Category Archives: Rose Connections
Talking about my professional experience as a sex educator and relationship consultant.
You’ll have to forgive me, this is a stream of consciousness sort of post. I used to do these all the time back in my LiveJournal days. But back then I was talking to people I knew, I read on a daily basis. I honestly don’t know much about the people who follow me here. Some find me through Twitter or Instagram. Some are old friends. Some are complete strangers in countries like Peru.
The openness of blogging is enough to get to me sometimes. Not because I don’t like being open, but more because I don’t like being visible beyond the scope of my awareness. It’s one thing when I know the people reading me. I can tailor that experience and I can face the consequences of the subtext as needed. However, when it’s people I don’t know – it stirs the imagination to a not-quite-healthy destination. It inhibits me and creates an obsessive desire to shut down inside.
My mission has always been quite simple…
I want to nurture a love movement.
Back when I first became polyamorous, this was literally the name of the movement: A Love Movement. And while I am no longer with those partners, the original Brotherhood, I still feel very connected to this purpose. To nurture a movement to better embrace love for ourselves and for others in our lives. To create space to accept and give love on a deeper and more nurturing level.
I have spent most of my sexual life experiencing the depths of others. Even one-night stands used to be like that for me – deep and connective. Sex has always held the potential to truly see myself through someone else’s eyes and to act with loving acceptance for them in return. In this one intimate action, this moment of serendipitous connection, we can share a small moment of acceptance.
But too often our relationships are filled with shame. The look on our lover’s face that tells us they are bored or disinterested. The self-consciousness of body size or shape. The comparisons we make in our heads about our lover’s former partners. The accumulated and acute traumas that haunt the recesses of the brain. The performance anxieties. The worries. We’ve stacked the deck against ourselves – how are we to ever experience true joy if shame is always souring the taste?
How many times has shame prevented me from finding and reaching out for my joy? The anticipated rejection making me too self-conscious to speak up for my own desires. The past trauma and the self-doubt robbing me of a chance to truly experience myself through my lover’s actions. The suspicions that they don’t really like me because of my size or shape or age. The hurt and guilt making me less voracious than I might otherwise be.
I’m not the only one, right?
It’s way more than just me who feels this, right? And so, if we are walking around with wounds, why are we not only are we tearing open old wounds, but we’re recklessly inflicting more.
Once you see it, once you’re aware of it, you realize how pervasive this subtle layer of shame is over everything else in our world. It’s the ash that obscures our view of the brilliance of our own selves.
If you look and listen carefully, you’ll see it:
- It’s the little jabs at your wife’s weight and the weight of women that look like her.
- It’s the humiliating comments you make when you catch your husband masturbating.
- It’s the jealousy of your partner’s Top 5 celebrity crushes.
- It’s the declaration that bisexuality is just greed.
- It’s the “sex education” you provided when you handed your kids a book but avoided talking to them about it.
- It’s the go-to fap fantasies about lesbians but still voting for people who don’t want them to marry.
- It’s the storage of secrets as well as the violation of privacy.
- It’s the insult of “beer goggles”.
- It’s the objectification of someone for their skin color and the racist presumptions and fantasies you’ve placed them in.
- It’s the taking without giving.
- It’s the heaviness of the “let’s just get this over with” sigh.
- It’s the “you brought this on yourself” zinger.
- It’s the labeling of sexual appetites as addictions.
It’s us – shaming each other. We do it in our relationships when we just select default mode and put the connection on auto-pilot. We do it in our families with how we refuse to discuss sex and enforce healthy boundaries. We disseminate this shame through our churches and political systems, complete with consequences for noncompliance. We require adherence to vague expectations, such as fidelity, that have never been specifically discussed, defined or even decided with any level of mutual understanding. We react with hostility when we see a woman choose pleasure over modesty or if a man expresses even a passing interest in other men. Shame taints so much of our experiences, that a question of worth will always be at play.
Thus, we stay locked in a prison of our own making, the walls generously decorated with the etchings of every awful criticism and self-defeating thought that we’ve received.
What if you could really be loved and seen for yourself?
Consider: What might change if you were free from fighting the icy, cold shoulder battles at home with the spouse? Or if you finally felt confident walking into a first date? What if you knew your partner truly sees and wants all of you? That is the sexiest feeling in the world. What if, in our approach to sex and love, we gave each other a sincere opportunity to heal the wounds we’re carrying or, at least, a promise that we won’t make them worse?
I know I can’t be the only one who is ready to finally stand firm, look Shame in the face and tell it to fuck off, right? I know I’m not the only one who is ready to get off the roller coaster of high drama relationships. And for the love of all that’s holy, I want sex to be more worthy of my time than the wispy attempts at foreplay or the vacuous objectification I get online. I know I’m not the only one.
And while it’s scary as fuck to be so exposed in this space, I know it’s the right thing for me to do right now. That I need to keep talking, to be seen and heard. To be vulnerable and open where others can’t. To hold light and space until they’re ready.
I can’t do this unless I prove to myself that I’m more than the story that brought me here. I’m more than the Outing or the rape. I’m more than bad parenting choices and missed deadlines. I’m more than my story that up until now has been reinforcing my feeling that I’m not worthy. It’s kept me from speaking up for my truth. It’s kept me from reaching for my joy. And I am ready for a new story, no matter how foolish I look or what I encounter along the way.
That is acceptance because growth is never elegant or easy. So, at the end of the day, this blog is lovingly rebooting our ideas about relationships, sex and love. It’s about my stories of my stumbling blocks and what has and hasn’t worked for me. Foolish and embarrassing, but it will always be my truth.
And that is worthy.
It’s been a super busy week for me finishing up my work and transitioning my career. I will be staying with work that allows me to serve those living in poverty by helping to navigate complex systems, but I will also be moving into more a supervisory role, which has good ol’ imposter syndrome in overdrive. My intention was to go on a brief hiatus while I get my shit together, but I can’t stay completely silent about a deliciously ignorant piece of nonsense posted by Mayim Bialik a couple of weeks ago that was titled “What I don’t get about open relationships“.
It’s not worth the effort for me to counter each point she makes because it’s just such a common set of misconceptions. I appreciate how others have already addressed these. I filled three pages with notes of all the ways in which she not just undermines LGBTQIA+ awareness, but is deliberate in her use of assumptions about both gender and sexuality. But in the end, it is her opinion. She doesn’t research polyamory, open relationships or consensual non-monogamy either as a neuroscientist, psychologist or sociologist. In the end, the video is a giant “here’s why I’m not into non-monogamy” explanation.
Awesome! We need more people who recognize when something isn’t for them. We want people to be self-aware and get out of the corners of the default. But of course, it’s not really awareness she’s creating or sharing; her interests is in projecting her seemingly self-aware conclusion both as a testament of her scientific knowledge and a snide judgment of those of us who have concluded differently about our lives. And it’s that projection that is harmful–declaring that because you can’t figure it out, that all the rest of us must be wrong. My issue is less with her and more with the thousands of people who will parrot her opinions as their own.
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.
I’ve spent a lot of energy resisting the idea that I’m a sex educator in part because I always felt like I don’t fit the image I’ve grown accustomed to: beautiful, flirty, fun, with an elusive effervescence and trendy style. The person who oozes sex with their every word and who can immediately name the different qualities of lube in a dizzying display of scientific sexiness. I don’t own a pussy puppet and am not sure what I would do with it if I did. I don’t teach “how to” be sexy; I help you remember “why” you already are sexy. I can’t tell you how to make your girlfriend have a mind-blowing orgasm; I can tell you how to talk to each other about it with graceful vulnerability.
I’ve been poly for a long time — 13 years. And I’ve been kinky way longer than that. I’ve been public speaking since 4th grade when I went to Space Camp. I’ve taught numerous classes including to law enforcement and other attorneys about poly & BDSM and how to identify nuanced consent and differentiate it from abuse. Yet somehow I don’t feel like I’m qualified to call myself a sex educator.
I haven’t written books or published articles or received awards. I haven’t changed lives with my message or gotten hundreds of thousands of followers. I’m not popular. I’m not credentialed (other than as an attorney and no, I won’t give you legal advice). I’m not a researcher. I don’t hold a bevy of statistics in my head. And yeah, I’ve done presentations and given talks, but most of that has been local and not national.
There’s also a lot of Imposter Syndrome talking here.
Over the next thirty days, I will be giving four different talks about sexuality or sexually related topics. Tocday, I am a guest lecturer at a local community college for a human sexuality class — essentially debunking myths about BDSM and polyamory. Then, in two weeks I will be presenting at Rocky Mountain Poly Living (“Extending Empathy” and “Poly Political Agenda”). Then the week after that I’m leading a discussion at StarFest about Intergalactic Influences on Love and Sexuality (Sci-fi and Fantasy’s influences on our own sexual development and experiences with love).
It’s a busy, whirlwind of activity and the likelihood of my anxiety making a nasty return is very, very high. And while self-care is certainly necessary, I always do better when I can talk it out. Both husbands are asleep — so allow me to use this space right here to remind myself —
I am a sex educator and I am qualified because:
I know my own experience. I know how to call out shitty experiences. I know what it feels like when you don’t call out a shitty experience and swallow disappointment and discouragement.
I know what it feels like to gather up the courage to ask someone out and to be rejected (oh fuck, I know that one well).
I have met and loved (and lost) soul mates.
I have encountered submission as a spiritual transformation and inched my way closer to deeper dominance. And love the romanticism of vanilla sex as well.
I have been publicly shamed and outed. I’ve been unemployed as a result of how I identify and the perverse assumptions that people make as a result.
I’ve grieved for the loss of my sensuality and triumphed over its return. Over and over again.
I have been sexually assaulted in both the vanilla and sex positive worlds and have healed by sharing my stories and connecting with others who need to hear they’re not crazy or alone.
I have seduced and loved many impossible people–people who felt they were unlovable, people with outward importance who needed an inward experience, people far more beautiful, popular or genuine than me.
I have slept with more men than women, but can tell you what it’s like to fall in love with both.
I have walk-of-shamed my way down lonely Chicago streets and given my sex as comfort to the broken-hearted.
I’ve been a wife and a mother and had difficulty with balancing the expectations of both roles.
I have been a sexual healer, a divine mistress, a wanton whore and a demure princess in one night.
I have walked this earth as an intelligent, passionate and spiritual woman. I am femme and geek and Chicana and fucking brilliant when I choose to be. I am curvy and vulnerable and maternal but I’m not your Mommy. I am the laughter of seduction and the mediator of souls.
How can I possibly be an imposter?
By sharing lessons through my own vulnerability and experience, my learning and mistakes, I serve as a companion on the journey. By weaving stories of empathetic experience, I aim to illustrate the patterns of our own truth and experience. This is both who I am and who I want to be. That is the most real and authentic me I can offer–my own lessons and experience and knowledge and outlook.
That is the most real and authentic me I can offer–my own lessons and experience and knowledge and outlook.
And for some, that is exactly what they need.
Something snapped today.
I have known for a while that I might break. I’ve been wound too tight for too long without much opportunity for relief. And I know what you’re thinking: sexual relief *giggle*. And while I will get to that in a minute, I mean some actual soul-level relief.
I work in a highly stressful job. Stressful and immensely rewarding. Intuitively it seems like it should balance out, but it really doesn’t. There is a price to be paid for being positive and hopeful and optimistic in the face of overwhelming disparity, trauma, and hardship. And I have been paying that price for much longer than I’ve had this job.
It won’t surprise you that I care about caring. I care about virtually everyone I meet. A kid walking down the hallway who trips over his shoelaces–I care about him. An old friend from HS who is having marriage problems–I care about her. A celebrity’s family after a tragic accident or loss–I care about them. I don’t know these people, but I expend heart energy for them. My personal avatar should be a Care Bear.
It has been a little over a year since I started this job. A job that makes me feel like a for-realsies attorney without the icky task of being a cold, walled off shark. I get to help people, real people with real problems every single day. People who are disabled, homeless, alone in the world. And I choose to do this job in the most connected ways possible. The dial on my empathy is turned all way up all throughout the week. By the time I get to Friday, my soul is weary, my body is weak, and my heart is wistful.
Law school doesn’t teach you how to deal with clients, how to deal with compassion fatigue (if it even acknowledges that there is such a thing as compassion in the practice of law) or how to balance empathy with the cold, hard logic of The Law. One of my goals in life is to create a model for attorneys, who much like myself, went into law to help people, change the world and approach the practice of law with empathy and compassion. I’m learning as I go–and I’d love to share one of things that has helped me along the way.
As my family will affirm, I spend many a long night at the office. The work I do is so detailed and there is a tremendous burden on my shoulders each day. It only took a few months of this work for me to realize that I needed to build myself an escape hatch–not just because I needed it but also because no one else would do it for me.
So here are some things that have worked for me:
- Having a flexible schedule. 9-5/ M-F doesn’t work for everyone and it certainly never has for me. I purposely look for opportunities where I can be trusted as a professional to get the job done in the time that is most appropriate for me and my family. So I work 9-6 M-Th and 8-12 on Fridays. I can also change around my schedule as I need to based on appointments, family needs and such.
- I seize opportunities for self-care. I still need to get better at setting aside time and space for it, but when an opportunity for downtime presents itself I jump on it. Whether it’s lunch with a friend or time for meditation, I allow myself to seize that chance before it withers away.
- I find courage to say NO when I need to. I remember one of my first law jobs was as a clerk was for a large law firm. One of the associates in litigation gave birth and she was back to work in 2 weeks. She became my touchstone for what I might become if I couldn’t find a way to say no to impossible demands. I never, ever wanted to be her.
- I meditate. I’m only now returning to this practice, but it’s important for me to be able to let go at some point during the week and this is the easiest, most effective way.
- I designate some time that is just for me. I take Friday afternoons off for a reason. It is the one time during the week that is mine and only mine. Wanna see a movie? Friday afternoon. Wanna sit on the porch with a smoke and a whisky? Friday afternoon. Wanna spend quality time with my kid or a friend? Friday afternoon it is. My family and colleagues have learned that Friday afternoons are untouchable. Friday’s are MY days.
- I create rituals to get me through the week. One of them is to take an hour lunch, go to a diner and read. It’s something I started at my last corporate job and something that I know energizes me and allows me to turn off my critical, stressed out brain for a bit. I always have at least one fiction and one non-fiction book to choose from depending on my mood that day.
- I wash my hands after a difficult case or client encounter. It seems so simple. But it’s another ritual I engage in to wash away the bad energy that just came through my door. It gives me permission to let go of that fight or that obstacle and to start fresh again.
- I go to therapy. There’s no replacing the value of talking things out in a confidential environment with someone looking out for your best interests. I only go once a month right now, but it gives me a safe space to put all of my frustrations and doubts and gain some perspective.
These are just some of the ways I choose to handle being a heart-centric attorney in a world that denies the impact of trauma and human hardship on the people who work the front lines–and a world that fails to recognize that attorneys, despite our logic and reason, are still, you know, mostly human.
It’s been almost 10 years since I last blogged and journaled on a near daily basis. 2006 was the year I was outed, which brought an unbelievable year to a grinding halt. Correction: It brought an unbelievable woman to a grinding halt.
The past 10 years have been nothing but work, heavy personal work. The internal “heavy lifting” has spanned territory from family to career, from my sexuality to my identity, from big picture living to small, detailed changes. There is no aspect of self that has been safe in this process. Relationships have been critically examined. The sources of shame and guilt have been triggered. Motherhood, career path, sexual identity, coping skills, and dreams have all been examined until they have lost their meaning.
This has been a tower of self that first had a wrecking ball go through it and then continued to fall around me as I dug through the rubble to save pieces of myself again. Those collapses of my internal structure threatened my sanity and my safety on more than one occasion. Being outed had triggered a cascade of 10 years of crippling anxiety and depression, suicide attempts and hiding.
I can’t say I’m done with it now, but I’ve identified how I want to rebuild my life, what I want it to look like. I’ve identified the structure I want to inhabit and how I want to move forward.
And so coming back to this blog, coming back to journaling and professing my journey is an important step for me. It’s finding my ground again, thinking out loud and renewing my sense of confidence. By adding my voice, by telling my story–maybe with fewer identifying details than before–I can regain my strength and start the next 10 years with fresh energy and drive.
Welcome to 2016.
For the past few weeks I’ve been having conversations with people about polyamory and its potential to offer a fix or at least an alternative to common relationship issues. I believe in polyamory in part because it encourages each individual to honor their own authentic self, to directly address issues as they arise in the relationship and to participate in collaborative problem solving. Monogamy has this potential as well, but with its status as a the default relationship structure it creates a host of automated issues that tend to disintegrate the autonomy available to each partner in the relationship. By choosing polyamory people exercise that autonomy in a very real and tangible way.
But often the discussion devolves when I get this question: “so no one cheats/lies when you’re poly?”
Poly doesn’t prevent lying. Or cheating. Or betrayal. Or deceit.
Poly brings these behaviors to light much more swiftly and often more dramatically than we might see otherwise. It’s hardly assuring to someone new to poly. But because of the priority placed on the inherent values of honesty, trust, transparency and direct communication, the tolerance for deceitful behaviors is simply far lower than its monogamous counterparts.
I know, you don’t believe me. Because somewhere in the back of your head, you have this vision of a distraught wife finding out that her husband is cheating. She tears through the house in sobs, tossing him and his belongings out the door. Yes, that’s the common reaction. Because there was an expectation of sexual confinement, of fidelity and this, the dishonesty is understandable and even excuseable in today’s culture. Never mind that the cheating could not have happened without the deceitful undercurrent to the choices and actions. We’ve grown to accept, as a culture, that human beings will stray, will lie, will cheat. And while there is a sense of betrayal, there is also a sense of reluctant acceptance for the sneaking around and the lies. All while we cling to this sense of sexual and romantic confinement (or is it entitlement?) within the bounds of the relationship.
When you’re poly, the reaction isn’t much different, but the reasons are. When you are poly, you are more likely to have made a mutual agreement to be honest with one another, to not hide your attractions to other people, to remove the barriers to loving more than one person. So when a poly person is lied to, cheated on, the anger isn’t with the fidelity, it is with the deceptive practice itself…where it should have been all along. Cheating hurts more because it didn’t have to happen, because there was an underlying value for honesty. Lying is more insidious because there was no reason to cover up the truths of an attraction. The crime isn’t in the act of having sex with someone else, it’s in breaking trust with your partner(s) by choosing to lie or withhold the truth (omissions are still lies).
The reaction, yes, can be just as extreme as our monogamous example, but there is less acceptance that “oh well, this is just how everyone lives.” In a poly household, there might be a family meeting to confront the deceitful partner. Maybe there is a public shaming in other poly or kinky circles. Maybe there is just a stern, “fuck off” as someone is shoved out the door without a second chance. Regardless of how partners react, tolerance for the underlying dishonesty is rarely given in my experience.
Today I was reminded of a loved one’s deceit, a series of lies and cover-ups that have haunted me since before we broke up. I gave him more chances than my fellow polyamorists might. I recognized the conditioning that a staunchly monogamous past had left on him and that was my excuse to continuing to give him a chance. But the more I stayed, the more I saw the troubling behavior and the more it seemed to spiral out of control. The stories that later were contradicted by others. The convenient excuses that over time became harder to swallow. And when confronted he would gaslight me, shift blame and ultimately escape accountability for the choices that he made.
After almost 10 years of polyamory, I don’t regret staying with him and giving him chances. I learned a lot about my own value for honesty and a hard lesson about my own sense of self-worth. By accepting and tolerating someone else’s dishonesty, I was creating a large space to hide my own truth. A space that became a large closet of broken skeletons. A space where I convinced myself it wasn’t proper for me to be out as poly, kinky or queer. And as worried as I might be about how others might react to my truth, as a poly woman I have committed myself to living a life of authenticity, transparency and above all honesty. At some point, I needed to stop excusing my own dishonesty and I needed to trust myself to weather whatever storm might follow my disclosures.
And because my personal integrity matters more to me than enabling others’ escapist dramas bred into them by a societal expectation of secrets, I have been slowly emerging into the light again. And, for example, by being honest with my partners over the past few weeks about my fears, my wishes and my struggles, I’ve been able to get the support I need and the help I deserve. By allowing others to hide the truth, I was really allowing myself to hide my own. And now hiding has become…unbearable.
So, no polyamory doesn’t prevent cheating or lying. It will happen. But by aligning yourself with the core values of honesty and integrity, instead of surface satisfaction of singular sexual attachment, when you encounter such deception, it is much easier to recognize it, call it out and address it than it might have been otherwise. And simply put, when you choose honesty for yourself, deception will inevitably start becoming intolerable and dissatisfying, making it easier to exclude it from your life the more practice you get.
Self-awareness is a grand thing that cannot be over-emphasized as we interact with the world around us. However, some people, including myself, who make this a priority, tend to skew the viewpoint a little toward whatever story they want the world to know about them. Inevitably, with all of us, we end up with blind spots that trip us up and end up impacting others. That blind spot is usually obvious once we recognize it for what it is: a struggle within to reconcile and identify the source emotion.
So let’s just attack my blind spot emotion: Disappointment. Disappointment is a close friend with regret. However, regret is the disappointment that we apply to our own actions and disappointment is what we apply to others’ actions. Disappointment doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s often the result of creating and sustaining expectations that another will act the way that we thought they should or would. In order to identify a feeling as disappointment you have to:
a) recognize that you had expectations;
b) believe you deserved or had good reason to have those expectations;
c) placed trust in someone else to meet those expectations;
d) relied on that person’s implied, express or assumed promise to fulfill those expectations; and
e) experienced a failure of someone to meet those expectations.
Disappointment can be general (“I’m disappointed I didn’t get any email today”) or specific (“I’m disappointed that my husband forgot our anniversary”). Disappointment carries a deeper attachment to the result or even the process than ordinary breaches of social protocol. It is personal and yet sometimes we judge ourselves for reacting to something so seemingly simple.
Disappointment is a blind spot for me because I rarely believe (b), that I deserve or have good reasons to expect anything. I feel that undeservinginess so deeply that I have adjusted my whole life around that basic concept so I never have to feel disappointment in another human being. And like most things it was influenced by some distinct event at an impressionable time.
Yet, I remember making a distinct choice to stop any public celebration of my birthday on my 16th birthday. This was the birthday where my boyfriend ditched me to have a drugged-out one night stand with a co-worker. I swallowed the disappointment, the heartbreak because I felt so unworthy of the expectation of fidelity or honesty or to be special on my 16th birthday. And I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want to be hurt like that again so i prohibited any celebration by family and friends from that time forward.
What is the old saying? If you don’t expect anything, you won’t be disappointed. Right?
(SIDE NOTE: I made an exception for my 21st birthday which ended up in that boyfriend dumping me just minutes after I turned 21 and was waiting for him to show up so we could go to the bar for my first legal drink.)
So here I am almost twenty years later. I can say with some certainty that I was completely reasonable to expect my boyfriend to spend my birthday with me as he promised instead of cheating on me. But that realization doesn’t change the new traditions I have created around this day for me. Disappointment was the fuel to that fire; but denial and avoidance of disappointment has ensured that there are no birthday parties, no presents, no cards, no celebratory drinks or revelry of any kind. Avoid disappointment,? Check. Avoid any chance to feel special and included? Fail.
Expectations are a bitch, because it’s entirely out of your control whether people meet them. And people give you excuses that seem reasonable at the time. But instead of owning up to the fact that I feel hurt or let down, I swallow it down where I plot my next attempt to circumvent any future disappointment
So how to fix it? Here are a few suggestions:
- Admit to yourself that the icky mix of anger and sadness you feel is disappointment. Write it down and burn it if you’re afraid of letting anyone know you feel this. But say or write the words at least.
- Practice telling the other person when you feel disappointed for small things. Like when they text to tell you that they won’t be able to make it to dinner tonight because they’re sick, text back “aww…I’m disappointed I won’t see you tonight. Take good care of yourself”
- Recognize and relate to their own humanity. Trust me, as a human being you’ve done something, big or small, to disappoint another human being. Remember what caused that person’s disappointment and apply it to your own now. Was it a miscommunication? An assumption? A crooked sense of priorities? Stress? Excuses or not, these play into all of our interactions.
- Express your disappointment. It doesn’t have to be a drag out fight. But instead find an opportunity soon after the event in question to tell the person you were disappointed by something they did or didn’t do and how things can be better in the future. Make it an honest exchange of information. Yes, you will hear excuses or rationale, some of which are totally understandable, but just as importantly they will hear it from you directly how you feel and what you’d like them to do differently in the future.
- Check but don’t eliminate all of your own expectations. There are times that our expectations can be pretty unweildy and can set everyone on edge (think Miranda Priestly from the Devil Wears Prada). If you’re noticing an increase in agitation or stress with the people you rely on, you may want to double check that you’re not asking the impossible and scale it back just a little bit.
- Arrange regular time to check in about promises, rules, expectations in a relationship. Having a regular check-in with a partner, loved one or even co-worker about what expectations are on the table, what’s working and what’s not can be enormously helpful. Don’t wait until there is a history of consistent fuck-ups, instead check in early and often (like every 2-3 months) to make sure each party knows what is expected of them.
- Trust again. Maybe not the same people as before, but trust that your needs and desires are worthy. It is amazing how less disappointment haunts me and hurts me now that I’ve started trusting that the world isn’t out to get me. .
And the biggest show of that trust in my life? After twenty years of solitary suffering, I am actually going to celebrate my birthday! Bring it on!