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.