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.