson Scott Card.

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The snowy, misty veils as you ascend Grouse Mountain, Vancouver.

My partner has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Specifically, in the old language before the nominally distinct branch was stricken from medical diagnosis, he has an informal diagnosis at a clinical level of high functioning Asperger’s Syndrome.

This post is written about my feelings and experiences, not all feelings and experiences. It is not written to try and describe ASD. Nor is it written in a politically clean way – it is written as a partner, as a very close loved one, who struggles to share life with someone who has behaviour we may organise and label as ASD. There will be things I write here that are seen almost entirely from my flawed perspective and won’t reflect how my partner sees himself. Such is life.

Nothing here is intended to demonise him or say he is a bad person. He is, in fact, better than any of you. He is the best. And certainly the best thing that has happened to me.

I knew from early on in our romantic entwinement that Something Was Up. Despite my partner (D) being a romantic, exuberant, involved and cheeky playmate – and despite his clear and intimate fondness for me – there were times when he just didn’t seem to ‘get’ emotion. He was also very specific and organised about certain things, enjoyed routine just a little too much and didn’t like when it was thrown out of whack. He was prone to sensory overload – noise, lights, touch. He had a tendency to fixate upon details, thoughts and could talk me under a table on a subject if it was the current subject of focus.

All of this was interesting, but in the throes of feeling all-the-things I pretty much thought it was cute, and ignored it.

Then there was That Night Of Crying, and that was the night that I knew something was actually, properly up.

One of evening I was distressed while ill and trying to fill out a medical form so that I could get antibiotics and not miss my first day of work in a new job. It was late, and I was in a horrid pickle, and needed assistance. I asked my partner for help and he expressed slight grumbles due to needing to go to bed for work the next day. I felt positively awful – and a burden – and began to cry. Solidly, for a very long time. D watched me and said nothing, seemingly impassive. After much hard and increasingly hysterical crying without any physical or verbal comfort from him, I ended up feeling even more upset and said something about it, albeit in a grumpy and sad way. He replied that he didn’t know what to do, so he was just doing nothing. I sat outside of our door and continued to cry on my own. Eventually I came back to bed under my own steam, and lay beside him in bed – still with zero cuddles or comforting words or understanding forthcoming.

It was an eye opening night, and after seeing a therapist and undergoing some testing, he was diagnosed informally with ASD. He fits the bill of a high functioning ASD person to almost a tee – though of course any description you read lumps people’s symptoms into a wholistic mass. Few ASD people have *every* symptom, but he inhabits many of them. And so a journey of discovery and heartache began.

The biggest, most painful discovery was that I was in love with a person who in this moment was not capable of meeting my emotional needs during my most vulnerable moments. Normal life events where a little empathy goes a long way are constant sources of stress in our house – at the end of a gruelling work day when I’m blowing off steam and needed a big hug and unconditional support, I get cool critique and emotional remove.

When I’m depressed and sad, he often just doesn’t have the words, or even the right questions. He’s awkward, stilted, absent or glazed. I know he’s in there, and cares in an odd yet feeling way, but it’s hard to remember when you already feel isolated and trashed by your day. You just want a comrade, someone to be beside you with their own anger at your shitty day. Or someone who understands the love language of physical touch and the wonderful healing power of a hard, wordless bearhug.

What’s terribly hard about this is that I *know* he isn’t an emotionless robot. Far from it – he is full of love, cheekiness, amusement and despair as the next sod. He feels plenty, it just doesn’t filter outwards like me and neither does the information he receives generate a similar response. I know, for instance, he cares in an abstract way about my happiness, and can also parse that a hard day at work interferes with said happiness. But that’s about as far as it goes, because many people with ASD do better with global empathy than specific empathy that requires projected imagining. If he can’t picture himself even close to walking in my shoes, he can’t react genuinely and empathically to my specific experiences. It just leaves him cold.

All he can do is coolly analyse what seems accessible, so a rant about a coworker is digested between us in a barely interested academic style where he picks apart whether my actions and thoughts are logical in the same way we would take down a movie with analysis during a cab ride home. Critique and lack of perceivable connection are obviously not the best in terms of tender loving care. What comes across is an icy, immovable exterior and all feelings inside him seem hidden behind a veil of snow and mist I can’t reach through or push aside.

It seems that it takes me ramping up to a state of absolute hysteria before he feels he can spontaneously wrap his arms around me; that same gesture, if given three hours before, would have met the lion’s share of my emotional needs. Simple gestures seem as far away as a distant star. I’ve taken on board the many suggestions my therapist has, who treats both of us, though I’ve certainly been more dedicated to therapy (and kind of wonder what a mess I *would* be like, without it!) Yet these suggestions don’t seem to advance us much right now beyond acknowledging realities and having the balls to deal with it head on.

At the moment what I’m finding crushing are two things: firstly, imagining the future and secondly, the impact it has on my sense of reality.

My concerns for the future are obvious. If D and I are to have the family together that we so dearly want, then I worry for our kids. I don’t really do distant dads; our kids aren’t having one if I can help it. So if my darling husband, who I love more than he can actually conceive of inside his bright and beautiful brain, can’t handle an articulate and thoughtful me after a hard day – how is he going to deal with the irrational explosive bundle of a baby? I can say “give me a hug” but a baby just bellows and has inarticulate, heavy needs that are unreasonable and potent. They are noisy and confronting. They create chaos, they wreck routines. We talk about this and he worries too. There’s no answer, and while it seems my therapist is determined that I should never have children, I’m not giving up. (If my grown children should ever read this, know I loved you enough to defy Jo.)

A large part of having a child, for me, will be enduring a Bipolar pregnancy which by all descriptions will be a special hell. If I manage to make it un-medicated through the entire thing without a psychotic episode, manic episode or depressive episode, it’ll be a miracle and I’ll have to seriously reconsider my current lack of commitment to the church. But it is likely I will be a pretty hard to handle wife in that time, while I cook a baby. And I’ll have big, unruly emotional needs that will almost require their own raft of solar panels to power and right now I’m scared that he just won’t have it in him to support me.

Secondly, I am just so scared of my reality changing. If you’re denied for long enough of basic hugs and cheering up and connected response from someone you’re close to, you shut off from them (horrible and not good for intimacy) or I think you may start to believe you are in some way wrong for needing what you need. Right *now* I can say firmly that there’s nothing wrong with expecting your husband to be in your corner and be making the tea and saying “WHAT a DICK! UGH!” and scowling when you describe someone street harassing you. I get that this is a normal expectation. But over time, when I just fail to get it over a long period of time, perhaps I’ll start to think I’m unreasonable or irrational, or worse: that I’m too much. I spent almost all of my twenties trying to kill that mindset. I’m not giving it new life now.

After a night of sleep deprivation and sobbing – all very dramatic – I’m feeling tired of a seemingly intractable incompatibility and unsure right now of accessible solutions. Do I accept that living with ASD is just going to suck and deal with it? Do I try to get these needs met elsewhere? Do I become a zen monk who has no emotional needs? Do I prod my partner back into therapy for skills building and concrete strategies?

In the end, I only know one thing for sure: for better and for worse, my Michaela. In sickness and in health. I’m so far from done yet, though I may be limping a little.


So I’m getting married (again).


The best way to find out if someone is trustworthy is is to trust them.

– Ernest Hemingway.

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So, I’m getting married…again.

My partner and I had already exchanged silver commitment rings on a bone white clifftop along the trail that lead to Marley Spit from Bundeena. We found the rings from a hippie shop on King st – Russian wedding rings, the bands intertwined. We un-shouldered our packs, took some photos, ate Vita Wheats and then slipped the rings on each others fingers. Took more photos. Felt a bit giddy.

Afterwards we jumped around in this big sandy rock puddle in bare feet in the wind then decided to walk back against the falling hush of late afternoon. We got muddy, we laughed and cracked dirty jokes. There were tiny birds following us in the bushes. I peed beside the path and he stood as lookout. We finally came down to the beach and waited for the ferry. The sky was fired up in pink and grey and the mosquitos started biting.

And then we rode back on the ferry, talking in the wooden boat about kink, our dreams, our families. Our future.

That was my commitment day and it will remain in my memory as one of the more profound, sweet and easy-going exchanges towards a solid bond I’ve had. It was all us, no ceremony. Our families and friends were not witnesses which at the time was a desired absence. For that commitment, at that time.

I’m not especially into big weddings. I’m into hella sucessful relationships and I actually think big weddings can exclude some of the possibility of that by generating needless stress and worry and weighing folk with expense and debt. It feels so needless and so theatrical. At times hysterical.

But I’m not against weddings altogether, or marriage. For the longest time I raged aloud that I was against both, seeing big weddings and consumer overload, seeing my history, my own painful past marriage, my hatred of convention. I’m really not a conventional person. I was projecting my issues and writing them in big fucking capital letters across the sky for all to see. I like this quote, from Jean Kerr: “Being divorced is like being hit by a Mack truck. If you live through it, you start looking very carefully to the right and to the left.”

And it isn’t that I was wrong. It’s that I’ve dealt with some of that stuff, and I feel better. Which is pretty wonderful, I must tell you. To find some peace is something I have struggled for, long and hard. I found it long before I found Librarian; he is not the arbiter of my soundness of mind. Those props go to big pharma, my family, friends and therapist and the ambling of time.

Here’s what I believe about marriage: I believe in consensual healthy all-people marriage. That means all sexes, genders, and groupings of people, across all races and religions and so on. I believe in group marriage – being polyamorous – and I believe in marriage rights that recognise the trans and intersex community as well as the same-sex marriage lobbyists.

I acknowledge I have massive privilege in being able to decide to get formally married by the state because I am female bodied and my primary partner is male bodied. This is something nobody should ever forget, if they are married. By luck of birth, you can choose a form of relationship recognition that others are barred from. And it behooves you to at least remember that and show some respect and kindness and join the struggle for those communities across a range of issues they deem relevant.

So yeah, I’m getting married again. I had just been to a funeral of a beautiful woman, the mother of one of my brother’s best friends. It was terrible of course but she seemed such a sprite, such a fantastically funny woman who loved hard but laughed harder. And we were walking along Harris St and passing by the ABC Centre and the moon was awfully big with trees bashing silhouettes against. And there was traffic and we were arm in arm and I asked, will you marry me?

He’s sensible. He took a few days to think about it. And he answered me in response to the lyrics of a Bruno Mars song from a youtube video I was fascinated by, as he was walking out my friend Anna’s gate to a concert, throwing it over his shoulder like the cheeky man he is. There was zero cliche romance in the making of any of it – it was just a pretty unspectacular proposition with an unspectacular reply. I like that it’s pretty much only cute to us, which makes it an anti-hype story that’s too boring to retell at a million dinner parties. Have I mentioned I hate cliche? I hate cliche. I also hate pink. Not puppies or Christmas though.

The one thing I’m not going to write here is why. People ask the question with such gumption, as though they would accept it if I thought myself in a place to question their personal decisions. Folk who do this should reconsider or I’m going to start asking you who you vote for, and why, and look at you like you owe me a damn answer.

Fact is, and so I’ve learned from experience, divorce is cheap and easy – unless you have a million assets but that all remains the same if you’re in a de-facto relationship. There’s certain benefits to it when the person you’re marrying is from another country, despite him already having a work visa all on his own-some. For instance, there’s stuff around having kids together that works better when married. On paper, it’s not very romantic. It’s binding, it isn’t, it’s meaningful, it isn’t. All of those arguments seem like straw-men to justify ourselves when we should be asking just why people presume it’s their business.

I wish the people questioning me had diverted their energy to ask me how I was feeling about getting married again. That would have been actually useful and not antagonistic. Because it isn’t like I was going to sigh “ok, I fold, you’re right – this is madness!” At least my therapist had the decency to ask first how I was feeling, though to be fair she’s being paid to care a fair bit about my feelings.

I’m feeling excited. Scared. It’s bringing up a lot of memories for me. I’m apprehensive of almost everyone expressing any desire to involve themselves. I don’t want a production and I’ll fight hand over fist to keep the planning autonomous. There’ll be no hype, no bullshit, no big fucking dress, no catering and no white attire anyfuckingwhere. If the thing costs more than $50, we’ve done it wrong.

I’m sure of him though. As sure as a human being can be of another human they hope in. All human love is frail, of course it is, and all trust has the capacity to expose us and falter and fail. I have a few friends who view human attachment with a cold and cynical eye. They act like they were the only ones ever given reason to doubt the rightness of caring for another person in such a way as you’d hitch your wagon to them. I view it with a warm and cynical eye, with a carefully open mind. I’m no Elizabeth Taylor, but I’m no dyed in the wool denier of my squishy heart with it’s squishy loving-people needs.

I know what I want to do with my life, and that’s give the greater share of it to a partner well-matched, a small family, my work and my community. I’m bloody ‘well’ enough now, with a good career underway. I’ve found my grooves and I have my community. I’m so far from the stroppy, messy, unsure, anxious and malleable 21 who married an Irishman on a hill over Tamworth. I’m nearly 30, and I’m a big girl.

And I’m sure of him, my Librarian, my accented man who brings me tissues and juice when I’m sick, and wrestles like a big mean puppy with me, and finds me rare books, and hates conservatives, and hides in caves in the middle of nowhere with me, makes plans to swim in winter pools in the summer with me. Talks lustfully about the same boys I talk lustfully about. Communicates honestly, openly, gently. Who asks me if I want to live in Montreal one day. Who loves a long train ride and shares Laura Viers on his iPod with me.

My Librarian with his tall spine and scratchy beard and serious demeanour and long legged gait. With his willingness to get drunk with my family the first night he met them. Who tells me he misses my brothers. Who singlehandedly wins my friends over. Who hates the prospect of monogamy as much as me. Who teases and whispers and shakes me to my toes. Who has seen half the world and still prefers to look at me.

I can hardly wait to stand with no fanfare in no expensive dress, with no fancy food, and no fancy appointed place, to say how excited I am about the reality of being primarily bonded with this person for, hopefully, a long fucking time.

Here’s to a long fucking time!


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