Since I was a teenager I’ve gotten into the habit of not giving much weight to compliments. I don’t absorb them easily, don’t take them seriously and I try to avoid a lot of situations that would result in ever receiving them. As I age, now in my 40’s, I give them even less attention than I did when I was younger. I have fallen into a habit of dismissing them as useless noise in otherwise great conversations.
It’s no understatement to say that I don’t accept compliments very well. Whether it’s my intellect, my beauty or my impact, I’m very reluctant to accept positive feedback about myself no matter who it comes from. But when I receive romantic or sexual compliments, particularly from men, my reluctance turns to suspicion.
The men who came before you ruined it.
My first job was at an ice arena in the 90’s. For a while I was the only female under the age of 50 who worked there, so most days, I was working with 3-5 men at any given time. When I wasn’t on the ice or behind skate rental doing my homework I was shooting the shit with the guys.
Leaving alone some of the more unsavory and illegal aspects of that job (the sexual harassment & uncompensated hours), every afternoon, when the rink was closed and we were between events, we sat in the box office or my boss’ office and talked about everything. I felt accepted in a way that I didn’t with others. The geeky boys at school rejected me, the jocks ignored me, the smart guys were weirdly protective over me and the beautiful boys didn’t know I existed. Not only were these guys paying attention to me, but they were giving me advice, insider information on how to attract guys.
My sexual education mostly had consisted of Catholic judgment tempered by access to a library with loads of books about puberty and sex. But even though I had resources I felt like a freak for my bisexual desires, the frequency of masturbation, the obsession over wanting to show off my body. I was able to contain the freak enough to date, to learn from the boys that I was with, but most of those messages revolved around seeking the approval of men.
Navigating Toxic Masculinity
So during those times at work I fancied myself a spy who had been given a glimpse into a deeper thread of masculinity. I gained access to the spaces where sexually dysfunctional assumptions are embedded in deep currents of shame. I knew even back then that these men were wearing masks to impress each other. Yet they were playing a game designed so that none of them would ever really win. I knew that a lot of them felt pressure to brag and boast, to put up walls and hide their needs with a well-placed wink at their friends.
I also saw the men underneath. The ones who really wanted a happier relationship, the ones who were working through issues of self-worth and managing stunted independence. I eventually got to see the vulnerability, sometimes more acutely than their wives or girlfriends – because after a while, they forgot that I was a spy and they considered me one of them.
And while all of that would be ample reason to not trust their advice about boys, I was working from a skewed sense of self, insecurities run amok. Specifically, I paid attention to their strategies behind compliments. They taught me their code for how they talk about women and how to get what they wanted from women:
- Tell a smart girl she’s pretty
- Tell a pretty girl she’s smart
- Beautiful – when you want her to fall for you.
- Gorgeous – to keep her attention or get out of trouble.
- Cute – girl next door that you want to fuck but might have to play the friend zone for a while before you can.
- Hot – to get her to act sluttier.
- Sexy – the more breathless you say it, the more she’ll want to please you.
- Nice/sweet – clingy woman who you’re trying to gently let down.
All of these strategies and definitions overlapped to a certain extent and varied from person to person. But the lesson was clear – compliments were manipulations used to reinforce desired results.
From there I always had reason to doubt the sincerity of the compliments I received. I developed a deliberate response system, using this code to uncover hidden intentions and build strategies of my own. I started seeing through the strategic use of eye contact when told I’m “gorgeous”. I could hear the impatient expectation hidden in their voice when told I’m “hot”. Poems and platitudes dismissed over and over. It’s all bullshit, packaged and sold as smooth seduction and I wasn’t going to get emotionally drawn into the value of the compliment.
I got to the point where I could anticipate each compliment through seeing the corresponding intention. I could easily weave through the different road signs and guideposts, avoiding pitfalls of falling for just any guy who called me beautiful. I modeled the frankness about sex that I wanted for myself. If I wanted to date someone, if I wanted to have sex with them, I just told them. No pretense, no seduction by compliment; I would just call it out. It didn’t always work in my favor – definitely got turned down a lot, but at least it was honest.
Expect and deflect.
Sincerity plants seeds of growth
Eventually and especially after going through sexual trauma, any compliment became seen as dangerous, a potential manipulation I had to guard against. And while I was only trying to keep myself from getting hurt, I know that this was also hurting those who really just wanted to connect with me by expressing their interest. I’m honestly ashamed to think of all the really wonderful people who I’ve rejected because of the advice of these men.
I wish I could go back to the girl I was and tell her that the real lesson to take from the guys at the rink was how to discern insincerity from genuine interest. To notice that the way they treated women was more reflective of how they treated themselves. They manipulated because they were constantly wearing a mask that denied them the experience of connection. It was easier to define women and pussy as grotesque and mysterious than it was to admit that the 4 minute fucks they were hustling weren’t impressing anyone.
I would tell her that the people she would most value in her life, who would rock her world sexually and spiritually, would all have one quality in common:
An open heart, an open mind will always be the epitome of sexy for me.
Whether it’s maturity or confidence, I know myself better than I did back then. I still have insecurities, but I no longer allow them to decide how I feel about myself or what boundaries matter to me. I simply don’t have time to waste on those who offer half-truths and generic innuendos. Nor do I care about the opinions of those who bring nothing but their desperate emptiness, no matter how much they try to hide it behind compliments.
I am most strongly attracted to those who are genuine within themselves. I care most about those who express empathy and even simple curiosity. Those who act consistently to express their own truth in a way that connects, rather than destroys. Sincerity always contributes more energy than it drains. And those who embrace their truth, no matter how ugly or damaged they feel it is, these are the people I want to know. These are the people I want to share myself with. And fuck, sincerity is just so damn sexy.
Manipulation doesn’t have the power to change someone. At best, it temporarily deprives them of the ability to make a conscious choice. Manipulations are the tools of the weak, those who can’t stand on their own with confidence. Yet, compliments shared from a sincere heart are hard to ignore, kind of impossible to dodge. Once a sincere person shares their truth, it plants a seed of connection that give us new life, new energy, a change for the better.
Sincerity forces us to take off the mask and be seen for our honest selves. It is vulnerable and intimidating for certain, but it is entirely what our world needs more of right now.
I’m always flirting with the danger of being a little too stuck in the past. I revisit old lovers, I regularly journey wistfully in nostalgic reverie, I seek out connections to the past at any opportunity. I want to live in present and often do, but I like to revisit where I’ve been. It’s useful to gain some perspective, to reframe the thoughts I have about who I was. Ultimately, it gives me some insight and inspiration into where I want to go.
A few days ago I turned 40 years old. (Yay!) I was lucky enough to spend a full 48 hours on things that nourished my soul. A chakra massage, tarot readings from two different people, joyful celebration, quiet contemplation, a party, a blessing, a clearing, a purging of my darkness. See, the overwhelming message that came through to me (even with The Last Jedi) was how I needed to let go of the remnants of the past so that I can finally move forward to a place of deservingness and peace. I need to stop examining the past to piece together my shattered worthiness and instead needed to accept my own light, accept my new role and create a future of bright, shining energy.
This is my own personal Tower. This is the structure that has been holding up my life, created from memory, from experience, from learning, and above all from distortions about these. This structure of service without reward, of absorbing the darkness in others so that they might find their light has been such a primary source of identity for me. I’ve been resisting tearing that down, but it’s become so apparent to me that this is the last piece of “suffering” I must do in order to fully feel like I can move forward into the structure I’m building for myself.
The time has come for me to step into Who I Really Am.
The Origins of the Tower
Growth is accepting that not every structure in our life is meant to remain. We must either tear down the old, worn down Tower of self or a wrecking ball will come through and force us to rebuild.
Some of you have seen me talk about “tearing down my tower”. The Tower, a reference to tarot, is what I use to refer to those sacred institutions, behaviors, beliefs, reactions, etc that we use to process the outside world. Whether it be religion, sexuality, expectations in friendships, family values, politics, we each construct a Tower for ourselves, the structure for our home, our life, our relationships, our spirituality, our outlook on life.
The walls of our Towers are adorned with paintings of our grand achievements, statues of the important people in our lives, wall-to-wall libraries containing the knowledge we’ve accumulated along the way. Each is unique to our own self.
Our first Tower was built by our parents, caregivers, and others in authority when we were children. They were shaped for us so that we should be taught how to treat others, what to believe spiritually, what we find beautiful or loving, what priority learning should have in our lives. It provides us with shelter and protection.
I’m one of the newly named Xennial generation (1977 – 1983). I have been interacting with people online since adolescence. I grew up using chatrooms (Q-Link for the Commodore 128 and AOL with PC) with progressively increased private chats happening as the years went on. Back then we couldn’t (easily) send photos or use a cell phone to text, we arranged times to talk, often turning to phone sex after online chatting became more hot and personal. I was on this cusp generation that pioneered these emerging technologies, often at the mercy of the parents that allowed us access to them.
I’ve been doing this a long time–since 13 or 14 years old when we got our first equivalent of a modem. I had online access very early in my life that by the time everyone else was getting AOL, I was moving on to the next thing. And for as long as I’ve had access, I’ve had access to online flirting. So many sexual conversations, flirting online and over the phone. The currency of these exchanges relied on imagination. The more vivid descriptions, the more easily the sexual tension could build. I never kept track of how many of these conversations I had participated in over the years. How many men and the handful of women did I do this with? I’ll probably never know. But it was second nature to me. Witty, sexy, sultry banter was my thing.
The Shameful Barrier
I talk often about the accumulation of shame in my life and how inhibiting it can be. How intimidating it makes what was once second nature to me. I had stopped dating in 2009 for a variety of reasons: a new local relationship (Warrior) that took up much of my attention, a break-up with my Dallas poly husband where I felt like a failure at polyamory, residuals of being outed a few years before and a metamour whose insistence on one-way fluid bonding sent a clear judgment – that I’m somehow dirty. I was just so ashamed that I just cut off all possibilities, no matter how promising they were. No matter how much I wanted to progress with flirting and communication, it had been used against me so often that I always managed to sour the potential before it could ever take root.
I may have just jumped off the deep end without thinking. Today marks the first day of the #Summer100 #Sexblogger challenge run by Victoria of Pretty Pink Lotus Bud as a means of connecting sex bloggers, providing insight, support and an increase in traffic. And in the Trump age, where threats to sexual freedom are more eminent than they ever were before, we need to be focused on building community and supporting one another.
I started blogging in December of 2003 on LiveJournal. I remember vividly it was just a month after giving birth to my son and I was fed up with the mixed messages of parenting advice. I had spent most of my pregnancy physically unable to have sex, relying on masturbation to take care of mine and my husband’s needs. We were still monogamous back then so the frustration I was trying to express wasn’t about multiple relationships, it was about being able to feel sexual at all. I still hadn’t been cleared for postpartum sex, but I was frustrated that none of the books, none of the articles I had read prepared me for how to balance my sexual feelings with the feelings inherent in motherhood. Most parenting advice assumed that you’d be madly in love with your kid and wouldn’t need any other affection to keep you going. And in the late night hours of yet another round of breastfeeding, I was fed up that people like me would never get good advice from mainstream moms. Apparently, children are supposed to be all we ever need.
LiveJournal was the place where I could allow that energy to be seen, where I could give voice to my frustrations and where I could interact with others who felt the same. Blogging was personal back then. I am nostalgic for the way relationships formed and how communities interacted in this pre-Facebook era. I was writing every day, multiple times a day. Maybe it was sharing memes or reacting to the latest drama that my poly husbands found themselves in, but I was writing damn near every day.
I talk a lot about being outed. That slut shaming event hurt my career, hurt my psyche and broke our momentum as a family. Ten years later and I think we’re all finally recovering. I kick myself for not being more resilient, for allowing that event to take my voice and my writing from me. I kick myself for not being a better example to other sex bloggers out there of how we can recover from the assumptions and the harm inflicted on us by slut-shaming. And in looking through the blog roll of the people participating in this challenge, I’m not surprised to see that it’s still happening.
Fourteen years I’ve been blogging about sex. Not regularly, not with any singular message. I no longer do scene reports or summarize my adventures because since the outing, I not only haven’t had many sexual adventures, but I have been reluctant to share them with a wider audience. Once you’ve been shamed publicly, it’s hard to feel safe to share publicly.
But this is my fear talking. I signed up for this challenge to get back to a more regular presence and voice for what I do, for the message I send, for the connections I value.
Part of the challenge is to link back to some of the other blogs on the list, to help promote each other and give each other a boost. And I’m so glad to see 1) so many people of color on the list and 2) so many people who are writing joyously and thoughtfully about their experiences. I’ve been scared to do that for so long that I hope being part of this challenge will help me push past that comfort zone, where I challenge myself to share more of my life with a growing audience and with the people who inspire me. My intention is to gain more confidence in my writing and to grow it into a ritual of release that benefits you, the reader.
Now, I can’t guarantee I’ll get to 100 posts because I’m in the middle of a major and immediate job transition. Not only do I worry about job prospects but I also am consumed with the business of wrapping up my contract. But the intention has been set, the commitment made and I have you all to help keep me motivated. I am doing what I can to re-educate the fear right out of me, to give me a new experience of success, of personal rewards that flow from transparency and authenticity.
So, welcome to the #Summer100 challenge, the Bella Rosa way:
vulnerable as fuck and ready as ever.
The past five years have been unusually dark for me. Full of family turmoil and career drama. I’ve had plenty of reasons to run and hide, to isolate myself from the world. I stopped dating, I stopped really socializing too. I locked away in my little protective bubble where nothing could touch me. And how fitting that this spring I’m starting to emerge into who I have always wanted to be.
I’m sure the isolation served a purpose, allowed me a chance to rest, regroup and plot my way forward. But so much hurt, so much shame, so much trauma and I was more stuck than empowered. Contrast that to where I am now, more social, more vocal, more grounded in who I am. I believe strongly that this is where I need to be right now, in a space of manifestation and creation, fulfillment and passion. It’s time for me to start making some of my own dreams come true and actualizing the purpose I have for my life.
It’s even more important for me to be in this space…
Right here and right now
I can’t even say how long it’s been since I used the word “passion” to describe myself. I’ve been in survival mode for so long that passion had hardened into a strong shell of resentment over the years I had to put aside what I wanted and desired to avoid judgment and shame. And that passion barely had any embers left until the beginning of 2016.
It was a shitty year….we know this now. And when I had started writing this back in October, I had no idea how bad it would get. I had no idea that so many of us survivors of sexual assault would get activated and retraumatized all at once. I couldn’t see that coming. But to have that same person now in the White House is even more terrifying. And more threatening. Read the rest of this entry
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.