Between themselves, and sometimes to his face, my friends called my boyfriend Knitted Tie Man, because of his predilection for them. Fifteen years or so had passed since his days as a teenage mod, but he was still a natty dresser. And I’ve been knitting in one way or another since I was about four.
So when our first (and, well, only) Christmas together was on the horizon, a homemade tie seemed the perfect gift: affectionate and cute and imbued with an appropriate level of quirkiness in light of the early stage of our relationship. I found a clever pattern and knitted the tie in a tasteful dusty purple hue over a series of November evenings while I watched the first series of Mad Men.
I thought it was a pretty good gift. But when he unwrapped it, it was very clear that my boyfriend did not agree with me.
‘It doesn’t fit,’ he said, when I gently suggested that he might like to wear his very attractive new tie to the New Year’s Eve party that we were attending together..
‘It’s a tie,’ I said. ‘How does it not fit?’
We didn’t break up for another eleven months, but perhaps that was when things began to unravel.
For the most part, the sting of this rejection has passed: it’s been two years, after all. I feel ready to move on, to meet someone new; perhaps someone who would look nice in a cable-knit hat with an outsize bobble (I’m good at making bobbles, I swear). But the pain came rushing back this week, when a colleague of mine sent me a link to Sad Etsy Boyfriends, a Tumblr blog collecting photographs of men modelling items hand-wrought, the curator presumes, by their partners.
It’s true: the craft pieces are, for the most part, quite ugly. The men’s expressions run the gamut from light dejection to profound devastation. The blog is a clear invitation for readers to scoff: Look! it seems to say, These losers are so dominated by the women in their lives that they have allowed photographs of themselves wearing quite terrible crocheted hats to be disseminated all over the internet as if they haven’t got any self-respect!
And yet: I clicked through the Sad Etsy Boyfriends and feel not schadenfreude, but a feeling resembling, well, envy. For what woman wouldn’t want a partner who loves her so much that he will take an active, if slightly pouty, role in helping her to promote loss-making macrame passion projects? To some, the Sad Etsy Boyfriends may represent defeat; to me, they just look like very kind and thoughtful men who love their partners more than they love a life independent from averagely-constructed crocheted scarves.
These are men who exude kindness; who have a clear understanding that a healthy relationship requires compromise, mutual support, and an unconditional commitment to demonstrate some enthusiasm for one’s partners’ talents. Even if they’re moderate talents.
Even, for that matter, if they’re non-existent talents: sometimes, there is nothing healthier in a relationship than a partner who aids us in our kind of misguided self-beliefs, inasmuch as these are often beliefs that give us momentum to move forward with our lives as much as more legitimate facts about our selves and lives.
I didn’t need my ex-boyfriend to wear the tie I made him every day. I only needed him to wear it once: a sign that he cared about me and appreciated my thought and effort, even if he had to tuck that effort into his waistband to avoid tripping over the excessive lengths of tie. Sometimes, love just means never having to say you’re sorry that you wove your boyfriend a waistcoat out of cat hair. The Sad Etsy Boyfriends, I reckon, know the true meaning of it.