Jada Smith on Relationships

Do we believe loving someone means owning them? Do we believe that ownership is the reason someone should “behave”? Do we believe that all the expectations, conditions, and underlying threats of “you better act right or else” keep one honest and true? Do we believe that we can have meaningful relationships with people who have not defined nor live by the integrity of his or her higher self? What of unconditional love? Or does love look like, feel like, and operate as enslavement? Do we believe that the more control we put on someone the safer we are? What of TRUST and LOVE?

Should we be married to individuals who can not be responsible for themselves and their families within their freedom? Should we be in relationships with individuals who we can not entrust to their own values, integrity, and LOVE…for us???

Here is how I will change my statement…Will and I BOTH can do WHATEVER we want, because we TRUST each other to do so. This does NOT mean we have an open relationship…this means we have a GROWN one.

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So said Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of Will Smith, on her Facebook yesterday at 6:17pm.

I’m not normally one for celebrity gossip; in fact I saw this post by Jada only because a friend of mine shared it on her wall. I decided to do some research to find out if the profile actually did belong to the actual Jada Smith, and that the post was, indeed, written by her. I was immediately annoyed by the first article Google News pulled up, which was on philly.com:

“Jada Pinkett Smith wants to make it crystal clear to everyone (or at least her Facebook followers): She is in a mutually-exclusive, committed relationship with her Philly-raised, triple threat of a husband, Will Smith.”

*headdesk*

In what part of the above statement by Jada was the term “mutually-exclusive” used? She asked questions about whether relationships should be relate-able to ownership and slavery, asked whether we should be married to irresponsible, untrustworthy people, and then stated that she and Will can do whatever they want. A “grown relationship” could be a relationship in which the people involved are mature enough to do the things they want to do without hurting their marriage or families; in a marriage where one or both partners isn’t bothered by their spouse being involved in some way with other partners, that could include non-exclusivity.

But none of this matters, because everybody is taking this statement to mean that Jada and Will are, indeed, in a “closed,” “exclusive” relationship. perezhilton.com, E! Online, and US Weekly are all breathing internet sighs of relief and using phrases like “committed relationship” to clarify the type of relationship the Smiths’ have. What does that even mean? I’ve already talked about my feelings on what commitment means in this blog post from long, long (a year) ago. It ain’t so clear-cut, folks.

Everyone seems to be celebrating the reveal that the Smith marriage is monogamous, but is it? The answer doesn’t really matter; what does is the fact that if the general population would quit jumping to conclusions, putting words in Jada’s mouth, and instead think about the questions she put forth, it could do a lot of lovers a lot of good, and perhaps help a lot of lovers be better understood.

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Failing at Forever Isn’t Failing; A Revisit

Walk it OffThere was more to be said on the topic that an ended relationship isn’t necessarily a failed relationship, and I think I’m ready to say it.

People go into a relationship expecting that it will last forever. They visualize that, over time, the relationship will move through “levels,” ultimately ending in marriage (or some kind of life-long commitment) – the epitome of relationship “success.” If for some reason, the relationship gets stuck on a level and isn’t moving forward, it is seen as something worth ditching and giving up on, rather than being enjoyed for what it is at the moment.

“The percentage of the [American] population ever married has declined some in the past decades, but it is still 80%. That’s just about everyone. . . .In surveys, teens and young adults consistently say they view marriage as a very important life goal,” according to Kay Hymowitz at Forbes.

We equate marriage with success. We think that someone who is capable of having a “successful” marriage must be capable of being successful in other things. We think good spouses make good people. When we are told that someone is “successful” in life, we often imagine them as married, and if not, then they are successful in their professional life at the cost of being “unfulfilled” in their personal life.

Success makes us happy, and because success = marriage in our minds, we all assume that marriage makes us happy. However, “quite a few investigations have persuasively shown that it is happiness that leads to marriage, as opposed to the reverse.” (Psychology Today) That’s right, folks. Expecting marriage to make you happy is putting the cart before the horse. Get happy first, be happy with who you are and what relationship status you are in, and then you are more likely to get married. (That means you have to figure out how to be happy while unmarried. Unthinkable!)

neweyes.atlblogs.comI keep writing about marriage, even though the original topic was about relationships in general. Why? We model our relationships after the “ideal” romantic relationship (marriage) as much as possible. Where do you think promise rings came from? Even if a person doesn’t think “marriage is for them,” they often are interested in some sort of life partnership, co-habitating indefinitely, or some kind of promise along the lines of “til death do us part.”

I worry that some of this is laziness, a thought process of, “if I can find just the right person/people to make me feel fulfilled, I can enter a life-long contract with him/her/them and be fulfilled forever, and never have to search for fulfillment ever again.” That’s a really scary mindset, and also a really sad one because, seriously, do you know what it feels like to fall in love? Not the landing part, not the being in love, but that part where you feel that you are falling? What a great feeling! Why are people so determined to cut off the possibility of feeling that in favor of laboring over a life-long commitment? There’s value in that hard work, but there’s also value in letting love flourish where, when, and how it wants.

If your love for someone leads to you committing your life to them, that’s wonderful, but if not, that’s wonderful as well. Let the relationship be what it is meant to be. If you can be a part of a relationship, however short or long, that allows love to flourish, you, my friend, have been a part of a successful relationship. Be respectful, be honest, be happy, be you, and if/when it ends, know that it hasn’t failed.

The ending of a successful project is not seen as a failure, so why should the ending of a great relationship be seen as one? Like a finished project, you can admire the finished relationship, smile at the memories, be grateful for the lessons learned, and, if you are lucky, cherish the friendships that evolved while it was being built.

Slut Shaming & My Fear of It

As defined on Urban Dictionary:

Slut Shaming:

An unfortunate phenomenon in which people degrade or mock a woman because she enjoys having sex, has sex a lot, or may even just be rumored to participate in sexual activity. Often it’s accompanied by urban legends such as the common virgin misconception that the vagina becomes larger or looser with use– in fact, sex has no effect on vaginal size.

However, since most people would rather women be MORE sexually active than less, slut shaming is counterproductive to the aims of most men and quite a few ladies.

I know that many in the polyamory and ethical nonmonogamy community are already familiarized with this term, but the thought occurred to me today that it’s a term I haven’t defined and talked about here for the people in my life who read this blog and aren’t involved in the online communities I frequent.

Slut shaming is counterproductive, as demonstrated in the example that accompanied the Urban Dictionary definition:

Guy 1: Ha ha Megan had sex with two guys, she’s such a SLUT!

Guy 2: You idiot, do you want her to stop having sex? We should be encouraging this. Your slut shaming will simply discourage more women from sleeping with us and we will be virgins forever.

And even more than perpetual virginity, slut shaming is counterproductive to gender equality. More on that in another post, hopefully.

I will admit, slut shaming is something that I fear a bit. I didn’t know that there was a term for it until recently, and now, knowing that there is one, I feel more empowered to identify what is happening in a situation, if it ever happens, and call someone on it.

Still, the fear lingers. Why? Because even if the effect slut shaming tends to have (sluts stop being so slutty) is unlikely to affect me, there’s the fact that I spent my whole adolescent and young adult life surrounded by slut shaming, and it’s ingrained the idea into me that promiscuity is bad. For a long time, I thought that was true. As I grew into an adult, I thought it was true. It was five or six years ago that I started seeing the possibility that promiscuity was not inherently bad, but even after so long, I’m still working so hard to push that message out.

My fear, I think, is based on one thought. One thought that I fear admitting, because it will open me up to attack from all those people who do think sluts should be ashamed.

What if I’m wrong?

We all fear being wrong from time to time. This one’s a biggie for me. What if my promiscuity means I lack good decision-making skills? What if it means I have low self-esteem? What if my promiscuity is the result of “daddy issues”? What if this, and my lack of ability to commit to a monogamous relationship, and my lack of ability to stick to a career, and my depression, are all linked…the common denominator being me, and me being the problem?

When this fear grips me, I have to take a deep breath. I remind myself that I have great decision-making skills. I’ve helped so many programs I’ve worked for grow, develop, improve. I am an excellent problem-solver and leader. I have left situations in which I was unhappy, and those to me are the most important decisions. I have healthy self-esteem. I know my strengths and hopefully most of my weaknesses. I use my strengths to help others, and am thanked for it often. Sure, Daddy and I have issues, but I’ve accepted that, stopped blaming both him and myself, and moved on. All the other things, well, I’ve spent so many years investigating them, writing about them, and even getting professional help for them, that all I can do is know that I’ve done the best I can with who I am, and, ultimately, I am happy.

And that is what is most important.

Not All Which Ends, Has Failed

Walk it OffSome cogs have clicked together recently in the slow and constant grind of gears in my head, and two converse ideas have formed:

Not all relationships which end, have failed.

Not all relationships which have failed, end.

To be honest, at first, I was only focused on the first idea. I wanted to write a post about how the ending of a relationship does not signal that it has failed. That some  (probably many, even most) relationships are not meant to last forever. That our irrational obsession with ensuring the longevity of a relationship despite massive sacrifices of happiness only exists because of the relationship-centered culture we are influenced by and the assurance that being in a long-term relationship is happiness, not that you should seek happiness from within yourself and hope to find someone awesome enough to appreciate that happiness as you do theirs.

Quite a mouthful, I agree. Which is why I hesitate to even get into the second point: that not all relationships which have failed, end. That is truly unfortunate. How many failed relationships do you know of that still exist? How do you know it has failed? If a couple is staying together because they appreciate the status that comes with being together, or staying together for the kids, has the relationship failed, or have they found a common point strong enough to validate the relationship?

More questions than answers appear. For the sake of brevity, I am going to set aside the second point for now, and focus on my original idea:

Not all relationships which end, have failed. This also means that when you see an end coming, that it doesn’t mean you are failing, or that the other person(s) has/have failed. Sometimes, a relationship has simply run its course, and that’s okay. Sometimes, a relationship evolves into a different type of relationship, and that’s okay, too.

Everyone, please calm down. It’s not the end of the world; it’s the end (or the evolution) of a relationship. Not every relationship is meant to last forever.

This doesn’t change the fact that breaking up is hard. I’ve been through it. It sucks. You cry. You rage. You self-evaluate. You doubt. You pick the relationship apart in an effort to pinpoint the exact moment it went wrong. Often, it’s impossible. Always, it’s hard. The difficulty of breaking up is likely what most people are trying to avoid when they look into “making it last.” They want to avoid the pain of breakup, and perhaps even the judgement of those who would believe they “failed.”

Why are we so obsessed with longevity equaling relationship “success”, when variety might serve us just as well? I can understand the mindset of loving someone so much that you want them around as long as possible, and you want them as happy as possible. What I don’t understand is the desire to accomplish this at all costs, sometimes even your own happiness. Do the person who loves you a favor: do what makes you happy. Because, if they love you, they want you happy, and they’d rather have you happy without them than miserable with them. If they don’t feel that way, they probably don’t actually love you, or love you in that scary dependent way that necessitates a step in the other direction anyway.

Above all, remember, that it is okay. We fear change, and yet change is inevitable and constant. The more you accept that in your day-to-day life, perhaps the better you’ll get at breaking up. That sounds awful, but if you have the emotional strength to handle a breakup better than you currently do (not well; few people handle a breakup well, I think), is that really such a bad thing? If you can minimize your angst and streamline the road to happiness, I’d say that’s a step in the right direction.

Mourn the death of your relationship, sure, but just as we remember the happy memories we shared with someone who has passed away, remember the happy relationship memories and be grateful that you’re still around to experience that again, even if it seems at the moment that you never will.

Seriously

Take Me Seriously“Do you think anyone will ever take you seriously if you live this way?”

I’ve been asked that a few times in relation to my “lovestyle”. I like to think that yes, I can be taken seriously (in fact, I know that I can be), but the number of times I’ve been asked this sometimes does make me stop and consider the possibility that I’m suffering from some tunnel-vision.

I think that a large number of people can and do have a hard time imagining a “serious” relationship with me. For many, it is because “serious” means sexual monogamy, and if I’m not offering it, then I can’t be serious. Then there are some who don’t mind the sexual nonmonogamy, but they expect emotional monogamy. You know, the whole, “she sleeps with other people but her heart’s all mine,” people out there. That’s fine and dandy if it works for you, but I can’t promise that my heart will be yours all yours and only yours, honey bun. Sorry.

So, what’s left to offer someone who wants something “serious” with me? Honestly, I crave something “serious” just as much as the next person. I’d love to have someone in my life right now to make time for. I’d love to have someone who expects me to make small sacrifices for them. I’d love to have someone who makes me want to work hard and strive to be an even more awesome person. I’d love to have someone to share my travels with, someone to get lost with from time to time, someone to sit around and be honest with, and be honestly in love with.

If those aren’t the desires of someone who wants something serious, then perhaps I need a different word. Fortunately, I’m not so hung up on labels and definitions to spend much time worrying about it. In the meantime, my answer remains: Yes, I do think that the right people can, will, and even DO take me seriously. As seriously as I take them, despite all of their non-normative needs and desires. Because, let’s be fair, there’s hardly a reliable definition of “normative” anyway.

Response to: Why I Will Never Sleep With an “On the Road” Fanatic

“[A] dude who claims On The Road as his all-time favorite book and/or predicates his entire life philosophy on said favorite book is a dude who’s not sticking his dick in me.”

So says Kate Hakala at Nerve.com.

To be fair, to each their own, but I’d like to make the case for at least one person (myself) who certainly doesn’t mind On the Road fans.

“[I]t’s not surprising that all of the men I’ve met who identify as On The Road fanatics are self-mythologizing commitment-phobes. They don’t believe in fidelity, but fall in love fast, and often.”

I’ve written here before about my thoughts on the definitions of “commitment” and “fidelity.” I think there is nothing wrong with falling in love fast or often. I don’t see how someone committed to scouring the earth for all the experiences they can gather before their inevitable demise can be seen as lacking commitment. Surely, they are committed to their life’s happiness even to the point of not letting the views of people like Kate get in their way.

Hakala says she is scared that these fans have no interest in treading the territory within themselves, but then notes that a lot of them seem to dwell in self-imposed poverty. I think that self-imposed poverty does a lot to help someone look inside themselves. There’s a lot to discover about yourself when you don’t have a lot of possessions to distract you. If you truly feel a person lacks depth, Hakala, how about asking them a few questions and having a conversation with them, rather than judging them so quickly based on a book they like?

And then there’s her assumption of pursuing a relationship with someone you sleep with. Honestly, if I’m considering inviting an old friend into my bedroom after a few drinks, as she mentions she was, I’m probably not thinking about whether we’ll be “Facebook official” within the next few weeks. I probably just want to get laid. What the hell does it matter if his life philosophy is based on a book I didn’t really enjoy?

The end of her post runs through a host of stereotypical assumptions, some of which annoy me, but, hey…what am I gonna do? Like I said, to each their own.

I’ve had wonderful relationships and friendships with On the Road fans. I’m pretty sure that one day I’ll wind up traveling the world with one. It may last forever, it may not, but I like to let things be whatever they are supposed to be. Perhaps Hakala simply isn’t meant to be with that kind of man.

To Assume Makes an ____ of U and Me

A friend shared an amusing story with me last night, which I’d like to relay here.

She began by saying that she has a friend who she’s known for two years, and who has been trying to sleep with her since the day he met her. She’s been constantly having to resist his advances. Then she added that he had a girlfriend he’d been with for five years. “But,” she said, “it’s an open relationship.”

She paused there, so I hazarded an interpretation of her situation: “So, you’re weirded out by sleeping with people who are in relationships, even if they’re open?”

“No!” she laughed, “Let me tell you what I’m weirded out by. He has her permission to sleep with me, and he doesn’t seem to think that he needs MY permission! I’ll tell him, ‘no,’ and he’ll say ‘but my girlfriend says it’s ok!'”

I rolled over laughing.

It’s interesting to note that my own first reaction was to assume that she was squicked by the idea of sleeping with someone who was in a relationship. Clearly, that is what this gentleman is thinking as well: “What do you mean you don’t want to sleep with me? You don’t have to worry about my girlfriend; she gave me permission!”

For more than a few people in open relationships, I think it takes firmly ruling that out as the problem to realize that, hey, perhaps this person just doesn’t want to sleep with me, and wouldn’t even if I were single. I can’t recall if I’ve been guilty of this, though I know I’ve worried extensively about my existing relationships being a problem. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s once or twice lead me down the same road this gentleman has taken.

Something to consider of yourself if you’re “open,” I think, and worth talking about in the nonmonogamous community.

NaNoWriMo in 5 days!

The Lack of Novel Progress

I’m having a hard time logic-ing my way back to editing my novel, and a very easy time logic-ing my lack of desire to do so.

While I’ve been known to enjoy a good fiction, even fantasy, novel here and there, I am, at my core, a very fact-based, rational, truth-loving, non-fiction lover. It’s not that I don’t love works of fiction; The Alchemist and The Chronicles of Narnia are some of my favorite reads (does this sound like a homophobe saying “but I have gay friends!”?). It’s just that I don’t think I’ve ever been able to identify just how non-fiction writers are able to pull a story out of thin air, or why they should have to, when the real and existing world is so ripe with amazing and fascinating truths.

My story, in my eyes, is one long lie. Nothing in the story ever actually happened. It could have, and that’s why I wrote it: to let people imagine what could have been if history had been a little different and how they would have fared in the new hypothetical world. But, damnit, fiction is HARD. Making up facts is hard. Making up people is hard. Deciding what these make-believe people would do in given situations is hard. It’s all hard.

I’ve never been one to walk away from a challenge…but I don’t like lying. Writing the rough draft of the novel was a fun project, but now, trying to edit it and build it and make it better feels too much like trying to fool people. I know that it’s not the case. I know that readers will know that it’s fiction. But, to be honest, my goal with the book is to get people to re-examine their beliefs on love and decide for themselves what they think their hearts are capable of doing, and I keep thinking…couldn’t I do that with a non-fiction book?

And so here I sit, unmotivated to work on the novel, because all I can think about now is how to write a non-fiction book, based in truth and facts, that will get people thinking about love.

It won’t be a pretty story, which means less people will read it, and therein lies the reason why I haven’t completely abandoned the novel. People like stories. I know: I tell stories all the time. They’re true stories, though: things that I’ve experienced, usually. Real life is amazing. Telling an un-true story – it’s a whole different skill, and I’m deciding whether it’s a skill that I possess at all, and if I do, whether I can convince myself to develop it.

Hierarchies

In a lot of the advice columns and relationship articles I read about opening up a relationship, one of the major points is always to “keep the primary relationship at the forefront.”

I do think that it’s important, when pursuing an interest in someone you’re not already in a relationship with, to try to keep a good head on your shoulders and avoid neglecting the existing relationship for the new one. Not everyone is capable of that, to be honest, which is why I don’t recommend everyone run out and give nonmonogamy a try.

However, I feel the need to, once again, point out that different relationships are different. Try all you want to “keep the primary relationship at the forefront;” when it comes down to it, sometimes your primary is in another country, or works 12-hour days, or is pursuing a new relationship of their own. It doesn’t make you any less in love. It doesn’t mean you are “doomed” or “failing.” It doesn’t mean that one relationship is “leveling up” over the other. It simply means that this relationship is one way, and your other relationship might be another way, and it’s okay to acknowledge your feelings for each person honestly, without designating one over the other as “primary”. It means that your relationships with different people are different, not necessarily better or worse, and really, would we want it any other way?

You need to trust that your partner will be honest with you, and you can’t do that if your partner feels pressured to reassure you that you are their #1 or “one and only”. If you make a deal where you say, okay, we’re open, but no falling in love with other people, guess what? You can’t turn emotions off. If your partner does start to fall for someone, they either won’t tell you out of fear, or they will, and you will likely want to make them stop seeing the person if they tell you. And let’s be honest…love stops for no one.

If you open a relationship, you also need to open your mind. Realize that we are human, and that opening a relationship is absolutely scary, because we tend to fear change. If you’re opening a relationship, it’s probably because you’ve grown comfortable and confident enough with the person you’re with to take this less-beaten path. There is no guarantee that you’ll both want to be each other’s “primary” two months from now, but, hey, there was no guarantee of that when you were monogamous, either. There needs to be trust.

It takes a LOT of trust, honesty, and communication to take this path. Natural hierarchies will develop based on the length of time you’ve been with someone and the strength of the relationship in that moment, regardless of how weak or strong it’s been in the past. Those natural hierarchies shift as people come into and move out of our immediate lives, and that’s something that needs to be accepted. If you try to force yourself to the top of the hierarchy, you chance forcing the person you love into going against their heart, and that is what is truly a recipe for disaster.

Tread carefully, and intelligently, my friends.

Polyamory and the Nomadic Lifestyle

Today, I leave St. Thomas to work at a camping program in the states. I likely won’t return to St. Thomas until Thanksgiving.

In total, I plan to work in three different places this year. The longest amount of time I will spend in one place will probably be 6 months, and that will be broken into two three-month stints, with a three month break in the middle.

Long distance relationships are hard. I’m not going to argue that they aren’t worth it; I believe that most are. I have discovered that for myself, though, polyamory has made long distance relationships a teensy bit easier to handle. This is good, because with how much I move around, I’ve got a couple to deal with and can use all the help I can get.

There’s something comforting about being able to reach out to the people in my immediate vicinity for comfort, without fearing the possibility of feelings developing. When monogamous, there is a wall to maintain, and lots of angst and worry if the wall fails to keep feelings out (which, I’m sure, is something many people have experienced).

Being able to reach out and develop natural relationships with the people around me actually makes it easier to hold on to the people who are far away from me. I find support, and I can be myself without worry, and as long as everyone knows that the people I love know everything, and as long as I am communicating with the people who aren’t present, I’ve found that I enjoy myself much more. Life is happier.

It’s also worth noting that, for me, the fact that I haven’t been in one place for longer than three months in the last year makes it difficult to be “taken seriously” in the way that many people want to be able to do. Everyone knows that long-distance is hard, so why invest in a relationship with someone who is going to be leaving in a couple of months?

Inevitably, some people do anyway, (we can’t control feelings, after all) but I find that people are much more accepting of my nonmonogamous ways because of the fact that I’m always moving away. I’ve made some very close friends, and more than friends, over the last year, and as I look back, I can’t say there are any broken hearts. I miss people while I’m away, and they miss me, but even though I’m always moving away, I’m also always coming back.

Eventually.