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.

Balance.
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.

Balance.
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.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: PolyWeekly Podcast 398 - Poly-Mono Mix

I think we've all had this happen at least once or twice - that odd synchronicity of events where, say, you hear a song you haven't heard in a while, or an odd word in conversation, and for the next few weeks you hear it EVERYWHERE.

A couple weeks ago, I was perusing my Twitter feed and noticed that Minx (of Polyamory Weekly fame) had posted a link to the latest PW podcast, related to Mono/Poly relationships (Podcast #398). Naturally, I had to check it out, and ended up stifling a laugh as I saw "avoid 'shoulding' on yourself" mentioned there, too. Clearly, I'm not as original as I thought. <cue sad trombone music>

Wounded pride notwithstanding, I gave the podcast a listen. This is big for me. I don't really listen to podcasts in general; I'm not a 'talk-radio' kind of girl. Plus, although I'd known about Minx's podcast for a while, I figured that despite my relationship configuration, I'm not Poly, have no interest in being Poly, so what benefit would I gain from listening to a poly podcast? This one, though, had my situation written all over it, and my curiosity got the better of me.

Before I continue, I want to stress that the letter-writer to whom Minx was replying (ChasingJoy) is in a very specific place - not only researching polyamory for her husband's benefit (as he was the one who "came out" as Poly), but because she was also interested in it as a potential relationship style for herself, even though she was struggling. Minx and Lusty Guy's responses should be considered with that point of view in mind. Some of the wording used may make some mono folks cringe. I know that I cringed (heck, my partner cringed!) when I heard the advice, "don't expect to change quickly," because I personally don't want to change. I like monogamous me the way I am, and I don't like the implication that change is required. However, there is definite acknowledgment from both Minx and Lusty Guy that you don't have to try to be Poly just because your spouse is, and hearing that validation helped calm my initial knee-jerk reaction enough to remind me that they're responding to ChasingJoy, and not my own situation.

Sometimes the world doesn't revolve around me. Who knew?

That aside, Minx and LG spend some time discussing how to take care of yourself when you're anxious about this transition, especially when your partner is out with other partners/dates of their own, and I think much of it is extremely good advice: quit with the "shoulds" (I've said enough about this already), do some positive reinforcement (take credit for the good things), and stand up for what you need in your relationship, outside of whatever other relationships your partner has. All good stuff. Self-care is extremely important, especially when you're struggling. Asking for the things you need, while keeping your partner's other partners/dates/activities out of it is a means of taking that focus and putting it back on you and your relationship, where it belongs. If I'm happy in my relationship, then I'm less stressed about what my partner's doing with other people.

There were, however, a couple pieces of advice that gave me pause, and I'll explain why, at least from my experience. Obviously, your mileage may vary.

"Fake it 'Til You Make It"

Ugh.

I've seen this echoed elsewhere, and I'm really not a fan of this approach. It just doesn't work for me. I find it to be too tangled up in the "shoulds". I don't like how I'm acting/feeling, so I'm going to put on an outward appearance of acting like I feel I should in order to get by.

In my case, it turned into burying the negative emotions I was feeling, and thinking that things were going to be great if I could only accept this, or do that. I put on the smile and faked it. Right up 'til the volcano popped and the eruption occurred. "Fake it 'til you explode" was my reality.

I don't fake it anymore. If I'm upset, I talk about it. If I'm worried about something, I bring it up. If I ever find myself in another relationship, I am going to be that man's worst nightmare, since at this point, I'm accustomed to not even saying that we need to talk - I just drop it all out on the table so we can talk about it and work it out. And we do. I lucked out with a partner (and metamours) who are good with communicating and coming to resolution, but faking my way through never gave us that opportunity.

"Distract, Distract, Distract"

"What do I do when my partner goes out and I'm home alone?"

I've seen this question so many places, and it really is a difficult answer.

Minx and LG talk about a three-step process, which I think is a good one overall:

  1. Check in with your partner beforehand
  2. Distract yourself during the event
  3. Reconnect afterward
But, boy... to a struggling Mono partner, "Distract yourself" can sound extremely dismissive. At first glance, it sounds remarkably like your older sibling trying to get rid of you after mom made you hang out. Here's five bucks. Go do something. Get lost. 

It feels like busy work, and to someone who's used to being joined at the hip to their partner, used to sharing your lives with each other, being told to now "go find something to do" can be just plain hurtful and dismissive of your feelings.

Except, when you boil it down and examine its intent, it's really not.

This is where I think the wording does us a disservice; distracting yourself only goes so far. If there is something nagging at you, making you anxious, then if your focus is only on distracting yourself, it isn't going to work. See that pink elephant? Don't look at it! You can't look at it! The stress will just hover like a cloud over whatever it is you're doing, and you won't be able to help but think about it. So no... for me, distracting yourself isn't the only answer, but it's part of it.

Here's my reinterpretation of "distract, distract, distract":
  1. Find something to do that enriches you
  2. Continue to work on the underlying anxiety
If you're really struggling, this is not something that can be accomplished in one night, and Minx acknowledges that this kind of thing is a process that takes time.

Finding an activity that enriches you is more than going out and kvetching with the girls, or watching some bad TV. Those things may work in the moment, but chances are, if the stress level is high, you're going to have a hard time focusing on the activity, rather than on avoiding the pink elephant. Instead, try to find something you really, truly enjoy. Something that uplifts and enriches you. Something you can get lost in, to the point where you pick your head up and wonder where the time has gone. Gardening and yard work is my medicine - I can lose all track of time, even when I'm in a particularly craptacular mood, and I end up coming out the other side feeling much happier in my own skin. What is it for you? Making music? Writing? Home improvements? Church or spiritual activities? Video games? Cooking? It may take time to try on various things before you find one that fits (heck, it may even take some training - photography class, anyone?), but when you find it, you'll know it, and you'll want to do it because you love it, not because you've been driven to it.

Working on the underlying issues will help to lift that anxiety from the source. Minx discusses confronting your problems and not avoiding them by establishing rules that only serve to bury them. You can't fix the source of the stress if you avoid finding out what it is. Are you envious that your partner goes out on dates while you stay at home with the house and children? Are you feeling pushed aside and forgotten when they go out? Are you feeling as though you're no longer special because he's sharing special moments with other people now? Any of these would lead to feelings of jealousy, but they may not all have the same "fix".

Overall, I found it nice to see mono/poly relationships discussed in a healthy, inclusive way, and I'd love to see more. I think Minx and LG hit the nail on the head many times, and genuinely, compassionately, cared about ChasingJoy's well-being and emotional health, without invalidating monogamy as a valid option for her own identity. I encourage you to give it a listen and see what you think. As for me, I think I'll be changing my mind about podcasts... at least, for this one.

.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Insidious "S" - Word

You know the word. It's used ALL the time. And usually ends up making one feel like... well... crap.

That word?
should

We should all over ourselves on a regular basis, it seems - telling ourselves that what we're really doing or feeling isn't good enough. We should all over other people when it seems they're not performing to some arbitrary standard.

I'm not a jealous person; I shouldn't be feeling this way.

I'm poly! I shouldn't be worried about how close the two of them are!

I should be able to do this without asking for help/rules/reassurance; I need to just let it go.

You should be fine with him dating; that's what you signed up for!

Feels like we just got served a should sandwich. Nummy.

In the beginning of my relationship with my partner, I was taken aback by all the emotion and confusion I was dealing with. I'd always been more of a logical person, so I felt like Spock during Pon Farr - I had no idea what the hell all this... stuff... was, and had no idea how to deal with it. Logically, I could understand Poly. Logically, I wasn't a jealous person. Therefore, logically, I should be able to handle it just fine. And so, I buried those feelings.

Amazing how such a small, innocuous word turns into a fantastic tool for minimizing the things we are currently feeling and doing, in favor of what we believe we ought to feel and do, like we're upholding some magical ideal. Instead, we're rendering ourselves and our own feelings invisible, and telling ourselves that we're doing it wrong. That we come short of the ideal. That if we just stopped doing or feeling that, then we'd be fine.

Sometimes, the Poly groups and articles online are the worst offenders. I've seen a handful of articles in the last couple weeks that imply that jealousy just doesn't exist in Poly relationships. I've seen posts online that state that, if you're having a hard time, then maybe you should just give up. If you're jealous/angry/hurt, you've fallen short of the chosen ideal. You're wrong, and you're being unfair to your partner.

I'm monogamous; I get that I'm probably doing it wrong. But if you identify as polyamorous, how on Earth does something like that make you feel when you do have those jealous moments? Either way, you should all over yourself until you stop what you're doing.

Burying my feelings was the absolute worst thing I could have done. My emotions put me in a push/pull cycle of friendship with my metamour, where I tried (VERY) hard to be close with her, and then had to pull away, time and again. I was concerned about feeling second-best (but I shouldn't feel that way!), I was concerned about how her moving in with our partner was going to impact our relationship (but I shouldn't worry - he loves me!), I was still trying to get my own sea legs (but I should just trust my partner and I'll be fine!). And as each emotion got pushed down deeper and deeper, the smiles got faker and faker, and one day I erupted in a miasma of seething resentment.

This, as you may have guessed, didn't really help any.

Once damage control had begun, I realized that I needed to allow myself to feel what I was feeling. Burying it solved nothing, but acknowledging it - really accepting that yes, I am this kind of person... at least at the moment - and working through the reason why (even if it takes a few tries) is monumentally better than closing your eyes to the person you really are, even if you don't like that person all the time.

So how do we quit taking should from people? How do we stop giving people so much should? Whether we're monogamous or polyamorous, it seems like we're constantly stepping in should wherever we go.

Recognizing when you're surrounded by should would be the first step. Don't let that should overwhelm you. It's not real. It's some made-up utopian fantasyland, and you're turning the map over and over again in a vain attempt to find it. After all, others have been there - why can't you follow directions?

Stop.

Assess where you are. What you're feeling. Accept it. Work through it. Even if you don't like it.

Especially if you don't like it.

Time for should to start gettin' real.


Friday, August 1, 2014

On Analogies and Love

If you've taken the SATs (at least, back in the dark ages when I took the SATs), I'm sure you remember that accursed analogy section:
Obsequious : Toast :: Ubiquitous : __________

If we weren't familiar with the words, and we were lucky, we could eliminate a couple choices and have maybe a 50/50 shot of coming up with a right answer. If we weren't lucky, we were sitting, scratching our heads, thinking, "This is a word?!"

Here's one for you:
monogamy : polyamory :: ? : ??

Yeah, I know it's unfair to have two unknowns in the analogy. It's also spot on.

How do you, as a Mono partner of a Poly person, translate your partner's entire way of loving into something you can relate to? If you're like me, it's not something you can emotionally Grok. Intellectually and logically? Sure... you get that monogamy : polyamory :: one : many. That's the easy part. If you're monogamous by nature, though, it's incredibly tough to understand - really understand - how someone can deeply, intimately love more than one person.

It was obvious that my friends didn't understand, either. I heard comments like, "Well, you're the one he really loves; she's just a fling," or, "Well, he'll pick one of you and settle down eventually." Things that were meant to be supportive (and, at one time, were probably exactly what I wanted to hear), but weren't reality.

To be fair, my partner didn't understand me, either. Why was I hurt when he told me, when we were starting our relationship, that he fully expected me to date? Why didn't more love from more people affect me in a positive way by spilling over into the rest of my life, rather than making me a miserable, conflicted mess? Explaining myself to him was like trying to explain what water tastes like. You can't find any words that work, even though you know the feeling quite well.

Some folks like to try to bridge the gap using the "child analogy":
If you have more than one child, you don't love either of them any less.

True. And I understand the point people are trying to make: having multiple romantic partners doesn't have to mean that you love any of them less, either. However, there are a couple reasons this falls flat for me, one of which is simply that the parent/child relationship is vastly different from a relationship between romantic partners. I'm raising my kids to be independent adults, self-sufficient, and able to leave the house and make their own way without me (although a call once in a while would be nice). I'm not grooming my partners to leave me; at least, I hope I'm not. There are enough differences between the two types of relationships that it seems to require a different sense of the word "love" altogether, meaning that we're not really comparing the same thing. Apples and Volkswagons.

I don't really like the "explain Poly by equating it to Mono relationships" type of analogies, because they seem to always fall flat with someone, regardless of how clear the analogy seems. I did prefer the, "Why did you choose to have two kids?" over the previous child analogy, since that seems to remove the whole "love" comparison and just boil it down to, "Because I wanted to." However, not everyone feels the same about it. The, "You don't stop making friends just because you already have friends, right?" analogy sounds great, up to the point where the Mono person responds back with, "But you don't have to sleep with friends." Again, two very different relationships are being compared.

Instead of relating Poly love directly to Mono love, I tried something else: relating them each to familiar, but individual ideas that people can understand. I switched around the analogy:
monogamy : ? :: polyamory : ??


I'm Monogamous. My love is a pendulum.
When I am fully invested in a romantic partnership, that pendulum has swung all the way in that direction.
When I am casually dating, that pendulum is somewhere in the middle, tending to everyone, but nowhere as intense.
I cannot be fully invested in more than one person. My (romantic) love is a zero-sum game. More there equals less here.

My partner is Polyamorous. His love is a fountain.
Everyone within the radius gets just as wet as everyone else.
Space (and time) is a zero-sum game, as there isn't room for everyone in the radius (and some people's radii are smaller than others). However, his love is not. Everyone has the potential to be just as important as anyone else, provided they're fully in the circle.
If one person tries to keep that love all to themselves by putting, say, a bucket over the fountain, it just ends up messy and people still get wet.
He cannot be anything but fully invested within that circle, regardless of how many people are there.

If you've experienced love as a fountain-type your entire life, you can't even comprehend why telling your partner to date would ever be a problem. If you're a pendulum-type, you've just heard, "I want you to love me less." It's no wonder we're completely baffled by each other when we talk about love.

monogamy : pendulum :: polyamory : fountain

Sounds like there should be a fish on a bicycle joke in there somewhere...

What analogies have resonated with you (positively or negatively)? Please share your experiences in the comments.

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