The Space Men Occupy (on My Phone)

A short story about dating and time traveling through my phone to free up storage.

By Saira Khan

If you, like me, are not the type of person who deletes things from their phone then your phone is, like mine, somewhat of a shrine to people who once occupied space in your life. When you scroll through a year’s worth of break up messages you begin to notice a pattern—for a certain kind of Earth man, the more you make contact, the more they drift off into space, spiraling away in their spacesuit as soon as you reach out. 

T., Never met, May 2018

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J., Four months, April 2018

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A., Three months, March 2018

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J.A, Two dates, March 2018

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G., 2 months, August 2017

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B., 12 months, November 2017

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D., 2 months, October, 2017

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Q., 1 date, December, 2017

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Present day, new motto

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The Highs and Lows of Open Relationships

Non-monogamous relationships may feel natural for some, but adding additional partners can often make things more complex.

By Sara Afzal

Whether we’re meeting people in real life, or swiping left and right on our screens, it’s clear that when it comes to modern dating, our options are endless. With so many choices, and so many ways to select them, it’s tempting to reject the confines of monogamy to explore an open relationship, which usually includes one primary partner and other casual partners. Three people involved in open relationships told me about their experiences and how they navigate the often tricky landscape of dating multiple people.

*All names have been changed.

Annabel: The Somewhat Reluctant Newbie Non-Monogamist

Annabel, 32, who is heterosexual, had never considered being in an open relationship until she met Liam, 35, in the spring of 2016. They hit it off on their first Tinder date, but he had some news at the end of it: “I’m in an open relationship.” Annabel said she felt a pang of disappointment.

Liam and his girlfriend, who he had been with for nine years, had transitioned into an open relationship in the fall of 2015. They lived together, which made non-monogamy a little more complicated. Liam told Annabel that he had agreed to certain rules that his girlfriend insisted on. For instance, he and his girlfriend did not discuss the details of their casual dating. Liam also had a curfew of 12 a.m. when he went out on dates and would have to call his girlfriend at 11 p.m. to check in. Annabel felt uncomfortable when these calls took place, but he would step away so she wouldn’t overhear the conversation.

Annabel and Liam continued dating in this manner for five months, at which time he broke up with his live-in girlfriend. Annabel then assumed the role of primary partner, and the two have been together for a year.

Annabel says she prefers monogamy, especially since they are in love with each other. “I feel like we are moving forward. We talk about it and we are moving towards monogamy. One of the reasons we are not monogamous is that he just got out of this big nine year relationship so he is scared to throw it all in and go straight to monogamy. So it’s kind of this final stage,” she said.

While they have a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy,” it doesn’t always hold up. Recently, Annabel told me she was staying over at Liam’s place when she found a note from a woman that he had hooked up with, thanking him for helping her with some problems she was having. When Annabel asked about it, he described the woman as “neurotic, only 26, and nothing to worry about.”

“I was really hurt afterwards. I had to go run off to work right after that. I had tears in my eyes, and I was all choked up the whole day,” Annabel said. But the terms of their open arrangement doesn’t give her much leeway to expect him not to leave the clues of others behind. “There’s nothing to talk about. I know that it’s better to deal with it on my own rather than hash it out again with him.”

After this happened, Annabel said Liam was extra attentive about seeing her and told her he was worried he was going to lose her. Usually, Annabel says she strives to not discuss others with him, but discovering the note had opened up feelings of anxiety and jealousy for both of them.

“Neither of us like hearing about the person being with someone else.  So to spare feelings, we don’t talk about it.”

Neither of us like hearing about the person being with someone else.  So to spare feelings, we don’t talk about it. Positive consequences of that are mystery and autonomy because we’re not divulging our every action to the other. It keeps things fresh and interesting and keeps away the temptation of using this as a tool to manipulate or make the other person jealous. Ultimately, I still hate the image of him being intimate with someone else. I get jealous and possessive,” Annabel said.

Annabel prefers to be honest when she feels jealousy. “He assures me that no one is a threat to me, that our relationship is ‘untouchable,’” she said. “However, I also have a tendency to pull away when I get hurt by him being with someone. I create space and do my own thing for a bit, maybe go on a date.” Behaving this way also makes Liam want to spend more time with her, she said. “This helps me reset, gain perspective, remember my power and individuality, and then I come back to him when I’m happy again.”

Annabel and Liam’s open relationship rules include always using condoms and limiting their interactions with others to certain days. “We try to keep our sleepovers to weekends and leave the weekday nights free for what-have-you…so as to create clear boundaries and eliminate any overlap,” Annabel said.

Annabel doesn’t see her open relationship with Liam as a permanent status. She said she has asked for reassurance from him that at some point they will try to be monogamous. He told her that “no one else compares to what we have,” but that he is not ready for full monogamy. For now, she says she is working on living in the moment as she explores the new terrain of being in an open relationship.

“I love that it allows space for a more exploratory, exciting, fun relationship to grow and develop naturally, and I think more deeply, without the pressure of monogamy,” Annabel said. “It creates a healthy boundary and urges you to take it slow and retain your independence.”

Rory: The Open Relationship Pro Who’s All About Group Sex

Rory, 31, is in an open relationship with Emma, 24. They met on Tinder six months ago. Rory and Emma both identify as bisexual and queer. Rory describes being queer as an alternative to living a straight lifestyle by having sex with no hegemonic gender roles. The couple chooses to openly discuss the details of their sexual encounters with others. They also actively participate in group sex together.

“The experience of talking about sex with others is really hot. I get off knowing that my partner is having enjoyable fun sex,” Rory said. “There are certain instances where not talking about it is really important though,” he said, adding that the timing of the conversation is key and if your partner is receptive to hashing out issues that arise.

What he finds most important for successful open relationships is communicating openly and talking about how communication is working—or not working.

When Rory and Emma go out with other people, they still find a way to include each other, sending updates throughout the night. Rory said he likes giving his partner reassurance and affection in these moments of pursuing others; he will tell her he loves her and misses her. He said generally the vibe is, “I’m horny and thinking of you, but we’re not together and that could mean I’m just masturbating or I’m going out tonight with the possibility of hooking up with someone.”

With an active work and sex life, Rory and Emma share a Google calendar so they can plan ahead and share when they are seeing others. “The more people that you are seeing, the more time you have to spend on scheduling. You just have to be really good at that,” Rory said.

Right now, he and Emma are more interested in swinging together. They recently had a four-way with another couple. “I like playing with lots of people at once, watching and being watched. I can’t do these things when in a monogamous relationship.”

“I like playing with lots of people at once, watching and being watched. I can’t do these things when in a monogamous relationship.”

Rory said he and Emma have unprotected sex, but usually use condoms with other people, especially in group sex scenarios. To find partners they rely on Tinder and also Feeld, which is geared towards couples seeking more partners or singles seeking a couple. Rory calls it the “DTF app.”

According to Rory, “non-monogamy is an easy and safe way to explore sexual fantasies. I have learned a lot through group sex about what I like to do and what kinds of things I like to seek out in terms of my queer sexuality.”

Jodi: The Open Relationship Dabbler

Jodi, 30, was in a heterosexual open relationship with Kyle, 33, for five months. They knew each other from work, but didn’t end up going out until they matched on Feeld. Jodi said she wanted to try the app to expand her sexual horizons, so once her and Kyle matched they talked about being non-monogamous. Kyle had a primary partner, Lisa, with whom he has a son.

When Kyle and Jodi first started dating, Lisa was accepting of the arrangement.  They sexted every night and went on dates about once or twice a week. It didn’t bother Jodi that Kyle had a child, she said, it just meant they had to work harder in scheduling dates. She wasn’t interested in dating other people, mostly due to lack of time, she said.

After two months, Jodi and Lisa met to make sure they were all on the same page about the arrangement. “I never felt threatened by her,” Jodi said. “She supported us being together and I knew he cared a lot about me. So jealousy wasn’t an issue with her.”

Jealousy came into play when Kyle and Lisa began thinking of having a threesome with another woman, who was in an open marriage. “I wasn’t thrilled about this, but he wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Jodi said. “He told me ahead of time. But the feelings of jealousy weren’t getting in the way of our relationship, so I dealt with it on my own and let it go. I would have an internal dialogue where I asked myself “why does this bother you?” I would remind myself that there was no need to feel threatened by this. He wasn’t seeking this experience because he wasn’t satisfied with his relationship with me.”

Kyle didn’t want to hear the specifics about Jodi’s sexual experiences outside of their relationship, but since Jodi asked he shared the details about his relationship with Lisa.

Early in the relationship, Jodi was only interested in dating Kyle. “I was busy and didn’t have much of a desire to see other people until about three months in, when I told him I was planning on going on a few dates with other men. I wasn’t asking permission, but checking in to make sure he was comfortable with this. He was,” Jodi said.

After dating for 5 months, Jodi began to feel emotionally disconnected from Kyle. She broke up with him, and shortly after, ended up moving across the country. Kyle suggested being in a long-distance open relationship. “I wanted to at first, but then our relationship started going downhill so I broke things off right before I left,” Jodi said. “He wasn’t providing enough emotional support, and he wasn’t super accessible. He never wanted to talk on the phone and rarely checked in with me about my feelings. Considering how infrequently we saw each other, this made me feel like we weren’t even in a relationship.”

“If there are any reservations or if one of you wants it more than the other, you’re going to run into problems.”

Jodi said she would be interested in pursuing open relationships in the future. “I could see myself being in an open marriage if my future partner was into it and the circumstances were right. Communication is obviously key. And so is trust. I think you need to both be equally invested. If there are any reservations or if one of you wants it more than the other, you’re going to run into problems,” Jodi said.

 

I, Obama: A Robotic Look at the Last Four Years

Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama was called “cool” and “aloof.” This experimental piece of fiction uses quotes from news articles and takes them at their word.

By Monica Torres

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Foreword:
In a democracy, so the saying goes, the people get the government they deserve. Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed. This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance white acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Roker standard.” —“Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“[In I, Robot, Will Smith’s character] Del Spooner is literally composed of the very technology he abhors, and his visceral disdain for robotic technology signals a curious self-loathing at the core of his identity. In the end, as with all of Will Smith’s science fiction films, order is restored as a result of his character’s heroic sacrifice. In the specific context of I, Robot, the righteous hero restores order as a Black man.” “Towards a Black Science Fiction Cinema: The Slippery Signifier of Race and the Films of Will Smith” by Stephanie Larrieux

“A lot of people pull back into their own specific identity, their race, their tribe, their religion, and that’s a dangerous thing because it can splinter people.” President Obama to Will Smith


…a surprise appearance at Axelrod’s going-away party in a grand apartment off Dupont Circle on a wintry Saturday night. Clad casually in a black jacket, he spoke warmly, even emotionally, of the aide who had done so much to elect him. Then he made his way quickly around a living room full of Cabinet members, other aides, and off-duty reporters, grasping each proffered hand with a single, relentless, repeated greeting: “Gotta go.”

“Gotta go, gotta go,” said Robot, hands shaking. Robot cannot make it stop. Robot bows, the guillotine falling down, as it waltzes from “Thank You For Your Service” to “Thank You For Your Contribution.” It’s a fast tempo: eyes meet, leech, let go. All the President’s Men, tisk tisk. Y is it so srs? Robot cannot make deals if it is never in the same room.

Its manual is confusing and cosmopolitan. The first of its kind, Robot is

above it all
frosty, to be generous
“clean” (as Joe Biden once labeled)
the most closed, control freak administration

Mixed reviews! But when Robot speaks dream to us, we fall back in love with the way Robot shapes The American Spirit, the arcs of our human condition, the white whales of despair. We track the tears running down, promising to do better, to stand no more ground, to leak no moar, but it’s all a lower-cased no. Robot cannot do more than register upper-cased ‘O’s. After tragedies, Robot stands before podiums and our throats swallow up its tongues, too hungry to hear.

We love Robot’s Amazing Grace, but here’s the reality: When a human representative screams, You Lie!, in its face, in front of everyone, in an unprecedented breach, our blood sings. Fight him! When another buzzes, Hell No You Can’t!, we say Awww Yissss It Can. Smack back! Show us what’s under that spacesuit. But Robot never raises its voice. Nothing gets unzipped. This is no Jesse Jackson model. Annoyed, we

asked Michelle Obama how it was possible for her husband to maintain his equipoise amid so much hatred. “You have no idea how bad it is,” she said. His practiced calm is beyond reckoning.

This half-Kansas, half-Kenyan-(sekrit Muslim?born-Illegal?!) upgrade has gotten so good that we don’t know who is playing whom. Moneyed suits jerk nods out of Robot, but Robot’s hands raise the strings. Religion teaches children the first law of Robotics: Thou shall not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. But, amendment! there are always executive exceptions. Call of Duty flies into homes and the cranial signature leaves a crater right above Robot’s eye, right into that faraway foreign child’s

aspects of modern politics. “I am wired in a different way than this event requires,” he told disappointed aides during his stubbornly lackluster preparation for the second debate

We watch Robot circle its white fence round and round. One day, Robot breaks protocol and escapes(!),

Walking two blocks from the White House…during the government shutdown –the farthest he had journeyed by foot outside the complex in five years.

I’m thinking, Robot apologizes after we returned it to the complex. We sic more insects on Robot, but Robot bugs us back. Manmade insects with human triggers and metal skin. A drone is a machine that is only as honest as the intelligence that guides it. The bugs follow patterns of behavior, their mouths searching for blood. A signature strike does not require absolutes of who is being targeted

even when it comes to killing an American cleric in Yemen, a decision that Mr. Obama told colleagues was “an easy one.”

Origins justify children held in cells. The suspicion of the engineers gets embedded into the mainframe, enforced by back-facing cops wary of their front-facing users who do not look like them.

Robot waves its hand. Machines blink around Robot and record. Not me, Robot sighs. Them.

he complains that people imagine him to have a “joystick” that allows him to manipulate precise outcomes.

Robot fists promises, but after setbacks, shootings and shutdowns, this political machinery rings hollow. Even when the product fails to sell, look at its editorial chisel. Robot’s family breaks news on a schedule. The wife’s two armstoo strong for a wifecause scandal. The wife watching our weight does not. The two daughters, their hemmed J.Crew smiles, reach milestones the Robot can repeat to its circuits. Robot choreographs laughs with Joe’s and Susan’s, beers clinking together.

Years ago, Robot invited a Henry to solve r-a-c-e over beer and approvals ratings dipped, ruh roh Robot. We, meaning this ‘we’ and not those ‘we,’ don’t say that word out loud. Robot wields We the People as only a silver tongued shapeshifter of its calibration can. Twice as good means being less than human and Robot transcends all expectations. When you listen to Robotic speeches, listen to the number of universal “we’s” deployed. The number you hear measures the distance between us.

Fast-forward to The Defeat. We tighten the tourniquet, ready for the final days, the next four years(!!!!), but Robot still breathes dream in and out, so outwardly collected. In its Beep Beep Goodbye, Robot acknowledges Threat to Democracy but reassures us with Good of Humanity, even here, even now, because Robot

was careful always to say we. He was noticeably wary of “I.” By speaking so, he wasn’t simply avoiding a singularity he didn’t feel, he was also drawing us in with him. He had the audacity to suggest that, even if you can’t see it stamped on their faces, most people come from Dream City, too.  

And Robocop becomes legend, Robot’s determined silhouette shadowing the wasteland. Marching the path of Kings before it, we demand a sacrifice for our sins. If I had a son, Robot dreams, he’d look like those Neuromancer dreams, split atom by atom, until even we cannot see

What happened to crushing it and swinging for the fences? Where have you gone, Babe Ruth?

and we cannot recognize when the personality simulation became the bitter screen of the soul, and we make the mistake of believing it is almost human.

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Quotes taken from “Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates; “The Lonely Guy” by Todd S. Purdum; “A Brief History of President Obama Not Having Any Friends” by Arit John; “The Obama Administration and the Press” by The Committee to Protect Journalists; “Going the Distance” and “Obama Reckons With a Trump Presidency” by David Remnick; “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will” by Jo Becker and Scott Shane; The Obama Paradox” by Carrie Budoff Brown and Jennifer Epstein;Speaking in Tongues” by Zadie Smith; Is Barry Whiffing?” by Maureen Dowd  

Single With a Side of “Torshideh”

For Iranian women, the pressure of marriage comes with a sour twist.

By Sara Afzal

 

All the children sit around the table as their grandmother prepares the traditional Iranian feast. The pickled sour vegetable garnish known as torshi is placed alongside the steaming saffron rice with green beans and beef. The youngest girl finishes everything on her plate except the green mush. “Sara, eat your torshi!” the grandmother commands.

As a child, I never really liked torshi. It looked like a dark green compote with the occasional carrot and tasted too sour and vinegary. As a twenty something woman, torshi became less about questionable veggie spread, and more about the word torshideh–literally meaning soured, but used to describe an unmarried woman whose clock is ticking into her 30s. Think of it as the Iranian term for “spinster.”

The term torshideh haunted most Iranian women who suffered through tremendous marriage pressure from their families. My parents pushed me less in that department, a positive side effect from their divorce. Still, I was not immune to the term. My older male cousins threw the jabs as soon as I was in my early 20s. “Sara, you don’t want to become torshideh now. Learn how to cook Iranian food so you can be a good wife. Oh, and go pour us some tea.”

Think of it as the Iranian term for “spinster.”

The pressure to get married is overt for all young Iranian men and women, but the taboo is especially faced by unmarried women, as the word torshideh demonstrates. Yet, while women are encouraged to marry young, divorce is still frowned upon. In Iran, women are not legally permitted to attain a divorce as Sharia law gives men the sole right. In the U.S., about 40 to 50 percent of marriages ended in divorce, and in Iran, about 20 percent of marriages result in divorce. Of course these stats don’t imply that marriages in Iran work better than in the US, it just means it’s harder for women to get out of them.

Luckily, my parents were far from traditional. They left Iran during the tumultuous political years that would soon tip into the chaos of the 1978-1979 Islamic Revolution, and they were determined to build a new life in America. My mom, Nahid, was raised by Muslim parents who disapproved of her living with my dad, Ali, without being married. So the two students studying art and film at UT Austin decided to tie the knot spontaneously with no planned wedding ceremony. They got hitched wearing faded Wrangler jeans at the courthouse in Austin, Texas. On their wedding day, instead of a traditional ring, Ali gave Nahid a set of multicolored plastic bands that was later passed down to me. The retro pink, red, blue, and white rings once all worn on my mother’s ring finger sit inside of a small jewelry box I still have today. The rings may have lasted, but the marriage didn’t.

In Iran, about 60 percent of its 80 million people are younger than the age of 30.

My parents’ unorthodox marriage and eventual divorce has given me a complicated relationship with the Iranian way of looking at marriage. Like most children of a failed union, I can’t think about marriage without thinking about divorce. The truth is I’d rather be labeled torshideh like expired milk than get married for the wrong reasons, and I think this is a modern concept that is not accepted by an older generation of Iranians. Arranged marriages are still common in Iran, but at the same time, there has been a strong shift towards dating around and marrying at an older age, much like in the U.S. These contradictions between the modern and traditional are very apparent in Iran, a country where about 60 percent of its 80 million people are younger than the age of 30. The emergence of this youth population has been linked to the loss of young men fighting during the eight year war with Iraq in the 1980s, and also the government’s encouragement of larger families during the beginning of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Living in the U.S. makes it easier to avoid the anxiety of being called torshideh. Surrounded by powerful women who look at marriage as an option and not a compulsion has empowered me to feel confident in my own hesitation. It’s more of a “if it happens, it happens” with no impulse to dream up a wedding day fantasy. I’m most thankful that my parents have not adhered to the norm and pressured me to marry “a nice Iranian boy,” but that doesn’t mean the rest of my family is as lax. The last time I went to Iran my grandmother, who loves to arrange marriages, said, “If you come back again, I will find you a husband.” I haven’t been back since.