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Health & Sex

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Is Love Skin Deep?


"Dude! What is that?"
"Can I see?"
"Where'd you get that?"
"Why'd you do it? Did it hurt?"

The questions came from all sides — in the subway, on the street, at restaurants and movie theaters. My boyfriend just blew them off. "Imagine complete strangers feeling entitled to touch you," he told me. "Plus, I did it for me. I shouldn't have to explain myself."I was surprised, and a little irked, by his reaction: Why walk around with something so nutty if not to provoke a response?

I started thinking about our future. After all, a tattoo in your 20s is one thing, but what about in your 70s? If we had kids together, would they be terrified of that monster on Dad's arm?

In April, we went to visit my grandparents in Florida. Our first morning there, after arriving late the night before, I padded into the kitchen for coffee and a chat with my grandmother. We'd been talking for about an hour when my boyfriend finally surfaced ... wearing a lightweight cotton oxford shirt, the long sleeves casually rolled to just below the tattoo. My heart swelled with gratitude.

We kept up the long-sleeve charade for two days — until the mercury hit 90 degrees. "Sarah, tell him to put on a T-shirt," my grandmother said. "We know about the tattoo."

Just like that. Then we took a swim in the backyard pool, and the world kept turning. Now, after more than three-and-a-half years, I still don't quite understand what Telly means. But I do admire what he represents: a certain fearlessness, a questioning of social convention, and the confidence to do something completely bizarre for no good reason other than that you want to.

In fact, Telly has actually taught me a few things. A little about anatomy, sure, but more about the ways I can be superficial. I'd long trusted that my boyfriend's love for me runs far deeper than the way I look; now I can say unequivocally that I feel the same about him. It's a truth that, every once in a while, bears repeating.

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