Getting my shit together.

September 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm (Family, Real Life, Relationship) (, , , , , , )

This is a long post that has been written, re-written, deleted, written again, and finally posted with a deep breath. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share what’s been going on with me, but I’ve decided that, like other issues I’ve blogged about, maybe someone somewhere will read it who has shared my experience. Maybe someone will feel a little better to know they’re not the only one. Maybe I can give someone else a bit of hope.

Several weeks ago, I had an emotional breakdown. It was in public, and it was humiliating for me and an embarrassment to my husband. It led to a very long night of crying, and involved feelings of anger, betrayal, abandonment and loss. It was a breaking point. I was the one broken.

I’ve been feeling this coming on, and some warning signs I saw clearly and acknowledged, while others I willfully ignored. I take responsibility for that. If I had stopped and reflected on how I was feeling sooner, I could have asked for help sooner. But for a number of reasons, I didn’t, and I let myself continue on a destructive course.

A really big part of this has been caused by the stress in my working life. I take my job very seriously, and very personally. This year I’ve gone through two manager changes, a major organizational shift, and have been under a great deal of pressure from a heavy workload. For months, I’ve been telling everyone who asked that I’m overloaded, but no one seemed willing to help me re-prioritize or shift any work, they just added more. I felt constantly several steps behind and frequently overwhelmed to the point of immobility.

This brought to the surface a long-standing issue I’ve struggled with through most of my life – a sense that I have to prove myself worthy, and that no matter what I do, I am unworthy. That’s become a big issue in my working life, in my stress over incomplete or insufficient output, my fears of being thought of as slacking because I was struggling to maintain my output, an increasing defensiveness whenever anyone questioned what I was doing or where my time was going or why something wasn’t done yet. As someone without a college degree working in a field where degrees are the norm, I’ve always felt I had to work harder to prove myself up to the job. The pressure really has been coming from inside me, though, and the voice telling me I’m not good enough for this job has been getting louder and louder.

This is a very old issue for me, going back to my childhood. I’ve always struggled to see my own value as a person and have always tried to find it by seeking to keep others happy. I’ve tried to work on this issue, and over the years I’ve found some coping mechanisms and ways to defeat the negative self-talk, but lately those attempts to control my inner critic have not been working. I reached a point a few months ago where I stopped trying. I had a similar emotional breakdown while on a business trip in early June, and ever since then, I’ve felt increasingly out of control. What were occasional bouts of depression that seemed to be PMS related started lasting longer. That inner critic would pop up at any time, even without provocation, to tell me I was worthless and unlovable.

I could clearly see how this was impacting my relationships, but I felt helpless to do anything about it. I was becoming increasingly dependent on my husband for emotional support. He’s a very calming, soothing presence for me, and when I would spend evenings alone, I’d find my inner critic rambling out of control, and anxiety would start gnawing at me. On more than one occasion, I chose to combat this by drinking, which was an old habit I’d broken more than six years ago. Allowing myself to use that crutch again was very disturbing, but I struggled to find another way to comfort myself that wouldn’t be equally unhealthy.

During this same time, I’d been making an attempt to build a my first polyamorous relationship. I fell in love fast and the emotions have been very confusing. I’ve struggled to understand the terms and structure of a poly relationship and how to express my needs. Really, I’ve been uncertain if I was even allowed to have any needs, or if such would be a betrayal of my husband, or if I’d be looked down upon for asking for any needs to be filled. I found myself hyper-sensitive and worrying constantly about this relationship. Did I say or do the wrong thing, am I asking for or expecting too much, am I expressing too much affection, and on and on. I needed frequent reassurance, was scared to ask for it, but clung to every piece given, while the anxiety built up and spilled over into other areas of my life.

Essentially, the stress from my job and the stress over my relationships were feeding on each other, becoming a painful mess. I started feeling like I was being crushed by the weight of my insecurities, fears and responsibilities. I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about what I was feeling, because that would mean admitting that I was failing. I just let it continue until it exploded in a very messy, very public way, and I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

I still feel, essentially, like a broken thing. I’ve failed. Yes, I managed to decrease some of my work-related stress through a very frank discussion with my boss about my emotional state, and that has given me some relief. On the relationship side, my husband felt strongly that we should close the marriage for a while, to create a safe place where I wouldn’t feel threatened by his attention to other women, so that he would be able to give me some additional emotional support, and so that I would be able to direct most of my emotional energy towards myself and working on these issues.

That was not an easy decision. I’ve been investing time and energy into building this other relationship that was very important to me. But I also knew that my feelings about that relationship were unhealthy and needed to be reworked. I knew I wouldn’t have much to offer him emotionally while I worked on myself. I knew I could use sex and affection to avoid working on those issues, so I couldn’t allow myself that distraction. The reassurance that I am a valuable, worthwhile person has to be re-discovered from inside me, and I was relying far too heavily on his affection to tell me my own worth.

I knew all this, and I tried to explain it, but I probably did it too quickly, too soon after the sleepless night of tears. I didn’t explain it well, and as a result I’ve alienated my lover and lost what could have been a source of support. This has weighed heavily on my heart the past few weeks, but I’ve not been given the opportunity to make it right. I’m not sure at this point if I’ll be able to.

So that’s the story.

The concept of emotional health is relative. We all have our issues, and we can work on them, and learn ways to manage them, even rise above them. But over time, your life changes, your place and perspective changes, and you grow. And the coping mechanisms you learned or the way you figured out how to function in spite of your issues may no longer work. You have to revisit those old fears or inadequacies and learn a new way to find contentment in spite of them.

That’s what I’m trying to do. I’ll probably never be one of those super-confident people who believes wholeheartedly thst she deserves all the best in life and won’t settle for anything less. But I can get back to a place where I no longer feel unworthy, at least. That has to come from within, but I also need to learn how to accept support from others without depending on it or needing it too much. I’m learning how to walk that tightrope once again.

And that’s what I call getting my shit together. At least I’m trying.


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I suck at this (but that’s okay).

August 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm (Polyamory, Real Life, Relationship) (, , , )

When I’m not making clever quips on Twitter or running around trying to be all poly and shit, I’m a corporate wage-slave. Yes, I have a capital-c Career and I read stuff like the Harvard Business Review. Today I read this article on cross-cultural communication and collaboration, which is Relevant to My Professional Interests; but it also got me thinking about relationships.

The article quotes an expert in organizational behavior who says, “There is a gulf between reading something and imagining something hypothetically and actually experiencing it.”  I am facing this head-on right now in my personal life. I’ve read a lot about poly; I’ve been contemplating it as a personal choice for the past decade, to be honest. Only now am I attempting to put it into practice, and in spite of all my years of reading and thinking, I feel woefully out of my depth already.

The author introduces the concept of this “cultural lens” we each have, based on our life experiences in our own culture, and how it’s a challenge to change that lens when working with people from other cultures. It feels awkward; it makes you unsure of yourself; and you have to ask questions you may never have thought to, or needed to, ask before. “What is the right thing to say? What is the right way to say it? What is my body language saying?” This is still true if you substitute the concept of a cultural lens for an emotional lens, and think about it in terms of your past relationship experience, or within the context of your current/primary/anchor relationship, if you have one. When you start to develop an ancillary relationship, it’s all new territory; you can’t communicate the same way, and the emotional terrain is completely different. You feel uncertain; you don’t know what’s too much, what’s not enough, where you fit in, how to fit in. There’s an awkward period of adjustment that’s necessary to go through.

This is why it doesn’t surprise me that I feel like I suck at being poly right now. I’m in completely new territory. I’m experiencing emotions in a radically different context and it confuses the heck out of me. I’m not even sure I know what I want anymore. The advice of our cultural experts rings true: I shouldn’t beat myself up for this. It’s part of the process.

There’s more good advice I can adapt from this:

  • Acknowledge the differences: admit there may be disparities. Put your differences out there. Don’t trot them out as a convenient excuse for bad behavior, but share your background, your reasons for why you see or do things a certain way. This gives both of you the opportunity to compare experiences and expectations, and reach a better understanding of each other.
  • Build trust and be curious: this is really important when you’re being open and honest about what you may be struggling with emotionally as you build a new relationship. Exposing your vulnerability can be scary. Do whatever you can to show your partner you can be trusted knowing his or her fears or weaknesses. One way to do that is to ask questions – not in a challenging, interrogative way, but by gently probing to demonstrate that you’re listening, and that you want to understand.
  • Decide what practices to adopt: in other words, find your emotional common ground, and use it to define the scope of your relationship. If you’ve put some time and effort into the first two points, you should be equipped to figure out what works for both of you. This may require a little compromise, but it should be done in a way that’s comfortable for everyone involved (and that includes other anchor or ancillary partners, as well).

It sounds like I know what I’m doing after all, huh? Well, I’m still trying to put this into practice. It will continue to feel weird and I’m sure I’ll feel like I don’t know what I’m doing for a good while longer. But I’m going to trust myself and my partner that we’ll figure it out and learn as we go.

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July 26, 2011 at 8:15 am (Polyamory, Relationship) (, , )

I’ve read a lot about polyamory – why it’s a good idea, how to handle jealousy, how to juggle time and obligations, etc. One thing I’ve not read about is the experience of falling in love when you’re poly. I’m going to attempt to do that subject some justice.

I first met the boyfriend in March. I didn’t expect to fall for him; I just thought he seemed like an interesting person, and he was openly poly, and I was curious to talk to someone about it. After exchanging a few emails, with talk of meeting, I let the correspondence lag, but he called me out on it.  He pushed the right button; no one implies I’m chicken and gets away with it. So I inflicted myself upon him over coffee and tea. And here we are.

Now, I’m a limerance junkie, and I know the feeling very well; and while it’s a heady, euphoric experience, I know it’s not one to give much weight to. Poly people tend to call it New Relationship Energy (NRE), but I think that’s too heavy of a title to give to something that is essentially the hormonal surge of sexual desire and the giddiness of discovery. So, I went through several bouts of head-over-heels limerance while trying my best to appear calm and proceed with caution as we figured out what we were doing, and what was really behind it.

It has required (and continues to require, I think) a fair bit of figuring out for both of us. This is not a relationship configuration he’s been in before, and this is my first time pursuing a relationship in addition to the anchor who is my husband. So there’s been some tip-toeing, some hesitancy, and the use of very guarded language and meticulously chosen words even in expressing our developing feelings to each other. Neither of us had clear expectations, I think. We were just seeing if, when and where we’d fall.

One of the challenges I started mulling over was the inevitable question: “where are we going?” Relationships are supposed to lead up to something. Relationships are goal-oriented, and that goal is typically to find “The One” and live happily ever after. But I already have one and married him. I can’t currently legally marry another. So getting past the brainwashing that relationships need to have a goal was one hurdle.

I think I’ve become comfortable that there isn’t a goal; there’s no end, no destination. What we’re doing is about enriching each other’s lives. It’s about exploration, support, discovery. The pleasure of communication and of sharing differing experiences, ideas, paths and choices. (And hot sex.) If those things stop happening, then it should be taken as a sign to let our paths diverge.

There’s also one really big glob of fears. I have a strong, committed relationship with a man who is a great partner, my best friend, and truly my life companion. Having been told all my life how hard it is to find your “match”, I fear I’m taking him for granted by even thinking I might find another match. I fear devaluing him and the place he has in my life. I fear I’m being greedy and selfish by even wanting the affection of someone else. And sometimes I just feel guilty. This is in spite of the fact that he has seen how happy I am, and that he’s happy that I’m happy, and he has seen me grow through this, and has wanted me to grow this way, and  is completely supportive of me in what I’m doing. But when one-man-one-woman has been drilled into your brain, it’s hard to let go sometimes, even when you believe otherwise.

And I have this really incredible person over here who is bringing me so much joy in the newness and discovery. He’s approached his life much differently than I have mine, and he helps me see things differently. Consciously or not, he encourages me to grow, and that’s a trait I treasure in anyone. And I fear those differences could become barriers. I fear asking too much of him. I fear that, as much as I want to give him, it won’t be enough. Or, it might be too much.

Is this really any different from any blossoming relationship? Maybe not. I know my patterns in relationships and what I feel, how I peak out and when I start the slide back down. I don’t see a plateau yet, and that’s a good sign of strength. I feel like we’ve established a foundation of openness that will serve us well as we figure this out.  And all we can do is keep falling forward, one step at a time.

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Primary, Secondary, Tertiary & Worthless.*

July 15, 2011 at 10:19 am (Polyamory, Relationship) (, , , , , , , , )

*Title stolen from a Tweet by @BadPolyAdvice.

I know there is no right or wrong way to “do poly”. There’s no rulebook everyone must adhere to. I’m not going to say that poly people should all think the way I do about how they refer to their relationships. I’m admittedly new to poly and doing a lot of thinking, exploring, and wondering, so I’m no expert at the practical application of the poly philosophy to real life. That said, I do have a point I want to make, and I think it’s valid. Regarding relationships and labels, we need to think carefully about why we use the labels we do, and what that says to others, and how it affects our thinking.

Many of us are resistant to certain labels, or labels of any kind. But there are some benefits: labels serve to identify people and things in ways that can be commonly understood, and I don’t think that, as a society, we’ll ever stop using them. I do think that we need to use all labels with care, because the words we choose can sometimes say much more than we mean. And by using words that carry so much weight, we may be limiting our thinking about the things we are labeling, and this applies particularly to polyamorous relationships.

The way we label our relationships is troublesome for me.  In poly relationships, it’s very common to refer to your partners as primary or secondary.

Primary: first or highest in rank or importance; first in order in any series, sequence, etc.; first in time; earliest.

Secondary: Next after the first in order, place, time, etc. belonging or pertaining to a second in order, rank, etc; derived or derivative; not primary or original.

There are a lot of reasons to use the primary and secondary labels for your relationships. It sets a clear rank and hierarchy; it establishes who is most important to you, and therefore who will get the most of your time, which is a finite quantity; it helps manage expectations among everyone involved; it establishes boundaries. Frankly, it’s just handy to put your lovers in order. Right?

For a lot of reasons, I have a general resistance to hierarchical definitions. I find them belittling. To see them used in terms of intimate relationships irks me. To me, it says, “I have compared Partner B to partner A, and Partner B comes up wanting. Partner A is better.”  This seems like a value judgment; and because A is primary, he/she gets the most, and B gets a little less. Do value judgments and comparisons have a place in polyamorous, open relationships? I don’t think that they do.

Ranking implies a decrease in value the farther down the rank you go. It also implies there is less to give for the lower ranks. With time, yes, we are all limited, and we have to make choices between work, self care, chores, friends, lovers. But is love a finite quantity? Do we have less love to give each successive partner?

Isn’t that what we’re arguing against by being poly in the first place – that starvation mentality, that there’s only so much love to give and then it’s used up?

I also wonder if using the primary label closes one off to possibilities. If I say to each new potential partner, “I have a primary and he’s most important”, that does help towards setting expectations about the amount of time and attention another potential partner could receive. But to me, it could also say, “I’ve already compared you to someone, even though I don’t know you as well as I know him, but I already know that you can’t measure up to him, even though I don’t know you as well yet.” That immediately erects a wall: you can come in, but only this far. It could restrict how that relationship might grow.

But the fact is, I don’t know what might develop with a new partner.  I may have met my primary first, chronologically, but it’s certainly not inconceivable that there might be another person out there who is also compatible with me. And I could potentially have – gasp – my primary become my secondary. Ouch for him! (1) So do I use the primary label to protect my chronologically first lover from outside threats?

Is it inconceivable to have peer relationships, with equivalent amounts of love being exchanged?

Polyamorous: pertaining to participation in multiple and simultaneous loving or sexual relationships.

That’s a really fundamental definition, but I think sometimes it’s good to go back to the fundamentals. Multiple and simultaneous. Not greater/lesser. Not superior/inferior. Not primary/secondary. Multiple, simultaneous. No ranking of one against the other. No comparison. Just concurrent.

Human beings have value. It can take a while to discover exactly how much value any given person brings to your life. My argument against using hierarchical labels is that it creates a barrier that could prevent you, and your new/potential lovers, from experiencing organic growth in a relationship. When you tell them from the outset that the possibilities are limited, regardless of what qualities this new person might bring or what potential they might have, you’re closing yourself off. That’s not loving behavior, to me.

Being open means being without limitations. When I use words that erect a hierarchy, I’m setting limits. I’m not open.

I’m sure there are many arguments to the contrary of what I’ve expressed here. This is all my own opinion, based of course on my own limited experience. For me, personally, I know labels of some kind are needed, and I’ve taken up the terminology suggested in this article from Loving More: anchor and ancillary. They feel less loaded to me; they’re not as commonly associated with hierarchy, but still carry weight. I like them, and you’ll see these terms used in this blog in the future.

(1) To be honest, however, I admit this is unlikely. Since I’m married and have the legal, financial and other entanglements that come with marriage, I’m not sure how logistically my husband could become a secondary partner. I suppose we could remain married but live apart; or we could have additional partners live with us in a group marriage. But knowing myself as well as I do, I feel like these configurations would be unlikely, at least anytime in the near future.

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Letting go of fear.

June 26, 2011 at 11:03 am (Polyamory, Relationship) (, , , , , , )

Recently I’ve been struggling with the dear husband’s budding relationship with his Latvian hairdresser. (Literally, she cuts his hair and waxes his eyebrows.) It has been a slow-evolving one, and he has said that he would be content if it remained platonic. She doesn’t have a lot of American friends, though she’s lived here for about ten years I think, and in some ways he’s helping her become more accustomed to American culture and the English language. He enjoys learning about her culture and experiences, and she seems to be an adventurous and insightful person. But she is also married, with one pre-teen child and another adult child who is living with her. The DH says she’s described her husband as possessive and controlling. So when I recently went out of town for business and found out upon my return that their relationship had become a sexual one, I experienced a big ol’ jumble of negative emotions.

To start with, I’ve been under an unusual amount of work-related stress lately (though my job is always stressful, I’m working longer hours and worrying a lot more than usual), so my emotional state is a bit on the tender side. I wasn’t aware that anything would happen between them while I was out of town, and so I wasn’t prepared for that conversation when I came home. Plus we had already discussed the potential pitfalls of developing a relationship with someone who is married and cheating, so I was surprised that he had decided to take it to the next level. All this quickly wound itself up into a little ball of anxiety and I found myself acting out in stupid, passive-aggressive ways: cutting him off when he mentioned her, for example, and telling him I didn’t want to hear about her. When she showed up at our usual Friday night hangout, I made some gestures that were possessive and territorial and then sulked for a while.

The DH has not called me out on this behavior, but I’m calling myself out. It’s petty. I know that his relationship with her is not a threat to our relationship; none of his relationships are a threat to ours, because we have a bond that is different from any that either of us has ever experienced, and we’re committed to our partnership. But I do feel like this relationship could be a threat to our peace and tranquility and the drama-free zone we live in. And my inability to control that potential threat has me very anxious and thus, acting out in inappropriate ways.

But the point here is — I can’t control what MIGHT happen. Yes, her husband might find out that she’s cheating, but I can’t prevent that. Yes, that could result in someone or multiple someones having painful emotions, but I can’t prevent that. Yes, it could cause some upheaval; it could – heaven forbid – involve a confrontation which could be violent in nature; but I can’t control any of this. And NOTHING could happen. They might never sleep together again. She might decide she’s devoted to her husband. She might be really good at keeping secrets. She might decide to leave her husband. I can’t know what she’ll do. I don’t know what might or might not happen. I can’t control it.

I have big, big control issues. So I have to make myself stop, sit down, and think through this series of events, and admit to each one, I can’t control you. I can neither prevent nor encourage any particular outcome. The future is not in my hands. And I sigh, and I open my hands, and I say to myself, that’s okay. You can’t control it, so let it go.

It feels good to let go. It’s scary, and it’s not comfortable, and it doesn’t feel natural for me, because I cling to my ability to control what goes on around me. But it does feel good, like peeling a scab feels good sometimes.

Fear holds you back. Trying to control things is a fearful reaction. Letting go of fear is the only way you can grow.


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Rules, or the lack thereof.

June 12, 2011 at 2:56 pm (Polyamory, Relationship) (, , , , )

When we first opened our marriage four years ago, we established some rules we would operate under, as many couples do:

  1. One partner is permitted to veto the playmates of the other partner.
  2. If a playdate must be hosted in our home, do not inconvenience the non-participating partner in order to do so.
  3. The marital bed is not to be used for playing with other people.

Veto power was only exerted once, and by me – a friend of a friend wanted to play with the DH, and we had a difference of opinion about her. He saw her as a free spirit; I saw a woman desperate for any kind of attention. No more than a month later, we found out she had gotten pregnant by another man and was attempting to entrap him (and by extension, his wealthy family) into a relationship with her. Some very icky drama resulted, and we were both pretty grateful that we weren’t involved in it.

Rule #2 proved problematic. In the early days particularly, the DH played around a lot more than I did, and for various reasons his playmates could rarely host. In spite of this rule there were times when I felt I had no choice but to get out of the way, because I was nowhere near comfortable with the thought of sitting around the house doing my own thing while listening to my husband fuck another woman upstairs. This lead to some resentment on my part until we talked about it further and made a more concerted effort to coordinate schedules so I didn’t feel forced out of the house in order for him to have a friend over.

Over time, though, all three rules went away. Not through any conscious decision or deliberate discussion – I slowly stopped enforcing them. They were, after all, my invention, rules I had requested to establish boundaries and comfort zones. And truthfully, they were pretty arbitrary, serving only to exert control over him and over the potential threats to our relationship. They were like a bulletproof vest, placed over my areas of potential emotional wounds. The rules weren’t helping me overcome my fears of abandonment, of not being “good enough” for the relationship to endure. So as I grew, as I became more confident in the security of our relationship, and as I learned to trust both him and myself to make wise decisions, I let the rules dissolve.

We now operate on trust and respect. We have some basic principles for how our relationship works, but I wouldn’t call them rules, because they really are fundamental principles of good communication. We no longer ask each other for “permission” to be with someone else; we trust each other to make good choices in who we spend time with or become intimate with. We don’t view one another as property to be “shared” with (or withheld from) someone else. We keep each other informed of our plans with others, just as we agree to what & when we do things together, and make sure plans don’t overlap.  And that’s about it. And it’s working very well.

As I meet other people who are polyamorous and who have their own rules, I’m starting to question why they have them. I know everyone is different and what works for me may not work for others, but I do wonder if they have thought about the real reason why they have certain rules in place. Is it to exert control over their partner; is it a form of possessiveness? Is it to cover up and cushion a fear instead of exposing and resolving it? People don’t like me asking these kinds of questions. So far, it’s even resulted in a couple of potential friendships not getting off the ground.

Additionally, I wonder if others would be willing to re-negotiate their rules once another partner with potential for a real relationship enters the picture. Shouldn’t a new partner have a say in the guidelines that affect their relationship? Would you enter a legal contract into which you had no input? Why should a relationship be any different? But this leads to a dissection of the hierarchical nature that many poly people assign to their relationships, which troubles me very much, and will be covered in another ramble at another time.

The husband and I are fortunate to have both evolved our thinking about our relationship at a similar pace and along the same path. It’s one of the reasons why we are so compatible – on many issues, we come to the same conclusion independent of one another. For others, their mileage may vary; their fears may be deeper-rooted and harder to resolve, or their need for control may not be easily sated. Ultimately, though, I know this will become a factor in other relationships the husband or I establish with others, and asking others to justify their rules may lead to fewer relationships than we’d like. But as with many areas of life, we can only live in the moment, and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.


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Jealousy vs. Envy

May 6, 2011 at 9:04 pm (Polyamory, Relationship) (, , , , )

I was asked recently if I experience jealousy in my open relationship with my husband. My honest answer is no, I haven’t really felt jealousy in several years. I have had moments of distress, however, especially as our relationship evolves and new elements are added. The question made me start thinking about the distinction between jealousy and… whatever that form of distress I keep feeling might be. Like most good citizens, I like labels – I like giving a name to something. So as I am wont to do, I started looking up words on to see what made sense to me:

Jealousy: resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or advantage, etc., or against another’s success or advantage itself. Mental uneasiness from suspicion or fear of rivalry, unfaithfulness, etc., as in love or aims.

Lots of people have written lots of blogs about jealousy in open or polyamorous relationships, and many of them agree that the root of jealousy is fear. When my relationship with the DH became open, which was shortly before we got married, I wasn’t prepared for it, and it terrified me. It wasn’t completely a surprise – we’d talked about monogamy, and we’d talked about non-monogamy, and I was doing a fair amount of fucking around when we first met, so openness did seem to make sense. But we didn’t exactly agree to an open relationship. He opened it for us. I felt blindsided and spent about a month in a deep depression. But I also felt compelled to figure out why I was in such distress over something that had been in the back of my mind for a long time. I wanted to figure out what I was afraid of.

For me, it was a fear that I wouldn’t be “enough”, that he would find someone better – someone sexier, more adventurous, more open, someone stronger, bolder, happier, more confident – whatever it might be, better than me. It took me about a year to build up my faith in our relationship and to start believing in the fundamentals of any good open relationship:

  • One human being cannot fulfill all the needs – social, emotional, sexual, intellectual, or otherwise – of another human being. Period. It’s just completely unrealistic.
  • One human being does not have a finite amount of love to give. It’s not he-loves-me, he-loves-me-not. He can love me, and love someone else, without stopping loving me.
  • He loves me for who I am – unique, neurotic, sexy, bossy, moody, loopy me – and is committed to a lifelong partnership with me.

As I started living and breathing and accepting these principles as reality, the jealousy gradually dissolved and ultimately disappeared. I can’t say when I stopped having painful jealous reactions to his activities, but I did realize one day that those feelings were gone. And that made me feel a lot freer to do my own thing and start exploring what I wanted out of this arrangement, and to figure out what kinds of relationships I wanted to nurture.

But then the other discomfort started. DH would go out to play, and I would be at home, and I’d feel icky. I’d rewrite my profiles on various dating sites, I’d gird my loins and toss together another Craigslist ad, and I’d paw through the resulting mediocre responses and dick pics, and I’d feel icky. I couldn’t find what I was looking for, but meanwhile he’s living it up with what seemed like a new partner every week. And I felt icky green envy.

Envy: a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc.

For me, envy doesn’t seem to be fear-based – at least I can’t find the fear after digging around beneath it. It’s simply: you’re having something I’m not and it’s something I want, damnit! You’re having hot sex. You’re feeling the rush of delight at discovering someone new. You’re having adventures. Where’s mine? When’s my turn?

I don’t resent his pleasures, and I don’t fear that his relationships will detract from or harm the one we have.  But I’m definitely discontented, watching him have fun. I know it’s not peaches and cream for him – he seems to meet mainly single women who eventually find themselves a monogamous relationship and morph into “just friends”, and he feels a degree of frustration over the inability to find someone who is open to the intimacy he wants as well as the long-term potential. But it seems like it is a lot easier for him to meet women than it is for me to meet men, which stirs the green envy in me.

I even struggle with envy towards my few playmates who have other playmates, as well. As an avowed introvert and a bit of a misanthrope, nevertheless I’m craving more human interaction these days, and I want that interaction to include both intellectual and sexual stimulation. I can’t seem to get enough – and my “enough” threshold is pretty low compared to other people, so it’s frustrating that I’m struggling to fill my minimal needs in this area. And that frustration leads to envy over having to share people with other people. They should all be mine, damnit, mine mine mine! Except when I want to be by myself, of course, when I wish they would all leave me the hell alone.

A cure for jealousy came to me eventually, so I suppose at some point I will learn how to transmogrify envy into compersion. For now, it’s a flaw I’m very much conscious of, and trying to manage the best I can without placing unreasonable demands on anyone I care for.

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More thoughts about orgasms.

April 23, 2011 at 9:56 am (Relationship, Sex) (, , , )

It’s not a flaw that my stomach isn’t flat like a supermodel’s.

It’s not a flaw that my breasts are no longer high and perky like an 18-year-old’s.

It’s not a flaw that I can’t put my ankles next to my ears like a gymnast.

Why should I think it is a flaw that I don’t orgasm as easily or often as other women?

I’m tired of feeling like something is wrong with me. I’m tired of sexual encounters that become excessively focused on whether or not I have an orgasm. I just want to enjoy sex – and for me, that enjoyment might not include an orgasm. I want to be okay with that. I want my partners to be okay with that.

I’ve decided that my orgasm is my responsibility. Not my partner’s. I don’t mean that the only way I’ll have an orgasm is if I give myself one, though I have no problem being – ahem – hands-on in addressing the need. I do mean that I want to walk away from the notion that a man has to “give” me an orgasm. It’s not some trinket in his pocket he can hand out at will. It’s not a commentary on his skills, or my level of enjoyment, if I don’t orgasm. It’s just the way I’m wired. My body responds to stimulation differently than other women might.  Yes, there are “issues” involved that may be preventing me from responding as fully or easily as I could – but that’s also my problem and mine alone. And this is a problem I have had for over 20 years of sexual activity… so I’ve reached the point where I no longer want to view it as a problem. This is the way I am.

In a way, it strikes me as a sexist and patriarchial approach to pleasure — the thought that a man is responsible for giving a woman an orgasm. Think about the stereotypical pattern of a male-female sexual encounter: the man stimulates the woman through foreplay, maybe licks her or fingers her to orgasm, then fucks her to reach his own orgasm. Men are encouraged to put the woman’s pleasure first. In most conventional – if we must use the lousy term, “vanilla” – sexual interactions, the man is in charge, the woman comes first, then her body is used for the man to achieve his pleasure. He is responsible for both her orgasm, and his own. What?

I’ve fallen into that pattern many times. I’ve accepted that stereotype – the man will try to “give” me an orgasm, he may or may not succeed, then he moves on to tending to his own orgasm. I may try to give him pleasure directly and make him come — BUT: I have never felt bad, or insufficient, or un-feminine, if I was unable to “give” him an orgasm. So my hand or jaw got tired or whatever – okay, we move on and do something else. It’s not a failure on my part or commentary on my lack of sexual skills if I didn’t make him come.

I’m going to say this again, because I think it’s important: As a woman, I have never felt like a failure as a sexual partner for not making my partner achieve orgasm. Yet I have encountered many men who have expressed a sense of inadequacy because they didn’t make me come. This is nonsense. I don’t want my partners to feel that way.

I can — and often do — have an exciting, satisfying sexual encounter without an orgasm. That’s the way I am. All aspects of sex are a pleasure;  and there are many pleasurable things we do that don’t have an explosive finale.  There is great pleasure in the experience. For me, the objective is reveling in that experience: the emotional thrill of fulfilling a desire; the happiness of physically expressing affection; the amazement at the varying textures of skin and hair; the discovery and re-discovery of places that are rarely touched but which delight in contact. Focusing intently on achieving an orgasm seems to dismiss or minimize the joy of the overall experience.

I like orgasms; I have very hard, long, deep orgasms when I do have them, and if I want one I’ll do what it takes to get one – whether I need to touch myself to do it, or just tell my partner precisely what to do. But my partner’s pleasure shouldn’t be decreased if I don’t come; and it shouldn’t be viewed as an inferior sexual encounter if it doesn’t involve an orgasm.

The only sin I believe in is the sin of comparison. I don’t want my body and my responsiveness and my orgasmic ability compared to other women anymore – by my partner, or by me. Take me as I am.

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No longer a mistress.

April 20, 2011 at 7:39 pm (Relationship, Sex) (, , )

I’ve been cut off again. Cut out. Severed.

This is, I think, the fourth time in over twenty years. For it to happen again should probably upset me, or at least annoy me, but after the initial surprise wore off, it doesn’t.

He’ll find me again when he needs me. I don’t know if I’ll need him to find me, though.

Most likely, he was careless with an email account and certain messages were seen. Promises were made to his wife. No, never again, I mean it this time. See? I’ve deleted her.

I am, it seems, easily deleted. Easily un-friended. Easily un-collared. Easily un-mistressed.

The first time, it was a mutual decision – we both were getting married to other people, and we knew it was wrong to sleep together. But it seemed like the last chance to do something we agreed we always wanted to do. The second time, he panicked and felt guilty, and couldn’t follow through. The third time, I was just one of several mistresses he swore would never enter his life again.

This time, I don’t know. I was probably the only one. The one, he had told me many times, he thought of every day. The one constant in his life for 20 years. His melancholy nature was suited to pining away after one particular woman too far away to touch. I think he enjoyed the pining, perhaps more than he enjoyed the rare times he was with me.

The funny thing is, the most recent messages we’d exchanged were hardly erotic material worthy of any jealousy. Rather, they contained me delaying plans and making excuses: I can’t get time off work for another cross-country trip, I’ve been sick and stressed and my libido is shot; give me a few months and we’ll see how I feel then. The few months went by and he never asked again, and I never offered. Then is was well over a year. Then it was going on two.  I wasn’t missing him.

I’ll tell a few of his stories, to honor his memory. But I suspect this is truly the end this time, and there will be no more stories about him.

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Why I don’t like Vanilla.

April 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm (Relationship) (, )

The DH (darling husband; and he is) recently made a confession: he’s vanilla. He doesn’t have any kinks. Other than the fact that it was his desire for sexual openness that started us on this journey, and aside from being a bit of an exhibitionist, his primary enjoyment comes from traditional sexual intercourse done really well (his words).

He brought this up while fretting over a girlfriend who frequently asks him over for sex when she’s drunk; he no longer wants to see her when she’s been drinking, because, he says, she asks for rough, degrading acts that he doesn’t enjoy, and he doesn’t feel comfortable treating her that way. He thinks it’s another way of self-medicating, along with her drinking, and is an expression of her low self-esteem, and he doesn’t want to participate or enable that behavior anymore. He was struggling with how to tell her this, and ultimately came out with the comment that he’s basically just a vanilla guy – said with a tone of resignation and a little bit of embarrassment.

This whole conversation made me sad – I felt bad for his girlfriend and her apparent unhappiness, and I felt bad for him for his sense that being vanilla made him in some way inferior.

I really dislike the use of the word “vanilla” to describe those who prefer conventional sexual approaches, conditions, activities or roles. It’s become derogatory – plain, boring, conservative, ordinary, bland.

I happen to love vanilla – done well it is a rich flavor, smooth, a little earthy, an elemental flavor. Given a choice I frequently relish vanilla ice cream and I wouldn’t apologize for that.

I also happen to love vanilla sex with my husband. We know each other well; we know where to touch, what is needed, what is special. Intimacy makes intercourse an emotional connection, a bonding on multiple levels, and that can be a phenomenal experience.  I experience something with him that I’m reluctant, if not actually unable, to do with anyone else – eye contact during sex. For me, it is a mind-blowing feeling to look in his eyes while he moves inside of me.

Kink can be powerful, too, of course. Being bound, blindfolded and on my knees creates an amazing, chaotic swirl of emotions and intense arousal in me. But is a bowl of ice cream with nuts, chocolate, syrups, creams, and other assorted goodness really better than a simple bowl of intense vanilla ice cream? Sometimes that’s exactly what I want. Sometimes I want the bowl full of everything. One isn’t better than the other.

Someone on Twitter (and sadly, I’ve forgotten who) made a comment recently that “sex positive” has to mean acceptance of the full sexual spectrum, not just acceptance of your own personal kink. I see so-called “sex positive” people who are very critical of “vanilla” lifestyles and activities. You only want to fantasize about a threesome, not actually have one? That’s so lame. You prefer the missionary position? Booooring. You refuse to hit me? See ya. Why isn’t “vanilla” a valid and acceptable option on the sexual spectrum? It should be. My husband shouldn’t have to apologize for being vanilla, and I sincerely hope I’ve never said or done something that made him feel like he should. I won’t apologize for wanting a flavor other than vanilla from time to time, but that’s what our open relationship allows me – the freedom to taste other flavors. They’re all good. They’re all valid. There shouldn’t be a hierarchy of acceptability. Sex, period, is a wonderful thing.

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