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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Live Your Dream, Abridged

While exploring what people seemingly think they are supposed to do in order to appear busy, attractive or likeable, I concluded that this all just seems like a giant façade. It’s getting in my way of getting to know people who I actually like.

http://elitedaily.com/dating/rules-dating-outdated/777713/

Getting in the way, indeed!

Hey y’all! As usual, I’ve been gone for quite some time. The writing bug has been a bitin’, but I’m not gonna lie; so has life. I’m sorry to have abandoned you as I’ve explored my corner of the globe and the people in it for the past few months, but also, I’m a little #sorrynotsorry.

What brought me back here was not a personal epiphany, or huge development in the world of poly, but an article posted by a friend on Facebook, with the quote posted above. I’ve agreed with the sentiment for a while now, and while the author doesn’t seem to ascribe to any form of polyamorous outlook, at least publicly, I enjoyed reading her views.

Regardless of whether you find yourself leaning more toward the monogamous, polyamorous, open, single, or any of infinite other possibilities within the realm of relationship statuses, I think that it’s worth your time to shun anything that gets in the way of getting to know the people you want to get to know. I think it’s a damn shame that some people think that there are “rules” to getting to know people, and who will stop getting to know someone they are otherwise interested in if they don’t follow these arbitrary rules.

Forget the rules; if you want to call someone the same day they gave you their number, who’s to say they won’t be excited to hear from you that same day? I’m only one voice of many, but if someone makes you that excited, perhaps you deserve to know if they are equally excited to hear from you. If they aren’t, perhaps it’s not a match. Who knows? Crazier stories exist than the couple that “recovered” from a same-day call back.

In the meantime, until you meet the person (or people) who make you feel that way, keep being you and loving you. When you’re busy living life the way you love living it, time flies by, and people see you for who you are and love you for who you are. Be you to the fullest; do it the best way you can. I’m cheering you on and doing the same.

Back to living the dream!

 

Beyond the Fad: Polyamory and Relevance

As I write this, my fourth post to this blog in as many days, acknowledging a newfound urgency to express the things I’m thinking, I also find that I need to admit one of the reasons I wasn’t posting for so long:

I worried that polyamory had become a fad.

It was a moment of weakness, I admit. I faltered under the weight of the fear that all I wrote might be summed up by readers to simply be anecdotal contributions to the trendy new lovestyle that has garnered so much attention in the media, including TV shows like “Polyamory” on Showtime. I stopped working on my novel because I decided that, by the time I was done writing it, finding an agent, and doing the work necessary to get published, I would have “missed the boat” – the fad would have passed, polyamory would be old news, and no one would want to publish the book.

Discussion and visibility of polyamory has skyrocketed in the last year or two, and while the benefits of that include visibility, the drawbacks include the fact that people enjoy simplicity, and trying to simply define something as complicated as polyamory just doesn’t happen. Instead, people define it by comparing it to things they already know – infidelity, swinging, commitment phobias, sex addiction, etc. I feared being lumped into those definitions.

I should have been stronger. I should have waved away the possibility that I’d be just another voice in the polyamorous cacaphony, just another polyamorous person whining with other polyamorous people about being misunderstood.

But this blog, and my book, and my writing in general, are not about that.

This isn’t about polyamory and its visibility. This isn’t about convincing people that polyamory is okay.

This is about love; about rethinking relationship norms. That will always be worth writing about, even if the whole world suddenly became polyamorous. Ultimately, my biggest hope for every single person who reads what I write is that they stop to think about the way they love, and decide for themselves what ways of loving work for them. If polyamory is not a model for you, I have no intention of trying to “convert” you; I simply want you to know that for yourself because you actually took the time to think about it.

Blogging about polyamory has never, for me, been about getting more views and attention by playing into a popular topic. When I started doing it in 2007, it wasn’t a popular topic at all. Just because it has become one shouldn’t deter me. If it is a fad, then like all fads, it will pass. When the dust settles, I’ll still be here, plodding along, thinking about love, sex, and relationships and how people can be happier with all of those things in their life.

Hopefully, if it is a fad, it will be one that changes some love lives for the better.

Shoutout to the Secondaries

This one goes out to the secondaries out there: the satellite relationships to the primaries, the other significant others, the lovers to someone with a boyfriend/girlfriend, the boyfriends/girlfriends to someone with a husband/wife. The umfriends.

This is for you!

Cheers!

I want to celebrate your awesomeness today, because many people who look at polyamory often don’t realize it, but you are so awesome.

While the media portrays polyamory as an emotional and sexual playground for experimental couples, you are often seen as the toys to be played with. People misunderstand, thinking you are some bonus appendage to be added to the existing relationship, like a really cool monkey tail. The tail makes life interesting; it means you can do new things and experience life in a different way. But, if the tail were lost or detached, life would go back to the way it was before the tail appeared.

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It’s probably more like having a kid…things NEVER go back to the way they were before.

You and I know better.

You and I know that you are not only confident enough to be a part of a relationship where much of the outside world sees you as an underdog, but you are also self-aware enough to know that you are in the relationship you are in because you and the people involved want you to be, and it might be the best thing that ever could have happened to all of you. You know that you like, possibly even love, the person/people you are involved with, that their happiness is important to you and yours important to them, because you are compassionate people.

Of course you have doubts from time to time; you’re human – we all do! Those of us in relationships are especially prone to doubts. We have to doubt in order to assess. We have to doubt in order to make conscious decisions about what is best for us, continually. I don’t say this because I’ve had extensive experience as a secondary: I have been one on occasion, but I was so blissfully engaged in life and loving, that I didn’t think much of it.

And the amazing people who have been in my life and who have been secondaries were often also doing exactly that.

So, to my lovers, umfriends, and especially the other significant other who was so proud to be one for five years of my life –

who-is-awesome

And for those of you who have a secondary in your life – let them know how awesome they are today!

Singlehood

“You’ve been single your entire life. Does it ever bother you?” I asked a friend one night.

“Not really. I guess I feel lonely sometimes, but I look at the things my friends who are in relationships go through emotionally, and I don’t think I’m any worse off.”

“Are you eager to find someone who is worth going through all that stuff for?”

“Not particularly. I’ve got a lot of other things on my mind; I don’t spend much time thinking about it I guess.”

I had this conversation shortly after writing my entry about SoloPoly and Singlish. Being single was on my mind. You see, I’ve been “involved” with someone in one way or another since about the age of 13, from middle-school “boyfriends” who I would hold hands with and sit next to at lunch, to polyamorous relationships and other forms of ethical nonmonogamy as an adult. Though my Facebook status has read “single” for the last 3+ years, the truth is, I haven’t truly been “alone” in terms of romantic involvement in well over 10 years.

I’ve realized that my perception of “singlehood” is likely very different from others’. My perspective is that of someone who grew up in Los Angeles, where, by the age of 13, having a significant other was a prerequisite to having any social standing above “loner” at school. My perspective is that of someone who moved to St. Thomas at 16 and soon entered a 7-year relationship, which was completely normal in the new cultural context. At the ending of that relationship, I began navigating singlehood without ever straying too far from some kind of romantic connection. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but because of it, I have wondered at my ability to be happy while being completely romantically alone. I have wondered at the ability of others, as well.

There are many studies about whether being married increases a person’s chances of being happy, and a few studies, I believe, about whether just being “in a relationship” does so. A study from MSU published in 2012 actually tracked people’s levels of happiness ten years before and after marriage and compared them to a control group of people who remained unmarried for the length of the study, and found that married people experienced a spike of happiness during their first year of marriage, then declined to pre-marital levels of happiness. Unmarried people’s happiness declined over time, leaving them worse off than married people, except, it appears, in the cases of unmarried people who cohabitate with a long-term partner.

As I search the internet for more of these studies, I can’t help but notice how much of the “happy and single” movement is moved by, and geared towards, women. The friend I had the conversation above with is a woman in her 20’s. She’s happy, if not wishing only for a more challenging career. I somehow expected that, as a woman, she would have experienced some doubts and loneliness about her singleness, if for no other reason than movies and songs and TV shows are constantly telling her that she’s supposed to be in a relationship.

Apparently not. I continue to find evidence that happiness is, ultimately, up to the individual. Perhaps the single people whose happiness declined over time were feeling less happy because they believed that they should have been married by a certain age. Perhaps positive attitudes about singleness could rectify much of this reported unhappiness.

Thoughts from people with perspectives besides my own?

To Date or Not To Date: Monogamous People

As a single polyamorous person, I’ve read and heard a lot of advice and preferences from other poly folk about the dating world. One phrase I’ve come across quite a few times is, “I don’t date monogamous people.”

I’ve never quite liked it. First off, so many polyamorous people lived monogamous lives up until a certain point. Isn’t it possible that the currently monogamous person you find yourself attracted to possibly has the capacity to be polyamorous, just as you did? If not, could you at least credit them with the emotional intelligence (you are attracted to them, right?!) to decide whether a polyamorous partner is something they could be happy with, be understanding of? If they say no, then that’s that, if they say yes, who knows what could happen? A relationship only exists for as long as both partners want it, and I trust the people I love to let me know if they no longer want it. If we both do – let’s!

Secondly, I’ve always believed that we can’t help who we fall in love with, and that as long as you love someone, and they love you, most obstacles can be overcome. It can be hard, but aren’t relationships always hard at some point? That’s the challenge of relationships, isn’t it? Relish the joy and ecstasy of being in love with someone at the cost of often having to reconcile the fact that you are, in the end, two individual beings with different needs and wants. Relationships are full of compromises; some are big, some are small. This is a big one.

But perhaps I only feel all of this because I am an optimist. When it comes down to it, this is one of those obstacles that is much harder for one partner than the other. Monogamous people often try to do things to prevent their partner (and themselves) from falling in love with someone else and leaving the relationship; polyamorists need to be allowed to love others. Because most romantic pairs are scrutinized under a monogamous light, a polyamorist who dates a monogamist could, in times of duress, be seen as someone who is “getting more than they’re giving,” in the relationship, even if it’s not true. Societal standards are tricky that way.

Perhaps people who choose not to date monogamists simply don’t want to invite the possibility of that being a perceived dynamic. They don’t want to potentially set themselves up to be “the bad guy.” Or, perhaps they simply find it easier to date people who have already explored themselves and their capacity for love, and people who identify as polyamorous have usually at least started that journey. I, ever optimistic, like to think that I fall for people who are capable of deciding whether they want a relationship with me, a polyamorist and ethical slut, or not. I expect them to know what they want, be able to communicate what they want, and decide if I fit that.

Maybe I have high standards, after all.

Isn’t It All Fair Play?

Polyamory has changed for me since I first discovered it from within a “primary relationship.” I was recently asked what kinds of rules I like to adhere to, and I had a hard time saying that I wasn’t really sure without feeling emotionally reckless. Despite the fact that I’ve read many articles and blogs by people who explain why having rules about love doesn’t make sense, it’s still hard to tell people that I don’t follow rules in regards to love without seeming like someone too dangerous to love.

My “problem,” if you could call it that, is that I generally don’t like attaching obligations or ultimatums to emotional situations, either for myself or for the people I’m potentially or definitely fond of. “Don’t be an asshole,” is probably the only rule that really comes to mind, but because everyone likes/dislikes different things, the meaning of this rule changes from person to person. While some people expect and want to pay for their own dinner, others get offended if the person who suggested the dinner doesn’t pay, for example. (I did once have someone ask me to write a “Handbook to Dating Shannon Burton”, which I still might write, more for entertainment value than anything else.)

Woman Reading a Diary

Italian food, eh? I’ll rock her socks off with my homemade lasagna!

Yes, I do have things that I would prefer you do/not do. If you know me, you’ll probably find these things out rather quickly. I’m not exactly quiet about my needs. Here are some basics, though, that some may not think to ask about:

If you love me, I want you to choose to love me each day, until the day comes, if it ever does, that you find that you just don’t any more. If that day comes, I want you to tell me.

I want you to be you. I want to love you for who you are, not some person you think I’ll like, and not some person who holds him/herself back from pursuing people or things that interest you.

Yes, people. If I like you (and even if I don’t, honestly), I want you to go out and float your boat. I want you to pursue people that interest you. I was likely at some point one of those people, and it probably turned out wonderfully for both of us, even if it was only for just a little while. If it didn’t, it was probably a great learning experience. I don’t want to stop you from experiencing something wonderful or learning something new.

Tourist Boat Near Dragon Palace Cave

I want you to choose, if someone else’s needs require that my role change, and you care for them enough to want to meet their needs, what role in your life you’d like me to take. I want you to make this choice while keeping your own needs in mind, as well.

And if you decide we need to alter our relationship, I know you’ll inform me with the knowledge that I, too, have the freedom to decide how I feel about the change, and proceed accordingly.

Does this philosophy open me up to potential pain? Uh, duh! I’m not immune to jealousy and misunderstanding. But this is attraction and love – do you really think you can jump in these waters and expect the lifejacket of assumed eyes-only-for-you, you’re-the-only-one-for-me, and happily-ever-after paradigms to save you from getting nibbled on by sharks? Nope. I’d rather be clear, open, and honest so I can see the sharks in the water when they arrive. Then we can talk about what the eff to do about it – swim to shore? Punch the sharks in the nose? Befriend them? I’m willing to have these discussions if you are.

Three-course meal? Yum!

Three-course meal? Yum!

Don’t misunderstand me: the “lifejacket” in this analogy is assumed paradigms, not to be confused with people who honestly, genuinely, have examined themselves and found themselves to be inherently monogamous or monogamish. If that’s who you are, you’re not putting on a lifejacket when you jump in the water; you are jumping in as you are…just as I jump in as I am. And you know, monogamous, monogamish, polyamorous, or whatever/whoever we are – we still risk getting bit by sharks, because that’s what happens in this particular ocean.

We just get to see what’s coming at us.

Polyamory and Guilt

Businessman Thinking on StepsI had forgotten until recently that guilt is probably something experienced by most polyamorous people as they navigate their needs and desires in our culture of couples.

When I first opened the long-term relationship I was in in 2007, I often felt guilty for wanting to be with anyone other than the amazing person that I was with. This was someone I loved deeply, someone I wanted to marry some day, someone who would do anything for me and who I would do anything for. No one could ask for a better partner. How could I do this? How could I be so greedy as to want more?

The guilt ebbed and flowed depending on what was happening in the relationship. When my partners were getting along, teasing me together, and friends began inviting all three of us to parties as a unit, the guilt was gone. Whenever tensions arose because of my “other significant other”, though, it came crashing back. How dare I bring such difficulty to what was otherwise a happy, perfect relationship? Why couldn’t I just be satisfied with the one perfect partner I’d found and loved for so many years? Was I a bad person?

This struggle is one that I haven’t had to deal with since that relationship ended in 2010. Once I was more or less “single”, I began making it clear to romantic interests that I was polyamorous, and I haven’t experienced that brand of guilt since. My loves know that this is who I am, and if they choose to become involved with me, they understand what it entails. No friendship or relationship of mine has been threatened for three years by polyamory, and that’s been nice.

But that doesn’t mean it’s over for other people. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t people out there who haven’t been exposed to the concept of polyamory, and are fighting those thoughts of whether they’re a bad person or not, wondering why their love for the person they’re with doesn’t put blinders on to all other potential lovers. Perhaps they are even hoping and praying that they can stop seeing other people in such betraying ways to their existing relationship. Perhaps they worry that they can never marry since they’ll always have a “wandering eye.” Perhaps they think their life is and will always be unfulfilling, because they never seem to be able to experience love the way we’re all told we are supposed to: all-engrossing, all-encompassing, and making you want to just give yourself entirely to the object of your affections.

MP900314150I’m writing this post to say, no. No, you are not bad people. You love love, and love is a beautiful thing that is meant to bring happiness. Don’t let it bring you sadness. Embrace your love for love, celebrate it honestly and openly; you are NOT doing it wrong. Let people know who you are and what you are feeling. You will bump into other people like you, but you are more likely to find them if you are open about what’s on your mind, because they’ll hear you speaking their language.

Love feels good. Go out there and love as much and as deeply as you want. The world is full of people who need love, and it doesn’t make any sense for someone who has a lot to give to be holding it back and feeling guilty about it.

Plenty of Fish in the Polyamorous Sea?

Man Scratching HeadWith raised eyebrows, my fellow conversationalist states, “well that certainly narrows down your dating pool.”

This is a common reaction I get after explaining that I’m polyamorous and don’t promise monogamy to potential partners. Funny thing is, I don’t think it’s necessarily true.

I think every one of us, monogamously-inclined or not, has a number of characteristics or relationship desires that narrow down our dating pools. A lot of people knock out about half the world population by preferring only to date one gender. A number of people prefer to only date people of a certain religion. Some also prefer partners who are waiting until marriage to have sex and live together, while others would prefer the opposite.

Some seek out partners with similar political beliefs, or similar goals in life. Some people want kids, some don’t. Some people want to get married, some don’t. Some people want to settle in one place together, others want to travel the world. There are those who won’t date people with tattoos, or people without cars, or people without jobs, or people with bad credit scores.

Here we all are, narrowing and narrowing our own dating pools, hopefully based on not what others want for us or what we think is expected of us, but based on what we think is essential to a good relationship with us.

So, yes, on occasion I run into someone I’m attracted to who prefers not to get involved with nonmonogamous people, just like you run into people you’re attracted to who turn out not to be right for you in some way.

But you know what? It happens less often than you might think.

Man with Eyebrows Raised

Response to: “The War Against Monogamy is Bullshit”

Hugo Schwyzer wrote on Jezebel.com earlier this month speaking out for those who still desire monogamous relationships in the face of the current “War on Monogamy,” where books like Sex at Dawn and The Monogamy Gap encourage people to consider options like polyamory and other open relationship styles, supposedly because monogamy is an “unreasonable expectation.”

“The problem is that very few people are making the brief for monogamy (with or without state-sanctioned marriage) as just one among many equal goods. Either monogamy gets held up as an ideal to which all ought to aspire, or it gets denigrated as an “unhealthy” and “unreasonable” straitjacket that we would do well to avoid.”

I’m very curious as to whether Schwyzer has spent any time, at all whatsoever, among polyamorists. Like, even in an online context. Quite honestly, when I entered the online poly world, I was initially met with a lot of “You are welcome here, but do tread carefully. We encourage open, honest, exploration, but this is not for everybody.”

Now that I’ve stumbled my way through to finding how and why it is for me, I often give other people the same message. Most of my friends, after explaining what it means when I say I’m polyamorous, say, “There’s no way I could do that.” I reply with, “Then don’t. I don’t recommend it. I just recommend asking yourself what you truly want when it comes to relationships, outside of what media and our culture tell you you want. That’s all.” If that means that they reaffirm for themselves that they value monogamy, awesome for them.

I know that I do my best to make it clear that monogamy is exactly what Schwyzer says, “one among many equal goods.” I am saddened that he, and probably many other people, feel that monogamy is being “attacked.” I think it is important that in discussions about “alternative” relationship styles, we remind ourselves and those we are speaking with that monogamy is no demon. It is the default in our society, and that is unfortunate in that it makes it hard for people to consider all of the possibilities before entering relationships, but demonizing it is like demonizing white people while trying to overcome racism or demonizing men while trying to overcome sexism…it moves us backwards instead of forwards.

Monogamy is right for some people. That is okay. Let people decide for themselves what is right for them. This means making them aware of alternatives, but not advertising those alternatives as the “more correct choice.”

That is all. Be cool, friends.