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How a Butt Dial Became My North Star

A Gen Xer's guide to what really matters in life

Silhouette looking at stars

We can run from the Big Questions about life, the questions that needle us awake at 3 a.m., but we can’t run forever.

My most recent Big Question had a pretty easy time catching up to me, because it came from my pants. A few months ago, while lunching with friends at a pub, I sent a pocket text to Ben, my partner, that consisted of five completely accidental words: 

“Hey b*tch what really motivates?” 

It must have been a butt dial, one of those situations where the commotion of a pants pocket turns the device on and your keys blindly pound away at your predictive text. It became our inside joke immediately. Shorthand for whatever small decision lay before us: What do you want for dinner, or Can we do one more episode of Derry Girls? A simple “hey b*tch” could get a reply like “scallops.” 

It was a joke, until it wasn’t. 

A few weeks later, my mom took a tumble coming out of a movie theater and broke her arm. First broken bone of her life, at 90. She didn’t hit her head or shatter a hip, but a fall is a fall, and it made me acutely aware that the time I have left with her is limited.

So I started thinking: Can I move work around and deploy some frequent-flier miles, so that my two to three hometown visits a year become a few days every other month? Can I be useful, not just during her recovery, but as a more reliable provider of simple company? Is right now the time of life when being there for my parents moves up the priority list? 

Ben put it to me simply. “Hey b*tch,” he asked, sincerely, “what really motivates?” 

He was right. I’m moving the work and cashing in the miles. And I’m grateful. 

So now, obviously, “hey b*tch what really motivates” is the existential butt text of our lives. 

Usually we know what really motivates, because it’s right in front of us. A child or a career or both. We don’t ask, because we don’t need to, and we wouldn’t have time anyway, because the kid is running with a fork. 

But eventually, in fact right around our age, the immediate tasks become less urgent. The kid grows up and moves out. The career gets to a comfortable place. We start asking what we want to do with the rest of our lives. And to answer that, we need to ask what’s actually important to us. Do we want adventure? Proximity to family? Money? We can’t push these conversations until later, because there’s less later left.

I have a college friend whose parents made a deal: They’d stay in their corporate jobs until the kid graduated college, and then they’d quit, sell the house, move to a one-bedroom in the city and devote the rest of their lives to charity nonprofit work. And the summer after our graduation, that’s just what they did. Duty to their son, and then duty to the world. I wouldn’t have put it in these words for a variety of reasons, but now I can say it with awe and respect: Those b*tches knew

We don’t. Ben and I are both hovering around 50, so barring any late-in-life Punky Brewster scenarios, kids are out of the question. The last three years showed us both that we can do our jobs from home, and that home can be anywhere. 

We’re moving into a future that we can’t really picture, because it hasn’t really been modeled for us: We’re in the first generation of out gay men to reach middle age intact. The couple of generations ahead of us were decimated by the plague before this one, and the generations before them couldn’t live openly. We’re explorers. B*tch, we’re Lewis and Clark.

It’s all wide open, a blank notebook to fill however we choose. Exciting. Terrifying. Like life should be.

I think you’ll join me in thanking my butt for its candor and directness. And in those quiet moments, ask yourself that simple five-word question: Hey b*tch, what really motivates? 

So how are you answering?

Follow Article Topics: Health-&-Fitness