A couple of years before I officially left my (now ex-) husband, I noticed I was exhibiting all the symptoms of A Mid-Life Crisis.
I was 42, and I bought a Harley on a whim.
Thanks to work, I was hanging out with people far, far younger than I was.
We were going out to the bar several nights a week, and I was drinking more than I ever had in my whole life (which is not to say I was drinking a lot – just more often; I’m not much of a drinker.) I bought a BAC meter to keep in my car, because I wasn’t sure I knew where my limits were, being such a booze amateur.
I reallllly stepped things up a notch when I left my husband in 2014, immediately started dating someone 19 years my junior, and began living the single life again. I can’t say I was “out of control,” but I was not acting like myself.
“Not acting like myself.” Which is to say… I was having a hell of a lot of fun. I’m not someone who usually “has fun;” I might enjoy some things more than others, but when out in the world with other people, mostly, I “tolerate” it.
Since October of 2014, however, damn – life has been good. Sure, it’s been kind of a cliche, too – I bleached my hair blonde, I dye it crazy colors, I spend a fuckton of money on clothes and shoes and other shit I never thought twice about. I dated three other people almost 20 years my junior, one of whom was married with kids (good choices, edar!)
I bought a car far more expensive than I had any right to own.
I took the primary boyfriend to a Suicide Girls show, where another quasi-boyfriend showed randomly up, and that made for an interesting, fun time (no, seriously – two ridiculously hot boys in front and back of me, with mostly naked women running around on-stage? Yes frickin’ please.)
Basically, I’m doing all the stuff I should have been doing all along with my life, and was just too… reserved. Too worried about everything. Too busy over-analyzing everything to live life rather than to observe it. FOR PETE’S SAKE, I have wasted so much time.
Everyone should have a mid-life crisis, only we should have them in our twenties, when we can really take advantage of our young, healthy, strong bodies.
Then, we should keep having them, either every year, or every now and then, because they are RIDICULOUSLY FUN, YOU GUYS.
Do it. Do it all. DO ALL THE THINGS YOU WANT TO DO – of course, provided you’re not going to hurt yourself or someone else in the process, et cetera.
Life is short. The middle could be anywhere.
And so could the end.
Do the things.
I have mentioned elsewhere how Mike saved me. When I was weighing out whether I should or could end my marriage, one of the pragmatic factors which came into play was my vague, lurking fear of being alone and helpless in my older years without anyone to help.
This is not an overwhelming, pervasive concern, but I recognize it’s a legitimate one. Part of the comfort of my marriage was knowing we’d always have each other to rely upon. There was a sense of stability, knowing we’d be a team, come what may. Mike’s presence protected me from those fears, along with all the other things from which he defended my crazy monkey-mind.
As it turns out, of course, what came was a divorce – and with it, the return of a concern that nibbles at my ankles like a duck. It’s easily dismissed for now, but I know it will evolve: The duck will become a velociraptor as I age, and it will slash at my psyche with those enormous claws.
Sure, sure; maybe I’ll find someone and we can team up to fend off the increasing disabilities that will come with time. Maybe I’ll become financially stable enough to hire out the work I need done.
Maybe I’ll become an Albanian jet pilot.
I am not an easy person to put up with – I know this comes as a complete surprise to anyone who has known me for less than 10 minutes. I don’t like sharing my living space. I am prone to letting clutter build up to intolerable levels, though I’m getting better at this now that I’m back in my own space. I am a seeker – I fling myself wildly into new hobbies and ideas with overwhelming intensity, suck out the marrow, learn what I can, and then move on.
I have hobbies that aren’t especially easy to get into for the more timid – motorcycles, guns, pool, photography. I am a sometimes adrenaline junkie. I have a difficult time making decisions, but when I do make up my mind, that shit is decided. Which brings me to my stubbornness, a force even I cannot overcome at times.
My relationship with food is complicated and persnickety. I try not to preach to those not interested, but it’s part of my life, my mindset, and who I am. Some people judge me harshly for it.
The litany of “reasons why I’ll be forever alone” goes on (and on,) but that’s not the point of this post, despite getting very sidetracked by it.
I am not afraid of dying alone; in fact, when that moment comes, I may prefer to be in solitude, undistracted by others so I may fully and mindfully experience one of the truly universal rites of passage. Provided, of course, my passing is peaceful: If I am in pain, or in distress, perhaps I would welcome a hand, a presence, to witness and bear.
Dying alone is not, at present, a fear. Unwillingly living alone… well, alone apart from the ever-present company of Infirmity… that is frightening.
I am terrified of becoming my mother in so many ways, for we are very alike. She had a pretty good life alone, until she sustained a traumatic brain injury which rendered her unable to live alone. She has friends, but none of them can provide all of her needs, and now she is alone (with her dog) in an assisted living facility. Confused, sad, alone. “Alone” can be a happy place, and often is for me – but largely because I choose it. Being alone not by choice can be a dark abyss, indeed.
Because she was a wretched mother in many ways, and because I am a wretched daughter in other ways, we do not speak. I do not help her anymore. I am done.
For all intents and purposes, she has no family. And I’ll probably be in her shoes in a few decades.
I’m mostly fine with this, but there is the duck at my ankles: “Who will carry in the heavy groceries?” “What if I fall down the stairs?” “What if I’m broke and can’t pay someone to shovel the sidewalk or mow the yard?”
There are always consequences of one sort or another to our words and actions; perhaps my karma will be to exist in helplessness. Perhaps that’s fitting.
On Tuesday, I filed divorce papers. A week prior, my husband posted a very eloquent note on Facebook; it was poignant, fair, and painful to read. I read it several times, astounded at his newfound writing talent, heartbroken for causing him so much pain, but glad to see him reaching out for help from his friends, who of course responded warmly and generously.
He wrote about how, when he took off his wedding band, the skin underneath it cracked and bled, and used this as an analogy for how our marriage had protected him from various aspects of life as the ring had protected his finger from the elements. He’s working to overcome those obstacles, and I see him posting about going out with friends and socializing more, which heartens me. I am sad not to be a part of it, and I miss him, but these are the choices I have made.
Reading his post got me thinking about writing down my own thoughts, as I’ve mostly just been processing things subconsciously, and answering questions when I get them as honestly as I could.
I used to be a writer. I stifled those processes somewhere in the last few years.
It pains me to see how much Mike is suffering. It pains me to deliberately avoid talking to him, lest I accidentally tear open a fragile wound. However, as much as I love him (and I do love him,) I know we are not going to be happy together. We will both grow and move on, and I hope at some point he’ll be able to talk to me again. I am certain he’ll find someone who makes him deliriously happy, rather than settling for someone he can put up with. At the very least, he won’t be dragged down by our relationship.
Love, tragically, does not conquer all – at least not in and of itself. With Love there must come Work. Effort. A lack of Apathy.
If Apathy prevails for too long, the hole to climb out of becomes deeper and deeper, very very gradually. Once in awhile, we stopped and noticed the equivalent of, “Wow, we’re in a pretty deep hole here; we should probably do something about that.”
It wasn’t hellish, it wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t “bad.” It was mostly comfortable. So, we let it continue.
This went on until I realized I could no longer even see anything that wasn’t the hole. We couldn’t dig ourselves out together, so I started digging my own way up… and I left Mike behind.
It was not without soul-wracking guilt. In many ways, Mike saved me – Financially, emotionally, professionally. I hate to repay him with… this. He was always there for me in the most pragmatic ways – for he is a pragmatic man – and amazed me continually with new feats of engineering and ingenuity.
We had a good life on paper. Logically, we are a great match. We had a good life in other ways, too, but I am an impulsive person, a spontaneous person. Mike is very much the opposite: He is methodical, considered, meticulous – things I wish I were better with. Too, he wished for some of my spontaneity.
Instead of balancing each other out, as would be ideal, our instincts fought and clashed. Very seldom did we ourselves actually fight, or even argue, but we approach life very differently, and neither of us was compromising. Our descent into the big hole was smooth and gentle. A very professional veneer coated us, insulating us from truly connecting with each other.
A decade ago, I bought a wonderful set of wind chimes when I was shopping in Olympia with Mark and Wendy. The sounds they create in a gentle wind resonate deeply in my soul and make me happy. I don’t remember why I didn’t have them hanging outside at our house, but they weren’t – for years. They lay in a box, still and silent. I would see them occasionally and feel a pang of regret, but still didn’t hang them.
Several months before I left, Mike found them and hung them up in the family room one night. I was in the kitchen, and he moved the clapper slightly so the chimes toned, and then carefully watched my face. I remember being so surprised and touched at his thoughtfulness – but I can’t remember whether I let that expression show on my face. I was emotionally locked down. He did something so sweet to make me happy, and I’m not even sure I let him know he had succeeded.
Later, when I reflected upon this and realized what had probably happened (not showing happiness,) the first stirrings began of needing something else. I thought back to how our relationship started.
I came at Mike like a Mack truck, blind-sided him with the full force and intensity of which I am capable. He frantically waved his arms and tried to get me to back up a bit, but my mind was made up, and I am stubborn. I didn’t know who he was or what he was about – I just remember so vividly the profound gravitational pull Mike exerted on me the day we met, and how I was convinced we were destined to be together. And we were – for awhile.
I can’t help but feel, however, that my decision to leave will ultimately serve us both better in the long run. The breaking point for me was becoming friends with two people who are so clearly meant for each other – witnessing their connection jolted me into the reality of our situation. We would never have that, regardless of how much work we might do, and what we did have was making us both miserable.
We both deserve to be happy. We cannot be happy together. Therefore, I had to leave, because I knew he wouldn’t – he is too good a man.
I started staying out late after work more nights than not, socializing with friends from work until four or five in the morning. I didn’t want to go home; I didn’t want to face the awkwardness. I was going to say “oppressiveness,” but that implies it was Mike doing the oppressing, and he was not. It was the situation in its entirety – the too-big house, the too-deep hole, the too-prevalent lack of joy.
I wanted him to be asleep when I got home, so I could just curl up next to him and be close without being confronted with all of the Issues. Cuddling up at night was the best part of my day, despite everything. The love was there and it was easy when we didn’t have to try to communicate. We fit together so naturally, wrapped up in the same position every night without even thinking about it, literally all the way from our fingers to our toes. It was warm and comforting.
Looking at the big picture, each of us is to blame for the course our relationship took, but I am acutely aware of my guilt for the abrupt ending. I could have done it better, but this is the first time I’ve been through the end of a marriage – I fumbled my way through. I could have made better choices, I could have been more communicative. We didn’t know how to talk to each other at all about simple things – how could we talk about this?
I was in an untenable mental state – held almost motionless and emotionless by the gelatin of the relationship surrounding us. Mike was right there, right next to me, but the distance between us (even cuddled up with each other at night) was a chasm. We could not reach each other. This was not his fault; it was what it was.
Many nights, as I was fighting my daily battle with insomnia, I would have this fantasy that inevitably made me cry: I envisioned myself trapped inside a nearly lifeless body; depressed, scared, dark – suspended in black space. Another being I thought of as Mike was there, radiating this brilliant, warm, yellow light. Waiting patiently, watching, trying to gently help but unable to rescue me from my prison. He was patient, knowing I was trapped and that I would eventually find my way out. He did not leave me.
At some point, though, he succeeded in coaxing my true self out of the prison, and my own glowing light burst through the shell and spilled into the darkness. We are both deliriously happy, and I say to him, “you saved me. You stayed, you waited; you saved me. Thank you.” We go on to live an exuberantly happy, vivid life, alive and together, experiencing everything with a new intensity.
It brings tears to my eyes now, just thinking about it – moreso because I didn’t stay or wait until we somehow managed to save each other. I cut bait, jumped ship, deserted. I left a man behind. I gave up. Mike was strong enough to carry me, but I wasn’t strong enough to do the same for him.
I left for me, I left for both of us, because I believe we’ll find happiness apart where we couldn’t have together.
Lastly, I am nearly certain this is the worst decision I have ever made, and I told him that the other day. Understandably, he was confused. It’s difficult to articulate how I could think that, and still make the choices I have. The reasons to stay were largely pragmatic – We had firewalled off a great deal of the emotional side of things long ago – and I am not a pragmatic person.
I hurt him, I hurt his family, I hurt my family, I hurt myself. I’ve probably created awkwardness with our wonderful mutual friends.
As difficult as this is, ultimately, I feel I made the right decision. Despite that, I miss him, I love him… and I do know I failed him.
There are many things each of us wishes we had said or done, but didn’t – something I hope we can both overcome in the future.
I hung the windchimes on my front porch this week. They are lovely and gentle, and they make me happy, though each time they start to chime, I see Mike Neir’s face as he rang them for me, and I wish I had told him.
Giant Installment No. 1
(With special appearances by Heath Ledger, Gordon Freeman, and Urine From the Roof)
For anyone who is not Mike or myself – this will be completely, utterly and in all other ways yawn-tastic. I want to tell this story for myself, and for Mike, and if any of you want to come along for the ride, please do. This is only the first chapter; believe it or not… there is More.
I know, for many people, “love at first sight” is a completely ridiculous notion, and while I can’t say what I felt when I first laid eyes on Mike Neir was A Deep and Abiding Love, it was certainly a close relation.
First, let me say this. I got my job pretty much as a complete fluke. I’d tangentially met Yellowmouser/Alex through our mutual friends in the Stilyagi Air Corps, but never in person. I knew some details of his life from his LJ, but not much. After we had both moved to Lansing through a series of coincidences, we struck up an acquaintance, hung out a little and he recommended me for a job at his place of employment. It was his recommendation that landed me the job, because my references page had two errors on it. Two! The hiring manager had a terrible time getting me vetted by my past employers, but she and I both persevered and the job was fine. I started mid-June of 2008.
My first exposure to Mike was an introduction to his website through a trainer at work. “You’ll want to bookmark this,” Jay said; “dude’s a genius.” I glanced at the page, was impressed with the author’s technical savvy and his ability to form a sentence, bookmarked it, and promptly never looked at it again.
Fast-forward a few weeks to July 19th, when LW rented us a movie theater on a Saturday afternoon for the premiere of the new Batman movie. The staff gathered in front of the cinema, everyone talking and comfortable with each other. I was still new enough to feel awkward and not quite fitting in, except with a few people. I loosely clung to Benny and ￼yellowmouser, while trying to pretend not to feel highly uncomfortable. At one point, I was standing in line alone, while the other staff chatted around me, as I silently wished to shrink into the floor. I do well when people include me, but if they don’t… I don’t want to force myself upon them, so I retreat. Suffice it to say, I was feeling somewhat timid. ￼yellowmouser came back and walked with me into the theater, and we selected a choice pair of seats. As I passed the occupant of the seat closest to me, I noted “oh hey, cute boy at 10 o’clock” in my peripheral vision, but I was too busy feeling shy to actually look at him. I remember being vaguely aware of a chorus of people talking to him until the previews started, but I never once glanced in his direction. As Heath Ledger worked his creepy Joker magic on-screen, I was tangentially aware of this boy sitting a few seats down occasionally laughing or making a quiet remark about the movie, but I was fairly wrapped up in the story and didn’t take notice of specifics. Thus, I spent my first few hours with Mike Neir generally ignoring him. 🙂
That night, Benny had a party at her house. This was a much more comfortable setting with fewer people I didn’t know, and I was having a good time even before I noticed the boy from the movie theater walking up the steps. He was wearing a red shirt with white print and a red hat. I could see by the dim light of the streetlamps he had these amazing sideburns and a kind face. As he came onto the front porch, he was telling a story about how, when he’d parked his car, someone from the house he was in front of yelled down that he couldn’t park there. I missed most of the details of this story, because I was busy being completely drawn to him. I didn’t know who he was, had no clue what sort of person he was… but I was enchanted. I completely lost interest in flirting with the two or three other people who’d had my marginal attention that evening.
The guy in the red shirt attracted a lot of attention from everyone, many of whom seemed surprised to see him. Mike Neir is not a social creature; it was largely serendipitous we managed to be at the same place at the same time under what turned out to be the right circumstances. As I previously noted, I can be horrifically shy, epically shy, when I don’t feel comfortable. I also typically don’t insert myself into someone’s personal space if I think they’re attractive, unless I have some kind of specific invite or another way in. I just don’t. As this new person was telling the strange tale of his parking experience, I watched him from the relative safety of the relative darkness, trying to figure out what was going on in my head. He was standing in my circle of people, and I nodded and smiled and make a comment or two about his story, and riding a tide of emotional bogglement as I tried to understand my reaction.
I remember only one other similar occurrence, and it was long, long ago – about 30 years ago, in fact. A moment when I realized something enormous was happening, but I wasn’t sure quite what it was. I was at Girl Scout camp in Harrison, Michigan, and my group was out in a meadow somewhere doing whatever activity we were supposed to be doing. The details have long since faded. What I remember, though, is one of the camp counselors, Chicago, and how I was behaving with her. It gradually dawned on me, “I’m acting like she’s a boy!!” and my little 8-year-old mind was completely floored. I had no concept of gay or straight at that point; I just knew how I felt about boys, and suddenly, there was this girl causing the same thoughts. It was a profound moment of realization for me, and even though I didn’t fully grasp its meaning.
The entire night on the front porch with Mike Neir was very similar to those moments back in Girl Scout camp. My mental footing was slowly but steadily pulled out from under me over the course of about a half hour. I watched him with intent eyes, and I watched myself in befuddlement.
After a time, Mike went upstairs to get a beer, and I went back to talking to my friends, but the entire time my attention was tunneled in on him, my eyes were flicking around, looking for him, wondering where he was, wanting him to come back. He did, then went to sit down on the swing and began talking to someone else. I moved to the opposite end of the porch, leaned against the railing and listened to him talking. I’ve no clue what he was saying now, and I wasn’t really listening then. My not-shy self wanted to go over and talk to him, to sit down next to him and see what he was about. My shy self was completely convinced he wouldn’t be interested in any such thing at all. He seemed comfortable in his surroundings and confident and commanding. It was clear he was well-liked. I stood there and battled with myself for a good fifteen minutes or so, but all the while, there was an overwhelming feeling of riding this slow, powerful tidal wave picking me inexorably up and being completely helpless to stop it – and not really wanting to.
For almost five months now, I’ve been trying to describe to myself what the feeling was. The only thing I can come up with was, “I belong THERE, next to him.” A sense of belonging. And while it took me a long while, months even, to be confident that my comfort was warranted, I was comfortable with him on a deep, core level from the minute I made the choice to walk across the porch and sit down next to him on that swing.
I remained fully planted there with him for a very long time, and we swung back and forth … more back than forth as there were objects on the floor preventing a full swinging motion, which resulted in quite a workout for various leg muscles, and we joked about doing isometrics. We talked about a host of subjects, the third person on the swing varied as time went by and I became more and more enthralled. I also became more and more certain this man had to have a girlfriend. A serious, wonderful girlfriend, whom he adored. I felt a sense of panic creep in, because I knew I belonged with him, and was convincing myself it couldn’t possibly happen. Undeterred, I stayed by his side, ferreting out little tidbits of information… like he’d just turned 29 a very short while ago. I reeled from that momentarily, but it was a small blow compared to 1.) he must have a girlfriend, and 2.) I am nowhere near cool/pretty/intelligent enough to interest him. I managed to overcome my instincts to run away and hide, though, and muddled through the insecurities.
There was another girl there, Diana, who also seemed keenly interested in Mike; she was far prettier and obviously more fun than I am, and she would periodically drag Mike away upstairs to get a beer while I quietly wanted to strangle her. Fortunately, she lived rather far away and had a boyfriend, and she was sweet and funny, so I managed not to slit her throat in a dark hallway. At one point, they came downstairs giggling about how Mike had somehow ripped a door off its hinges while he protested his innocence. Oh, how nice; you have an inside joke. Seethe.
We all ate thermonuclearly hot pizza together, and chatted about airplanes and Stuff and maybe I was a complete nuisance but I was focused. If we strayed apart for awhile, I would periodically call out, “Mike Neir, how’s your car?” just to touch base with him. The two boys and the girl I’d been flirting with eventually gave up for the night.
We ended up back on the swing, and at some point heard this liquid spattering noise behind us – someone was pissing off the roof and onto the broad-leaved bushed directly behind us. Soon after, Benny’s brother peed on his own car from the roof. Not just accidental splashing – full-bore, I’ve-been-drinking-for-hours, torrential flood of urine… onto his own car’s roof… on purpose. Ah, good times.
I had to work the following morning, so I left earlier than most. It was difficult to just voluntarily walk away from the fun of the party and from Mike, but I was a good little bee and did it anyhow. When I got home, I found him on Facebook. The next day, he replied back and thus began an online dialogue that seemed awkward and stilted at first, but I plowed ahead anyhow. I’d recently begun playing Half Life 2, and we bonded over that a little bit and he helped me solve an in-game quandary I’d been at for a couple of hours.
A week after we first met, he shaved his head and the sideburns, too. I had only seen him in person the one time, but the sideburns were this hallmark thing in my head for him. Shaved head? I wasn’t sure I liked that idea. A few days later, as I was leaving work around midnight, I passed by doorway where I saw someone standing whom I didn’t recognize. I was about to transition to third shift, knew there was a third shift supervisor named Dan I should meet, and thought maybe that was him. Dan had been inaccurately described to me as “a big guy.” This dude sort of fit the bill and was at work at the start of third shift. I walked back and said, before I really looked at this guy and said, “Are you Dan? I don’t think I know you.” “Yes you do!” the bald-headed dude said, perplexed, and I realized OMG this is Mike Neir. With nary a hair on his head. I apologized, touched his head, decided he looked better with hair and that I didn’t care.
A few days after that, a work bar outing was organized, and I strongly encouraged Mike to come. He did, and arrived before I did and there were no chairs near him so I was at the other end of the table. I could barely bring myself to look at him, so instead, I talked and laughed with other co-workers and had fun and drank a bit too much. The bar closed down and booted us out, but we weren’t done playing yet. We all trooped back to LW and proceeded to invade the lounge, where we shot pool, drank more beer and listened to music. Mike can shoot a good game of pool, and as some of you know, so can I. I’d gone beyond that magical point, though, of Sufficient Beer – that zone where alcohol shuts down the over-thinking of trajectory analysis and just lets me instinctively shoot. I couldn’t sink a shot to save my life… I could perhaps blame it on the table, which lacks any character at all, and the cues that went “clank!” with every stroke… but mostly, it was just me.
Eventually, he plopped onto the couch, and I, in my drunk and less inhibited state, plunked down next to him and laid down with my head in his lap. He resolutely did not touch me. Over the next 45 minutes or so, everyone else left, and it was just the two of us in the dimly-light lounge. He got up, adjusted the music, came back and let me settle back into his lap. A few moments later, I heard the haunting strains of Opeth’s Watershed album for the first time and fell in love with them. After an hour or so, we left and continued talking online. My beer-addled brain grappled with words that adamantly refused to adequately convey my vexation at his complete lack of interest. Instead, the first thing I wrote was, “confound you, Mike Neir,” to which he replied, “yeah, I can be pretty impossible; fair warning.” This is perhaps the most true and the most untrue thing about Mike all at once.
I drilled Benny about him; is there a girlfriend? No? Are you kidding me? How is that? His last one was no good? Where is she? I’ll punch her in the throat! Have you two ever slept together? No? Yay! He seriously doesn’t have a girlfriend?
Benny instructed me to calm down and give it time; two weeks, she said. In two weeks, she believed Mike would come around.
I did not, of course, calm down. Unable to take advice, I calmed up. I plotted.
Later that week, undeterred by his stubborn refusal to take an interest, I invited him over to DC2 (the building where my cube lives) to watch movies or some such in the lounge after my shift ended at midnight. We have a great lounge in DC2, complete with Xboxen, many overstuffed couches, speakers all around (and under the couches,) DVD players and assorted other toys all hooked up to the wall projectors. He suggested “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” which I’d never seen before, and I readily agreed. He could have brought paint for us to watch dry and that would have been fine; the important part was bringing himself.
He got the DVD going and we settled into the front and center couch, immediately cuddled up with me under his arm. It was a natural, comfortable process. The awkward part was mental – I was nervous, while he seemed completely calm and collected. With his arm around my shoulders, he gently rubbed me with a thumb absently or tapped his fingers to the music. I was baffled at how at ease he seemed, and how physically at ease I was myself, the “I belong right here” feeling.
Hours later, in the wee morning, we were both tired and figured we should go home. One of the guys on his team came in and talked to us for awhile, and I was pleased Mike didn’t immediately shy away from me or try to act differently. He walked me to my car, where again I overcame my urge to be shy and said, “kiss me, Mike Neir.” He looked back toward the building and said, “but we’re on camera!” “Do we care?” “Well, kinda…?” and gave me two quick kisses before walking to his own car.
I felt somewhat euphoric, but it was just a tiny foreshadow of the grand, sweeping euphoria yet to come.
That’s the clinical, archival version of how we met and I managed to capture him. The bits to come are much more sickeningly sweet and gushy.