He Means Well

I’ve had a few interactions with men in the last week which have irked me. These were all good people, “decent human beings,” as I like to say. But I think their male privilege had blinded them to the fact that women experience the world differently than they do. In only one instance did I try to help the other person see things from an alternate point of view…but the inability of that well-intentioned man to put himself in a woman’s shoes became quickly apparent.

I was hesitant to write about this today, because I feel it’s fairly off-topic for this blog, but as my roommate pointed out: this disconnect gets in the way of understanding and love. If putting this out there can help bridge that gap and allow for more love, then perhaps it isn’t so off-topic after all.

The first situation involved a relatively serious conversation about rape. The gentleman I was talking to then uttered this gem:

“I only weigh like 150lbs, there’s no way I could rape someone.”

Yes, he was implying that he was light enough that anyone could shove him off. I’m about 80% sure he wasn’t kidding. He had this sort of “look at me, I’m harmless” argument that he felt made him a safe guy to be around. “Women are safe with me because I’m too weak to overpower them,” he seemed to think.

I just…couldn’t. I didn’t have words in that moment, but I do wish now that I’d said something along the lines of, “Hey, I guess you might not know this, but rape is not just about physical domination. Women, men, trans people, and children have been raped by women, men, trans people and yes, children of much less physical strength. You don’t need to be strong or heavy to rape. I don’t want to imply that you could rape someone, of course. I just hope that the reason you couldn’t rape someone is because you WOULDN’T. Because it’s wrong. It’s terrible. Don’t do it, and don’t imply that if you were stronger or heavier you’d be capable of it.”

Don’t.

So there was that. The second time I found myself in a conversation that made me squirm, I was more ready with my words. I was chatting with a new friend over drinks, and we were comparing experiences meeting new people and navigating the friendship-FWB-relationship lines.

“Women never know what they want, though” he said. “So many times, I take a woman out, we have a great time. We meet up a second time. Things seem to be going somewhere, and then *poof*, she disappears. No more texts. No more calls. Nothing. And no reason given. It’s frustrating.”

As a woman who has been on the other side of that, I tried to offer some possible explanations. It could be many things, of course, but personally, I’ve found myself in that position when I’ve met someone that I’m not attracted to at first, but keep seeing anyway thinking they might grow on me. Once I realize that it’s just not happening, I start to move away. In the past, that sometimes meant ending communication. Today, I like to think I’m better at being honest about why and communicating my reasons, but I was once a “disappearing act.” When I think about why I would do that, it was mostly to avoid confrontation. In my experience, men wanted to know what they did wrong to cause a lack of attraction, and when they found out they’d done nothing wrong and I STILL wasn’t attracted to them, they’d get angry. I have been called childish, stupid, a dumb slut, and other things by men I’ve turned down after meeting. Who wants to hear that? Safer to be silent.

Today, I can recognize insults like that as reflective of a problem with the man, and not with me, but in my younger years…and certainly for many other women like that younger version of myself…it felt safer to just fade into the background. Now I just go on less second dates; if I’m not attracted to you on the first date, then I’m probably not going to be on the second one, so I’ll save us both time.

I did try to get the man sitting across the table from me to understand this, but he…just…couldn’t. He thought it all sounded immature. I don’t think it’s immaturity. I think it has more to do with women being expected to not start conflict, not shake things up, and to please everybody. The moment we know we’re going to make a man who is interested in us unhappy, we feel guilty. All he did was treat you well, and you’re not attracted to him? How dare you!? The common reaction of men to label women who aren’t interested in them as “bitches” certainly doesn’t make being upfront and honest an attractive option.

So there’s that.

My last interaction was one-sided, as it was simply a Facebook post that I didn’t bother commenting on. He had a lot of supportive comments on it, though, which terrifies me a little.

The post mentioned that there would be an advertisement about domestic violence during the Superbowl. The highlights of the post were basically: We’re not ending DV any time soon, if the ad convinces one person to rethink the way they treat their spouse, great, but this is otherwise a waste of time, men are victims too, DV is a psychological problem that a commercial can’t fix, and people lie about DV in divorce cases all the time.

So. Not. The. Point.

I can’t even begin to delve into all of the “no” here. There is already so much literature on domestic violence, and I am much less articulate on the topic than the many people who have put work into making it a more visible issue and encouraging victims to seek help. I didn’t have the energy to reply to him on Facebook, and I don’t have the energy to go into it here, either.

Please, world, take the time to open your eyes and consider other people’s perspectives.

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Trending

trends

I’ve had a tab open on my computer with this graph displayed for, oh, a week or so now. It’s from Google Trends, and I was having some fun, and just couldn’t bring myself to close the tab.

What can I gain from this graphic?

It is, at first, hard to read. The highest spike, the yellow one for the search term “open marriage,” is hitting a line labeled “100” at it’s highest point. It appears that 100, though, is simply the value assigned to help us understand the popularity of search terms in the rest of the graph by comparison. i.e.: The blue line’s highest point is at 95, meaning that, at it’s peak, the search term “polyamory” was only 95% as popular as the search term “open marriage” ever was, and “open relationship” only 77% so.

The bar graph on the side, though, marked “average,” suggests that, over this 10-year period, “polyamory” did actually get searched more often than “open relationship” and then “open marriage,” respectively. Interesting.

“Ethical slut,” though supposedly a popularized term by a book published in 1997 and re-published in 2009, has a surprisingly low register, even in 2009. The term “nonmonogamy,” I should tell you, didn’t even earn a blip on this graph.

This makes me remember a conversation I had with a friend once (a very monogamous friend in intent, I should say, and not so much in practice, though never, to my knowledge, unethical). The friend said something along the lines of, “you know, I never hear anyone mention any of these terms….polyamory…ethical slut…but you. I think you’re just in a tiny circle of people who think this way, and you think it’s a lot bigger than it actually is in the real world.”

Harsh. Possibly true, I guess – thought it’s just as possible that he is a part of his own circle that is shut off to these kinds of ideas, or that we both suffer of a combination of both of these problems. If, however, the banner of this blog, my linking my posts to Facebook, and my day-to-day conversations help introduce these terms and, by the transitive property of information, their meanings and the concepts therein, then so be it. I’m always happy to be a bearer of information to the curious, or the instigator of curiosity.

Go ahead, Google search some stuff you see. I want to see the peak on Google Trends.

On Loving Love and Loving Sex

Sometimes, honesty leads to misunderstanding. Strange world.

To be polyamorous means to be able to be in love with more than one person at a time. To be an ethical slut means to responsibly partake in a promiscuous lifestyle. Both of these are forms of nonmonogamy.

I’m open about the fact that I am both/all of these things, but that’s not always enough. I think people have trouble understanding that being polyamorous and being a slut are, first of all, two different things, but at the same time, that they are also not necessarily mutually exclusive. Polyamory tends to focus on love, emotional attachment, and often romance. Of course, when we love someone, sex often is a part of the relationship (not always, but often). Polyamory is not about no-strings-attached sex; it’s about actual relationships.

Being an ethical slut can be about no-strings attached sex, possibly with many people, but in a responsible way. Safely, between consenting adults who are clear about one another’s intentions and communicate honestly. Sometimes, it’s not no-strings-attached. Sometimes it’s between friends, sometimes people do fall in love. Not always, but sometimes. Believe it or not, sluts can fall in love. Not all sluts can fall in love with more than one person, like a polyamorist, but some can, and that makes them both an ethical slut and a polyamorist.

My point is, being an ethical slut doesn’t “cancel out” anyone’s ability to love or desire to be loved. It also doesn’t mean that an ethical slut only wants friends-with-benefits situations, or any specific kind of situation, for that matter. As with all else in life, everything is dependent upon each individual’s wants and needs. I happen to love love, even though I don’t need it to enjoy a good lay. It could go either way, honestly.

Here’s an example of something that feeds into this issue. I heard a song recently where the female artist proclaimed that ladies should demand respect and not “give it up for free.” I hear songs like this often. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that women only lose with sex, and should receive some kind of payment for giving it away. I didn’t realize that it was a sacrifice to give. Believe it or not, women can actually enjoy sex, and it’s possible to have a pretty even exchange in a sexual encounter without a gentleman having to put some extra sort of effort forward for it.

This idea obviously permeates our culture, which causes misunderstanding when I’m honest about my feelings on sex. Men seem to think, “Nice! What a good deal; I don’t have to pretend to be emotionally invested to get this,” and it’s true, you don’t, but that also doesn’t mean that you should avoid emotional investment if you feel it developing. There’s no reason to fear being in love; love is grand, even if it’s with that slut you’re banging.

Don’t be scared of love, peeps. It’s too awesome to hide from.

The Value of Love

One argument that I’ve always had a hard time picking a side on was whether or not one should be highly reserved in the use of the phrase “I love you.”

There are those out there who believe that over-using the phrase, or using it before one is absolutely sure of its truth, cheapens the phrase, the word “love”, and perhaps even love itself.

But I was always uncomfortable with trying to figure out where exactly that line was. At what “level” of love was it okay to admit that it is what you are feeling? I love a number of my friends as if they were family; is it okay to tell them I love them? When I’ve met someone who tickles my fancy, and I’m feeling those first stages of lust, I may also be developing a friendship with that person, and find myself loving them as I do my friends – is it safe to tell them that I love them?

I’ve found that, recently, I’ve stopped worrying about it. If I love someone, romantically or not, I simply tell them. It catches a few people off guard, but for the most part, I find that it is well-received, and that my friends are grateful for the permission to let me know that they love me, as well.

I think part of my decision to take this route is due to seeing the reservation of the phrase “I love you” as being similar to a company making a “limited edition” item. It can be sold for more, and is therefore seen as worth more, simply because there are less of the item. Only a few people can have the item, usually those who can afford it. When people reserve the phrase “I love you,” they’re attempting to make it worth more, and attempting to prove its value by only giving it out to people who have made an acceptable level of emotional investment.

But, people, LOVE IS OF INFINITE VALUE. It isn’t worth more or less based on how often you tell someone you are feeling it. You’re not going to run out of love to give, because there isn’t a limited amount of love to give. You can keep on loving your whole life, telling people you love them every day, and really, truly loving those people every day, and that love doesn’t have to run out. You might stop loving someone because of certain events, but there is no cookie jar of love that you will eventually scrape bottom on.

And we shouldn’t feel that the love expressed by people who express it often is cheap. Yes, there are some people who use the word “love” insincerely, to get something they want or reassure someone and spare feelings, but who are you to decide that the love of someone who loves many is somehow worth less than yours? Simply because yours is “limited edition” love? Please.

Love is not a commodity. You can’t commercialize it. So, love, and tell people you’re doing it.

Polyamory and Romance

I get the feeling that some people find polyamory rather unromantic.

To polyamorists, that may sound insane. How on earth could more lovers and more love being shared be unromantic?

And yet, inevitably, when people find out that I prefer to keep my relationships open, it seems to be assumed that I don’t participate in particularly “deep” relationships. Where is the romance if I don’t love someone so much that I designate them my One Twu Wuv and turn away all other prospective lovers as proof of my love for them?

I admit, the idea of promising someone monogamy is, to me, very romantic. Unrealistic, for me, but romantic nonetheless. I love you so much, that I’m willing to give up the chance to be with anyone else, just to be with you. So romantic. A little creepy, too. Also, that puts a lot of pressure on the other person to meet all of your needs. But, yes, romantic.

You may think that I’m working my way to a point of romance not being very important in the first place. You’re somewhat right; obviously I place romance lower on the hierarchy of crucial relationship elements (underneath honesty and good communication, to name two), but I by no means intend to say that it isn’t high up there. Because believe it or not. . .

do like a little bit of romance.

Write me love letters. Get me gifts that really show that you know me. Introduce me to your passions and let me share them. Teach me something new. Cook me dinner and light some candles. Cuddle with me. These things are all quite romantic, quite cherished by me, and do not require monogamy.

In return, I’ll happily write poems and songs, perhaps even some short stories, dedicated to the beautiful thing we share. I’ll text you at random times throughout the day just to tell you that I love you. I’ll take you to the beach and sit in the sand eating deli sandwiches with you. I’ll participate in public displays of affection that will have people thinking we’re newlyweds when really, we’ve been together ten years.

I, too, can be romantic. People don’t seem to get this. My desire for open relationships isn’t simply a desire for sexual freedom; it is a desire for emotional freedom as well. The freedom to love, even romantically.

So, if you fear my ability to make a commitment, or worry that your attempts at romance will be met with sneers from me: fear not. Instead, dive in, please, and I will welcome you with honesty and commitments I can keep.

Operating in a Monogamously Minded World

As I move and live and socialize in this monogamously minded world, I am constantly made aware of how monogamously minded I am myself, having grown up in it.

I catch myself expecting other people to be monogamous. I catch myself communicating in such a way that would be non-threatening to a monogamous person, even to people who have stated that they are comfortable with my non-monogamy. I’ll feel completely comfortable, even proud, if a romantic interest texts me and I can reply that I’m “just hanging with the girls,” but if they happen to text me while I’m talking with another interest, I find myself hesitant to admit it, and I’ll often reply, “hanging with a friend.”

I catch myself worrying when someone I’m interested in becomes interested in someone else; I worry they’ll lose interest in me, as if they aren’t capable of what I do. I don’t give them enough credit. I catch myself being surprised when those same people continue to show interest in me, even in plain view of those others they are canoodling with. It’s funny how quickly my worry is assuaged, and rather nice, and I just kind of wish the worry wasn’t there at all. I wonder if that’ll ever happen.

I’m hesitant to make new interests aware of the existence of other new interests. Old lovers are easy; I simply introduce myself as someone who already has some ties, and if the person is still interested in me, I know they’ve made a decision to continue with that knowledge. When a friendship is still forming though, and another one begins, too, I find myself conflicted about just how much and how to divulge that information.

I’ll figure it out; I always do. But I’m sure I’m not the only one experiencing these things, and I felt it was worth sharing.

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.

Jealousy

“Are you really okay with that?”

With someone I love being happy, of course I am! Am I immune to jealousy? Hell, no!

The little green monster bites me, too.

There are some people out there who say that they lack the capacity to feel jealous. I am not one of them. I get that sinking feeling when I see someone who I enjoy making happy being made happy by someone else. Does this other person make them happier than I do? Am I at risk of losing someone I care about to someone else? I can’t pretend that these feelings don’t pass through me.

At the same time, though, I simultaneously feel the urge to smile. After all, someone I care about is smiling, and more often than not, I am welcome to join in the moment. For me, it is most often the case that the happiness I feel at others’ happiness overwhelms the jealousy that is present.

And, as quickly as I cause happiness, the jealousy passes, and I am reassured that I am not losing someone; rather, we are including someone in our joy, and that person is including us in theirs.

So much for "three's a crowd".

People in the polyamory communities I’ve interacted with call this feeling of being happy at seeing someone you love be made happy by someone else “compersion.” Some call it the “opposite of jealousy.” It’s strange feeling jealousy and it’s opposite at the same time, but it’s not like the human race isn’t used to that experience. How many of us have both loved and hated someone? How many of us have been sad to leave a place, but happy at what lay ahead? How many of us have been angry at the actions of a child, and yet amused by the situation?

Jealousy is a negative emotion. We’re always talking about how to handle our negative emotions like anger, hate, and grief. Yet, we allow people to experience levels of jealousy without considering whether that emotion should be managed rather than given free reign.

How do you manage jealousy in a relationship? Often, the same way you manage anger, resentment, or sadness: COMMUNICATE. This is no news flash. I’ve had many a long discussion about my jealousies with people I care about, and the result has always been me receiving more than enough reassurance to see that my jealousy was coming from my own insecurities. Over time, I’ve managed to kill off a number of those insecurities, and have become exponentially less jealous. I still have some that I don’t think I’ll ever get over – some things are buried too deep to dig up without simply inflicting more damage – and that is why I talk with the people in my life about what I need to keep feeling happy for their happiness.

No one’s had a problem with it yet.

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.

Levels and Labels

No two relationships are alike; I think most people will agree with me there.

People like to know what “level” a relationship is on, and they tend to use labels to accomplish the task. This is my friend. This is my best friend. This is my boyfriend/girlfriend. This is my friend with benefits. This is my fuck buddy. This is my wife/husband. This is my brother/sister, even though we’re not actually blood related.

I take a little issue with this practice. Say we use the term “boyfriend” to describe someone we’ve dated, and then that relationship ends. Now a new guy comes along, you start dating, and even though you re-use the term “boyfriend,” the relationship is likely different from that of you and your first boyfriend.

These terms have generally accepted definitions that help other people, and perhaps yourselves, understand where the relationship is at; but have you ever considered how limited they are? Has everybody who is dating said “I love you” to each other? Has one person said it and the other hasn’t? (gasp!) Have all dating couples slept together yet? Do all “dating” couples call each other “boyfriend” and/or “girlfriend”, or can they be “just dating”? Is there a label for the person you are “just dating”? (“This is Bob, my…um…person I’m just dating.”)

What bothers me most, though, is how much these labels limit our ability to see the different levels in between and even in the overlapping of these relationships. A husband or wife can also be a best friend. A best friend can also be a friend with benefits. We can love someone who is “just a friend.” Our desire to keep things strictly away from grey areas and within bold, clear boundaries inhibits so much of each of our limitless (dare I say, infinite) love and friendship possibilities. We often force ourselves to fit the labels, rather than making the labels work for us.

Use labels, don’t let them use you.

I’m not trying to tear down the excitement of the moment that you and someone you are interested in look at one another and say, “So, shall we change our Facebook statuses?” What I’m offering you is the chance to realize something much more exciting: the status does no justice to the uniqueness of your relationship. Make sure to embrace, talk about, and celebrate the uniqueness of every relationship (friendship, romantic, familial, or otherwise) in your life.

And once you recognize just how many people you already love, you may start to understand why some people fall “in love” with more than one person at a time.