Dead Man’s Switch:  A spring-operated switch that can be used to complete a circuit when it is no longer held down. This means that a dead man’s switch may be used to activate a harmful device; the user (victim) holds down a switch of some sort in their hand which arms the device. The device will activate when the switch is released, so that if the user (victim) is knocked out or killed while holding the switch, the bomb will detonate. This is also known as a “fail deadly“.

You know you were way more invested in the last one than she was, right? It meant way more to you, still does, than it ever did to her. That’s how she moved on so fast.” 


And yet you found yourself doing it again, right? That’s how you do it: when you let them in, you’re all in, and they aren’t. Passion is a beautiful thing, but you can’t be the only one.


He was right, really. And, uncharacteristically quiet with one-word responses, I knew he was; he’s been one of my closest friends for years, through marriage and divorce, relationships with their beautiful beginnings and devastating finales, he knows the script. Being called out for your own actions often elicits mumbled consent if you’re willing, and this conversation was no different. I left the table to wonder about how, yet again, I’d allowed love back into my conscious daily world only to watch it dissipate away, again. There’s never a shortage of advice from the well meaning, and it always echoes the same: you just need to find a kind person. You need to be drawn to less drama. You need to this, and you need to that. All well-intentioned and all drawn from their genuine observation and concern, and appreciated. Believe me, I’ve wondered more than once what was wrong with me, why who I am is not enough to merit requited love from those loved with reckless abandon. I get that you’re never gonna be everyone’s cup of tea, that some folks crave the predictable and vanilla, some want the unhinged bad-boys who will break their spirits, but the rest of us are wandering around those extremes, answering to no particular label. Christopher Ryan posits some interesting theories about this in a pretty amazing book “Sex At Dawn“, which explores some long held misconceptions about relationships and monogamy in particular, but it’s just that: a read and a good one.

Retreating into the woodshop to mull it over even more on a rainy morning, I recalled some recent rescue training involving some rope systems and the Captain was telling me about how they put a “dead man” into a certain configuration; I asked him what the hell that meant (I’m no Rescue Goon) and he looked at me quizzically. Using slow words to describe it to me, as though I’d recently suffered some head trauma, he told me how a dead man is meant to essentially be a safety device that, should something happed to the person on the line, the system will catch and brake, and not result in further chaos. Train locomotives, computer systems, missiles aimed at the Good Ol’ USofA are all examples he cited.  The best example I could draw was along the lines of the terrorist keeping people hostage and holding on to a grenade; should someone shoot said terrorist, he’ll let go of the grenade and EVERYone gets blown into the next world. This no doubt provides for a tricky scenario for the responders involved and this situation is way above my pay grade.

But not above the pay grade was the parallel to my own relationships. In the most recent two examples, when trying to find some common thread that lead to the unraveling, I noticed some strong similarities to a dead man’s switch. I had allowed scenarios to come to pass such that if there was any resistance to conditions placed upon the relationship, the other person would just walk away, or immediately default to “see, this is just why it won’t work“. And in a bid to keep the peace and the relationship, I silently relented. This allowed for the dynamics of each relationship to shift, dramatically. And I would keep pouring rocks into the bag, hopeful that one day the other person would not feel the need to constantly offer up “I’m over this” every time an obstacle would appear. And the examples were wildly outrageous, each and every one. From “I can’t stay at your house, the clock is too loud” to “it’s no big deal if my ex calls and texts 35 times a night; you should know I’ll never block him, so stop being weird about it”, there was no limit to the eyebrow-raising conditions placed upon what it took to maintain “normal”. Because I was invested so much, there was a seeming bottomless reservoir to what was acceptable.

And to be able to easily walk away from it, to immediately recover into the next relationship, is one aspect of the imbalance that I’ve never reconciled. There was no problem at all with releasing the grenade. The Dirtbag put it best, I think, when he said: “the reason it still stings so much, the reason you can’t get past the meaning of it was that you gambled it all, everything, and you lost. Doesn’t make it easy, doesn’t make it right, but it IS what happened. You risked it all and it wasn’t worth the price in the end.” 


Ouch, but accurate as hell. We hope we’re worth it to someone when we present the whole of our authentic vulnerable selves; we all want some sort of validation, but in the end, no one can predict just how the story will unfold. As someone who has made a career out of chasing the adrenaline rush of emergency services,  I realize that after so many years the adrenaline dump fades, that you’re really just doing a job, a wonderful job, but a job nonetheless and not everyone will understand what you’re willing to sacrifice to complete your job. The pleasure and fulfillment comes from the action itself, not what you hope the other parties express. That’s just part of what makes us up… we approach each encounter. Are we gonna invest our all, risk peace for a chance to be loved, again, knowing well the odds are stacked? Probably, at least in this case.

Turns out that I’ve got the soul of gambler with precisely NONE of a gambler’s instincts. So I’ll likely be drawn to the wild and free, eschewing the vanilla for someone who is willing to risk the chaos for a shot at something unlike any other. This means more time for you and me across these essays, the podcast and the chance to spend a lot of nights yelling at the cat about life’s wild ride, all while steering clear of those holding a deadman’s switch on your heart.

“A heart on the run/keeps a hand on the gun/can’t trust anyone”

-J. Isbell, “Cover Me Up”