Monthly Archives: April 2017
So, I made the last Origin Story post more about how, positionally, we were primed and prepped to open our relationship, but this is the nitty-gritty mechanics of how it came about.
There were too many moments to count where my ability to stay “faithful” by society’s definition was tested not just in my marriage but in pretty much every relationship I ever had. And there were too many moments where I didn’t abide by those standards and others where I felt resentful and caged.
I remember, a week before our wedding, during law school finals, I confessed to Husband that I had done more than just kiss Navy Boy on a recent trip out to visit him. I didn’t want to start our marriage with a lie and I felt a strong urge to share the truth with him. “I know. I just wish you had told me about it at the time,” was Husband’s response.
He knew about the people I habitually flirted with and understood. He knew about my desire to revisit with old flames and understood. He knew about how I desperately wanted to explore my bisexuality (another Origin Story to add to the growing list) and understood. He’s always known me so well and always understood.
By the end of law school, a year after our wedding, I was pregnant with our son. We were buying a house and I was studying for the bar exam. Midway through the pregnancy, because of the physical impact on my old injuries, I could no longer have sex. There was no position where I didn’t feel pain or numbness. Those were a lot of lonely days and nights for us, especially since neither of us had thought about this side effect.
Once I had given birth, I was anxious to be able to get back to being able to have sex. It had been at least 6 months and I was ready.
I don’t want to go into a lot of detail here because I still hold shame about this part of my story: I cheated. It was March 2004 and because of the way the pregnancy affected my body, I wanted to feel desirable and beautiful still. Husband would probably say that he just couldn’t keep up with me, but that isn’t true. My sex drive wasn’t the issue, nor was his. The issue was a need for approval – from someone other than the person who just watched me birth his child. I needed to find myself sexy through someone else’s eyes.
When Needs Backfire
That need hit me like a ton of bricks. I had gained a significant amount of weight during the pregnancy. The doctors assured me that I had so much fluid and he had been such a big kid (9 lbs 1 oz at a month premature) that I would likely go back down to my normal size in no time. But I didn’t. I never did.
I went back to the flirting I had done before. But instead of staying safe and monogamous, I was actually entertaining meeting these men. I needed to feel desirable again, a vital slice of anyone’s self-worth that in carrying all this extra weight I didn’t know myself anymore.
In my younger days, I may not have been the prettiest girl on the block, but I could more than make up for that with charm and wit and intellectual intrigue. I relied on my adaptability to be valuable and thus desirable to others. I had insecurities about my body, like most women, but I never felt it was unfuckable or undesirable in some fashion.
They don’t tell you about how you’ll feel about your body after motherhood. You spend most of your life being told that you need to be attractive to find yourself a spouse. And once you have kids, you devote yourself to them but stay attractive and available enough so that your husband doesn’t stray. That’s the national romantic “happily ever after” narrative, right? But no one tells you how you will feel as a woman, as a sexual woman, once you’ve pushed a live being into the world. Or that there will be a thousand conflicting messages and judgments about your value. Or that the very act of being sexual is somehow dirty and wrong, but if you don’t bounce back to your pre-baby shape you’re somehow a failure of femininity.
Cheating wasn’t planned or deliberate. I sort of slid into it, driven by this need to prove myself. The men I eventually met up with, one was a yuppie banker type cheating on his wife, the other was a bulky personal trainer type who worked security at night. Both were not just disappointing, but downright insulting. Banker dude asked to see under my skirt and told me I was “good enough for a blowjob” but nothing more. Personal trainer dude got up to go to the bathroom during lunch and left me with the check. When I confronted him in the parking lot, he told me I must have sent him an old picture because I wasn’t at all hot or worth his time. Although neither situation involved intercourse, I had definitely broken the agreement that Husband and I had set with each other.
I was devastated and on the verge of suicide because these encounters had been so shaming and I had been deceiving Husband and not telling him the truth.
And I had no one to talk to.
Facing my truth
At the time, I had just started writing on LiveJournal and was becoming more and more active in the communities there. I carried a lot of shame and guilt over what I had done and I was passively reading others’ journals to gain some insight.
Our anniversary that year followed my first Mother’s Day after giving birth. Both days were marred by these feelings, the burden of the half-truths I had been hiding from Husband. We fought more, picked at each other more and had more difficulty seeing eye to eye.
I remember standing in our makeshift office in the basement, him asking me to tell him why I was crying all the time, what he could do to help. Eventually, I broke down and told him what had happened with both of those men–how each rejected me because of my body and how I was on the verge of killing myself over it.
Again, he forgave me–far more than I had deserved from him. And once again, he told me that all I needed to do was talk to him about what I was feeling and what I needed. That he didn’t object to me getting attention from others if that’s what I needed, but that those interactions would have an impact on me, and thus in our household and that he needed to be included in that, no matter how embarrassing it might feel.
Calling it by name
The more I was on LiveJournal (May 2004), the more I was exposed to others who were in or considering open relationships. It wasn’t a new concept per se, but at the time if you looked it up, all you’d find are swingers groups. Husband isn’t very flirtatious or outgoing, so swinging would never be something we could be comfortable doing together. I kept seeing allusions to the term “polyamory” but had trouble finding out more about it.
One of my newest followers at the time, a guy in Seattle, introduced me more fully to the idea through his blog. He and his wife were polyamorous and had been foIr at least a few years. Through our conversations, I started becoming more familiar with the term and heard some of the tales of people who actually lived this way.
It’s amazing how much your world opens up when you say find an identity that fits. This not just fit, but was focused on the love that I felt for so many people. While many people have floated in and out of my life, they have all mattered to me, contributed positively to my life and left me a better person. Polyamory seemed to welcome this–not just the sex, it was never just about the sex for me–it was about the connection.
Swing & a miss
Our very first foray was with a man on the east coast I had been talking to through LiveJournal. I had been given permission to play with him and would stay in contact with Husband about how it went. It wasn’t just the play that drew me in, it was the fact that this guy saw me like really saw who I am. I needed that. And I was falling for that now that the reins were cut loose and I could connect and lov and be who I truly am.
So, before a Sarah McLaughlin concert, between dinner and walking into the Pepsi Center, I had a conversation with Husband about this new guy on the east coast. I was falling for him. Talking to him multiple times a day and wanted to take things to an actual relationship. I told Husband about polyamory, about open marriages, about the fact that I felt we were solid and supportive of each other and we could make this work.
Jumping into the rocky end of the poly pool
Things never worked out with the guy on the east coast. The moment I confessed my feelings to him, when I bought a ticket to go out to DC to meet him a month later, he cooled off. (He also requested a full body photo of me and never responded to that, compounding how I already felt about my body). It was a shitty choice of a first try. I not only was rejected but felt I had been played and neglected once I wanted to take things into a less pixelated realm.
After that, Husband started instituting some rules and expectations. I don’t even remember those early rules anymore. At one point it was the “only girls” rule. While common for many who are just starting poly, it was a rule only because men were hurting my feelings so terribly by their rejection of my body (hence the body shame I still carry today). Husband thought that the women would be at least nicer and give me a chance to understand my bisexuality that I still hadn’t embraced. I wasn’t ready yet to fully embrace that part of my sexuality–so that rule went to the wayside.
Lots of rules came and went during those first few tenuous months as polyamorous. I went to DC to visit that guy–where he didn’t respond to my messages until the final day I was there. Guilted by our mutual followers he at least met up with me for a drink. But it was clear I had crossed a line by making our online interactions real and I was let down and dejected. Was this what polyamory was all about?
That was until I found Laz. In November of 2004, the day after the election, a smart, witty Texan found his way to my LiveJournal. He quickly moved into the role of a trusted friend and flirty confidante. And while he wasn’t the ideal partner (he was married with kids at the time), he was my first poly love and eventually, 6 months later, became my first poly husband.
Others would follow, but Laz will always hold a special place in my life for the role he played, for the support he gave and for the full realization that polyamory was right for us. I might not have ever stuck with polyamory had he not shown up in my life when he did.
To be continued…
At some point in the future, I’ll address Husband’s feeling about poly, how he manages his jealousy and all of the other little how-tos that people usually want to hear. But the how of it was more simple than people want to hear: He fully accepts me for who I am including the gift I have for connecting with multiple people and he gives me support and encouragement to be the best me that I can possibly be. And that…that’s why he is Husband.
This week I’ve been a very busy sex educator, but not a terribly prepared one. This always happens. I get word that I’ll be presenting. I have plenty of time to prepare. But I leave it until the last minute to get my notes together and to prepare a loose outline of what I want to cover. Then throw in packing, finishing up the taxes, my period and a heap of work pressure and I’m pretty primed to be stressed by the time I arrive at the hotel tomorrow and fully drained by Sunday.
This is how I sabotage myself and drive my perfectionism into overdrive mode. It’s a vicious and ugly cycle that keeps me running from one extreme to another. I spend most of my time so amped up and I don’t know what to do with myself when it’s calm. My stress, my guilt, this ugly pattern of high powered ambition matched with crippling fear of failure. Eventually, I stack so much on myself that I’m not fully present either as a partner or a presenter.
It’s just another way to make myself undeserving. My procrastination, my addiction to stress hormones, my anxiety and perfectionism, my insecurities are the manifestations of my fear that I am just not deserving of the success I want in this arena. Because…
If I’m successful, I have to show up.
If I’m successful, I’m responsible for being present within that recognition.
If I’m successful, I have to own it.
When I’m not successful I can avoid it–the responsibilty, the ownership, the risk, and the reward. But that avoidance, the wallowing in the seeming inevitability of failure, is what invites my inner shrew to take up residence and keep me stuck exactly where I am.
The shrill call of the inner shrew
I hate that term in general, but it’s the voice that lurks within all of us that tells us we’re not good enough. “No one is going to listen to you”. “You’re not an ‘expert’ and everyone will see you’re a fraud”. “If you’re not 100% careful, you will get disbarred.” It really never stops. That self-talk that says I’m not good enough or smart enough or gosh darn it, nobody likes me. It’s a relentless critical nagging in the back of my head.
This voice is at its strongest whenever I’m at my weakest. When I’m worn down by stress and anxiety already present in my life, it’s easier for that voice to beat my psyche to a bloody pulp with all its accusations, suppositions and assumptions. So highly critical of my own success, that voice gives me excuses to sabotage myself at every turn. To stay stuck where it’s safe.
Self-doubt accumulates and builds over time. It starts as just a slow drip. An occasional stray thought that goes through your head sounding plausible and rational and then it dissipates. But then the next drop falls and the next, each dissipating more slowly, like each new doubt gains power from the one before it. If I’m not careful, I’ll go from the very reasonable “You really need to double check those stats before the conference” to “Everyone is going to hate you and they’re never going to invite you back and you’ll never date again and die without ever feelings NRE ever again.”
I can go from a drop to deluge to drowning in 10 minutes flat.
As a sex educator, I talk a LOT about self-care. It’s a tool in dealing with the inevitable fuck-ups you’ll encounter along the way. We all make mistakes and have bad experiences in our relationships and sexual expression. Self-care is a great tool to recover and get yourself back out there again.
But it’s just as much about recovering from the moments where our own inner shrew seems hellbent on beating us down, especially in our thoughts and fears about our intimate relationships. She’ll criticize us for needing care. She’ll belittle our attempts to ask for what we need because she’ll convince us that we’re not deserving. She’ll wrap us in indecision and fear of rejection, causing us to stay silent about boundaries or unmet needs. She’ll convince us that we’re not smart, or pretty, or fun enough to be loved.
We steal our hope to protect us from success
It wasn’t until last night that I realized how insidious my own relationship with this voice is. My son was having trouble sleeping before a big day of testing. He was putting so much pressure on himself to succeed, to force himself to perform even if he was already giving his best. It was making him sick with worry and fear.
This is the curse of my family — growing up Latino, I was taught I had to prove myself by giving 110% all the time, every day. It was ingrained in my upbringing, rewarded but not always recognized. Stopping for something as silly as self-care was a luxury and indulgent. Vacations were few and far between. And don’t even get me started on massages, manicures or parties. The point was drilled into me, not just by my Mexican family but by the Catholic Church, that I am not worthy and nothing I could ever do will make me worthy in the eyes of either the mainstream or the divine.
What a depressing and utterly exhausting way to live. So undeserving I felt I was that I purposely threw some of my tests in high school just so others would get awards and not me. I don’t like the spotlight in general, but recognition was far beyond the scope of what I could hope for or want for myself. I just didn’t deserve such accolades. That voice told me that I had to be perfect in all things before I could be entitled to any rest.
To see that reflected in my son–beating himself up in the same sick way I’ve done it to myself, it really hit home.
It’s time to Tame the Shrew
Recently, I’ve had some remarkable experiences where I’ve had to accept that maybe, just maybe I’m deserving of my own success–if I would stop standing in my own way long enough to receive it. I’ve had to start coming to terms with the fact that it’s not the voice that is my problem, it’s the fact I keep listening to the voice and allowing it to lure me away from what I want to achieve. I have been giving my power away to a liar and the thief of my joy.
Back to the context of my current situation: I am 2 days away from a weekend of presentations, connections, debates, potentials, emotional enlightenment and not a small amount of consternation with my family about missing Easter dinner.
Freedom of Choice is my best method to taming this voice. I get to choose what I want for my life. I don’t have to be subject to the fears and victimization that this voice tries to impose. I can choose how to prepare myself and own that choice no matter what the outcome. Should I choose to prioritize self-care over researching that one last statistic, so be it. Own it. Should I choose to write an outline for the Poly Political Agenda but skip doing one for the self-care workshop, so be it. Own it. Should I choose to prioritize a hotel weekend with Warrior and Blush over mingling with new couples, so be it. This is my choice and I own it.
By keeping myself locked up in fear all the time all I do is make it harder for me to achieve the successes that I want. I allow my procrastination to accumulate, the self-doubt dripping down from on high to make it excusably sloppy so that I will never know what it feels like to truly shine in my element. But if I want to be the woman I have always wanted to be, I have to step into that right now and choose to live my life in such a way it drowns out the voice of that indidious, traitorous shrew.
It’s time for me to rule my life as the Queen.
Everyone comes at polyamory from their own background and series of choices. For some, it’s their “cure” to cheating. For others, it’s a slow slide away from swinging and into more romantic partnerships with others. Others start it out as an experiment with fantasies until suddenly you can’t imagine what your life would look like without sharing it openly with others. And whether I’m talking about my personal origin — how I, personally, knew I was poly–or how my Husband and I came to open up our marriage, these are the fundamentals of what led us to where we are now.
While ultimately the decision was made on a Wednesday in July 2004, right before a Sarah McLaughlan concert, there were a series of events and conditions that led us to that decision. Here’s a look back at the major components that led to our polyamory story.
We are individuals who choose to share our lives together
I’ve known Husband-Writer since 1996 when we went on a musical tour of Europe together. He was a musician and writer with a generous soul and a sharp wit. We got to know each other very well on that tour and he quickly endeared himself to me by being in my life. Our love is based on the friendship we developed at the time, the rapport that was built on a shared sense of humor and a passionate love of expression.