Saturday, April 25, 2015

You Can't Be "Everything"...

One of the basic tenets of Polyamory that's discussed in order to explain (justify? defend?) it to monogamous people is that it's unreasonable to expect anyone to be your "everything." That even in monogamous relationships, one partner has the friends they go to Comic Cons with while the other goes on the Quilting Cruise - we all have different groups of people with whom we do different things.

I do tend to agree with this. We all have different interests, and sometimes our circles don't overlap with our partners' in the Venn Diagram of our relationships. Ignoring the common response of "but why do you have to have RELATIONSHIPS to do that when I do that stuff with my friends," (which is something that, as a person pretty firmly planted in the monogamous side of the mono/poly spectrum, I just don't personally Grok), there's another issue with this idea that doesn't usually get discussed.

When you limit interests to only your partners who share that common interest, then you're only painting a partial picture of yourself to other partner(s).

Regardless of whether or not we "click" on, say, comic books, I want to get to know my partner... and yes, that includes being introduced to that interest. I may go to one con, only to never go again, but at least I've been introduced to it. I can see your giddy interest in it - can see you act like a little kid when you meet your favorite artist - and I can appreciate that, even if I don't appreciate the interest itself, or ever choose to go to another con. You've shared that with me.

If you have a partner who also appreciates comics, and you only go to cons with them because that's the person you share that interest with? It prevents me from ever seeing that giddy, little kid side of you... and I think that's a shame.

I don't want to see only some facets of my partner; I want to get to know them. All of them. At least, as much as I can.

I understand things like Cons involve resources like vacation time, money, etc., and those by their very nature are limited. I understand that, because of this, the most "bang for your buck" will be to bring the partner who actually enjoys these activities. However, you run the risk of becoming compartmentalized to your different partners - becoming different people, depending on your audience. And I don't know... if you prefer your relationships to be a big network of people you can diversify around, then clearly that's okay, but if you're in an entwined partnership? Especially with a monogamous person who doesn't have it in their nature to want to diversify? It seems to miss the point. I suppose Polyamory gives you both options.

At any rate, I know people can't be everything to each other, but I personally like the chance to share something that I never would have tried if I hadn't been introduced to it.

Ready for the "but" now?
There's always a "but"...

The flipside to this is when people try too hard to BE ALL THE THINGS. Having something shared with you doesn't mean you're obligated to actually enjoy it, and it certainly shouldn't pressure you to either do so, or fake it when you don't; it just gives you greater insight into what makes your partner tick. This is the point behind "you can't be everything to your partner." Enjoy the sharing. Let your horizons get expanded a bit. And if you find that it's not your bag (baby), that's okay. Send your partner off with a smooch and a "have a great time" and know that they're going to be a giddy little kid on the other side.

And if you're feeling shut out? Ask. Just be ready to hear your partner gush about their favorite comic book artist for a while.

Disclaimer: The examples herein do not represent any person, living or dead. That is to say... I *like* comic cons.

Monday, April 20, 2015

On Owning Our Emotions

A while back, someone asked me if I could discuss the topic of "owning your emotions". I apologize for forgetting who you were, or where/how you asked (email, maybe?), but it's something I've been giving a lot of thought to, and it's definitely deserving of a conversation.

It's a loaded phrase, "Owning Your Emotions." Some folks toss the phrase around when they don't want to be bothered to be compassionate. It's used as an excuse to say something hurtful, and then to toss it back on the other person when they have the audacity to get hurt: "You're the only one who can make yourself feel that way. You need to own your emotions."

Been there. Done that. And sorry, folks... "I didn't make you feel this way, you did," is just shaming the other person for HAVING emotions while attempting to absolve yourself from being a jerk. The irony here, of course, is that in some cases, if the other person does "own their emotions" and decides that they don't want to be around this type of behavior anymore, the jerkface is surprised and offended. Go figure.

When meant honestly and compassionately, however, it means much, much more. It means digging deep into yourself to find the reasons behind why certain things trigger negative emotions. It means trying to understand them enough to figure out if it's something that can be fixed, or managed, or if it's a deal-breaker. And it means being able to communicate that without blame or accusation focused on the other person. Sometimes, it may mean accepting that you may not be compatible with someone else who doesn't see things the same way you do.

A common example involves a long-term marriage that is in the process of opening up because one spouse has identified as Poly. The other spouse may be going through all sorts of negative emotions: fear of being dumped for the new love interest, anger and resentment over losing time with them (or, if money is tight, resentful of their spouse spending money on dates), envy of the way the new person is being treated ("why don't we go out and date anymore?"), fear of losing what makes them feel special.

Often, the upset spouse will ask for their newly poly spouse (or even their metamour) to change their behavior in order to quell these emotions. They want the pain to stop; the pain is generated by a certain behavior, therefore, stopping said behavior will stop the pain.


The genie can't be put back in the bottle, though, and the upset spouse may still have those emotions nagging at the back of their mind. Any slip-up on the part of the spouse or metamour will unravel the tenuous balance, and the emotions will flare up again, possibly worse.

Here's the thing to remember if you're the upset one: what you think is common sense may not be, and your spouse and/or metamour aren't mind-readers. Asking them to change their behavior in order to fix an issue you're having is almost bound to fail, because they don't know the reasons behind it. Say you get upset when your husband dates his girlfriend, and you ask them to stop seeing each other. What's the reason behind it? If you wanted them to stop dating because you don't get enough time with your husband, but after they stop dating, they still spend every minute of the day texting, then the problem isn't solved. You're still upset, so you ask them to stop texting. You can't understand why they couldn't just cool it, and they don't understand why they're being asked to restrict themselves even more when they did what you asked. Fuel for resentment and anger on both sides!

Asking someone to change their behavior in order to take the pain away just dooms them to fail (and dooms you to more upset and misery). They don't really know what you need fixed because YOU may not know what you need fixed. And now there's little motivation to figure out what needs to be fixed, because you've asked them to fix it for you. Done. Except... not done when they don't do it right. Because they can't do it right. Because they're not in your head, thinking your thoughts and feeling your feelings.

That right there is the beginning of owning your emotions.

I'm not saying you can't ask things of your partner and/or metamour. Asking someone to slow down while you figure things out is perfectly reasonable, as long as both ends of the bargain are held up and you do try to figure things out.

It certainly doesn't come quickly, nor easily, and I know I've gone around the mulberry bush a few hundred times regarding issues I thought I'd boiled down, only to be triggered by something else and find that I wasn't quite there yet. It happens, and it's okay... communicating that you think you're making progress but maybe you're not there yet is fine. Communicate with your partner - have those "state of the union" talks to see how you're feeling, and see if anyone needs a change or renegotiation.

From my own experience, I recently had an "aha" moment after YEARS of struggling with what seemed to be various, unrelated events that tossed me for a loop when they'd pop up. A discussion topic here, a conversation there, and "Eureka!" - I was finally able to make sense of all those seemingly random, disconnected events, and tie them together with a neat little bow. It doesn't always take years to figure out what the root cause of a problem is, but it's not a failure if it does.

So... part two of owning your emotions: figuring out "what now".

Is there something you can do, now that you understand the cause, to mitigate the negative emotions or eliminate them entirely? Or is it something you have no control over? Or is it something that your partner or metamour would have control over, if you asked them?

My best-case scenario is the first: finding out that I can do something about the issue myself, and then doing it. If you've read some of my older posts, you'll know I've been going back and forth on the whole time issue with my partner - I've never lived alone, don't know what to do with myself when I am alone, and would prefer to have my partner here with me 7 days a week. Except, that's not reality, so... what can I do about it?

Sometimes the "what can I do about it" and the "what's the problem REALLY" can cycle back and forth. I went the "bury myself in distractions" route, but it didn't really help much. Okay, why? What's the real problem if it's not being idle and bored? More digging. I came to the realization that while it's a good thing to have solitary pursuits, some of us extroverted types just need people sometimes. I signed up for a weekly game night in response to that realization... that just because I need to be around people, my partner can't be "my people" 24/7. We'll see how it goes, though. I may find out that I'm not quite there yet, and go around the bush again.

You may find, though, that after boiling something down to its root cause, you find that someone else's behavior really *is* the trigger, and that's a tricky one (and one I also struggle with). There's really nothing wrong with asking them if they can help, but again, "owning" those emotions and being able to state where you're coming from is huge. It may be something they can easily change, or it may be something they can't, but at least they'll have more information to go on.

So, part three... what if you've boiled down the problem to something external that you can't control, and it's not something that's going to change? Either it's someone's behavior that you have no control over (or want no control over), or maybe it's fallout from a long-distance relationship, maybe finances or who knows, maybe the person just smells funny.

This is really the endpoint of owning your emotions. What do you do here?

Sometimes, it may be something that you can manage. Knowing the cause, it may be easier to recognize when it pops up from time to time, and it may be easier to feel it, deal with it, and then let it go without having to resolve it. The half-time long-distance nature of my relationship made this past winter (and the winter before it) extremely hard. Once I quit conflating the distance with the poly nature of the relationship (since he'd still be living where he is, even if he weren't poly), it didn't make it easier, but it made it obvious that it was my choice to get into a long-distance (ish) relationship to begin with. My choice. And my choice to stay. It made it a little harder to toss resentment around when I looked at it through that lens, and I was able to start thinking about the future - how we could maybe plan for an eventual future where we weren't dealing with the distance on a regular basis. For me, planning for a potential future can make the present a bit easier to handle. I found a way to manage.

Sometimes, though, you may find you can't manage it, and you can't solve it. Can you deal with it as it is? Is this something you need to ask help with? Or is this a deal-breaker?

Owning your emotions sometimes means taking something that sounds like an ultimatum and reestablishing that focus where it belongs - on you.

Say, for example, you absolutely cannot stand your metamour. Your wife wants you to be besties and even live together, but it's just not going to happen. You think he's a slob. You hate how he's parked in front of YOUR X-Box all night while you're doing the dishes. You hate that he eats all your Sriracha and doesn't buy another one. You. Can't. STAND this guy.

Now, you can tell your wife that it's him or you, and list all the awful things you hate about him, but she loves him, and she has every right to go on the defensive. Putting the focus on him (or on her choice to date someone like him) can open her up to resentment and anger... directed toward you.

You've done the work. You know the issue. You just DON'T LIKE this guy. So it's time to own it.

"I'm sorry, but I can't have the kind of relationship with your BF that you'd like me to have. I need to spend time with you alone, and without him around. I cannot be friends with him, and will not tolerate him using (or misusing) my property."

There. Done.
It may lead to discussion (maybe you trade less time with your wife for not having to hang out with the three of you all the time). It may lead to action on your part (you remove the X-Box from any shared areas). It may lead to hurt feelings and pushback. It may lead to less desirable outcomes (you move out to a place of your own). However, it's your need, and it's you standing up for that need.

It's the problem people have with the distinction between rules and boundaries: asking someone to do something to fix the problem for you, versus establishing what you are (and aren't) okay with. Functionally, they may be the same, but a boundary, given the work that it's taken you to get there in order to establish it, the self-awareness it takes to determine it, and the self-worth it takes to express it...? A boundary seems so much stronger (and healthier) when seen in that regard. You are understanding - and expressing - what will make for a healthier you.

Which is not what that jerkface at the top of the post EVER intended when they told you to "own your emotions."

It doesn't mean being happy about whatever gets thrown in your direction.
It means strength - internal strength - and the knowledge that even though things may not work out, if they don't, it'll be because you stood up for your own needs and took action when they weren't (or couldn't be) met.

So when experienced folks say that you need to own your emotions and not ask others to change for you, this is what they mean. It's a tough thing to do, and it doesn't come quickly, but the self-awareness and resultant self-worth that are gained from it are an extremely valuable and powerful gift. Own that gift.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Hodgepodge, Part One

There are some things Twitter is good for - sharing links, witticisms, promotion. It's not grand for anything over 140 characters that isn't hosted somewhere else, though. A blog is nice for those long, thought-out ideas that have some meat to them. What to do with those random thoughts and ideas that are too big for Twitter and too small to blog, though? Or those after-the-fact thoughts that could add to a previous post, but would just get lost in the comments section at this point?

Stick 'em all in one big post, of course!

Every so often, I'll be posting a hodgepodge entry, to collect some of these random thoughts and postscripts that don't really warrant posts of their own (and get these things out of my brain and onto "paper" once and for all!).

Things Mono People Say, Part One:

Before I get whacked upside the head with the "you don't speak for ME" stick, no, I'm not speaking for all mono people here. I'm speaking for THIS one (points thumbs at self). Your mileage may vary.

That said, I know a lot of Poly folks get really REALLY irritated when they explain their relationship preferences to people and hear, "Oh, I could never do that," in return. It feels judgmental and condescending, and I get that.

But here... come on over and check it out from this angle...

I tend to try to really relate to people's experiences. I'm one of those folks who'll respond to a friend's story with one of my own, not in a spirit of one-upmanship or competition, but to illustrate that I can sympathize, or that I've been through something similar in my own life. I realize that this habit can look like one-upmanship, though, and I try to be mindful of it (although I'm not always successful).

As someone who tries to relate my own experience to others, if I can't relate, then I say so. I think it's a good thing to know where your communication gaps are. I believe saying, "I could never do that, " is some peoples' means of doing just this.

Basically, you're being told, "I don't understand this," but without those exact words. Maybe under the right conditions, if you're interested in bridging the gap, it could lead to a real, in-depth conversation as you dig into the "why" behind it all. Maybe just knowing that there's a gap is good enough.

Of course, it certainly can be a dismissive comment, in which case you should certainly feel free to dismiss their opinion right back.

Postscript: On Trust (And Bad Automotive Analogies):

Postscript 1 - Trust and Potential Game-Changers:

A day or so after I posted this, I realized that this ties in somewhat with Franklin Veaux's latest (in-process) book/memoir and the concept of game-changers in relationships.

While I don't care for unilateral veto arrangements (IMO, they seem to only breed resentment, not actually fix the problem), I am looking for reassurance here. That the next person my partner falls in love with won't irrevocably change our relationship. A game-changer here could destroy our relationship if it dilutes it past the point where it doesn't feel like a "relationship" anymore.

I like Franklin's words in his post, though:
the next step is to say "Even if things change, I have worth; my partner will seek wherever possible to make choices that honor and cherish our connection, whatever changes may come, because I add value to his life. 
The following part about doing it without doubt and fear? Well, I'm not there yet. I'm not sure if I ever will be, but at least it's good to have goals. I do trust that my partner values our relationship. The fear comes in when I wonder if he'll find another relationship he values just as much, and what happens then?

Being brave, though, is not the same as being fearless. It's moving forward despite the fear. And I do that every single day.


Postscript 2 - Self-nurturing, and a reference to the "Balance" post:

Another thing that popped up after I posted this came out of a conversation with my metamour. Her method of dealing with the occasional worries is to do some self-nurturing - to take some quality time for herself and therefore make herself healthier and happier outside the relationship. In turn, that helps her feel stronger and more confident within the relationship.

I was all set to write something about how, being an extrovert, it's difficult for me to enjoy solitary activities, unless it's something I can really get lost in - and those activities are few and far between.

That's all true, but it felt off. I realized I was using that as an excuse, to hold myself back and explain why I can't, or don't, and that's crap.

Yes, I'm an extrovert. A big, ol' blinkin' neon-sign extrovert. I will gladly talk your ear off (especially after a glass of wine), or I will be just as happy to listen to your stories. I love being around people. Yet, I too used to enjoy certain solitary activities.

Yard work is a big one I still enjoy, although a snowy February in the Northeast US doesn't lend itself to much yard work. Shoveling, perhaps, but that's less soothing to the soul. Splitting firewood (with the aid of a log splitter) isn't so bad, but the lack of daylight is a bit demotivating.

I've pretty much forsaken the rest, and I think my propensity to just save the "need-to" activities for when my partner is away is part of the problem. I don't exercise that much any more, and I know that running used to be something that kept me grounded. I enjoyed doing it. I felt good, I was healthier, I had more energy, and I felt better about myself. It's also something I enjoy doing by myself.

I mentioned this in my review of the Poly Weekly podcast (which I link to below) - do something self-nurturing, because distracting yourself doesn't really work all that well otherwise. You'd think I'd follow my own advice.

It's all part of finding that balance. Taking time (QUALITY time) for myself is just as important as quality time with my kids or my partner, and I need to realize that taking an hour here or there isn't going to dramatically screw anything up. It can, however, remind me that I'm important as well.

Postscript 3 - Trust versus Taking for Granted:

My partner and I had a followup conversation as well. He feels that we don't trust our cars as much as we take them for granted. We don't celebrate the fact that our cars get us from point A to point B, we just take it for granted that they will.

I'll start off by saying that, as good as any analogy can be, it's limited by virtue of the fact that it's an analogy. It's not exact. I'm not attaching too much weight to my car analogy (although I've been having fun with it).

However, the conversation gets me to wondering where that line between trusting and taking something/someone for granted really is. I'd like to invite comment here, since I find that line extremely blurry and confusing.

I trust that my partner loves me and wants to be in a relationship with me, but I can never take it for granted (see above Postscript 1) - while I know he's committed to me, there's always the possibility, given his nature, that he will grow to care for someone just as much as he cares for me, and it may lead to changes in our relationship (whether he wants that or not right now). It's not doubt of his love for me, but the awareness that his love for others can become a game-changer. I am always aware of this possibility. I cannot take our relationship or an idea of having a future together for granted. Does this mean that I don't trust that we have a future together? I don't know. It means that I certainly don't have blind trust in what that future looks like, although I trust that my partner wants a future with me. 

Clearly and concisely communicating levels of trust (and what it is you're trusting in!) can be extremely difficult when you only have one word for it.

When we think of taking something or someone for granted, it connotes a lack of appreciation, and I understand that this is a negative thing. I find that part negative, myself - having someone just hang around in the background because they'll always be there? Meh. Why not just have a cardboard cutout of the person if you're not appreciating them? However, there is also an ease that comes with being able to just relax and not always be vigilant of the things that may pull the rug out from under me. How do I get to that level of trust without some level of taking things for granted?

My partner finds nothing positive in taking something for granted. I find this constant vigilance when something pops up to be tiring. I would like to not feel this concern every single time something could potentially change our relationship. I would like to take THAT part of our relationship for granted - that it'll take moving mountains to change it to a point where it's irreparable, regardless of how much he grows to love someone else, as long as we still share the love that we do. Is that distrust, then?

I don't know. Maybe we need better words in English for these concepts, because somewhere in the middle, you get a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and a mess when you try to discuss it.

More food for thought.

Postscript: Addendum to the PolyWeekly podcast review:

Just something that was kicking around in my drafts, and I figured I'd do some cleanup...

During the "Distract" portion of the podcast (not really "Distract, Distract, Distract" but "Discuss, Distract, Do" - I should probably just go back and edit that blog post), Lusty Guy advises the letter writer to go out on a date herself in order to pass the time.

If you and your date are on the same page, that's great, but things are going to become lopsided really fast if your date wants to move toward a relationship with you, but to you, they're a distraction when your partner is away. My recommendation is to think long and hard about this one, and to be fair and honest to the other person.


Okie dokie... hodgepodge over. New post coming soon. Northeast-type folks, stay warm and stay safe!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Trust (and Really Bad Automotive Analogies)

Sometimes, even as things get easier, I find myself getting wrapped around the axle from time to time. A new date can lead to worries about the future... about who this person will become in my partner's life... about where that may leave us if he wants to spend more time with them.

It certainly gets frustrating for the Poly partner at times, especially if you've been down this road before.

Why don't you trust me?

If you're like me, you struggle for words here.

If you're like me, you DO trust your partner. You know that they love you and that they want to be in this relationship with you. You've seen that they enjoy your presence in their life and they enjoy being a part of yours. But there's something, though, that rung the warning bell, and it's causing you worry. It's not distrust, but what IS it?

My car.

No, not really, but bear with me.

I trust my car to get me from Point A to Point B. We all do. Yet we all also know that someday, our cars won't be able to do it anymore. Knowing that it will one day drive its last doesn't make me trust my car any less... I know that my car doesn't WANT to conk out on the side of the road. It's built to drive. That's what it does.

So I trust it, until something changes. A light goes on. A funny smell. An odd noise or a shimmy or a weirdness in how it shifts. Maybe it starts burning through oil. Maybe the mileage goes down. Either way, something changes, either immediately or over time, and you notice. Sometimes the change is even enough to cause serious discomfort (okay, perhaps the bad thermostat in my van while the temperatures are in the teens prompted this analogy) and you want to fix it NOW.

It's not time to give up the car, though, is it? It's time for maintenance. A tune-up, or an oil change, or maybe just running over to AutoZone and seeing what that Check Engine code really means. I still trust my car, but I know it needs attention. I need to take action and do something, or its lifespan will be impacted.

Some of us have pretty low tolerances. A light goes on, and we're at the mechanic to diagnose it. Others may give it enough time to know that when the "Service Engine Soon" light comes on, it's usually after it rains, and it'll go out once the engine dries out (ever get overly emotional while PMS'ing and then wonder what the hell THAT was all about two days later? Yeah. Me too).

Others have the faith and trust in their experiences, knowing that this behavior probably means that that part needs to be replaced, and oh, here's how to do that. Some don't have that level of experience, but are willing to learn. Some don't want to deal with the innards of their own cars at all.

I think you get where I'm going with this.

When things are running smoothly, then it's very easy to trust. There's reliability. There's comfort. Monogamous relationships by nature, don't change circumstances all that often, so it's easy to happily cruise along. When circumstances do change, it's often traumatic. The change itself is unexpected, never mind the circumstances behind the change.

Many Poly relationships regularly involve elements of change. A new date. A schedule change. A change in a Partner's partner's life that impacts you. More people means more complexity. More moving parts to break down or begin to wear against each other. Without a lot of experience, every change is a cause for taking that car to the mechanic.

It's not a lack of trust. It's not doubt over how much your partner cares about you. It's fear that this circumstance - this thing you hit in the road - may change your relationship, and you need to dig into it and diagnose it before you feel comfortable again.

Blind trust has its own set of problems anyway. Many a monogamous relationship has ended because the people in it have missed (or ignored) indications of a problem, or failed to maintain the relationship. I thought my marriage of 17 years was fine, until my Ex and I realized it wasn't, and we'd been ignoring (or not understanding) the warning lights for some time. Trust twists itself into complacency - "My car will never let me down," which is unrealistic when there's no upkeep being done.

Maybe, after all, it isn't a bad thing when a change causes your Mono partner (or ANY partner for that matter) to have cause for concern. It's not necessarily a lack of trust in their Poly partner. It could very well be more of a warning that some good maintenance needs to be done here. Hopefully after enough visits to the shop, some good quality work, and enough familiarity with how this particular car drives, it becomes more preventive maintenance rather than reactive. After all, nobody keeps up a car they've given up on.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Resolution 2015: Balance

New Year's Resolution time. A little late...

Yeah, I hate them too. It's nice to have all these grand ideas that fall by the wayside in practice because we don't know how to implement them. Hence, my resolution.

That "New Year's Resolution" mode? The one where we take on all sorts of things that we want to do for ourselves, or need to do, in addition to the things going on in our lives already? The mode that is doomed to failure after we either get caught up in life and don't have the time we thought we would, or we fall into old patterns? Welcome to my life.

This holiday season was another rough one. Two years now of a crazy, overwhelming whirlwind. I think after a couple years of this, I have a bit better perspective of what's going wrong here. Let's take a stab at it...

Historically, I have always loved the holidays. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I enjoy just spending the time with loved ones without all the shopping/gift-giving hullabaloo. I love decorating for Christmas. I love taking pictures of the kids in front of the Christmas tree. I love baking. I love the parties and the people and the lights and yes - the music (after November, thank you very much!).

Except, for the last couple years, I have been completely overwhelmed. So much so, that my enjoyment of the holidays has been replaced with an urge to just detach, period.

What the hell happened? A combination of more demands on my time, the pressure to find/make the time to do the things I *want* to do, and the "quality time"(*)  aspect of both my relationship with my partner and my kids. There just aren't enough days.

The two-days-on / two-days-off schedule with my partner is tenuous at times, anyway. When it's going smoothly, without perturbation, it's usually fine. I've made this work for myself with my "Quality Time" nature by making it so that the time I do spend with him is spent WITH him, engaged with him. I don't like to do housework, etc. when he's here, because our time together is scarce enough as it is. So, the housework and other errands and "need to's" get pushed off for the days he's not here.

I do the same with my kids. I get my kids every weekend and a couple hours one weekday night, and those hours are theirs. I like to spend that time with them, and not off doing something else (okay, so my oldest is a teenager and doesn't want all that time with mom anymore, but I still like to leave it open). If I'm out for any reason when they're home with me, I get anxious about spending too much time away from them. Again, our time together is limited; I really don't like to cut into it.

So, doing the math (because this is where my brain goes), that's an average of 3.5 days/week with my partner. It's maybe about 2.1 with the kids, more or less.

Sometimes, there's overlap, of course. With the most overlap, I basically have 3 days left during the week to do what I need to do... and outside of the holiday season, that's usually plenty. I can occasionally end up feeling like my time with either my partner or the kids suffers, because we don't get the one-on-one time. I either feel distant, or I get all time-hoardy and need more "Quality Time" when we are able to be alone.

With the least overlap, I end up with two days to myself, which is pushing it.

Within that time, not only do I do housework, catch up on reading / TV watching, write (boy, have my blogs suffered), but it's the time I use to get together with friends. I will occasionally attend something on a night with the kids or with my partner, but I try to avoid it as much as possible.

Add the holidays to the mix. Now, there's gift-buying, decorating, card-writing, gift and card-sending, phone calls, parties, baking, and the various travel to/from holiday get-togethers with family: Yule, Christmas Eve with the kids, Christmas Day, post-Christmas/birthdays.

It gets overwhelming, and rather than engaging even more (so I can get everything done), at some point, I just detach. I'm mentally and emotionally exhausted. Sitting down to write is just too much work. Reading? Too much work. I feel distant from my partner. I just get completely steamrolled.

I end up enjoying myself at the various events, at least, but there's always something "not getting done."

This year, I also had some things to wrap up with my mom's estate before the year closed out. And my bathroom renovation remains unfinished. Oy.

So... balance.

Clearly, ignoring all the housework / projects / etc. in favor of "Partner Time" isn't working out so well, and it has an added side-effect: I'm treating him like a Guest, not a Partner. It makes it very, VERY difficult to feel as though he's vested in this relationship, in this home, as a partner when I enshrine my time with him and don't let him BE one, for fear of losing time with him.

The feeling of scarcity in our time together is driving me to separate him from the rest of my daily life - the exact opposite of what I want to do. No wonder I've struggled with the whole "what is a Partner" thing.

We've discussed doing these things together, rather than just parking our asses on the couch together. Or, at least, in addition to doing so. The bathroom reno is restarting, if only because having one bathroom got old months ago. The only good news here is that procrastinating got me the tile I wanted, cheap. (Note to self: this is NOT an excuse to procrastinate.)

Time with the kids isn't going to change in the near future. I want to be there with them until they no longer want that. My youngest is also a Quality Time kinda kid, and enjoys sitting with me, getting back rubs, etc. I plan to hang onto that as long as I can (which may only be another couple of years).

Work. Work will bleed me dry if I let it. I'll need to start considering taking regular vacation time again, just to nip away at the things hanging over my head.

Other? Planning ahead to make time to see friends. Planning ahead so things like the holidays don't hit me all at once.

Making the time to do the things I want to do. Setting aside time each week to just read, write, sort through my mom's photos, etc. Knock something off the "want to do" list, rather than the "have to do" list, since this stuff is important too. Treating my partner as more of a Partner (sharing my life, sharing the load!) and less worry about losing out somehow on the quality of our time together if I do so.

Not easy when our time together *is* limited, and my initial reaction is to hold onto the time we do have together even more tightly.

Yes, for poly folks, love is infinite, but time is not, and when I cherish the time with my partner the way I do (how I feel loved, and communicate love in return), the perceived scarcity of time is a definite, constant hurdle. Awareness and balance will be key here in making it manageable rather than "hoarding" it. A hell of a tall order for a New Year's resolution, but at least it's not "hit the gym."

And hey... look. I got something written. 


(*) Quality time is one of Gary Chapman's "5 Love Languages" - a book I highly recommend, and will be posting a review for once I get back into the swing of things.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Followup on Saturation (Or, the Other 'S' Word: Selfishness)

Instead of digging up the notes I have on my "5 Love Languages" book review (which I'll get to, I promise), I wanted to follow up on something I pretty much pooh-poohed in my last post:
There's a term in Polyamory called "polysaturation," which is basically the same principle applied to having multiple partners. One hits his or her polysaturation point when they have too many partners to adequately maintain relationships with them or to maintain a life balance outside of them.

I realize that folks who are critical of poly will tend to roll their eyes at this and think, "Poor poly people and their first-world problems." Get it out of your systems, folks. I'm moving on.
I'm not trying to dismiss anyone's very real frustration at this; it just wasn't quite what I was getting at in my last post. Time for a follow-up.

It isn't really polysaturation here that's being called into question, but the act of having multiple partners in and of itself: if you have multiple partners, how on earth can you devote enough time, resources, and just plain intimacy to the partners you have without leaving them wanting? It's the root of the whole "Polyamory is selfish" belief that many people on the outside - sometimes on the inside - of such relationships can have.

Let's take a step back and bring in an old friend we see pop up on Facebook and Twitter now and again:

Veracity of the quote aside (everyone quotes it, yet nobody seems to have a source), let's forget about resources: for many people, it's the act of loving another that undermines the first relationship. We see things through our own filters; if we're monogamous pendulum-types, then yes, nurturing feelings for another does negatively impact our existing relationship. Any pendulum-type who would do so should expect this, and therefore is being selfish by neglecting their existing relationship in favor of someone new. Lack of available resources just adds to the mix, when someone is okay with the concept, just not so much with the execution.

There's a huge disconnect between monogamous pendulum-types and polyamorous fountain-types in their understanding of each other. Many poly folks get out of sorts (and rightly so) when they see things like the Depp quote above, or hear that Poly folks are selfish. In their defense, some trot out our other good friends we see time and again:

  • My friends don't feel neglected when I make new friends, do they?
  • I don't love my children any less when I have another child, do I? Maybe I should put my first child up for adoption because I can't love them as much as my youngest.
Or the jokes:
  • That's right, I'm stealing ALL THE LADIES! Well, you can date them too! How is that selfish?

As I mentioned back in my first post here, these responses do nothing to bridge the gap - instead, they just cover it in day-glo yellow paint and highlight it even more. The sheer nature of a romantic relationship to a monogamous pendulum-type person is very, very different from either of these, and it's like equating apples to elephants. Of course it doesn't impact your relationship with your friends or your children. Of course it does impact your romantic relationships! And the poly, fountain-type person just sits there baffled by the distinction.

My point in all this isn't to scold anyone, or to fix anything single-handedly. It's just to present the understanding that there is a very real disconnect in the ways in which Poly and Mono folks see romantic relationships and love others. The perspective that polyamory is selfish is a byproduct of this.

It's a belief that such a relationship has to, by nature, be selfish, because we pendulum-types see things through our own filters (as does everyone else). It's not always an attack on Poly folks (although I'm sure some folks say it with enough distaste that it may as well be). It is a very real perspective that needs to be acknowledged and not mocked or dismissed out of hand (or wittily wordsmithed away into friend or child analogies) before we can ever work on understanding the "other side."

Poly folks - open your minds a bit and realize that Mono folks may really feel this way, for good reason. For a pendulum-type, nurturing romantic feelings for another would be selfish and unfair to their other partner, because their love would be divided.

Mono folks - open your minds a bit and understand that Poly folks don't love like we do. That the child and friend analogies actually make sense to them because they don't feel romantic love as exclusively as we do. Just try to accept that if they really are polyamorous, they aren't giving anyone the short end of the stick, love-wise. See what time and experience tells you as their relationships develop. Try asking your friends in polyamorous or mono/poly relationships what they really need in a relationship, what they really gain from this relationship (not in a snarky way, either!), and see how they respond.

And everyone? If you have multiple relationships, make sure everyone's getting what they need and that resource allocation isn't a problem. It's no success to have a partner who accepts or groks Poly while they starve for your time and intimacy. Loving More is great. Loving Well is a different skill entirely.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Flip Side of Saturation (or, Something's Gotta Give)

Ah, life.

Sometimes things get busy, and then sometimes things get REALLY busy. I've been a bit saturated of late: home improvement projects, work, kids' activities, processing my mom's estate, and most recently, having a large number of house guests. Too many things crammed into too little time and space means something needs to sit on the back burner a while... hence, the lack of posts, here and elsewhere. That home improvement project? A bathroom renovation. Correction, a bathroom renovation which didn't get finished before the house guests arrived. Oops.

Oversaturation can lead to complications.

There's a term in Polyamory called "polysaturation," which is basically the same principle applied to having multiple partners. One hits his or her polysaturation point when they have too many partners to adequately maintain relationships with them or to maintain a life balance outside of them.

I realize that folks who are critical of poly will tend to roll their eyes at this and think, "Poor poly people and their first-world problems." Get it out of your systems, folks. I'm moving on.

It's not always obvious when you've hit that point until you've hit it. When you realize that you haven't been out with your friends in months. When you realize that you haven't read a book, or indulged any of your hobbies. When you realize that your house is a pig sty and your laundry has grown feet and walked away. Then what? Short of creating more hours in a day (sleep? Who needs sleep?), something needs to give. In this case, however, many of those somethings are someones, and if you love them, that's an extremely difficult position in which to find yourself.

Something's gotta give. The oversaturated person needs to first own that yes, they ARE saturated (at least, the hallucinatory fluffy pink flying marshmallow peeps from sleep-deprivation-land should be telling them so), before they can ever try to figure out what to actually do about it.

There's a flip side to all of this, though. This is all from the oversaturated person's point of view. What of their partners?

On the flip side of saturation is dilution. I'd be oh-so-witty and call it monodilution, but honestly, you don't have to be mono to be affected by it. Where saturation deals with "how much is too much," dilution asks, "how little is too little." It's an important consideration, and it's not necessarily a one-for-one relation. One person may be completely unaffected by their partner's schedule (Work, dinner, date, and home at 11? Okay, just turn out the light when you come in!), while another may be absolutely miserable.

For us mono partners, we may be a bit quicker to hit this point, since we're used to the monogamous norm: if you're in a relationship with someone, you can call them pretty much at any time - work notwithstanding, you can see them regularly - and you expect to see them more regularly, even daily, as your relationship progresses, you can assume that your partner will be going to an event with you because he's your partner, and that's what partners do. And in some Poly relationships, this can all fall over on its ear. Many of us, outside of those who have partners who travel for a living, or are deployed overseas, don't know what our dilution point is, because we've never really hit it. We never had to, due to the expectations of the relationship escalator. And now, it's hit us.

I'm not immune. I struggled greatly with this, and it pretty much came to a head early this year.

This past winter was an exercise in frustration: 2 feet of snow every few days (Really, Mother Nature?!), a wood stove that seemed to have a personal vendetta against me (while allowing my partner to light it first time every time, it seemed). Sometimes our schedule (alternating two days with me, then two days with his other live-in partner) would get perturbed due to things beyond our control, and as I shoveled 18" of snow by myself with only a shovel (at least until the neighbor took pity on me), I began to wonder what "having a partner" really means to me.

A partner, to me, is someone who shares your life with you. The good, the bad, the mundane, and all the shared experiences that you have as you go along for the ride. How do I consider someone my partner if they're not around for a sizeable chunk of it all? How do you build shared experiences when your experiences together are limited from the start?

I wish I could say we found a nice, easy answer to that question. I found my own, personal answer a few months later when my mother passed away. My partner was there, no question, as long as I needed him to be. It pretty much cemented in my mind and heart that he is my partner, and he is there for me when I need him, even if this relationship isn't something that fits the norm.

Bringing this back to dilution, though, I've clearly found my dilution point. Anything less than half-time is pretty much untenable. When there are added stressors and/or our time together gets perturbed, I get antsy and time-hoardy, and absolutely need undisturbed reconnection time in order to start feeling normal again. This happens regardless of whether or not my partner is feeling saturated.

So, what do you do about it?

Many mono folks, especially people who have opened up a relationship, worry greatly about this type of thing happening - will my spouse/partner and I have enough time for each other? How will I be able to sleep alone? They've never had to find their dilution point, and are now confronted with having to. It's frightening, and it highlights that yes, there is something they're losing, whether it's time/intimacy already in place with a partner, or a perceived loss of potential (which is what I was feeling) - that the relationship will struggle to become (or stay) "real" and not casual.

The saturated partner, whether poly or even just a workaholic, needs to own their saturation point and learn to work within what they can handle. So too does the mono/diluted partner.

What is it that you need? How much do you need of it?
Ask for it. Talk about it. Keep talking about it, and then talk about it some more. Make your drop-dead requirements known if you know them. Take a stab at them if you don't, and then talk about it again once you realize you're not quite there yet. You are allowed to talk about and request this stuff: your partner isn't a mind-reader, and you're not superhuman. Something's gotta give. Don't let it be your relationship until you at least give it a fighting chance.

Oh... and as for my own saturation? I have approximately a bajillion blog posts in the hopper (give or take), and funnily enough, this wasn't one of them. Go figure. Things are settling down, and I hope to be getting back into the groove now. Thanks to all of you for being patient.