Tag Archive: thinky


So I’m continuing to read More Than Two. I’m enjoying the questions the authors ask their readers to contemplate, and will continue to blog my own answers here as I move along.
Right now, though, I want to talk about Communication and how it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
 
It’s possible that the authors, when writing up their Chapter 7 summary of good communication techniques (active listening, non-violent communication, & direct communication) are giving a coles-notes version that they’re going to expand on in later chapters. We’ll see if that happens. I know that right now, though, I’m getting really twitchy reading about “I statements” and – rather more-so, in my case – about how “direct communication” requires using one’s words rather than “hinting” through body language, tone of voice, and facial expression and how, if a partner doesn’t bring up a problem “directly” (AKA: verbally), one should take them at their (lack of) word and trust that there is no problem.
 
I’m not great at direct communication, so maybe that’s why I’m getting soooo twitchy, but I have a LOT of side-eye for this.
Yes, if I have difficulty with this, it’s on me to learn how to discern and acknowledge my own wants and needs, and then to Be Brave and state those wants and needs out loud with words, even when I’m not sure my requests are going to be met with a Yes. Similarly, if I have difficulty recognizing and naming my emotions, its on me to develope a nuanced vocabulary when it comes to that, and then to Be Brave and talk about those feelings, even when I’m not sure I’m allowed to feel those things or how my People will react to them.
 
BUT!
 
(1) Body language, facial expression, and tone of voice are PART OF how we, as humans, communicate.
I’m sorry (or, y’know, not sorry at all) but Rape Culture’s plausible deniability relies a LOT on the complete discounting of body language as a means of communication. I’m not thrilled that the authors of More Than Two are actively telling their readers that those modes of information-gathering just don’t count.
When I ask my wife how she’s doing? I’m listening to her words, yes. But I’m also “listening” to her facial expression, her body language, her tone of voice, and paying attention to contexts such as [what she’s been doing with her spare time recently] and [when was the last time she ate something]. As such, if I say “How are you doing?” and her words say “I’m great”, but her jaw-set and her fidgeting and her tone-of-voice and the skin around her eyes are all saying “I’m not great at all“, I will double-check, mention what I’m noticing about her other modes of communication, and invite her to open up a little bit. (She says she will never play poker with me for this reason).
And, yeah, I might get an answer like “No, I’m fine. I’m just pre-occupied with work stuff”, at which point I have to drop it and let it go, because boundaries are still a thing (yes, even when your internal monologue is rolling its eyes and saying “Come on…”).
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a dick move to completely ignore a huge swath of how humans communicate with each other, particularly when those modes of communication are what we fall back on (or can’t cover up as easily) when we’re concerned about the Consequences of wanting something other than what a given partner wants (or wants us to want, or what we THINK they want us to want… there’s totally a rabbit hole you can fall into here…).
 
…Which brings me to my other point:
(2) Communication doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Polyamoury communities are FULL of people who are visibly and/or invisibly disabled, trans, abuse survivors, queer, some combination of the above, and/or otherwise have personal-histories or systemic-cultural-histories that include a LOT of social conditioning AGAINST trusting what our bodies are telling us we actually want/need, and a LOT of social conditioning TOWARDS looking to the social cues of other people (doctors, parents, partners…) to tell us what is appropriate for us to want/need, and when it’s appropriate to want/need those things. (Jess Zimmerman has an article about exactly this situation, which is currently my Everything, and I think you should go read it. There’s also this article, aimed at cis guys, which touches on a related communication-doesn’t-happen-in-a-vacuum topic – Point #3 is particularly relevant).
People with these histories are most likely going to (a) have a harder time even just discerning what they want want/need (or even that they have wants/needs), and (b) have more difficulty voicing those wants and needs in a direct way rather than coding them as questions about another person’s desires.
Example 1: There are a lot of femme cis women, and a lot of trans women of various gender-presentations, who figured out they were gay-as-fuck relatively late in life because (a) trans women and cis women both get told to ignore what our bodies are telling us in favour of believing what other people tell us we should be/want/need, and (b) none of us “looked like lesbians” since “lesbian” is popularly coded (both in and outside of queer communities) as “masculine-of-centre cis woman”, so how could we be possibly be dykes?
Example 2: Folks who are abuse-survivors frequently develope a nearly-psychic (or actually psychic) ability to anticipate the wants and needs of other people (particularly those to-whom they are attachment-bound) to the exclusion of their own wants and needs. This is a serious survival-strategy that kept us alive and safe in those abusive situations… but it’s a hard “habit” to break when we’re finally not in those situations anymore. It is VERY hard to discern what *we* want or need, and then to say those things out loud, when our lizard brains are telling us to “Want what they want right now, or you are literally gonna die”. Differentiating between [what we think we’re supposed to want] and [what we actually want] is really hard to do, and feeling our way through sorting that out, especially out loud, can be overwhelming and frightening, even in a really supportive space.
 
Similarly, polyamoury communities are ALSO full of people who, for personal-history or systemic-culture-history reasons, have had a LOT of social conditioning TOWARDS emotional stoicism or emotional repression and a LOT of social conditional AGAINST developing a nuanced understanding of their own feelings (maybe you grew up with “boys don’t cry”, or being gaslit to the tune of “you’re just too sensitive” and “over-reacting” in your family-of-origin, or when your white friends didn’t/don’t recognize the racism being aimed at you. Maybe you grew up being taught that it was only acceptable to feel one emotion at a time (like Tinkerbell! Or like being required to remain an emotional toddler for the convenience and comfort of others), or that “emotional maturity” meant disociating from your feelings rather than courageously wading into them and articulating them even when you’re neck-deep).
People with these histories may have a harder time (a) discerning what, exactly, we’re feeling in a given situation, and then (b) naming those feelings out loud in a nuanced way, particularly if we are feeling multiple things at once. If you haven’t seen the Pixar movie “Inside Out”, I really, REALLY suggest that you watch it, as it can be extremely helpful in terms of being able to recognize the types of feelings that may be interacting inside your brain.
Example 1: “Defensive” is a mixture of sadness, fear, and anger. But maybe you’ve been taught that “defensive” is a pansy way to feel, and so you call it “jealousy” and tell your partner it’s their fault you feel that way; or maybe you call it “anger” because that’s the emotion you’ve had the most practice recognizing over the course of your life, and so that’s the part of “defensive” you can actually put a name around.
Example 2: Have you ever felt warm-hearted joy at seeing your sweetie all moony-eyed over their new squeeze? But also felt anxious that they might start to like said new squeeze better than they like you? Plus maybe sad and/or irritated at being left out, on top of that? How about a little bit squicked, in addition to the rest, because your empathy and compersion didn’t actually extend to finding your partner’s new partner attractive?
Like that.
It’s totally normal to feel all those things at once. But teasing out all the different bits of that big, complicated cocktail of feelings? That can be overwhelming, frustrating, and scary, even in a really supportive space.
 
So here’s the thing.
If we are people who are at a disadvantage when it comes to discerning and articulating wants, needs, and/or feelings (and we may have trouble with all of the above at the same time)… we still have to do that work. We still have to be hella brave and dedicated and say that stuff out loud to the people we care about and don’t want to lose.
BUT!
Our partners need to have our backs while we’re doing it.
AND
When we are partnered with people (and we are *all* going to be partnered with people in these boats at some point) who have trouble discerning and articulating wants, needs, and/or feelings?
We need to throw them a freakin’ bone.
We need to take on the emotional labour (because this, too, is work which requires time, energy, attention, and effort) of making space for our People to figure that stuff out.
 
Y’know why? Because when you care about someone, you INVITE communication. You don’t half-ass your way through a relationship by expecting the other person – who is most likely hurting and stressed, sinced communicating that everything is fantastic, when it’s actually fantastic, is pretty easy to do, but bringing up scary stuff is NOT – to carry 100% of the weight of getting a heavy/difficult message across.
 
And, hey: We can do this by ASKING QUESTIONS and INVITING ANSWERS. By checking in with our partners.
 
Ask “Are we okay? How are you feeling about the way we relate to each other right now?”
 
Ask “Are you getting enough of what you need?”
 
Ask “Is there anything I can do to help with that?”
 
Ask “When you say you need __________, what does that look like? Does it mean I need to do X? Would Y or maybe Z work too?”
 
Ask “Hey, you got really quiet just now. Can you tell me what you were feeling right then? Can you tell me, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense?”
 
Ask “What does it feel like in your body? Does it feel like numbness or cold? Does it feel like a fish brushing up against you in the water and then darting away? Does it feel like too-hot and maybe small?”
 
Ask “When you say you want to do X with me, can you tell me what it is about X that makes it important to you? Is it wanting to try something new with me specifically? Is it the event/activity itself? Is it the potential for one-on-one time? Is it something else?”
 
Ask “Even if you think it sounds weird or silly, can you tell me what would feel really good right now? Can you tell me what “loved” looks/smells/feels like when you imagine it?”
 
Ask “You’ve been feeling really distant/far-away/withdrawn lately. Even if you feel really bad about it, or think you’re not supposed to feel like that, can you talk to me about what’s on your mind? I miss you.”
 
Ask “I know you’re busy and have a lot on your plate, but how are you feeling?”
 
Ask. Check in. Listen to, and act on, the answers (<– Do not skip this step).
Deliberately offer a space to the people you care about where they can explore (using their outside voices, no less) how they feel and what they want and need. This is how you build relation-ships that are deep and lasting and strong.
Because, here's the thing: It's not a one-way street.
Yes, there will definitely be times when one partner in a given diad or constelation is going to be experiencing a harder-than-usual time and will need extra support.
But, by and large, this asking, and listening, and making space is something that we are all doing for all of the people we care about, and that the people who care about US are all doing for us at the same time. Because we’re in cahoots with each other, accepting and offering care to/from each other in a never-ending, multi-directional flow of give-and-take.
 
And yes, for sure, this isn’t easy.
Chances are really good that a given person is both dating people who have trouble with this stuff, and being someone who has trouble with this stuff, at the same time.
And it’s really hard to ask those space-making questions of (for?) someone else when you, yourself, are lost in your own Stuff; to ask “What do you need to feel safe right now?” when you’re very afraid the answer is going to be something that makes you feel like you’re dying:
When “I need space” is all they can articulate, but all you can hear is “I am kicking you out of our home, I do not want you here”.
When “I want ice cream” is what they can discern, but isn’t what will satisfy the underlying need (which might be for emotional-care or body-pleasure) they can’t discern yet, and you are struggling with the tapes in your head that are telling you over and over that nothing you ever do/provide/offer will be Good Enough, or substantial enough, to make you loveable.
It’s really hard to do this stuff when everybody involved is hurting. And soooooo many of us are hurting. ❤
 
One suggestion I have for this is to practice under lower-pressure circumstances. Some people do this by having a regular weekly Relationship Check-In date, where they set aside 20 minutes to bring up Stuff that's kind of annoying or that's weighing on their minds, or that's going swimmingly well, or whatever. Other people ask each other "Whatcha thiiiiiiiiinkin'?" and "How's my Person?" through-out the course of a day or week, and offer honest answers in return ("I'm thinking about steam engines" or "Reading an article about emotional labour and the goddamn patriarchy" or "Feeling a little jumpy and paranoid, and I can't put my finger on why" or "Gosh I'm besotted with you" or "I think I'm maybe hungry? What do you want to do for dinner?[1]" and similar).
It may feel clunky or weird at first, or you may be tempted to gloss over the maybe-not-so-great stuff because you figure you'll be able to solve it yourself once you've got it All Figured Out. But try. Try to build kind-and-honest information-giving AND kind-and-active (not just with your ears, folks) information-requesting & -receiving into your relationships from the get-go. It won't make the scary conversations any easier or less frightening. But it will make YOU more aware of your ability to actively participate in them, and survive them, with each other.
 
We signed up for consensual non-monogamy, folks.
We signed up for a love-style that is pretty-much guaranteed to smack us in the face with our worst fears (of being abandonned, of being devoured, of being unworthy of care or kindness no matter what we do). Open relationships are graduate-level relationships because of this. But every one of us has decided “I am up for this challenge”.
 
So be up for it.
 
Ask questions, even when it’s exhausting and frustrating, even when you’re not sure if you’re asking the right questions, even when your partner might offer dead-end answers that aren’t any help but *are* all they’ve got to go on right now.
 
Offer information, even when it’s terrifying, even if you’re offering it unprompted and you don’t know how the recipient will react, even when you’re not sure you’ve found the right answer, or the whole answer, yet.
 
Every time we do this, every time we (request)-offer-recieve information with kindness and courage, with care and attention and action, we strengthen and deepen the connections we’re building together. And what are we here for if not for that?
 
 
Cheers,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Did you notice how this answer involves (a) the recognition of a possible need/want (“I’m maybe hungry?”) but also (b) the coding of its possible solution through the lens of someone else’s desire (“What do YOU want to do for dinner?”)? This stuff is hard to unlearn, folks.

My year-at-a-glance horoscope for (big shock) the year my Saturn Return began said “Scorpios can stay in a bad situation longer than is healthy for anyone” (or words to that effect).
 
I think I’ve only (sort of) initiated a break-up once in my life, and it was kind of by accident. I’d been trying to tell my then-boyfriend that I needed him to shape up and contribute financially to the household (hahaha, in retrospect this was so unlikely to happen it was a joke I even asked, but hey) and, well, that wound up being the end of the relationship. Now, something like a decade-and-a-half later, I find myself contemplating a more-recent breakup (The Archivist and I stopped dating at the end of January). Maybe it’s because I’m hitting that particular stage in post-breakup grieving where I get pissed off, or maybe it’s for some other reason, but I find myself thinking a lot about how much of that (long-distance) relationship I spent feeling exhausted, anxious, lonely, frustrated, or otherwise in the Seriously Unhappy end of the emotional nebula.
It’s not their fault. They were giving me everything they could (and, as such, were probably feeling a lot of similar things, a lot of the time). I just needed more than what they could give me[1].
 
Which is what brings me to my titular question: How Do You Know When To Quit?
 
If you’ve been here for very long (or know me in person), you know that I’ve had very little dating experience. Like: Six people. Two of whom I full-on married, and two more of-whom didn’t make it past the 3-month mark. I’m still just starting to learn the patterns of my own romantic Healing Process (e.g.: I’m at the familiar, slightly heart-achy, slightly embarassing stage where I think about how “five years from now”, after we’ve both done a lot of Emotional Growing and got our business in a bit more of a heap, maybe we could be lovers/confidants/neighbours/partners (pick a stand-in for “close”) again, and not fuck it up so much. Note: This has yet to actually happen – though I’m on fairly friendly, if “acquaintancy”, terms with the guy I think of as “my first boyfriend” – but you never know) and my data sample is pretty scant when it comes to trying to figure out My Patterns.
None the less, that thing from my horoscope rings pretty true for me.
 
You know all that Brené Brown stuff I’ve been reading? The stuff where, if it feels like someone is hurting you because they are understepping, rather than overstepping some line, somewhere, it’s still an issue about Boundaries?
I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around that one, but I think I’m starting to get it. Not grok it, by any stretch, but get it.
 
And yet.
But.
 
Because, so often, those situations feel circumstantial. She’s not emotionally available because she’s trying to do DIY therapy. He’s not making time for me specifically, because he’s out of town for the summer and can only come in for one day at a time. They’re not around as much as I’d like because they’re trying to find their feet in a new city. She’s not interested in sex because she’s exhausted from working two jobs.
…Sometimes that stuff is true. Sometimes that stuff is true, but there’s other stuff going on that they’re not telling you about, or that they can’t yet name. Sometimes that stuff (the circumstantiality of it) isn’t true at all, and they’re never going to smarten up and treat you as well as you treat them, make as much time for you as you make for them, love you the way you love them, want you the way you want them. Sometimes they are just not that into you, and sometimes they’re totally into you but… they still can’t give you what you need.
 
So. How do you know?
 
I was talking (elsewhere) about how “relationships, even when they go through sucky periods, are only hard when they are not what you want them to be”.
…And I’m still not sure how to discern that. How to catch it when those clouds aren’t just a passing storm, a temporary grey period, but a situation that you can’t Process or Self-Care your way out of?
 
Brené Brown – among numerous other people – basically says that when someone’s behaviour is not meting your needs:
1) You have to actually use your words and make sure you’ve stated your needs out loud to the person in question. (I can do this bit. I’m graceless about it, halting and stumbling and sometimes needing to try a few different ways of saying it before I actually hit on The Thing that I actually need, but I can say that stuff out loud).
AND
2) You have to leave if they say no.
 
Which is maybe over-stating things a little bit, but that’s what it boils down to. You can’t force someone to turn their “no” into a “yes”. That’s not on. Which means either (a) you change what you need[2] so that you don’t need The Thing, (b) you accept that the price of admission for having a relationship (or whatever kind) with Person X is that The Thing is not going to happen, and you will need to get The Thing via some other avenue[3], or (c) you do not have a relationship – or at least you don’t have that kind of a relationship – with Person X[4].
 
And it feels like such an ultimatum. “Do what I want or I’m leaving you!”
 
Maybe it’s just because I have big ol’ fear-of-abandmonent Issues, so this tactic feels like the nuclear option from where I’m standing. Like: How could you threaten someone you care about with The Worst Thing In The World???
Or maybe it’s the bone-deep suspicion that if I actually pulled that on someone who was already not ponying up on the kind words, quality time, or caring actions fronts, they would be like “Fine. G’bye.” Either because they don’t have the energy to play That Game, or because they’d really rather just get rid of me and I’ve just presented them with a way to not be the Bad Guy while doing it.
Maybe it’s because I have a ridiculous degree of Scarcity Mentality going on when it comes to Love And Belonging, and some part of me really does believe that I have to take what I can get when someone I’m nuts about has – for some inexplicable reason – decided that they want to be with me at all. (Yeah, I know. 😛 I’m working on it).
Regardless, it seems like a Horrible Idea. The kind of thing that’s doomed to failure and regret and wondering how you could have been so stupid as to let them go or push them away.
 
And I need to stop feeling like that.
 
I keep thinking – wrongly, I know – that if I could just stop caring about people I care about then I could have relationships (well, no, not really) and they would never hurt. Or – maybe more accurately? Maybe not? – that, with enough practice, you just get used to functioning and getting things done through small but constant injuries, the way you do when you work in a kitchen or a workshop and just get used to burns and nicks on your hands and forearms.
 
How do you know when to quit? Even if you do know how.
 
My first queer relationship was one hurdle after the next and, yes, I was prepared to stick it out for years (that mythical five years, as it happens, though she broke up with me after a year-and-a-half), even though I was miserable more and more of the time and my girlfriend was unreliable and, frankly, mean to me quite frequently.
My second queer relationship? Reader, I married her. And we have had some BIG bumps in the time we’ve been together, but our relationship is also solid and still working.
My third queer relationship just (well, “just”) ended.
 
Do you know it’s time to quit because you’ve said “Hey, this Thing keeps happening. How can we deal with that?” and the answer has been “Let’s break up”, and you officially know that they can’t (or won’t, depending) do the Big Scary of fumbling and talking and trying again? And, if that’s the case, does that even count as you doing the quitting?
 
Do you know it’s time to quit because you’ve said “I need The Thing” in half a dozen different ways, and the answering actions have been consistently Not The Thing?
 
I think maybe you (I?) know it’s time to quit when you are consistently more unhappy in that relationship than you are happy in it… I just don’t know what the time-line is for that. How long do you let something run to see if it gets better, if the Crisis Machine of someone else’s life will let up enough that she or he or they have the emotional energy to turn towards you and try to collaboratively fix The Thing, or if it’s just… time to pull back, pull away, even though it hurts.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] …And didn’t neccessarily know many of the underlying needs my wants were pointing to, or standing in for – which is kind of a key thing that I may revisit in a later, more generalized post.
 
[2] I have yet to make this work, in spite of trying it in every relationship I’ve ever had.
 
[3] Not always an option. If you need consistency and reliability from all of your partners, the fact that Partner Q is solid as a rock is not going to make it any easier if Partner X is a big flake who never calls when he says he will. If you need all your friends to be up on the latest episode of Jessica Jones, or Orange Is The New Black, or whatever, and I don’t want to get a netflix account just to hang out with you, then I’m sorry, but we’re not going to be friends. (I’m sure you’re awesome).
 
[4] Not always an option. Sometimes you have to grit your teeth and deal with the fact that your coworker participated in March For Life (I am so sorry) and you can’t just fire him for believing his uteris-enabled co-workers don’t have a right to bodily autonomy.

Hey there.
So one of my partners and I were fooling around the other day, and she wanted to check in to see if I was up for something a little more hot and heavy than making out for the sake of making out. The way she asked was… a little awkward, to say the least, but it gave me some Useful Information about my own sexuality and what my pacing is like. So, in true Challenger Generation[1] fashion, I’ve decided to talk about it on the internet.
 
See, one of my Nearest and Dearest identifies as Grey-A, and we’ve talked about it using the metaphore of “mainland” and “island”. It goes like this:
Non-sexual interactions take place on the mainland. Sexual interactions take place on the island. (This is where the metaphor starts getting a little bit clunky, but bear with me). Most people live on the mainland, most of the time (some people live on the island, most of the time, but that’s another story) and, if they want to have a sexual interaction with somebody, they need to take the bridge across to the island.
With me so far?
My Grey-A Interlocutor says that, for her, there is no bridge. She either has wings that day (and can fly across the water, which is also tiring) or she doesn’t, in-which-case the island might as well not exist no matter how much she wants to get over there.
For non-ace-spectrum folks, it’s more like “how does a given person cross this bridge?”
Which is what I wanted to talk about.
 
I figure that, for some people, there’s the mental/emotional/cellular-leve equivalent of a shuttle bus that goes by every 10 minutes if you happen to want to hop on and go to Sex Island for a quick stop-over or an afternoon of fun. For others, there might not be a shuttle bus, but maybe they can phone a private car that will, at a moment’s notice, turn up to collect them and deliver them to their destination in style and comfort. For still others, there might be a swaying, rickity footbridge of rope and half-rotted planks, and getting to Sex Island means edging along above turbulent waters, one very-carefully-placed step at a time, with a lot of safety precautions in play… and they might still have to abort the mission unexpectedly.
 
In my case, my footbridge is no-longer the swaying death-trap it once was (Woohoo!!!), but it’s still a long-ass bridge and it takes a fucking while to cross it. Like, yes, sure, sometimes – as with OC Transpo, funily enough! – I can catch a bus when I’m part-way across and the stars have properly alligned, and yes, sure, like all good bridges, it has a bit of an arc to it, so things move a little faster and more easily once I’m past the halfway point, but generally speaking I’m getting to Sex Island on foot, at walking pace[2].
 
Which is good to know.
As in: It’s information I can give a partner.
 
For Example:
 
“I’m totally down for beating the fuck out of you, but I need you to be gentle and receptive about how gradually I do the build-up, because this is also the warm-up for me, and I’m a better, more solid and less literally-shakey, top when I don’t rush myself by trying to get to your desired intensity-level faster than I’m actually comfortable with”.
OR
“I’m definitely up for switching sexually, but are you cool with taking the Bottom spot first? That way, I can warm myself up while I’m doing Wonderful Things to you, and I’ll be ready for you by the time we trade places.”
OR
“I’d love to [receive intense-for-me genetal play] but, before that can happen, I’m going to need a solid hour[3], give or take, of slow, full-body carresses, deep kissing, and breathing each other’s pheremones.”
 
 
I like the footbridge metaphor. It helps explain (to myself, if to nobody else) why so many of my “reliable go-to” sexual activities are the kind of “still a virgin” things that geeky-nerdy kids (and probably other kids?) do when they’re not quite emotionally/mentally ready for Actual Fucking, but definitely have all the hormones and neurons and what-not to be physically into it. Things like making out and sensual massage and fooling around with our clothes still on and cuddling & whispering together and, okay, also hanging out together in the miniature hot tub and nuru-gel wrestling in the inflate-a-pool. But you get the idea. I may not know how to turn wrestling into sex, the way S. Bear Bergman describes it in his essay, “Brother Dog”, but – if someone wants to get there with me – I definitely know how to turn cuddling and gentle closeness into sex. It’s the road I know best. I may walk it at a heartbeat pace, but it gets me there every time.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] you can blame/thank Catherynne M. Valente for that term – though I can’t find the post where she first used it. (There’s a handy definition here, though).
 
[2] I’ve tried to get there at a run on so many occasions, and it mostly just means that I get tired half-way across and need to straight-up stop, or else I get to Sex Island only to realize that I’ve got a stitch in my side and everything hurts and I need to catch my breath and just… enjoying myself now that I’m here isn’t going to be easy.
 
[3] Maybe more, depending on the day and/or how long it’s been since I’ve seen you.

So I came across a couple of pieces on Relationship Anarchy the other day. “Relationship Anarchy”, as far as I can tell, is another word for the kind of relationship-building that is sometimes called “open relationships”, “polyamoury”, or “consensual non-monogamy”, but the idea is to decentralize the idea of couple-hood (and, in some (all?) instances, romance itself) as a determining factor in how much one prioritizes a given relationship.
It’s funny. I’ve totally been one of Those People who heard the phrase “platonic poly partner” and rolled their eyes, thinking “’Cause, what, calling them your ‘friend’ or your ‘roommate’ isn’t radical enough??” and yet… I kind of get it. Defining a given relationship as a “partnership” isn’t the same as calling it a “friendship”.
One of my wife’s long-term partners is her Best Friend. They don’t live together. They’re not sexually involved, they not particularly romantically involved. But they’re life-partners, none the less. (I once explained the term “Zucchini” to someone as “A friend who gets as much time, energy, attention, and influence as a romantic partner, but who is not a romantic partner”… whatever that means).
 
I read this article and I thought… a bunch of things, actually. I thought how well this dovetails with my idea of “tribe” and the kind of poly family I want to build, the extended network of friends who are closer-than-friends, of family that uses cheerful letchery as a way to say “I love you”; how my wife’s heart works like this without having to think about it.
And I also thought about things like how I differentiate between “friend” and “partner” based on emotional vulnerability & trust as much as sexual desire or Romantic Stuff (I’m not entirely sure how that’s defined, really – gods know I’ve been on what I’d think of as “dates” with my friends without being Confused about what we were Doing Together), how sensuality and affection slide so easily into sexuality for me, how sex is tied up with emotional vulnerability for me, how I watch myself so carefully, how the reason I wanted polyamoury to begin with was so that I wouldn’t have to police my affection as much as I had been while identifying as monogamous.
But I also asked myself things like: If I met someone asexual, would I let myself fall “in love” with them? Would I be able to? How does that related to having crushes on heterosexual friends (which tend to happen a lot more slowly, and eventually morph into something non-romantic)? How would/could I let that turn into non-romantic love? How would I differentiate between romantic and non-romantic love at all[1]? Would I need to?
And that particular spiral basically ends up where all of this ends up, which is “Don’t assume anything, talk everything out”…
I’ve heard non-poly people (well, Captain Awkward, specifically) say that Endlessly Discussion Your Relationship is awful, unless you’re poly, in which case it’s called “foreplay”. Which makes me grin while simultaneously banging my head against a wall because… kinda, yeah. 🙂
 
The Relationship Escalator – of-which Relationship Anarchy is basically the opposite/antithesis(?) – is designed to sort of let people coast to the top (or abort-retry as many times as “necessary”, as the case may be, just remember that it’s unidirectional and you can’t go backwards once you’re on it with a given person) without needing to check in a lot… sort of.
One of my wife’s People both (a) is super-new to poly, and (b) says stuff like “I don’t know where I fit” fairly frequently. And it’s… let’s just say I can relate. When you get off the Relationship Escalator, you’re basically flailing around without a road-map, let alone a GPS with a handy little red dot saying that You Are Here. I’m one of those people who gets really nervous when I can’t tell if I matter to someone as much as they matter to me. Those “naming and claiming” actions on the Relationship Escalator are really handy for that, even if the “naming” part means diddly squat if there isn’t behaviour to back it up.
So the other response I have when reading about Relationship Anarchy is, well, a hell of a lot of discomfort and defensiveness. All that ragesaurus stuff about “What, so now I’m ‘not radical enough’ if I want to know if/how I matter to people who matter to me?” and “I’m pretty sure if I told my friend-who-is-relocating that I was totally going to move to be near her that… I would creep the FUCK out of my friend. :-/ Boundaries are important!”
That kind of thing.
 
There’s a funny (“funny”) kind of anger that comes with meeting something that bangs up against your cosmology and says “Yeah, but what if? What if the way you do things isn’t the only way? What if you’re hurting someone by doing it like that? What if you’re missing out on something, too?”
And, yeah, that’s Privilege in a nutshell. And, yeah, it took me long enough (like… 10 years of working my way towards it in a fairly active way?) to start recognizing it for what it is. But I’m finding that the trick – like the one where either It’s About You, in which case maybe listen & improve your behaviour, OR It’s Not About You, in which case maybe shut up and don’t worry about it – is to differentiate between the general and the specific. Like: “Romantisupremicism demands that non-romantic relationships NEVER be valued as deeply as romantic relationships” – which is just a True Fact – versus “the way I, personally, build & define relationships means that there is more emotional vulnerability and inter-dependence involved in a partnership than in a friendship and, as a romantic person, my partnerships tend to include romantic feelings; I’m conscious of this and aware that How I Relationship will grow and change over time”… or what-have-you.
Maybe I’m just messing around here, but that’s where I’m at with this one.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] As a sexual person, a big part of what makes romantic love “romantic” rather than “platonic” is whether or not there’s mutual sexual interest going on there. (Similarly, what makes it a “crush” rather than a “fascination” or, like, being “someone’s biggest fan” or whatever, is whether or not I want to make out with said person[2].
 
[2] Possibly related? I’ve been known to develop sexual feelings for people who, aesthetically & emotionally are sexually unpalatable to me, but who talk a good game, make my brain fizz, and similar. I don’t know what’s up with that, but it’s there and I… have to keep an eye on it.

So Del has a post up called “Sometimes You Just Gotta Open Your Mouth” wherein he talks about a lot of things – primarily mortality – but, at the beginning, specifically about feeling overwhelmed when faced with the blank blogging-page.
I can relate.
There’s a zillion things that I feel like I “should” be blogging about here on Syrens – Bill C36 and its (negative & appalling) effect on sex workers’ rights and safety; Jian Gomeshi and the situation where predators sometimes use an identification as kinky to hide their abusive behaviour; Bill C279, which would protect gender identity under the Canadian Human Rights Act and enshrine it from protection against hate crimes under the Criminal Code as well, and which is currently being held up in the senate by one or more Conservative senators who – apparently – are hoping it’ll die (AGAIN) before being passed, due to another election; … Along with my own growth/struggles/you-name-it around poly, power exhange, and personal sexuality.
So I sat down over waffles this morning and “just opened my mouth” onto a piece of paper. And what came out – surprisingly or otherwise – was another discussion of loneliness.
I often joke to people – my friends, anyone who reads this blog, y’know: people – that I’m “the most monogamous poly person I know”. I admit that I’m starting to wonder if I’m not shooting myself in the poly foot by saying stuff like that. :-\ Between this and the slight possibility of my wife getting yet another person in her romantic life (ye gods…), I wound up thinking about loneliness and how it relates (sort of…) to polyamoury. Basically, I wound up thinking about Fear Of Abandonment and how loneliness makes assholes of us all by messing with our ability to feel empathy, among other things.
Look, I don’t have a study to back this up (though the loneliness stuff I linked to, above, isn’t far off), but I’m developing this theory that Fear Of Abandonment makes people incredibly self-absorbed. I’ve talked about this before, although possibly not on this blog, about how the fear of (and pre-occupation with) What Other People Think of us, and how (not IF, but how) people feel about us can lead us to believing that every little thing is some kind of a referendum on whether So-And-So likes us for real or not.
 
Someone didn’t send a thank-you note after that thing, that time? Clearly this is because They Don’t Really Care about me, and has nothing to do with their work-life being kind of overwhelming at the moment.
 
Someone didn’t text me back immediately? Clearly this is because they’re punishing me [in a really passive-agressive way] for some unknown Thing for-which They Are Going To Leave Me with all haste, and which couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that I texted them while they were on a date, at work, or possibly driving.
 
Someone didn’t come to my birthday party? Clearly this is because They Hate Me and has NOTHING to do with the fact that they’d made plans to do something else six weeks ago, while my party invitation was kind of short-notice.
 
Seriously. Captain Awkward is FULL of stuff like this, so I heartily recommend that you go and read it if you need more examples. But do you see what I mean? Starhawk wrote something – in either Dreaming the Dark or Truth or Dare – about being “King Nothing”, about how being the Most Hated is, in a weird, backwards, upside-down way, kind of like being the Most Loved.
It makes sense.
For those of us who secretly, or not-so-secretly, believe that we are worthless, that we’ll never be worthy of love and kindness, that being wanted isn’t really something we understand as possible… knowing ourselves to be the Lowest Of The Low is, in a way, a chance to be special in some way. Being the “Best Loser” is still being the best something, right?
 
Gawd. Even just writing that down. It feels so self-pitying, so very much an unneccesary (“unneccesary”?) cry for sympathy and attention and what-not, so very, very “poor little rich girl” to be sitting here with my neuroteypical brain that does not pre-emptively re-absorb its serotonin, that doesn’t plague me with disturbing thoughts of how nobody would miss me if I just happened to die on day, y’know, “by accident”, that the people I love would be better off, and happier too, without the burden of my neediness[1] always weighing on them.
And yet I beat myself up – often emotionally, sometimes physically – on really bad days when I’m so overwhelmed with shame that I slap my own face, tear at my hair, claw at my skin, while my Jerk Brain puts on the skin of someone who woould never hurt me like this, and laughs inside my head. While my self-loathing rages and screams at it Are you happy now? Are you happy now? If I hate myself enough, will I be worthy of your crumbs? If I hurt myself enough, will your indifference feel like love??
 
Whew. Yeah. So that’s the inside of my brain for you.
But I was talking about loneliness and how it can make you really self-absorbed.
I wonder if everyone who deals with loneliness, who is afraid of being abandoned, ditched, replaced “as soon as Someone Better (and wouldn’t anyone be better?) comes along”, if we aren’t all secretly carrying around that same horrible, cruel, world-devouring voice that never stops telling you you’re bad, it just changes up the volume periodically.
 
At Unholy Harvest this year, I got to take part in a ritual. It was a really good ritual, and I hope that we get to have another one next year[2]. Part of that ritual involved partnering up and one of you saying “I love myself. I love myself.” and the other acknowledging it, saying “You love yourself”. It was so easy, when my ritual-partner said that she loves herself, to respond with a grin and “I know. You love yourself!”
But I don’t know. Maybe she was faking it just as much as I was, and her confidence and her 1700-lumen smile that actually does light up the room, are just a cover-up for the same loathing and self-directed rage that are gnawing at me all the damn time.
All I know is that when she said “You love yourself” to me, I laughed in that awful “this is actually a living nightmare and I just told a really big lie” kind of way.
 
I have no idea how to like myself better[3]. Every time I see someone make a note of how they’re resolving to treat themselves with as much compassion and care as they treat their friends, I wonder if it would be okay for me to do something like that, or if acting like I’m mean to myself, publically acknowledging that I’m mean to myself (I am mean to myself, and acting like it doesn’t count because I’m not taking a razor to my own arms is… possibly part of how I’m doing it?), if, given that I spend most of my days cooking good home-food, making different kinds of art, going for walks and/or doing yoga, and getting in a number of more-than-occasional hot baths (you know, living the life I actually want and getting to do it in spite of my own income being kind of uncertain?), it isn’t a little bit ridiculous to act like I’m entitled to, I dunno, also believing that I deserve that stuff. Or something.
I don’t know.
I don’t know how to like myself better. But I think I need to.
I think I need to.
 
 
Take care,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] … Er… Mostly. I’m not suicidal. Not suicidal thoughts. Not suicidal ideation. DEFINITELY not PLANNING anything. But that “burden of my neediness” thing… That eats at me sometimes. :-\
 
[2] Although heaven and earth know I’m not up to facilitating it at this point… Maybe I can figure something out?
 
[3] And I mean that in the sense of “like myself more” but also in the same sense meant by phrases like “laugh yourself healthy”. Funny how that works out, isn’t it?

Okay, so as-you-know-bob, I have this pet theory – based on not a whole lot, I admit – that many of the people who are Wired for polyamory in the sense that they Just Don’t Get Jealous are possibly coming to it from a place of Insecure-Avoidant attachment styles and the need to always have an escape route available. That said, not everybody who goes “Poly! It’s what’s for breakfast!” is going to attach in an insecure-avoidant way. A lot of us – self very, very much included – are insecure-anxious attachment types who are terrified of Being Abandoned, and carry around a secret (or not-so-secret) fear that the only reason anyone is hanging out with us is because someone better hasn’t come along yet.
And today, I kind of want to talk about making the switch from Monogamy to Polyamoury (where “Polyamoury” means the whole spectrum of consensual non-monogamy), as an insecure-anxious person, when the only road map I’ve ever had has been the one for Monogamy. Continue reading

So there’s this article up on Salon right now, talking about polyamoury’s age-old bugaboo, jealousy, and how one poly triad handles theirs.
In addition to talking about “transitivity” (which is fascinating, particularly when considered in conjunction with things like the annual Phamily Reunion that is Unholy Harvest), the author goes into some theories about where the whole idea that “jealousy is a problem that originates within the individual and so must be handled by that individual” comes from. She links it to the 20th Century (“Industrial”, “Modern”, “Capitalist”, etc) idealization/lionization of The Individual. Which I admit is a neat way to look at it if you want to situate polyamoury in opposition to a system (see: Nuclear Family) of isolation, alienation and the resulting anxiety that can be used to, ah, encourage people to buy a lot of stuff they don’t really need to buy. (Although her brief segue into class analysis is also kind of fascinating – again in the context of Queer Leather Tribe with its working class and broke-ass-chosen-family roots). Continue reading

So, my lovely wife/Property and I do a yoga class together on Wednesday nights. It’s an easy walk from our house, and gives us something approximating a Date Night once a week. As we were walking over, we were joking about the number of Significant Others she has and how that makes scheduling Interesting fairly frequently. And we ran down the different ways of naming those relationships, and the discussion, however light-hearted, got me thinking about different shades of intimacy. How an “intimate friendship” isn’t the same as a “friend with benefits”, for example, or how a “girlfriend” might have fewer social responsibilities expected of her than a “partner” or a “spouse”. Or not.
What I was thinking is that, when your relationship style allows for more than one romantic relationship, it also allows for those many degrees of intimacy between “just friends” and “dating”.
When I decided I needed to be polyamourous (or practice consensual non-monogamy, term it how you will), it was because I felt that I had to be extremely careful about how and to-whom I showed affection to people other than my then-husband (some of that, admittedly, was because of the kind of marriage it was, but still). When romantic fidelity isn’t tied to romantic excusivity, there stops (for me at least) being a need to put super-firm walls around what friends can do with each other or mean to each other.
Anyway.
This isn’t much of a post, I realize. I’m mostly just thinking out loud. While I do still struggle, on occasion, with worries (however unfounded, I know) about my own place in my wife’s busy, busy life, it’s still really nice to know that there can be that fuidity going on.
 
I think that’s it for now.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.

So… I was originally going to use my “B” prompt to talk about Blood and Branding – two points on the S/M (or, well, “S” in my case) spectrum where I like to play because (a) they tend to involve inflicting a lot of pain on my co-player, and (b) they let me make art using my co-player’s skin as a canvas/medium. They’re faboo.
HOWEVER.
I’ve been… not “playing around with”, exactly, but… increasingly aware of how my body-language or physical actions can ‘cause my Servant to Drop.
I’m fascinated by this, partially because the “big as the cosmos” feeling that I associate with embodying my own power in a Very Aware Way (uh… for lack of better words) is… rare. I think I’ve only experienced it (at least in a heavy enough way to really go “Wow… I know what this is – Woah”) a couple of times and, typically, it’s happened by accident. I have a little bit of that awareness going on now – nothing like the Full Effect, but noticeable – sitting in my ribcage and across my shoulders, and tingling in the curves of my ears. I don’t entirely know if those locations are significant, but I figured I’d point them out.
Seeing someone else drop into their headspace like that, at the touch of a hand, is kind of amazing, in large part because I don’t know how to do that to myself. I have theories. But they are theories and I don’t have a tonne of practice (lately) in making that happen[1].
 
So, right. Body Language. I figure, if I can’t (or am not sure how to) tweak my own body language to be able to (ful)fill/embody My Place, as it were, I can at least put more attention into how and when I am dropping Ghost into hers.
So far, I grant you, it’s been largely accidental. Trial and error, and sometimes what I think will work doesn’t do anything, and sometimes what I think is just a nice, gentle way to touch someone I care about will wind up Dropping her unexpectedly.
But I’m keeping a mental list of what works and the circumstances under-which it has that effect. It’s interesting… Anyone else seen/experienced stuff like this?
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] It tends to happen – frequently, though not 100% of the time – when I’m doing something that is both fairly emotion-heavy and fairly artistic/creative. It has usually involved some sort of significant prep – however unintentional – on my part, to the tune of an hour of vocal warm-ups, days/weeks of anticipation, or three hours of soul-searching followed by Spontaneous Poetry. That kind of thing. :-\

So quite a while ago, now, I read a post about Attachment Styles and how a lot of the “You’re Not Poly Enough” attitudes the author had come across seemed to be rooted in an assumption that every poly person is Attachment-Secure. I’ve written about this before, but I wanted to touch on it again.
See… Okay. Go watch this quick video that outlines the origins of different attachment styles. It’s basically the foundation of this post.
The short version is:
 
Attachment-Secure – “Love one another, but make not a bond of love: // Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, // Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.” (Kalil Gibran, The Prophet).
These are good, healthy relationships wherein you know the people with-whom you share attachment bonds (a) are not gonna disappear all of a sudden, but also (b) won’t smother you, AND (c) can rely on YOU to be present and available and supportive without being overwhelming or subsuming of their existence as individual people.
 
Attachment-Anxious – Clingy. This is me. You notice how, while I’m in an open relationship, my multi-partnered Main Squeeze is my property? If I get really nervous, I can tie her up and stuff her in a closet (er… if we had enough space in our closets to actually do that. But you get the idea) and call her My Precious and she can NEVER LEAVE.
Which is a very reassuring thought for the weasel-prone Attachment-Anxious part of my brain. As long as it can latch onto that thought, it makes it a lot easier for the somewhat-less-Gollum-like rest of me to be chill and relaxed and comfortable with the fact that she’s got multiple Significant People in her life who matter to her as much as I do.
 
Attachment-Avoidant – “Afraid of Commitment”. I dated someone like this. As a clingy person? Man, did that suck. And yet I still wanted her very badly to love me back. Yeah. I know. 😛
 
So that’s the three Really Basic types of attachment bonds.
 
Consensually non-monogamous relationships are, as the saying goes, “graduate level relationships”. I agree that they work best (like, well, all attachment bonds) when the attachments are secure. They’re certainly a lot easier (for a given value of “easier”) when that’s the case. However: I’m very aware that most of the people who gravitate to polyamoury are not attachment-secure. We are frequently walking wounded, dragging a slew of emotional betrayals, and trust issues behind us like so much cumbersome baggage.
 
I think a big chunk of “learning how to do poly well” involves learning to recognize what your attachment style defaults to, and learning how to manage that. That’s what all the stuff in the Poly101 books talking about “use your words” and “state your needs” and “ask for what you want, even though there’s no guarantee that you’ll get it”… that’s what all that stuff is about.
Well… sort of.
 
What I’m getting at is that if you, like me, are attachment-anxious and have these Capital-F Fears around being replaced or abandoned, and you know that, there are things you can ask for from your partner(s) to mitigate that stuff. And I don’t mean asking them not to fall in love with anyone else (that doesn’t work, and it’s kind of cruel, because it’s not something that any of us can control). I mean you can say to your partner “When you get back from a date, I’d really like it if you’d curl up with me and give me a big hug and generally let me know that you (still) love me and are happy to be home and spending time with me”. You can say “I’d really like it if you’d hold my hand, or otherwise be affectionate with me, in public, even though I’m not the partner you’re married to”. Needing that reassurance and that acknowledgement doesn’t make you “bad at poly”. It makes you a human who loves someone. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
 
Similarly, if you default to attachment-avoidant you may find that you are more comfortable (I’m guessing – if someone who falls into this camp wants to throw some information out here, go ahead) in your relationships if you just state up front: “I need to have my own space and time to myself, and therefore I live on my own. ‘Moving in together’ means living in the same neighbourhood, not the same house” or “I don’t want to be anybody’s ‘primary’, but I do need you to be reliable when we make plans”. That doesn’t make you “commitment-phobic” or stand-offish or whatever. It makes you a human being who’s looking out for zirself so that the people they care about get zi at zir best. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, either.
 
You’ll notice that my two examples have very different endings.
 
To my knowledge, nobody gets called “bad at poly” when they’re totally okay with it when their partners go off to have dates or combine houses with partners other than them. They do get called “bad at monogamy” (maybe not literally in those words, mind you) under those circumstances.
Which is interesting.
If you look at, oh, the last ten romantic comedies to come out in the movie theatres, just as a for-instance, you’ll probably notice a pattern wherein Monogamy tends to glorify possessiveness favour and, therefore, reward attachment-insecurity[1]. And I can’t help wondering if consensual non-monogamy, as a counter-culture, tends to favour and, therefore, reward attachment-avoidance partially in (unconscious?) reaction against the attachment-insecurity-favouring norms and mores of the dominant culture.
 
I speculated in my earlier post as to whether it was likely that people who have an easier time getting to “attachment-secure” in poly contexts are people who gravitate to open relationships because they start out “attachment-avoidant” and love the potential for not having to be anyone’s merge-tastic be-all-and-end-all (as opposed to people who gravitate to open relationships because they’re “attachment-anxious” and love the potential to have numerous sources of love and care in their lives at any given time).
I honestly have no idea, but it seems like it might be likely.
The “cardinal sin” of Poly is jealousy. And it’s so much easier to Never Get Jealous (too not freak out when your partner(s) have a life outside of you) if your biggest relationship fears aren’t of being abandoned or replaced, but are of having your identity subsumed by your partner or of needing your partner too much.
At least I’m assuming it is. :-\ Can anyone confirm?
 
So where am I going with all of this?
Well… Okay, I’m not entirely sure. I think where I’m going is right back to what I said at the beginning about how a big chunk of “learning how to do poly well” involves learning to recognize what your attachment style defaults to, and learning how to manage that. Because the flipside of that is learning to recognize what your various partners default to, and talking together and working out how to mitigate the situations that come up when, for example, you’re “attachment-discordant” (is that even a word? Well, it is now…).
 
If anyone has any thoughts on this subject, do let me know. 🙂
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] There are reasons for this. The bit where monogamy as a social institution is based on marriage-as-property-rights is the really big one, but the flip-side of that where marriage-as-safety/security has a big role in it as well.