We have a predator/prey vision of sexuality. Male sexuality is characterized as predatory and acquisitive. Women are characterized as receiver/prey/gatekeeper. In this dynamic, entitlement for men is encouraged, for how do you pursue if you do not feel entitled to your prize? How could you fail to see the gatekeeper of sexuality as an enemy to be defeated?
My boyfriend has this awesome Bat-thulu T-shirt. It’s a black shirt with the Batman logo in yellow morphing into Cthulu tentacles. This shirt is pretty cool. It’s part of what signaled his awesomeness to me as his potential partner. I think he owns, like, three of them. It’s his signature shirt. He wears it everywhere.
One day, when we had been dating only briefly, he wore it to a party. As the host of the party approached, we both gasped. Our host was wearing the exact same shirt! Not only that, our host shared similar coloring and build with my boyfriend. With mock-horror, my boyfriend breathed “My shirt!” With accompanying mock-distress, I clutched his shoulder and asked “Do… Do I have to go with him now?” My boyfriend’s face fell. And for a split second, he actually looked a little panic-stricken. Determined to carry the joke, I gave a pained little squeak, dropped by chin to my chest and went to take my alotted place at our host’s elbow. Ever-valiant, however, my boyfriend roared a theatric “Nooooooooo!” and snatched me back. Everyone laughed. All was merry. Mostly.
Because it’s silly, right? Just because someone else has the same or perhaps superior cool things as your partner, it doesn’t mean they have now negated your relationship and you have to go with them now.
But this type of distress is not uncommon. Despite living in a world of nine billion people, we often feel at the mercy of attachments that crop us between ourselves and others. And also at the mercy of a particular set of narratives we tell ourselves about what that means to our selection and cultivation of other attachments. Basically, if somebody’s better than our mates, does that mean we chose poorly?
In defense of the inevitable statistical awesomeness bell-curved through nine billion people and in defense of the many benefits of long-term and deliberately cultivated attachments, let me give that a resounding NO!
Much of our cultural narratives and dating lives are based upon selection. We’re supposed to select the most optimal from the options at our disposal. And presumably, if we do a good job selecting, we’ll be rewarded with the unbroken bliss of the intimate company of our soul-mates. And nothing need ever trouble us again. Right?
Many poly folk have realized, at least intellectually, that this isn’t true. So why is it when I ask how people deal with comparisons and superiorities between partners, I seem to get a fairly heaping helping of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Some of these comfortable policies are simply the conveniences of circumstance. Busy people have little enough time to hang around their partners’ partners while they’re being partnery with them. So they don’t really NEED to cope with all the attendant insecurities that may come with that. And who wastes time cultivating unnecessary skills? We also really aren’t into rocking our partner’s boat for their own betterment. What kind of sadist deliberately tells a partner than someone else does it better than them, particularly anything that is intimately connected to their identity or self-esteem?
But who are we kidding, special snowflakes? Somebody out there in the wide world does everything single thing you do better than you. Somebody out there, statistically speaking, could make your partner way happier than you. So?
No wait, seriously. So… why in hell are they with you, anyway? Surely, they must know this horrible truth, right? Why are they with you? Why aren’t they out there hunting someone better? Are we all just settling? Are we all just waiting around for the better thing to come by and break our relationships apart? Is that all we’re worth?
And the reality that none of our monogamist, Disney fairy-tale, romantic comedy soul-mate narratives seem to grasp is that cultivated relationships acquire value. You get to know someone, you share things, you build a history, you make a life. And that’s worth something. Let’s not shy away from the fact that we develop roles in relationships. We become perhaps better suited to our partnerships over time. And if stuff’s working well, the person we become is someone that we like. I’m the person who answers facebook invites. My partner becomes the person who backs up the hard drive. I tone down my criticism, he says what he needs. We make each other. We are bonded and continue to bond. I don’t believe relationships are wholly at the mercy of the sunk cost fallacy. (although that’s totally a thing) because it does indeed appreciate.
So when a sweet young thing walks into my view who moves like cream on the dance floor, neither of us are worried that I have to go with him now (Y’know, other than to go dance). Because we share a knowledge of the worth of what we have. My sweet young dancer doesn’t shake that.
He just shakes that perfect little booty of his.
I am an odd duck. I keep finding these weird parts of me have communities of the like-minded out there, and I get all excited to join them. There’s a convention for haunters, for kink? For poly too?? And it seems, inevitably, that I find myself an odd duck among the odd ducks. I might be a haunter, but I’m a girl. I might be kinky, but about intimacy. I might be poly, but I liked being monogamously married for 15 years.
One of the frustrations of this is that I always find myself at odds with the in-group consolidation tactics. Groups strengthen their bonds by holding up their shared qualities and valuing them over other groups or the outside world.
While it’s not universal, poly does this a lot by trashing monogamy as unenlightened. I recently had an argument with someone about polyamory being a “capability” rather than a strategy. I took issue with this because it implied that people who were poly were “better” or “more capable” at relationships. It also insulted people who were “poly-capable” but chose, for whatever reasons, to live monogamously or vice versa.
Their response was basically that it was ok to be incapable of managing multiple relationships, and it didn’t mean they couldn’t learn… which kind of illustrated my point. I’ve seen too many self-centered, stupid, inexperienced, callous people having poly relationships to believe that it’s any sign of some greater competence that you are poly.
I’d attach “capability” to being able to have successful, ethical, well-managed, or very fulfilling relationships, not necessarily the KIND of relationships one was having. People play the violin or the bass guitar. Either one of them could be a capable musician (and no doubt, whatever they play, they probably started out rather sucking at it), but it’s not the instrument they’re playing that makes them capable
… it’s the music.
Polyamory is the strategy (or instrument) for producing music. Capable musicians make beautiful music. Whether it’s punk rock or Mozart. Or some amazing HYBRID OF BOTH.
But don’t tell me violinists have some special “capability.” Because you’ve obviously never sat through the screeching of a bunch of five year olds in violin class or listened to Dave Grohl. Pretension is not a sexual orientation. And it doesn’t make you hot.
I’ve lost so many friends. All sorts of reasons. Mostly making choices that I knew would lose me friendships, with various mixtures of regret and relief and good riddance. I now find myself in a town peppered intermittently with people who were former friends. They’re still around, friends of other friends, doing stuff I hear about in the thin ties of facebook feeds. They are tinged with nostalgia and a sense of distance not worth bridging. The ravines have spikes. And I’m busy.
I think about how to go back to them. I wonder why I want to. I think it might be this sense that “good” is supposed to win eventually, so the lingering bad blood seems like something unfinished. All is supposed to be well, and while time has worn away all the edges, it’s not quite WELL, really, between us. The awkwardness of seeing them around at concerts or events is an unwelcome blip. Do I say hi? Do I ignore them? Would ignoring them be mean? Blip. Blip on the radar of unfinished business. Blip.
I was asked, a while ago, if I wanted to come back to a circle. I was very lonely and vulnerable, which could have made for a good time to regain a circle, but the idea repulsed me. The reason I left them in the first place was that I didn’t feel safe, so going to them with open wounds and a hurting heart just seemed unthinkable. I suppose if I wanted to cast myself upon their mercy, but I kinda don’t. For all the pain and trouble of my life as it’s gone, I’ve only become more determined to maintain a steady hand on my own will.
And when I think about that calculus, that some people are worse than lonely and hurting, maybe I have my answer about why I think about going back to them, but don’t.
I am too many things: adoptive parent, Halloween event creator, lover, feminist, polyamorist, assault victim, divorcee, non-profit manager, reader, database builder, actress, graphic designer, marketer, dancer, and general rabble-rouser. I recently decided that I’ve been through enough that I can speak publicly, without worrying whether someone tells me I don’t know what I’m talking about. I know enough. Continue reading
So, I recently had a betrayal by a meta-partner. I felt it as a betrayal. It was a health risk and no disclosure VERY shortly after having a health scare and assuring one another that we would be scrupulous about informing each other. And I did not trust the meta-partner any more.
I felt guilty about the unfairness of treating her as more suspicious than a stranger. I kiss Xira, who is a stranger, but I trusted him to be a grownup and responsible and he was. I trust acquaintance strangers to be responsible grownups in their physical relationships to me. And they’ve rarely/never let me down about this. I have often had good cause to speak well of their considerate and scrupulous behavior. Even if they wanted things that broke my heart, I respected how they dealt with me. I LIKE being a trusting person and wish to continue giving people the benefit of the doubt.
But when that trust is broken…. yeah, I trust betrayers less than mostly strangers. When I think of how this must feel on the receiving end, I have great sympathy for the meta-partner. It must be horrible to be treated like a betrayer. To be held as less trustworthy than a mostly stranger. I agonized over my unwillingness to trust her word or expose myself to risk around her. How could I make her feel so bad? How could I treat her so poorly? Continue reading
I notice a few key reactions from smart, well-intentioned guys as they reach the fork in the road determining “greater wisdom” and “becoming a douche” by bashing heads with a seasoned activist. These things usually happen to men who have a self-image as a good and intelligent person with sound judgment. So, for the edification of guys who may recognize some of these defense mechanisms and for the affirmation of activists who are SO TIRED of seeing them over and over again, here is a list of observed responses when intelligent new age guys are called out on privilege:
1. Upping their “civil conversations” quota. Continue reading