Category Archives: #RelationshipReboot

Deprogramming societal messages about relationships. Creating self-actualized relationships

Relationship Reboot: How to grow your relationship instead of playing defense

I have been suffering from an overabundance of topics to discuss and not enough time to do it in. But I keep seeing articles and advice that address the idea of “safeguarding a relationship” by offering advice that dehumanizes our partnerships, prop up oppressive systems and essentially keep us stuck in the default mode of maximum effort for minimal fulfillment.

maximum effort - NeatoShop

Deadpool as relationship coach? (this comes as a t-shirt at https://www.neatoshop.com/product/Keep-Calm-and-Make-Maximum-Effort

The inspiration for this piece was the gut reaction I had to this post:8 Rules Guaranteed to Prevent Infidelity  To be clear, this advice doesn’t just appear on Christian Right pages but is found anywhere that people are fed on a diet of fear and suspicion, righteousness and possession.  The jealousy, the resentment and the potential pain of an intimate partner cheating on us are well known to all of us, including those of us non-monogamous folk. However, seeking to control, to safeguard, to protect against any potential, possible, imaginary threat no matter how minor or insincere, is just another way of avoiding responsibility for creating trust, sharing honestly and openly with your partner and honoring boundaries and consent. 

Healthy relationships are founded on a basis of equality

Oppressive beliefs are not a good basis for healthy intimacy

I believe that no matter how someone identifies or what they believe, that there are some basic relationship best practices that can be found when we start from a place of equality. The problem is and always will be that these best practices require us to engage with the best in ourselves, not always easy when lustful impulsiveness or rigid social conditioning urge us to do otherwise. Good relationships require thoughtful personal reflection, sincere vulnerability, and cooperative resilience toward a shared vision of the value of each person in that relationship.

When we fail to manifest these qualities in relationships, we invite our partnerships to be judged on default values. Threats are more likely to occur when your relationship is in default mode. Since needs and beliefs were never discussed, shared or revealed, what motivation does someone have to invest in the other person if all they’re getting is a pre-constructed ideal not built for them? Likewise, controlling your partner’s every communication and action to “safeguard” the relationship is the bigger threat to the relationship, a tactic of most abusers.

A healthy relationship understands that there is a balance between real life and the safety of the relationship. But treating your relationship like it’s a precious and fragile egg is more like a self-fulfilling prophecy – eventually, it will break, no matter how careful you are. Because guess what? People aren’t things meant to be locked up and protected; people need the freedom to grow, learn & develop. Successful intimate partnerships recognize that each person is whole and valuable as they are and the future is a cooperative scheme toward shared success and fulfillment.

Shame, judgment, and fear are toxic to growth and fulfillment. This includes the institutionalized shame of misogyny, the presumption that every woman is a temptress or that no man can control himself. Advice that relies on preserving rather than dismantling oppressive structures is suspect. The status quo only “worked” because people were forced to accept it, or suffer extraordinary consequences by the courts (by limiting the allowable circumstances for divorce), through family structure (by disowning kids who come out as queer) and public policy (limiting the rights of wives, daughters, mothers and sisters so they are dependent on men for basic survival – this was central to Jane Austen’s work)

#RelationshipReboot

For a while I’ve been tagging things with #RelationshipReboot because so much of the advice we’ve been given, not just by the Christian Right, but by magazines, talk shows, movies & books, has been built upon a framework of possession, of a right to “what’s mine” and protecting my right to “my man”. I just don’t believe that. I have never operated very well in a framework of ownership over others. What right do I have to dictate to my loved ones how they should live their lives.  It’s not to say I haven’t been that self-righteous little princess before in my teens, but I outgrew it once I realized how amazing and precious the human experience is. And each person has a right to their own autonomy and consequences, their own choices and successes. I opted instead to listen and honor my partners by making affirmative agreements that speak to the commitment we each have to honor the best in each other.

So, this will be a long post because I want to take some time to reframe these examples of toxic advice. I want to reframe the issue, reboot the core ideas at play and spin alternative advice that recognizes and honors consent and human dignity. To pull the shame and suspicion from the values and goals at play and find a better way to cope. Simple, affirmative commitments that we can make to be better at our relationship agreements.

Default Toxic Advice #1

Stay away from anyone of the preferred sex who you might ever be in any context potentially attracted to or who others might perceive that you’re attracted to even if you’re not. 

Column Advice #1:  I never meet alone with a woman other than my wife.
Column Advice # 5. I give “side hugs.”
Column Advice #6. I don’t engage in ongoing dialogues with women on social media

If someone cannot control themselves in having a conversation with a member of their preferred gender, no matter whether it’s in person, online or otherwise, that should be deeply concerning. Period. Maintaining personal and professional boundaries is a cornerstone of building trust, an essential component of a healthy relationship, no matter the context.  If there is a heightened danger that someone cannot maintain or honor reasonable boundaries, there’s a bigger problem at play here.

Part of the problem with these suggestions is the presumption that all human contact with a member of the preferred sex is always sexualized.  Handshakes aren’t any more or less sexual than a hug is – I’ve had men give lingering handshakes, holding both of my hands in theirs as they stroked my fingers or palm in a way suggesting way more than a simple hello.  A hug can comfort someone in emotional distress and is a signal of friendship. Touch is a basic human need.  These rules declare that the only person allowed to provide touch is the spouse, a pretty heavy job for one person alone, particularly if they are stunted in any way in how to express love and compassion through touch. It sexualizes a basic human need making it inaccessible anywhere else, and shameful to want to share with anyone else. 

Much of this specific advice is rooted in the appearance of impropriety rather than the actual engagement of it. If a spouse is so suspicious of a professional lunch or a personal coffee, the marriage is already in trouble.  There is nothing to safeguard because basic trust hasn’t even been established or was broken by past infidelities. Lunching alone with a member of the preferred gender isn’t the issue – trust and integrity are. There has either been a breach of trust or a failure to provide it in the first place.  If fear of what others might think comes into play, perhaps there is already a reputation for not adhering to commitments that would cause others to jump to that conclusion.

At best this advice is performative, not reparative.

Relationship Reboot Practice 1:

Respect - pin-heartlaceI maintain and respect appropriate boundaries with others 

Relationships are built on trust. There is no better way to create trust than to:

  1. Recognize that we each have a right to set boundaries for ourselves;
  2. Demonstrate through actions and words that you not only recognize but will work to honor yours and others’ boundaries;
  3. Be accountable for the commitments we make to others.

One of the things I’ve loved about my relationship with Warrior is that I know that when he hangs out with others, even if there’s an attraction that he’ll maintain his boundaries and our agreements. Likewise, when he was a practicing therapist he and I both know that there are distinct mechanisms, consequences, and laws in place that protect both him and his clients from inappropriate behavior.

Likewise, even though I stay friends with a lot of my exes, my partners know that I have my own personal code about how I’ll choose to engage that person in the future. Meeting with a married man is no more or less dangerous for me than meeting with a single one.  Having coffee with a potential business partner isn’t more or less dangerous to my relationship than going out to drinks with my law school classmates.  By maintaining good boundaries around my various interactions, staying consistent with what my partners can expect from me, I’m able to maintain the trust they’ve placed in me as well as signal to others what our interactions should consist of.

Finally, every day affords us an opportunity to model good consent practices. We have the right to refuse a hug. It’s okay to say “I’m not a hugger” and move on. It’s okay to refuse to go to coffee with a fan if they make you uncomfortable. We all have the right to both say and hear the word “No” without any further explanation. By honoring the boundaries of others, and ourselves, we create space for others to feel safe, to be more authentic and less suspicious of their trust in us.

Toxic Relationship Advice #2: 

If you don’t give your loved one complete and total access to every corner of your life, you are untrustworthy and uncommitted. 

Column Advice #2. My wife gets copied on all of my text messages.
Column Advice #3. I share ALL my passwords.

This advice not only violates some pretty serious personal and professional boundaries, but this advice could also violate some pretty serious legal boundaries if taken too far. It violates the consent of everyone involved – the person on the other end of that text pouring their heart out about their father’s cancer diagnosis, the employer who has liability for HIPAA, the client who uses text to confirm their appointments.  The potential for exploitation, abuse, fraud and identity theft with this advice is very serious and should be avoided at all costs.

What is really at issue is here is transparency, an accountability measure for trust. I think in our hearts, we all want to be honest and transparent, but little white lies can stack up over time and make truly innocent situations, such as calls with the neighbor about her father’s cancer diagnosis, seem suspicious. And as tempting as it is to give your partner 100% access to everything in your life to prove your devotion, this is dangerous for two reasons:

  • No one else consented to your partner having THEIR information
  • There is significant potential for legal liability or at least illegal shenanigans to take place as a result of this

It will backfire because transparency and honesty have to exist together. Requiring a partner to give passwords doesn’t guarantee that they haven’t built yet another profile under a different name.  Nor does giving full access guarantee that something won’t be taken out of context. This strategy will backfire in a big, spectacular way.

Relationship Reboot Practice #2:

ethicsMy priority is to keep my partner relatably informed of the important people, events, and situations in my life.  

Why do I say “relatably” informed?  Because this is about giving your partner the level of transparency and honesty that you need from them. If you want to know if your partner is viewing porn, it’s important then to share information about your own porn habits. If you want to know who from work is “just a friend” then you model this by providing them with the same information. And all of this can be done without invading someone else’s privacy or violating professional confidentiality policies.

I would much rather have my partner tell me, “Our neighbor, Sonia, is having a hard time, her father was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I’m lending her support over text after losing my own father to cancer a few years ago” rather than invading Sonia’s privacy with an unprecedented level of access to Sonia’s words and feelings.

And if you cannot believe your spouse when they tell you “oh it’s just a friend”, the more worthy investigation isn’t into their personal texts and messages but into an examination of why you cannot trust them. Is it something they’ve done or something that has gone unhealed in yourself? Either way, full access to passwords won’t give you what you’re looking for – just more fuel to the panic you already started with.

Toxic Relationship Advice #3: 

Stay away from any material that has any hint of sexual content so as to not be tempted to view anyone else as sexually desirable than the person you are permanently partnered with. 

Column Advice #4. I don’t watch porn or sexually-explicit content.

His next line is “porn is an act of mental infidelity” and he goes on to spout the normal, tired and debunked statistics on porn and porn addiction. These beliefs are rooted in some very flawed misunderstandings and misdirections about sex, attraction, and masturbation. These beliefs are built upon a premise that sexual desire for anything or anyone other than who you’ve chosen as a lifetime partner is shameful and weak, rather than normal and expected.  And the judgments that are delivered because of these beliefs manifest in harmful ways that can damage rather than enhance a person’s ability to sexually bond with another. It incentivizes secrecy.

Yes, there are some whose porn viewership has reached a level of damaging, addictive behavior, where say, they are viewing it at work or instead of going to work. Again, it comes back to really recognizing and understanding boundaries. But if that’s the case, the compulsive pattern is the bigger issue, not the porn itself.

Relationship Reboot Practice #3: 

I am comfortable sharing my intimate experiences, sexual fantasies, sexual values and feelings with my partner.

Instead of cutting it out entirely, use this opportunity to further the intimacy and trust to discuss sex, including porn habits and expectations with your spouse/significant other. Understand what are your own values around this, and be honest with yourself and your partner. Make choices together about works for you both. I know plenty of monogamous relationships that successfully integrate porn viewing into their sexual lives and have no infidelity concerns. Likewise, if your relationship cannot survive an honest conversation about sex, avoiding it will only make the issue grow more unsustainable. Discussing fantasies, experiences, values, wishes, disappointments go a long way toward eliminating the influence of shame in your relationship, making it more authentic, full and healthy.

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Our happiest relationships should allow us room to grow, to be authentic, to be recognized and heard. Healthy relationships are robust, resilient, restorative, repairable, and redeeming. If it cannot withstand the storms of say, having lunch with a female work colleague, is it really worth saving? If a small whiff of attraction can dismantle your relationship so easily, will building additional walls really be worth the time either of you will invest in building new buttresses and moats?

At some point, if you’re constantly playing defense and cannot seem to let go of the rules, the suspicions, the fears, the jealousy, you have to look at what it is you’re really protecting here and ask “Is it really worth it?”

The Foolish Woman in me.

Light & Darkness - MWilliamson

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?

The Tower1

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.

Respect - pin-heartlace

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Inevitable Exclusion of Deceit

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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.

Internal Disappointment Processing

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.

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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.

ImageTake my birthday for example.  I typically don’t celebrate my birthday and instead have replaced it with a spiritual ritual practiced in solitude.

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!

Scared to date

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So, it is says anything about the gravity of this topic, this subject line has been sitting here since October of 2011.

Hello. My name is Bella. I’m polyamorous and I’m afraid to date.

Hello Bella

Is there a support group for people like me? I have been polyamorous for almost 9 years now and for the past 4 years I have been afraid to date. I have been avoiding discussing why for a very long time, but like most things if I don’t just delve in and say it publicly, it will never get parsed out and thus never truly change.

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Lessons in the Truth

I believe in honesty.  I believe in truth.  When I have been on the receiving end of deception it hurts.

I know that there are plenty of reasons why people lie and hide the truth, particularly from themselves.  Almost all of those reasons stem from some form of fear.  Not malice really, but fear.  And that fear appears as manipulation to most, but it is less of a deliberate, cunning ploy and more like the actions of a scared 6 year old who believes that the truth will get them into trouble.

Conversely, I have known plenty of people who relish in giving others “THE TRUTH” as more of a hammer of justice.  They think they are doing a public good and in that respect, I can understand where they are coming from.  But the arrogance of thinking that your version of “the truth” matches the receiver’s experience of it is often what adds insult to the injury of having to be lectured to by a grown-up.  More often than not the receiver already knows of the issue that this person is hammering them for.  Maybe they’re not facing up to it. Maybe they do need to see it from a different perspective, but awareness is rarely the problem.  And shoving “THE TRUTH” in their face isn’t always going to garner the best response.

Both of these are defense mechanisms but in very different ways and yet they both stem from a place of fear.  One is passive and the other aggressive.  Both are fueled by this similar sense of loss.  In the first one, if the actor doesn’t tell his beloved the truth or lies to cover it up, he is doing it to avoid the consequences for the truth coming out.  In the second instance, it’s preventative.  Instead of facing their own harsh realities, often the actor is projecting their issues onto someone else.  The more disparate the observation, the more projection that is being imposed.  Both are from a place of fear.  And both work to avoid resolving conflicts with one’s inner truth.

Truth resides in every human heart, and one has to search for it there, and to be guided by truth as one sees it. But no one has a right to coerce others to act according to his own view of the truth.  – Mahatma Gandhi

I started writing this post just after the beginning of September.  My life was in chaos at that point.  Not only had I quit my job, but I was actively trying to re-engage with my ex and trying to figure out the best place to be in his life.  And here I am three months later and still contemplating this issue of honesty and how to best integrate it within the chaos that still surrounds  me.

Honesty and truth had a lot to do with the fall of many of my relationships.  It wasn’t always about deception, but deception was usually revealed.  It wasn’t always about not being receptive to the truth, but often the truth was used as a hammer of justice by both me and my loved one to injure and disable within arguments.  It’s not something I’m proud of, in fact, I often look on it with worry and guilt.

But I think that is more of the point about “the truth”.  I can admit that I was a dick back then…and still can be when it comes to the truth.  I can say that I do my best not to hide things from the people I love. I don’t always succeed.  However, one of the first things I ask for is a similar amount of transparency as I show to others.  When I don’t get that, I freak out. And that is my truth too.

In the past I’ve required such a massive amount of transparency that I then start panicking when I feel something is being kept from me.  Maybe this stems from some of my earliest romantic relationships: a boyfriend who was hiding that he was gay, a boyfriend who was hiding that he was cheating on me everyday with a co-worker for 4 months, a boyfriend who was hiding his drug use from me.  Because I had been so gullible and naive I had to fine tune my sense of truth.   I wanted to avoid being taken advantage of and being humilitated by the people I love. I am at a point now where I can not only smell out a lie (little inconsistencies here and there adding up to a bigger cover-up) but also sense when someone is bullshitting themselves.

Of course, this results in some false alarms.  Sometimes the little details that just don’t add up are because the person was drunk and honestly can’t remember and is trying to fill in those details as well.  Maybe they are bullshitting themselves about their own life because they have been taking steps to create something new after being in the dumps for the past 4 years and are trying to be more positive and self-assured.  In either case, my accusations of dishonesty don’t help matters. I often forget that people don’t have the same inner trust for honesty and integrity that I do.  Some of them still need these coping mechanisms and are possibly fighting a hard battle to confront them. Most simply feel that my honesty requirements are pushy and intrusive.

It doesn’t mean that I have to accept shabby or inconsistent treatment from the people I want to be intimate with.  In fact, if honesty is what I need for intimacy, then,  by all means, I deserve to receive it.  And I certainly don’t need to surround myself with people who will be careless about that need.

But I also need to recognize and remember that I am not perfect and can’t expect perfection from others.  I flub up.  I act impulsively.  I make up stories to explain my emotions so I don’t have to tell someone they are disappointing me or hurting me.  I also impose my own truth on people as well.  And I should apply that same lesson to those that have employed the hiding and projecting and recognize what is truly driving those actions. The same fear of embarrassment, shame, and loss as what has driven my own actions.  And the more I judge dishonesty and brutal “truth” the less I create a structure with which people can feel safe in sharing their full truth with me…which in the end takes me further away from what I truly want to create for my closest friends.

And much like Mahatma Gandhi mentions above…truth is truly within and individual to the person viewing it.  In order to act with my highest truth, I need to allow people the space to act with theirs; stop coercing them into adopting or conforming to my view of things, especially intimacy.

Open marriages: a mainstream reality check

Let me confess right now that I am not a celebrity watcher. Sure I keep up with the basics of the gossip, but i don’t let the temperamental and tumultuous relationships of celebrities define anything for the reality of my life.  Personally I believe any marriage exposed to such a magnifying glass is already starting out with more pressure than it can withstand.  But when I read that some gossipers are blaming an open relationship for the failure of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, I think people are too quick to assign blame to the “new” concept of an open marriage instead of looking at the qualities and characteristics of the people involved.  And let’s be clear…none of us know Demi and none of us know Ashton.  So unless you are in the relationship itself, can you really assign blame to an open marriage or any other signular scapegoat?

In this article on HuffPo “Open Marriage: A Celebrity Solution or a Contradiction in Terms?” people continue to speculate on the disadvantages of an open relationship. What bothers me about the article is that it pretends to have an equal point of view where it intends to treat open marriages as an option, except it doesn’t really delve into the good realities of an open marriage.  It treats open marriage as if it is biohazard material which can only be observed at a distance or with heavy protection against its dangers.

Open marriage may seem sane to some as it allows for forgiveness on both sides if and when both partners give into the inevitable temptations and stray. The thinking is, “If we’re going to cheat, let’s at least be honest about it.” But it is not a real solution. I don’t have the statistics to prove it, and with today’s divorce rate, traditional marriages aren’t exactly stellar in the numbers department, but from a purely practical perspective, we can’t have it both ways.

I don’t think my marriage could stand up to this kind of pressure and I’m not sure that any healthy marriage could. I believe it prudent to intentionally keep things that are potentially damaging to your marriage away from your marriage whenever and wherever possible.

First, let’s agree that there are a few problematic terms here such as “stray”, “cheat”, “not a real solution” and “potentially damaging”.   The article is already stacking the deck against us. Open marriages for the most part don’t view outside influences or people as dangers that should be guarded against.  And frankly if someone decides to open their marriage with this perspective in mind, they might not have the right mindset to even start an open marriage much less sustain one.

Most open marriage start with the premise the honesty is mandatory.  No subject is off the table, no encounter is not worth sharing.  So, if cheating, straying or stepping out becomes an issue, it’s usually because a partner has a compulsion to deceive in a relationship, which I view as far more damaging in an open relationship because the fear of being honest, confessing an attraction to another person or god forbid flirting with another person has been managed and ideally eliminated.  Generally speaking, if someone cheats in an open relationship, they are a special kind of douchebag, often blaming the other partner for their lack of integrity and honesty instead of owning up to their compulsions and impulse control issues.  But in a traditional marriage, this might not come to light and would be blamed instead on that partner’s inability to be monogamous.

But to say that it is prudent to keep “potentially damaging” influences, people and situations away from your marriage is problematic.  If that were the case, let’s make sure we don’t open up marriages to children.  After all, the birth of a child could be potentially damaging to your union, causing among other things financial instability, mental break-down and a lack of sex drive.  Let’s also make sure no married couple takes on a risky business venture or has to travel for work.  Include too potentially erratic and damaging in-laws or friends.  Pets. Home remodeling.  Disability. Death of a family member.  Or anything that might cause stress. And most definitely let’s eliminate any threat of mental illness or chronic disease.

Do you see how utterly stupid that is?

Instead, why don’t we teach our married brothers and sisters how to deal effectively with a partner when facing these “threats” to their united bliss?  How do we deal with conflict?  How do we deal with disappointment and deception?  How are we playing out the tired and unsuccessful patterns of relating that we’ve learned from society and family in our married lives today?

But comparing an obsession with work and material success to the enrichment and fulfillment available when connecting with more than one human being is insulting.  That’s not to say that I haven’t seen marriages torn apart by the distractedness and self-centeredness of one of the partners.  For example, I knew of a couple that broke up because the wife spent most of her time scrapbooking or playing games online than watching her kids, leaving the husband to work 60+ hour weeks, risking his and the kids’ health.  But whenever the focus of a partner is rooted in the outside world, connection starts to wither away.  Focusing on bringing home the joys and rewards of those outside influences and allowing it to help replenish the couple so it becomes something they can share in together, equally and reinforce the connection.  But it’s easier when you’re bringing home the joy and bliss of a new connection.  Seeing your partner light up with pride and love at a fulfilling evening and having them share that positive energy with you is not at all the same as waiting up all night for your partner to come home from a long business trip only to have them barely kiss you or share the details of their trip with you.

Open marriages are just an invitation for sexy, exciting, thrilling and potentially lethal distractions. It’s inviting disaster, just like working crazy hours at the expense of yourself or your loved ones; playing golf more than you know you should to get away from your family; hanging out with friends more than hanging in, or out, with your spouse; and the list goes on.

Lethal distractions?  Really? Only if someone can’t control their jealousy.  But then again, I’ve seen people murdered for less.  And I would absolutely LOVE to divorce someone for playing golf (because I find golf to be an insipid, tedious and needlessly elitist “sport”—that is pretty much a deal-breaker to me). My husband’s distraction is video games.  The benefit he gains from it helps me too.  He is more relaxed, more able to talk about his day, more focused on my needs instead of just his.  And I have my distractions too.  I love kink. I talk about it, write about it and even study it in my spare time. (and belly dancing is a close 2nd) It has benefits for my husband in much the same ways his distractions benefit me.  So, I wouldn’t say that distractions are per se bad, but that it breaks down to the cost-benefit analysis of it all.  Does the benefit to the marriage outweigh the cost to it?

Additionally, is someone is seeking distraction to avoid the real dysfunction of the relationship or is it something that is enriching to their character and growth?  It’s only at the end of the article that the author even suggests that there might be reasons why someone is seeking distraction in their marriage.  And frankly, I don’t know a couple that doesn’t seek it to some extent.  So the question is why?  And frankly, we tend to knee-jerk quite a bit about this subject.  Could it be that this “distraction” is contributing positively to someone’s growth and journey?  If so, I’m all for it.

So until you know these couples and what their individual and joint journeys are…it’s probably a better idea to look at yourself and ask what is so delicate about your marriage that you must avoid “danger” at all costs instead of allowing it to test your mettle and commitment, allowing it to alter your perspective and perhaps even enhance your life.   Through good times and in bad, right?

“Love is the ability and willingness to allow those you care for to be what they choose for themselves, without any insistence that they satisfy you.”

– Dr. Wayne Dyer

A Note on Empathy

Original Post:

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

More to follow.

So when I posted this, I got a question on twitter from someone who snarkily wanted to know what this had to do with sex.  Frankly, it has everything to do with relationships and therefore in my mind has more than plenty to do with sex.  This is about simple relating.  Replace the word “enemies” with “neighbors” or “lovers” or an form of human relationship and it still fits.

I’ve been somewhat preachy lately in my personal and professional life about the needless competitions we get into, usually around “my pain is worse than your pain” sorts of scenarios.  You know the ones.  You’re pouring your heart out about the latest drama or dilemma you have encountered in your life.  Your friend seems like they are paying attention until suddenly they say, “Oh that’s nothing.  Listen to what happened to me the other day”.    Your heart is still bleeding and you’re still looking for some amount of comfort for the ass-hattery that has hit your life while your friend drones on and on about their latest problem.  It hurts and it sucks.

I’ve done it.  I completely admit it.  I’ve even interrupted people while they were crying to do this.  I’ve upped the ante on the emotional pain on the table so much that by the time we’re done, we both feel like the biggest losers in the world and are even worse off than before.  No one was heard, no one has been comforted and we both feel resentful to our “narcissistic” friend who stole our pitiful squeak of thunder. I have been this shitty friend, been called self-absorbed, self-centered, narcissistic and desperate before and it really sucks.  (and for the record, I believe “narcissistic” is tossed around a little too liberally, usually by the very people are exhibiting the exact same behavior and whining about others’ narcissism for not paying attention to their pain and suffering).

But you’ve done it too.  It’s okay to admit it.  It’s okay to say that you’ve been a giant ass about someone else’s pain and played the “no, look at how much more my life sucks” game.  I could go into the psychological reasons why we do this to each other, but that would miss the point of what I’m aiming for here.

Being a good lover depends quite a bit on emotional intelligence.  And a cornerstone of emotional intelligence is empathy.  Empathy is described as “the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being.”.  But in order to do that we have to know a bit about that person’s story.  We have to understand a bit more about their journey…and we have to be interested enough to care to listen to it.  And most of the time, I think we are.  I think we do care.  But in an effort and perhaps even an impatience to connect with that person, we interrupt or supersede with our own story and our own journey.  We want acknowledgment too.  We want recognition for our pain and suffering too.

The fact is, we’ve all suffered.  We’ve all experienced pain.  I may not have lost a sibling or parent, but I’ve been hurt.  I know what those experiences did to me and how i am different because of them.  And with a partner or a lover, my pain, particularly those I’ve experienced with former partners and lover (particularly D/s relationships) is kind of relevant.  Knowing where I’ve come from is an important part of understanding me.  It influences how I connect with others physically, emotionally, sexually and what of myself I choose to reveal to them as time progresses.  It is a major reason why I don’t really consider NSA (no-strings attached) sex to be truly without connection, feeling or bonds.  But that is another topic for another day.

Sharing ourselves with our partners is essential I believe, at least if you don’t want to surprise them with landmines and booby traps.  It creates empathy and awareness for our personal journey.  It also allows them to see more of us and therefore create a better bond that can shine all the brighter.  It helps to melt away some of our own insecurities and overcome minor resentments before they become giant issues.

The problem is when we allow these personal narratives of our past to overtake and drown out the present.  The person we are sharing with typically is not the person that caused us this harm and/or trauma in our lives.  We’re sharing it as a warning sometimes.  Other times are simply trying to get the acknowledgment and yes, sometimes pity that we didn’t originally get.

And that’s not to discourage that sharing at all, just be aware that in giving that story that we are not shifting the burden of our care and healing onto them.  It still our story.  That person didn’t create that trauma and no matter what level of their sympathy and empathy, they cannot fix it for us.  We are still responsible for our own selves and our own lives and ultimately our own healing.  My hope is that in sharing your story with others that the burden becomes easier and we open ourselves up the therapeutic magic that is possible and therfore we bring about our own healing by letting go of the pain and allowing ourselves to see a better life.  And if everything goes well, we do the same for others.  We listen, we empathize, we allow them the safety to share of themselves fully…

and sharing is quite sexy.

OMG! The bisexual man does exist!

NYT: No Surprise for Bisexual Men: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2011/08/23/health/23bisexual.xml

My poly husband is Bi.  I think I’ve called him “Warrior” here before. Warrior = bi?  You bet.  I didn’t need a Northwestern study to validate this for me…but I think this information will prove useful when discussing sexual orientation with others.

He faced a lot of opposition from the gay community in his last state when he and wife got together. Fortunately here he hasn’t seen quite as many problems, but I get these questions now and then that seem to be rather ill-informed attempts to suggest he reads “more gay than straight”. 

Actually that one came from one of his lovers. I don’t think of him that way. I don’t like thinking that somehow his wife and I are the exceptions to the rule and if he would just accept his true nature then he’d be fucking every man in town. I see that statement as wishful thinking on behalf of a gay community that would like a shot at him. But for these pesky rules and expectations and marriages that these women impose he could be fair game.  Deny the fact he loves women and suddenly he seems more accessible.

Except that is not the case. He experiences his sexuality like he does most things in his life…in a rather focused, clear and direct way. He knows exactly what he wants, when he wants it. He isn’t afraid to look for it and frankly it takes him only moments to find it since people throw themselves at him on a daily basis (a subject for a post–doing poly with a sex object).  For him it is not about some wishy-washy confusion over whether he is actually straight or gay.  It’s not confusion at all.  He likes women. He likes men. He likes to have both kinds of sex in his life. Period.

For the most part I don’t see him face much opposition here with me.  And if he has, he hasn’t mentioned it. If someone can’t accept him as bi, then he simply won’t be visiting their bed.  And when he hears about these snarky comments, he quietly jumps back with a consistent and thorough answer.

Fact is as we grow towards acceptance of gay relationships, we need to keep in mind that there is not a binary of orientation. You are not either gay or straight. It’s not an on or off switch, but as my other husband describes it, we are on a dimmer switch where both ends are just a different brilliance of light. None better or worse than the other. Some have it turned up to high and some prefer it a little lower. And once it is turned high or low there is no law stating that’s where it should stay forever and ever, amen.  It’s going to shift, sometimes because variety is super awesome. And sometimes because needs change and evolve day to day or over longer periods of time.

And maybe I say that because I believe in sexual fluidity. Maybe I say that because a number of gay men, including strangers, have asked quietly to have alone, naked time with me. Some of them to heal from past experieces…others to fulfill nagging fantasies. None of this makes them less into cock than they were before. Their preference is still turned up to high, but stepping away from that for a few minutes can give them better perspective and information useful for their growth. It isn’t self-loathing as some might suggest, but exploring curiosities and ideas that might be harder to do with anyone less than me.

Sorry, my original point is that we shouldn’t need a study to tell us bisexuality is real, particularly for men. Bisexuals represent a unifying of the orientation duality that frankly makes those who consider themselves 100% gay or 100% straight nervous.  There is no less than when our sexual realities are equal to each other.

Return

I made a vow when I started this blog that I wouldn’t discuss my personal life here very often.  Or at least if I did, it wouldn’t be in grand amounts of detail.  I’ve been outed before.  It’s not fun.  And some of the people I’m involved with would also consider it, not quite so fun to be outed.

But one thing this past weekend is honestly too big to hold back on.  Here I am three years after the fact, facing a return to my spiritual husband.   It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.  We broke up two years ago…but in my mind it was really three.  It was three years ago our relationship started to seriously deteriorate.  As that was happening, I was adding two new relationships to my life: one had been in the wings for quite some time and the other was accelerated on a timeline I couldn’t foresee.  And my spiritual husband and I both were caught up in the waves of the latter.  Crashing, crushing waves that I had not encountered with anyone other than this spiritual husband.  Initially he was supportive of all those relationships, but then the relationships (both local) were quickly overshadowing what he and I held together. There were a lot of other factors at play, not the least of which was our own pride and resentment brewing under the surface.  But the events of July 2008 forever changed the rules of the game and set us on a path that only served to push us away from each other.

And the wedge of resentment was so very strong.  Walls went up quicker than either of us had the power to eliminate (and we are both quite skilled at it).  For the first time in a long time, when we talked we didn’t listen because we both insisted that the other wasn’t hearing us.  So we just talked louder.  And more forcefully.  And louder still.

broken-promises

Until we could hear nothing but the hollow echo of our own emptiness.

I may never fully comprehend what happened back then. I know that I went through a massive emotional and spiritual reboot.  And I know that I couldn’t have done that if he and I had still been together.  Even as things shifted and changed, we were holding true to these perverse assumptions we had about each other.  You know the ones, the ones where the “other” is actually the villain.  This is not what we believed in.  And yet it happened.

It happened because it needed to happen.  I’m a big believer in “everything has a purpose” and this was no different.  Both of us have changed significantly over the years, without much involvement from the other party at least.  So when he announced he and his kids and girlfriend would be coming to town, I had to rely pretty extensively on what I’ve developed in myself over the past three years.  I was nervous and terrified and radically honest with myself about what I could handle and what I couldn’t.

…you know how people tell you emphatically to never, ever get back together with your ex?

Yeah, I ignored that advice and I’m glad I did.

Because the part where we got to talk without kids, without responsibilities weighing us down was amazing.  It was honest and sincere.  We were both holding a little back, but we recognized it for what it was and moved onward with an initial amount of trust.

And when we kissed, the cosmic forces seem to shine their approval.  Was it really a break-up if we both still loved each other that immensely?  Was it really a break if we both had hurt each other that much?  All I know is in those magic hours under moonlight and stars, we remembered who we really are together.  All the immense pleasures and joys we bring to each other’s lives and how deeply and immediately we feel that connection.

I don’t have words for what we are and I’m reluctant to name any, particularly at this stage.  All I know is that I felt like a part of my soul snapped back into place and I feel inspired and alive again.  We will have to create new images, new ideas to truly describe where we are now and who we are to each other.

… but Love fits.  Always has and no matter what we endure alone or apart it always will.

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