Sonnet: I don’t know where I got the idea, exactly. Stewing in some combination of melancholy about graduation and boredom and optimism and vanity and a rabbit hole of past columns in The Daily Californian, I popped the question: “Mad, why don’t we write a column together? About love?”
Madeleine: Hours before the application was due, we sat down to edit. The fluttery excitement of brainstorming had left us, and we trudged through cuts to our word count, trying to stuff our disparate thoughts into a convenient arc.
Every few minutes, we had to pause. Sonnet would let out an anguished sort of hum and look at me with these wide, watery eyes, asking me again if I thought we should do this. “We’d be putting our whole selves out on the internet,” she’d say. I’d grab her hand, look at her straight and tell her that this was a good idea. Her good idea.
Sonnet: Leaning heavily on Madeleine’s encouragement, I managed to bracket my doubt long enough to sign the contract. It had seemed, at first, that my doubt would be our biggest obstacle. But as the weeks unfolded, we began to take turns as the foot-dragger and the egger-on.
Some days I would come into Madeleine’s room to find her sullen, unnudgeable, for reasons I was left fumbling to decipher.
In the beginning, I would try to pull her out of it with chipperness, well-intentioned interrogation or heavy-handedness. Mostly, my efforts would push her further away.
But, in time, she learned to cough it up: “I’m frustrated that you’re half an hour late to the time we agreed on.” Or: “I don’t feel like you’re actually listening to my ideas.” Or, worst: “It feels like you just want this to be your column, that I’m just a crutch to help you get started.”
That one silenced me. As irritated as I was by her occasional hostility, I never considered for a second that I could or would want to do this without her, she who was boundlessly patient with my own hang-ups. Who saw the world with clarity and brilliance and rendered it in loping, articulate description. Who attended to my own drafts with generosity and rigor, often recognizing what I was trying to say before I was sure of it myself.
The stretches of sourness were more than worth it. So I learned to back off, to withstand it for as long as it took her to warm back up.
Madeleine: I can usually muster a lot of patience for Sonnet, whose self-doubt I empathize with. Writing together tested that. There were times when her worrying felt like a threat to our progress or my work, and it made me prickle. I would watch Sonnet chew the skin of her thumb, make document after document and rearrange words, sentences, paragraphs. I’d open my mouth to speak and her little cursor would twitch. I would feel this pit grow in my stomach as she shuffled our sections around, wrote 10 half-sentences stabbing at the same thought or wondered, three drafts in, if this particular topic was too fraught for her to write about. I knew this was anxiety, but it felt like she was wresting control.
But really, I never would’ve written a column had it not been for Sonnet. I wouldn’t have been brave enough to apply, to risk rejection, to trust myself enough to have something new or interesting enough to say.
I remember, once, one of our mutual friends saying to me, “Sonnet is a really brave person.” I had never called it that before, but now I see it all the time. The way she knows exactly what she is scared of, and says it out loud. How clearly she knows that she will be hurt, or judged, and how quickly she shows herself anyway.
Sonnet: This has been an unconventional mechanism, perhaps, for two friends to learn to navigate each other’s flaws. We wrote in our application that we wanted to write a column about relationships from within a relationship, to lay bare our own intimacy in service of examining intimacy in general. There was a certain truth-serum effect to this approach: Writing beside someone to whom we were already spilling our guts made vulnerability easier.
What we didn’t anticipate were the ways that our relationship — or rather, the ways we chafed against each other in it — would itself be an obstacle in the process.
But with a deadline staring us down every week, we had no choice but to figure it out. And often the words themselves were the medium we used to climb out of our respective hang-ups. It was remarkable to me, how often writing our conflict into the column was the thing that softened us back into collaboration.
Madeleine: Once, after a weekend away, we had a two-hour window to finish a draft, and neither of us was ready to rally the other. Sonnet was hungry, and I was tired: a lethal combination. I sat, arms crossed, not looking at her.
I could tell I was wearing on her, which, in the perverse way of provocation, made me feel slightly better. Finally, after a sort of lexical stalemate, we decided to just write about the fight, about the way that irritation sometimes flared between us. Space, we wrote, was all we needed for things to resolve.
And it was, and they did. Maybe writing it down helped will it into existence. Patience worked on both of us: hers with my quiet rancor, mine with her loud anxiousness. Creating this script for our relationship was useful, taught us how best to interact. But it also, at some point, became self-fulfilling, giving us permission to act as we had written that we act. I have the capacity, I know, to not take my ego-driven anger out on her. Does the fact that she fields it well mean I am allowed to externalize? And Sonnet, too: Does naming her self-doubt trap her in it?
Sonnet: The thing about using this process as relationship therapy was that we were still, ultimately, writing for an audience. Committing momentary snapshots of fluid, yearslong relationships to a permanent public archive. (“The Daily Cal will never, ever take anything down once it’s published,” Madeleine said sideways into my ear at one unnerving point early in the process.)
And, while the two of us gave explicit (if time-pressured) consent to publish our intimate details, everyone else we mentioned had little say in how we told stories that involved them. We fretted, week to week, about what this meant for the people we love, who watched as we told the story of that fight or that kiss without having any way to tell their side. What gave us the right?
But that’s what we did this whole summer: codified our experience in relation to each other — and others — for the internet. A lot of the experiences we chronicled felt raw when we first fished them up, and talking them into comprehensible sentences and paragraphs was our way of processing. We changed people’s names where we thought it necessary and relied on self-deprecation as a crude approximation of self-awareness. Inevitably, though, what we wrote down was far less settled than it sounded.
We learned to let it be unsettled, to let ourselves change our minds, surprise each other, every other day of the week. But every Monday morning, regardless of how finished it felt, we shouted whatever we’d dredged up into the void of the internet.
Sonnet Phelps and Madeleine Gregory co-write the Monday column on kinds of love. Contact them at [email protected]