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May 6 2018, 10:00 PM
The process of preparing to die came very easily to Zelda: she had an unfortunate amount of experience with it.

Throughout her life, she'd gotten stuck periodically murdering the current version of herself and replacing it with a more polished substitute. The new and the old had at least one opposing desire or trait, and the old always came up obsolete; the trial was fixed before it ever began. Zelda understood that wanting one thing did not preclude wanting something entirely different, but it was necessary to have the willpower to bludgeon one want out of existence. It was with solemn surrender that she prepared to kill the version of herself that was in love with Troy. In only a month and a half, that version had made more trouble than it was worth.

He would not choose her - this was a certainty. Zelda went through a list of reasons why in her head. Maxine was weak - Zelda was strong. In these battles, the strong did not triumph over the weak, because the weak were seen as noble and deserving of care, while the strong were brutes who could stomach a loss. Men liked weak creatures, because they pitied them, because they wanted to save them. Maxine was simple, honest - Zelda was complicated, sometimes opaque. Maxine had done nothing wrong. Zelda had wrought wrong, by changing the object of the game halfway through. Troy would behold Maxine in her weakness, and he, too, would be weak. No matter how he claimed he felt - and there was a good chance he was lying - he would not be strong.

Maxine would visit for the weekend. Troy would get dinner with Zelda afterwards. Zelda went shopping to find the last thing she wanted to be seen in. The sales associate asked if she was going to a wedding. No, Zelda thought, A funeral. She would die covered in roses.

*

It was painful, every moment of it. The drive across town was an hour filled with sad music and her palms sweating on the steering wheel. Her mind wandered to crashing her car into one of the cement dividers, as to absolve herself of going. At the same time, she vibrated with anticipation. She would have an answer. She would wonder no more.

The beginning went as she anticipated, only she had misrepresented to herself how much she liked Troy. She had blinded herself to the contours of her love to ease her own death, and when she saw him, and they talked, and everything came easily, she realized she had not come fully prepared. If she had been a coward, she could have carried them forward forever, talking about nothing, feeling nothing, delaying the necessary. When the menus came out, and Troy began ordering, Zelda had sunk into pit of perfect despair. She liked the person she was with him; she liked his tastes, his sense of humor, the aesthetic he added to her life. She saw the two of them from a distance, heard their witty conversation. Now she was to lose all these things.

She waited until the appetizers came out to draw first blood. She did not know how long it would take to come to mortal blows, and she did not want to languish through the entrees. "So, how was your weekend?"

He hesitated, then answered. "It was good."

"That was an open-ended question, to provide you with the opportunity to speak at length, uninterrupted." She craved death.

He arched his eyebrows at her. "That's an extremely direct takedown."

"I believe in ripping band-aids off."

Of course, he had not been able to end things with Maxine. Of course, Maxine had not been able to end things with Troy. Zelda had predicted this: both of them were clearly quite stupid. Troy was stupid because he confused pity for love. Maxine was stupid because the best she could manage was to say that she would be sad if Troy left her, but she would understand. As usual, that left things to Zelda. She felt that a loaded pistol had been set down between them, and of course, she would have to be the one to pull the trigger.

"You realize this puts me in an untenable position," Zelda said.

He argued with her - another thing she had not anticipated. Perhaps she had expected greater humility from him, or greater intelligence: humility, in that he would act against feelings of greed, of wanting things both ways; and intelligence, in that Zelda's move to his counter-move was textbook, and inevitable. He would have had the time and space to accept that there was only one response, that from here things would proceed like clockwork, that this was a tragedy with its end written from the start. But apparently Troy suffered a deficiency in both, because he would not accept that the only sensible thing was for Zelda to leave.

"I told you how I feel," he said. "That is how I feel."

"Good to know it wasn't just drugs." He had ordered drinks for them, liquor as well as beer, and she poured herself a shot of sake before chasing it with the Kirin. She knew that she should not be drinking, but it was also she could do to keep herself busy. "But that doesn't make things better, Troy. That makes things worse."

"You said we could be friends." His tone became accusatory, sulky. "Were you lying?"

"No, I was very high, and I've had more time to think about how strong my feelings are."

When people disagreed with her at length, Zelda often found it useful to reframe her decisions in a way that spotlighted the advantages for the other person. She felt it was a bit of a cowardly move, a tactic that forced her to abandon the simple virtue of wanting things that she wanted and not catering to others, but it was useful in prying people's fingers from things they clung to. She told Troy that he had destroyed the boundaries between them, that now she knew how he felt and there was no recourse. She told him that she would be unable to accept friendship. She told him that she was ambitious, and that she was motivated. She told him in the most delicate way she could muster that she would advocate his cheating on Maxine. Zelda did not want to be that person. She refused to be.

His attacks withered. "But I care about. I talk to you every day."

You'll live, she wanted to tell him. I'll live. We'll both live. This will be a bad dream. "Again, that is a problem, not a positive."

They fell into silence. They engaged in a competition to see who could avoid crying at the dinner table the longest. Zelda realized later that she could have let things die there, that she could have changed the subject to something banal and frittered the next hour away; she could have simply been silent. If she had been stronger, she would have given up on dinner and left then; she would have quit while she was ahead. But when she looked at Troy, something in her brain fizzled out, and something else, some malevolent back-up generator, came online. She felt an overpowering urge to save him, to save the both of them. If he loved her, wasn't he worth saving?

"Well," she snapped, "Do you have any better ideas?"

She worked out her own theories as she drove him. He asked her for parameters; she said she had none. He said he'd never been in a position where he cared for two people at once; she told him to get over it. He said he'd always made fun of people in polyamorous relationships, that they were awkward and socially maladjusted; she agreed with him, then told him to eat his words. He said he needed time to think; she told him to think now, think fast, and think out loud. In truth she was only filling the silence, drawing up her own plan. She excused herself to the bathroom, and polished the details while washing her hands.

"Fine," Zelda said, when she came out. The restaurant was closing. "You're lucky I'm a genius. Here are the rules."

*

The rules were terrible. Zelda realized this the morning after she'd failed to murder her past self. She had utterly compromised herself. She had been a coward. She had insisted on saving something that should not have been saved, and, worst of all, she recognized the tendency.

With Roisin, Zelda had resurrected their relationship more times than she ever should have. In fact, both of them had. They elevated the virtues of loyalty and persistence above all other feelings; only at the very, very end had Roisin broken from their private religion. For ages they had conspired to make their relationship into something unbreakable. They had observed the fights and failings of others with almost sadistic glee, and sought to reverse-engineer an immunity to all the common pitfalls of relationships. In doing so, they became inhuman. Still, years later, Zelda retained the ability to make a living thing from dead parts. She knew how to keep a dying thing alive, even against its will. She had begun to kill the old versions of her and Troy, but had recoiled halfway through.

"I don't want to be humiliated," she had told Troy. "I don't want to explain this to anyone." She wanted to introduce Troy as her boyfriend without asterisks or footnotes. She wanted to speak to Maxine directly about the situation. She wanted to retain her freedom to see whoever else she wanted. Go, she said, and present my terms. Talk to Maxine.

But it was madness. It was insensible. No sane person could - or should - accept those terms. No sane person would have offered them. Zelda thought she had left her Dr. Frankenstein habits behind with Roisin, but here they were again. It was frightening, to see that those habits were as strong as they had ever been, though there was something strangely reassuring as well. She had thought that whole parts of her personhood had vanished with Roisin, and yet, here they were. They had been here all along, only sleeping.

Still, Zelda found herself unable to withdraw her offer. She felt that would seem ignoble, and worse, indecisive. It was better to be evil or incompetent than to be unable to make a decision. Instead, she decided that, if she was not given an answer immediately, she would recuse herself from the situation entirely.

It was not a difficult battle for her to win. That day, Troy came and said he'd spoken with Maxine, but that she needed more time. Take all the time you want, Zelda told him, both you. But leave me alone for two months, unless you have the answer that I want. Troy took that one in stride.

The day after that, Zelda woke with a sigh of relief. She laid the first flower on the grave. One day, she thought, I will wake up, and I won't love him anymore. She had thought that feeling love again would liberate her, only to realize that what she called love was something much more dangerous than the garden variety, and that this danger lay sleeping within her, and not the object of her affection. Love lay within her, waiting for favorable conditions, before it exploded into view, laying waste to her principles, drawing her towards oblivion. Love made her want to turn inside-out, and vanish in a wink. Love was to hollow herself out with fire and grow poisonous things from the ashes. It was love, if love was what she had felt for Roisin.

But she could still do it. She could still assassinate this version of herself, and put a better clone in its place. She just needed time. If she could not die fast, then she would find a way to die slowly. She would a way.

Hadn't she always?
Apr 25 2018, 01:21 PM
If you like Barbermonger and you're looking for more ways to contribute, how about becoming a moderator? Your job would include:
  • moving old one-on-one ads
  • posting external advertisements
  • being a friendly chatterbox
  • flagging questionable content
Basic qualifications are:
  • you are not a high-maintenance middle manager hungry for power
Anyone is invited to apply! Applications eternally open! DM me on Barbermonger or Discord (Sasha#4536) to discuss further.

To apply:
  • Let me know a little bit about you (name, age, forum experience, etc.)
  • Why you want to be a moderator
  • Your best moderator trait and your worst moderator trait

Look forward to hearing from you!
Apr 25 2018, 12:38 PM
Do you like Barbermonger? Me too! What a great time we have here! If you also like Barbermonger, and would like to throw a few dollars at site costs, there's a link for that now!

ko-fi.com/barbermonger

Site costs include:
  • $120 a year - domain costs
  • $120 a year - Jcink premium
  • $15 a year - Cbox premium

    Stretch goals would include:
  • $96 a year - premium independent hosting
  • $240 upfront - Xenforo
  • $50 a year - Xenforo renewal
Should you donate, feel free to DM me with silly requests, such as changing my username or discord name, special pixels, etc.
Mar 24 2018, 08:13 PM
To be diagnosed with love was one thing, but to admit the disease itself was another burden entirely. At first Zelda determined to keep it to herself, finding the situation absurd and doomed and the kind of thing she should sort out on her own. Then she pivoted, deciding that a true practice of self-acceptance demanded that she present her feelings to the people that knew her, at the very least. Friendship is a continuous event, where we are repeatedly baptized in the waters of someone's favor and understanding; the water can be cold and discouraging, but the process remains necessary. Thus Zelda admitted, not just to herself, but to her friends, I'm in love with him. She felt crazy saying it. She kept thinking of Roisin, who had not spoken to her in over two years, and doubting her own feelings. But when she said it, I love him, it felt true. It felt like saying the sky was blue.

She did not consider telling Troy - at least not right away. She imagined that she would live with her diagnosis as long as she could stand, perhaps six months, and then confess in an inappropriate, melodramatic way. They would hike to the top of a mountain, and she would tell him there, and then she would make him walk down ahead of her so she could cry alone. She imagined these things vividly, lying in her bed at night. She brought herself near to tears painting the pictures. She practiced breaking her own heart, not because it would make the actual happening of it any easier, but because she enjoyed the false sense of preparation, the illusion that she had some control. She knew that whatever happened, it would not end up anything like climbing a mountain and crying on top of it. Preoccupying herself with the pain before it happened only made her unhappy. Zelda did not know how to stop.

She told the story of loving Troy over and over, watching the reactions of her listeners and taking silent notes. Some of her friends were bold enough to say what they really thought, to question whether she just wanted something she wasn't supposed to have, whether she wasn't deliberately setting herself up for trouble, for the thrill of it. Some contained themselves to wincing and half-hearted encouragement. There was one, however, who took her to task - for deception, for hiding, for insincerity. Mateo challenged her definition of love itself - was it love if she couldn't stand to be genuine? Could she truly desire intimacy while concealing something so important? She argued with Mateo passionately; she hated him. She was, however, the type of person that conceded her positions in the face of superior arguments. She valued her own judgment, certainly, but more than anything she valued uncompromising reason. Many people pretended to favor reason, but under the threat of self-inflicted pain, preferred foolishness. Zelda felt that pain was the cost of being an acolyte of reason. Mateo's accusations pained her, but, that did not mean he was wrong. She searched for an escape from his argument, but could fine none.

She would have to tell Troy she was in love with him.

*

She considered various methods: first, a letter. She drafted one. It exceeded two-thousand words. She declined to reveal that excess.

Barring a letter, she had to tell him in person. They agreed to see a movie. She planned how it would go: she would return his sweater and the book she borrowed, even though that would seem awkward, as one usually returns things at the end of a meeting, not the beginning. Then they would see the movie. It would be dark and quiet; the movie could distract her for a while. She would savor their last moments. Then, in the parking lot, she would tell him. She wrote out a seven sentence confession, and memorized it.

Troy texted her a few hours before the movie. He was too tired from work, he said. Rain check?

Zelda could not decide whether to be relieved or infuriated. 'Are you sure?' she asked him.

Yes, he was sure.

'All right.' She paused. This could give her more time to think, if she was determined to tell him in person. Zelda felt like she had been waiting for her own execution. She wanted to die. She added, 'There's something I need to talk to you about.'

'Lol. Should I be anxious?'

'No, I'm the one who's anxious.' She declined to elaborate further.

She called him, after he got home from work. She read her seven sentences off her note card. She had strong feelings, and she cared about him as more than a friend. She wasn't expecting him to say or do anything in response - she was just trying to be genuine. She was sorry for not acknowledging his feelings at the Christmas party, for ignoring them for her own convenience. She hoped they could still be friends. She said and she felt the weight of uncertainty leave her. She waited for the weight of pain.

Troy told her that she was brave, that he was grateful for her telling him, that of course they could still be friends. He rambled; he said he had feelings for her too. When she heard him say that, she did not know what to think or say. She recognized a threat to their truce. Instinctively, she snatched at his words, crushing them in her fist as if catching a mosquito: 'But you have a girlfriend. So, maybe if things change in the future.' He didn't answer. He asked her to come over the next day. She accepted.

She came over to his apartment, and he cooked dinner for her. Zelda was struck by how things felt exactly the same. She sat at the kitchen island, drinking whatever expensive scotch or tequila had emerge from the liquor cabinet. She asked about his work; they argued about some political piece they'd read the day before. In fact, the sameness made her suspicious, because things were not the same, could not possibly be the same - and yet, the conspiracy remained unbroken. They played darts on his balcony; she beat him.

Zelda felt she had increased her own mobility and power in confessing. She was ready to run, leap, build, break - whatever the future held. The sameness of things was stifling. That, and she realized she thought Troy should be afraid. Troy should be afraid of her, and of himself. He should be afraid of what they might do.

Troy was not afraid, and Zelda could not contain herself within their old mold; she was too selfish to be a true paragon of morality. She let him wrap his arms around her as she read the headlines of news articles off her phone; she let him kiss the top of her head without comment. Zelda had unleashed her burden upon him, and it was only fair to let him learn to shoulder it in his own way.

But he should be afraid. She could not shake it from her mind, but she had not the strength to consider what, if not fear, propelled him.

*

Madness - that was what pressed Troy forwards, Zelda learned. Love as madness - he came over to her house before they went to the bars downtown, and offered her ecstasy. 'A friend couldn't bring it on a plane,' he told her, by way of explanation, as if that sanctioned his offer in any way. In retrospect, it was an extremely obvious plot device, the kind that would have felt cliche to write. Only two weeks ago they had done acid, and she had danced around his apartment, turned off his sad music, and quoted lines from a monster character from a TV show. 'I'm going to tell on you,' he threatened, and he halfway did, calling his girlfriend while they were high and repeating her monster threats. Back then, Zelda had thought that he didn't know enough to tell on her properly, that she really was the monster. Troy reported that Maxine didn't sound too interested in saving him.

Now, here he was, with more drugs. First she said no, but a very watered-down sort of no, the kind of no that betrayed her doubts. When he asked again, fifteen minutes later, she said, 'Fine, but when I cry later, that's on you.' They went out.

Again, in retrospect, the madness was obvious. Like her, Troy had planned for his own self-destruction; he had acquired the means and set the wheels in motion. When they got to the bar, they took another hit and sipped on cheap beer; on the dance floor, he stood too close to her, and Zelda smiled, thinking, Of course he won't kiss me. But of course he kissed her, and told her that he was in love with her, and that he had been in love with her for a long time. Of course he had planned for it, had been on the trajectory for that confession as soon as he'd put those pills in his pocket. She kissed him back, and told him he was in luck, that she loved him too. The difference between them, she noted in the days that followed, was that she had come to him under the impression of preemptive rejection, and even then she'd confessed while sober. Troy had known the lay of the land before he'd told Zelda he loved her, and even then, he'd needed to obliterate his inhibitions.

That did not lessen the joy of the night for her. The simple pleasure of being kissed by someone who loved her was one Zelda had never really had; all the love that had come before had possessed some abortive quality - geographical separation, emotional superficiality - that preempted unadulterated physical affection. She gave herself over to the happy pounding of her heart, to the dark glow of the bar, to the overflowing affection she felt for all other people, including Troy. She knew without knowing that she was dancing on borrowed time, that the sun must rise and her euphoria would come to an end, but that the moment could still be hers forever, captured, embalmed like a snowglobe, something she could turn over in weeks and years to come, for solace.

When the bars closed, and they went home, Zelda decided to get the other most difficult thing over with; she chose to operate while she was still somewhat anesthetized. "You need to talk to your girlfriend," she told Troy. "You need to leave her, if you're in love with me."

He equivocated. He wrung his hands. He told her that he was in love with Maxine too. Zelda sympathized with his position. She felt she had been unfair to him, that she had limited his opportunities to be his best self. She pitied him. She pitied him because it was easier to be sorrier for Troy than to hate him for his cowardice. Hating him would mean that she kept falling in love with cowards.

Still, she told him, "You need to make a choice." He agreed with her, but Zelda realized that he had underestimated her. He had his miscalculated her tolerance for pain, and overestimated his own.

"If you don't choose me," she said, "It will be terrible, but I'll live."

"That's shitty for you."

"My whole life has been shitty. I'm good at this now."

Her words lay at the heart of her pity. The weakness of other people was at the center of their humanity. People struggled to be good in the face of temptation, frequently the temptation to avoid righteous pain. Monsters had different struggles. To die, to feel pain, was easy. What Zelda struggled to imagine was being happy.

The next day, she woke up and realized she had chewed her lips to a pulp. They swelled up to the size of her thumbs; she felt like a hideous fish. Troy kept apologizing. She kept telling him not to be sorry. This went on the entire day, as she soldiered through breakfast, coffee, lunch, pressing ice packs to her mouth. It did not occur to her until later that he felt responsible for her suffering. It was all fine and good for her to take responsibility for other people, but no one else was responsible for Zelda but Zelda. She couldn't imagine it any other way.

Soon, she thought, You will be responsible for much more than that. Her diagnosis had always included the distinct possibility - even the certainty - of death. She had been braced for it from the first moment of her own realization. Each day had brought her closer to acceptance of it, of emotional oblivion, of loneliness, of her own foolishness coming full circle. But at least she did not have to wait so long. Six months, she decided, was too long to wait to die.

"Next weekend," she said. "Next weekend you'll talk to her."

Yes. He would.

All of time narrowed to a single day. He would not choose her, and she would die. "Good." But again, there was elation in the certainty of oblivion, for disease had no surer cure than death.
Feb 21 2018, 11:48 AM


HAPPY 7TH BIRTHDAY BM!
    Seven years! If you had told me seven-ish years ago that I would be running a forum for seven years, I would have donkey laughed right in your face! Ha ha, me run a roleplay forum for seven years! I can't be in charge of dinner.

    But here we are! In seven years, we have over forty thousands posts and over two thousand members - not bad! More than that, however, I'd like to say that BM has showed me - taught me - how a community can work, how it should work. Though many of you might never venture into the Discord or some of the dustier OOC threads, or while you might never chain-open twenty different ads to compare them, Barbermonger as a whole speaks to thoughtfulness and to diversity. Real thoughtfulness means that, as a community member, you have to listen and think before you speak. Real diversity means that we have to manage to live together despite a certain level of disagreement and discomfort. Between the two of them, being a good member means you, the member, will thread that needle. I have only banned a single person in seven years.

    The internet is very different than it was only seven years ago. We are often encouraged to chase fans rather than family. We think in terms of personal brand as opposed to genuine self-expression. We are pushed to consume rather than to create. I like to think that Barbermonger remains a place where we can preserve the internet as it can be - a place of possibility, experimentation, creativity, community, and fun. You, the member, are the one who makes it that way. I'm glad you're here.

    Happy birthday to you!
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