June 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm EDT | by Carolyn Szczepanski
Saying ‘I do’ to matching tattoos

For some, matching or interlocking tattoos are a sign of undying love.

You already know the punch line to the most-told joke about gay women. What does a lesbian bring to a second date? A U-Haul.

My partner Nicole and I skipped right over the moving in part and went straight for something that would make even award-winning PFLAG parents cringe: We got matching tattoos.

OK, so it wasn’t exactly our second date. It was Labor Day 2006 and we had been dating for a few months. I was in my mid-20s, working for a newspaper in Des Moines, Iowa, and, to make ends meet on my journalist’s poverty wage, I got a second job at an art house movie theater. Nicole was my boss.

There are few things I hate more than romantic comedies, but I fell head over heels in the three minutes it took her to teach me how to sell the movie tickets.

Later, I got a job offer from a much bigger newspaper and moved to Kansas City. It was only a three-hour drive from Des Moines to KC and that trip became a weekly journey for one of us.

Now, before I go any further, it’s important to provide several points of context. 1) I mercilessly mock anyone with cheesy body art, including, but not limited to, stars, moons, butterflies and Chinese symbols, if the individual in question is not, in fact, from China. 2) I hate hearts almost as much as rainbows (sorry) and 3) my least favorite color is red. OK, back to the story.

After an afternoon of drinking beer at a Renaissance Fair with friends, we did what any self-respecting lesbians would: We went to Johnny’s Sports Bar to watch some women’s basketball and kept drinking.

We started talking about our directly opposite personalities — one of our favorite topics of discussion. I’m a hyper-independent, workaholic Gemini, who feels like an underachiever if home before 9 p.m. Nicole is a nurturing, nesting Cancer who says “I love you” to her dog — and means it. The irony of our situation suddenly took shape on a bar napkin. I drunkenly started sketching a heart in a box. A black heart in a red box. A red heart in a black box. Somehow that imagery seemed like the most brilliant commentary on our unlikely relationship.

The next morning, we went to Outlaw Ink — bar napkins in hand — and got those hearts tattooed on our wrists. Opposite wrists, of course. In less than five minutes I had permanently marked a highly visible part of my body with the type of body art that I had previously assigned to people who love Celine Dion and shop at Forever 21.

And I love it.

Nicole ultimately moved to Kansas City a year later and shortly thereafter we were driving to a concert, pondering, once again, how two people so different could be so in love. And another image became the iconography of our relationship: the semi-colon. Yep, you read that right. You see the semi-colon connects two clauses that are too dependent to be divided by a period, but too distinct to be joined by a comma.

Did I mention I was a reporter and Nicole was an English major?

So before we hit our second anniversary we got a second matching tattoo. And it’s not over yet. Far too frequently, we’ll be in the middle of some random conversation, look at each other and say: “Hey, we should get that tattooed.” Now our ideas aren’t identical but complimentary images — a bee and a hive; yes and no; “really?” and “seriously?” (our respective shouts of disdain to motorists who cut us off on our bicycles).

Don’t worry. We’re not completely codependent. We have our own individual tattoos, too. My philosophy for all of them is the same. Before I go under the gun, I need to know that, 30 years from now, no matter how much I’ve changed, that image has meaning. With Nicole, that certainly comes instantaneously — like the U-Haul on the second date. I know that when we’re 60, we’ll look at all of these small imprints of our lives and smile — or laugh — together.


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