Checklist for Meeting Metamours

December 31, 2012 at 1:06 pm (Polyamory, Relationship) (, , )


After a first meeting with a metamour a few days ago, and a miserable emotional crash after it, I realized I needed to mentally prepare for such meetings with intention. I do not deal well with uncertainty, and there was a great deal regarding this meeting that was left up in the air. I can enter a situation with greater confidence and certainty if I prepare for it, so I’ve made a prep list for meeting metamours in the future. I thought I’d share it as it may prove useful to someone else.

This list is a mix of things that should be discussed before the meeting, and some guidelines for how to make such a meeting successful. Your mileage may vary. There are a lot of “shoulds” in this list, and it is because they are my personal preference and what I would feel most comfortable with. For others, some of these points may not be so important. But they may help you think of the topics you would want discussed before meeting a new metamour.

Also, this list presumes that the meeting is between metamours who share a common V partner but are not necessarily interested in or going to build an emotional or physical relationship together – in other words, a V relationship and not a triad. That’s simply because that has been my experience as a mostly-heterosexual female dating a mostly-heterosexual male. There would probably need to be additional adaptations to the list if it were to be applied to a situation where there is interest in forming a triad.

Because of this, a lot of the burden in conducting the meeting is placed on the person who is the V. I feel this is fair. It is in that person’s best interest to facilitate a successful meeting, so that individual should be prepared to plan and communicate expectations clearly with both partners, and be actively involved in enabling a pleasant encounter for everyone. If the V person is not willing to at least discuss these topics, and shows reluctance to consider the guidelines I’m suggesting, that would make me question my relationship with that individual.

Anyway….

Arrival at a meeting place

  • If the V person will arrive with one of their partners while the other partner meets them solo, determine in advance what kind of greeting will be offered between the V and the solo partner – smile, hug, kiss. Agree to the appropriate and comfortable level of affectionate greeting with respect for the feelings of all individuals
  • If each individual is arriving separately, determine in advance what kind of greeting will be offered by the V to each partner with respect to the comfort level of each individual.
  • The V should make the introduction between the metamours. Do not immediately start a conversation or wait for them to introduce themselves.

Seating arrangements

  • If possible, seating should be with the V person in between the two metamours, with metamours facing each other (this should work with a square or round table).
  • This allows metamours to angle slightly towards the V person while not directly turning away from each other as they would if they were next to each other instead of opposite.
  • This should allow for more comfortable, open body language and avoid a feeling of turning one’s back on another person.

Conversation

  • The V should acknowledge that while everyone is probably a little nervous at least, that he/she appreciates their willingness to meet and express happiness that they could finally meet.
  • Keeping in mind personalities, nervousness, introvertedness/extrovertedness, the V should probably be prepared to carry the conversation, or at least provide lead-ins.
  • Have a few topics ready to bring up that should be of interest to both metamours. Think of common hobbies they may share or other similar interests.
  • Try to avoid inside jokes between the V and one metamour. If such a topic does come up, explain the context to the other metamour to avoid any feelings of being left out or excluded.

Departure

  • The V should again thank both partners for their willingness to meet. Metamours should feel comfortable to display the level of farewell that feels comfortable – smile, handshake, hug, etc. as based on how their interaction developed.
  • If the V person is leaving with one of their partners while the other partner departs alone, determine in advance what kind of farewell will be given – hug, kiss, etc. – with respect for the feelings and comfort level of both partners.
  • If each individual is leaving alone, determine in advance the kind of farewell shared between the V and each partner, with respect for the comfort level of all.

I may add to this as time goes on and I have additional experiences meeting metamours. What do you think? What else would you put on a list like this for yourself?

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Earning Love

July 4, 2012 at 8:53 pm (Polyamory, Real Life, Relationship, Uncategorized) (, , , )


I started seeing a new therapist in June to work through some issues that were coming to the surface during bouts of PMDD depression. I’ve meshed with her much better than I did with the therapist I saw last year, and I feel a lot more comfortable with her and the work we’re doing. It doesn’t feel like work yet, four sessions in, but we’re getting to it, and in our last session I had two revelations that created a shift in my thinking. I’m still not quite sure what to do with them, but they definitely gave me pause.

The first came from discussion of a pattern I already knew existed. Since the decision to end my marriage, I’ve said several times that I will never marry or even cohabitate again. I’m very aware of what I do when living with a partner – I very easily shut off parts of myself that I think may displease that person; I become the caretaker, the responsible one; I strive to be as adaptable for and accommodating of that person as possible. Of the four men I’ve lived with in romantic partnerships, I’ve done this every time. I mentioned this to my therapist, and we dug into a bit, and suddenly the pattern came to the surface.

From childhood onward, I’ve been driven by an enormous desire to please others, to earn praise, respect, and love. I’ve always seen love and caring as things that must be earned, that I must prove myself worthy of. In my romantic partnerships, that same inner drive pushes me to give, give, give – particularly in the form of actions, taking responsibility for things, getting things done, being the stable, consistent, reliable partner, being helpful. I’m very conscious of the inner hope that by doing the things I do, I can earn the love I crave. But at the same time, this leads to a heavy doubt… am I only loved for the things I do, the help I provide? Am I only valued for what I give – my time, my money, my willingness to carry the burden of responsibility – and not actually who I am? So I become fearful through this doubt, and even more hungry for signs of love and affection, which drives me to do more, to give more, which leads me to more doubt. It’s the dog chasing her own tail in a sad and frustrating emotional circle.

So the first revelation was how this pattern was of my own creation. The next step is to try and break it. Stop giving unless I really want to give out of simple love and happiness. Stop taking responsibility for things that are not my responsibility. And learn that love probably won’t be taken away because I stop doing those things.

That one is pretty clear, and on the surface at least, pretty easy to do something with. The second one I’m not so sure about, but it took my breath away and leaves me with a lot more questions to explore. It was regarding a brief relationship I was in late last year, and how I felt in that relationship, in comparison to my current & ongoing relationship and how I feel in it. There have always been distinct differences to me, and as I started to dig into those with my therapist, I realized with that person, I had never felt the need to give, to do, to try and earn his love. In the brief span of that relationship, I knew exactly how he felt about me. I never doubted, wondered, longed for affirmation. I didn’t feel like I had to work for it. I didn’t feel unworthy, either. I had no doubt that I was loved for who I was, not what I might give.

I realized in one big flash that I had never felt that certainty with anyone before. Every man I have ever loved, I felt like I had to work to be loved in return. But he saw me as I was – he knew more about me leading into our relationship than probably anyone else ever has – yet he chose to open up his life to me, and himself to me, knowing exactly what my flaws were. He saw me clearly and he loved me and never asked for anything except for me to be me and to let him love me.

I don’t know why I felt no drive to earn his love. I can’t say that others haven’t freely given their love to me, and I just felt for my own reasons that I had to work to deserve their love. I don’t know why it was different with him, other than maybe it was just who he is, and who I am, and the circumstances that led to our relationship, and the points in life where we both were at the time. I don’t know. I’ll be thinking about this more, asking more questions with my therapist, digging in to why it is so hard for me to just open up and be loved without trying to earn it. I want to. I want that experience again, that confidence and comfort of being held, emotionally held, with love that doesn’t ask to be earned.

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Poly But Monogamous

May 1, 2012 at 10:15 am (Polyamory, Real Life, Relationship) (, , , , , )


Since the decision made in January to dissolve my marriage, I’ve been in essentially a monogamous relationship with my boyfriend. Monogamous on my side, to the extent of not having slept with anyone else but the boyfriend since the husband moved into a separate bedroom while he buys his own house. I’ve been on a date or two, and we had a threesome, but the boyfriend is presently my only relationship and my only sexual partner.

He is dating others, and having sex with others, though I’m his most regular partner in both the dating & sex categories. So it remains an open relationship, though I am not actively poly for the time being.

And you know what? I’m totally okay with that. I thought it would be difficult for me to only “have” him while he “has” others. But that’s not been the case at all. I’ve had little twinges of the standard, reflexive jealousy over time he spends with other women, but I’ve found those fears easier to acknowledge and let go, much easier than I ever did with the husband. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed listening to him talk about what’s developing with other partners, experiencing some of the journey through him, and have tried to provide support, encouragement, and at times a bit of reassurance as some things took different directions than he’d hoped.

I realized recently why this is so, and the answer is simple: my needs are being met. I’m very satisfied with this relationship. I don’t doubt that I am valued and cared for. I’m content with what we have, exactly as it is, and there’s no need or desire to make it something else, something different. In the realm of emotional support, intimacy and sex, I’m getting what I need. Which makes me pretty gosh-darn happy.

In comparison, I struggled TERRIBLY with jealousy with my husband. During the period where he was dating and I was not (the first couple years of our open relationship), it was extremely painful for me to let him go, and to hear about the women he was dating. He never developed any serious relationships, and I realize now that may have been, at least in part, because he knew how difficult it would be for me. And it probably would have been. I had many unmet needs throughout the course of this marriage, and through most of it I repressed any expression of those needs and was encouraged in that repression. But this post isn’t about throwing stones and blame about the reasons why my marriage ended. The fact is simply that I’m coming to understand that unvoiced and unmet needs lead to fear, and fear leads to jealousy. It’s as simple, and probably obvious to others, as that.

With the boyfriend, I’ve been encouraged and have challenged myself to ask directly for what I need. There’s an understanding that not every need can or will be fulfilled; we all have limits, and sometimes it’s just time and energy that will prevent need fulfillment. So far, though, all my important needs have been met when I voiced them, which is remarkably effective in helping one overcome the fear of voicing a need. And a lot of the time, my needs are simple – just reassure me. Just tell me I’m still loved. No need to change your course of action, no need to block your own feelings, just give me a few moments of attention and affection that remind me I am not being abandoned. That does wonders for helping me quiet the fearful voices and get back to being supportive and encouraging. And it’s a wonderful thing to have those voiced needs met without accusations of manipulation, or criticism of being “needy”. Positive reinforcement of voiced needs doesn’t make me more “needy”, I’ve found – quite the opposite, I feel like I’m needing less and less reassurance.

So, it’s simple – emotional satisfaction is good, and helps poly work. Geez. No amazing light bulb moment for any reader, I’m sure, but for me it has been remarkable to experience this and see it come together.

I don’t intend to remain monogamous to his polyamorous. In some ways, I’m eager to try bringing another romance into my life to better learn how to balance relationships and to share the love and happiness I feel. But I’m picky, and while I fall into limerance quickly I don’t find qualified candidates for it easily; I’ve only found three men in the past six years who really clicked for me. Also, I feel like I shouldn’t risk any emotional overload until my marriage is completely dissolved and I’m once again living alone. When the time is right, I suspect someone will come along. It always seems to happen that way, when I’m not looking or expecting. I want to be ready. And I can do that by nurturing this happiness and contentment I feel, taking good care of myself, and continuing to learn and grow. I see the value in the hard work. I’m willing to keep doing it.

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More than just a threesome.

April 23, 2012 at 9:53 am (Polyamory, Real Life, Relationship, Sex) (, , , , )


Those readers who also follow me on Twitter will not be surprised at the story I’m about to tell; they’ve seen it coming, it was just a matter of time. But it’s a complex story, and I fear that no matter how I write it, I cannot do it justice. Because it wasn’t just a threesome, and it wasn’t just a woman. It was so much more. I hope I can convey that clearly.

One of my difficulties in poly has always been a type of sexual jealousy – the fear that my partner might find someone else who is more ______ sexually than I am – more uninhibited, more experienced, more experimental, more orgasmic. It’s part of an underlying lack of confidence, the fear that the only thing I bring to a relationship is my sexual availability, which may not measure up against other women. As the relationship with the boyfriend has strengthened and deepened, I’ve challenged myself to raise my confidence in this area, and not be afraid that his other lovers will diminish me. One way I’ve worked on this is through actively encouraging a flirtation between him and a dear friend. She’s someone I trust, whom I feel a strong connection to, and whom I care about very much. Their interactions began with awareness and involvement, and eventually included private contact between the two of them. I was happy that they liked each other, and I felt little to no fear about their contact, I think largely in part because I was somewhat orchestrating it. Right or wrong, that made it feel safe to me.

As this was developing, I was also doing a lot of pondering on my sexual feelings towards women. I’m becoming increasingly curious to explore in that direction again. I feel much differently towards women than I do men, and I’m not confident enough in my understanding of the nature of those feelings to describe them yet. But I’ve been wanting the chance to interact with a woman on a sexual level, and the best opportunity to do so in a safe space would be with the boyfriend present. Like many boyfriends, he saw no problem with this. And eventually the opportunity arose with our mutual friend.

And here’s where I fear I can’t do the event justice right now, and it will have to be written about later, in more detail, in a different tone. Because it was a sensual, erotic experience, friendly and relaxed, flowing easily and without much if any awkwardness or hesitation. Lovely as it was, I first need to explore the emotional aspects and reactions, before I put the experience out there as an erotic indulgence.

And so… it flowed, from playful spanking, to a man with a woman snuggled on each side, touching him, kissing one and then the other, two mouths pleasuring him together. I watched as he eased into focusing on her, and I felt a calm, fully present joy with this. There were two people I care about very much, taking pleasure in each other in what can be the simplest, most direct and essential way. It was perhaps my first real moment of poly compersion, and I love the memory of it and still feel the echoes of that happiness. His head between her thighs, I knew what she felt, I knew it was good, and I was happy to be next to her while she felt it. I stroked her hair and hesitantly stroked her breast. I kissed her once or twice on the forehead. I believe she came while he licked her, and I was happy to watch her pleasure grow and unfold.

But sadly, this is where some fear started to unfurl inside of me, and I started to withdraw. He expressed a desire to be inside one of us. I gave him a condom and pointed him to her. I lay next to them and watched, still happy to see their shared pleasure, but with a little voice inside me pulling me away. They came, almost simultaneously. He kissed me and told me he loved me. He tried to draw me in but I resisted, almost hid. We lay together, a man with a woman snuggled on each side, and talked for a while longer, then parted ways.

And I fell apart. Because the fear that came to the surface was the one I was, well, afraid of the most. That I’m broken. That I can’t do what other women do. That I can’t have an orgasm without a great deal of effort and difficulty.

Let me stop to state in no uncertain terms that this is not her fault. It is not his fault. I am in no way blaming them for enjoying their contact and taking sexual pleasure in each other, and I don’t want them to feel guilty for doing so. I wanted them to, and it made me happy that they did. These were my own fears and my own insecurities that took those things I watched and made them into a source of pain through comparisons that, again, only I was making. Neither of them in any way excluded me. Neither of them in any way said or did anything to imply that I wasn’t worth the effort to involve any further in this encounter.

It was my choice. I withdrew. I closed up. Because the voice in my head was saying over and over, it will be too much work. Trying to bring me back into the erotic exchange and arouse me, excite me to the point of orgasm in whatever way possible, would require too much effort, and it was too late at night, and I was too nervous, and it wouldn’t work. It wasn’t worth it. I wasn’t worth it.

The voice told me I wasn’t worth it. And I listened to its lies.

I regret this deeply. I’m struggling to let go of my disappointment in myself. Because I thought, through a lot of work from myself and a lot of support and reassurance from the boyfriend, that I had gotten past this way of thinking, that I’m broken and insufficient and worthless because of how I’m wired. That the difficulty I have in orgasming with a partner is a flaw, a failure. I’ve tried hard to change my perspective. I’ve tried to accept this as the way I am, not a shortcoming, but just reality. We work with it; we get me off together, and he had, in recent weeks, been surprisingly successful in getting me off on his own accord. But there was a rotten core still in there, and this experience pushed it to the surface and I let it take over. I let it talk me into withdrawing from an experience that could have been richer, and in some ways I suspect could have been healing and comforting for me. But I was too afraid to take the chance.

I want a do-over, and I know I’ll get one in time. Both of these wonderful people have been reassuring in their willingness to listen to me try to explain my sad reaction to this happy event. We’ll try it again sometime. And with the light on this fear, keeping it from hiding in the dark corners again, I hope it can be another step towards truly conquering it, towards accepting myself as I am, with affection and desire from people who care about me, whether I have an orgasm or not.

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Poly Introverts

March 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm (Polyamory, Relationship) (, , , , )


One thing I know well about myself is that I’m an introvert. I need a lot of time alone. I feel drained after spending time in crowds, at parties, or otherwise around a group of people. The energy that people generate, the many voices, the activity and restlessness of groups can all overwhelm me. I prefer to build friendships and relationships slowly, one on one. And while I do have some circles of connected friends, I’d much rather spend time with each person as an individual, and at group gatherings I’ll tend to linger in conversation with only two or three people. I’m comfortable with this; I know this is what works for me, and how to balance my somewhat small needs for social interaction with my much larger need for quiet, peaceful, solitary time.

This seems in some ways to be contradictory to the poly lifestyle. Tweets with the #youknowyourepolywhen hashtag often focus on the group dynamics and the “fun” of being part of a large poly circle, family, clan, or whatever you may prefer to call it. Poly people also love to talk about their time-management skills and scheduling tips and techniques, seeming to take pride in having extremely full, busy lives booked months in advance because of all the wonderful sweeties and awesome metamours they have in their lives.

It feels at times like it’s presumed that if you’re poly, you want that kind of life. That peppy, gleeful constant busyness. A poly commune with your extended families all within an arm’s reach. It seems to me that this is set up as the ideal, the way to “win” at poly – the more colors on  your calendar, the better your poly life is. The classic extrovert characteristics – having to be constantly surrounded by people and activity to feel sane, safe and happy.

It’s not for me. And I know it’s not for a lot of others who still identify as poly. Having the capacity, the inclination and the desire to build deep, intimate, loving connections with multiple people does not automatically equate to that extroverted desire to be with people all the time. The thought of communal living has no appeal to me at all; in fact, it sounds like a particularly dreadful form of torture. I need my own space and my own time.  Also, it feels completely unrealistic to me to expect myself to fall in love with multiple connected people at once, or for a lover to expect me to fall in love with his or her partners as well. For me, attraction is a tricksy, unusual thing, involving a weird combination of elements. Sometimes I think finding a lover or partner is difficult enough; so an assumption or expectation that I’ll love your partner just because I love you isn’t going to work for me.

This is probably why I’m comfortable keeping my relationships independent, and why I don’t expect or presume that my lovers will become friends — I don’t even particularly care if they ever meet. To me, relationships are unique. I don’t expect to knit them all together into a glorious afghan of many colors. I’m very content with spending time with individual lovers, as I do individual friends.

As with most of my rambling posts, I share this mainly because there may be others who feel the same. There are, I’m sure, others who wonder if they can have time to themselves, or have independent, intimate relationships, and still be “really” poly. Just like with friendship, just like with monogamy, there are many approaches to polyamory. Group poly is okay if that works for you. Introverts who practice a more individual, independent form of poly are okay, too.

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My Year on Twitter.

December 20, 2011 at 2:46 pm (Polyamory, Real Life, Uncategorized) (, , , , )


I started my Twitter account on January 1. My hasty first tweet, now lost to all except the Library of Congress, contained a mortifying language error for someone so obsessed with the written word. Over 6,000 tweets later, I don’t care so very much about those mistakes. But I do care very much about Twitter and the friendships I have formed there.

Twitter was, from the beginning, my hiding place and my outlet. Alice Digitalis is the expression of my id, sloppy and sexual and loud sometimes, serious and contemplative and introspective sometimes. I didn’t hold many thoughts back. I wasn’t trying to entertain anyone, but I built a small following anyway, I suppose by being real – not always about sex, not always about self-examination, but an odd mix that showed I was human. 

It was intended to be a place to share my sexual thoughts, discoveries and adventures, primarily. At the time that I started using Twitter, I’d realized how much I’d let my sexual self stagnate, how much I had turned off in favor of being wife, wage slave, caretaker, supporter of others. I missed my sexual self and I wanted her to come out and play. I didn’t intend to use Twitter to meet sex partners, or even to flirt, but just to express the desires, needs, memories and fantasies that I couldn’t express anywhere else. This blog came about as an extention of that, a place for longer ramblings about sex and relationships.

A few months into the year, I met someone with whom I felt a real connection, for the first time in years, and began the first true polyamorous relationship in the context of my open marriage. Some of the ups and downs of that relationship have been chronicled via Twitter, for better or worse. A lot of the self-examination necessary in maintaining open relationships has spilled on to Twitter. My emotional breakdown and my work to regain emotional strength at the end of summer also found its way onto Twitter. My discovery of an intense new love and the sudden snuffing of that flame have also been exposed to readers’ eyes.

After that last event, however, I felt stifled. I started reconsidering what I was doing on Twitter. I found myself more frequently deleting posts that never made it to the timeline. I censored myself, and I hated doing it, but I was afraid. I was feeling exposed and vulnerable and raw. I knew things I said could be twisted and misinterpreted. I was suddenly hyper-aware that once the words left my fingers, I couldn’t control them. I lost my enthusiasm for sharing my random thoughts, my sexual drives, my lonely contemplations, my moments of weakness and wanton desire.

I’m slowly getting it back, that freedom of expression. It will probably never be the same. But my relationships will never be the same. I will never be the same. We change in every moment, with every breath.

I can honestly say I love Twitter, the short form, the need to be precise in each expression. It helps me think and focus. It has helped me grow. It is not the safe place I thought it was, but sometimes I think all safety is an illusion. I’ll keep taking the risk. I’ll keep yelling small stories and bad jokes and sorrows (to paraphrase The Weakerthans). I’ll keep sharing the messy highs and lows, feeling sorry for myself, finding moments of peace and contentment, and sharing what passes through my brain. In a world where perfection is unattainable, it is the perfect place for my sort of nonsense.

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The lap dance.

November 14, 2011 at 4:47 pm (Polyamory, Real Life, Relationship) (, , , , , , )


I’ve started dating someone new.  Funny enough, I never thought I’d date someone I met through Twitter, but technically that’s how it began. A somewhat-local follower (we live about an hour apart) whom I’ve been interacting with for several months, and we finally met in person at a poly potluck in October. Ah, chemistry. Ah, limerance.

This one has a particularly sweet flavor. I think it is because being the recipient of open, no-reservation affection is something of a novel experience for me. In a lot of my relationships, both parties have tried to play it cool, hold their cards close and stay casual, detatched, afraid to be vulnerable, or exposed. This one is developing with eagerness, though that doesn’t mean recklessly or without caution.  We put our cards on the table early and I’ve realized how much I’ve missed the freedom that comes from that.

I think of him as a young man, though a six-year age difference isn’t really young. He’s shy, but I think he has a determination to overcome his shyness, and somehow, I think I’m part of his motivation. It’s hard to describe what a wonderful feeling that is. It makes me want to be a better person and hope I’m worth his effort.

His shyness gives him a bashful, boyish quality, and I feel protective of him. But there are times when I’m reminded that he is very much a man.

On Saturday night, some friends from our poly group went to a strip club. (This might seem odd to some, but how it came about is a long story that really isn’t relevant to this one.) The group included both my husband and this new fellow. I has the pleasure of spending most of the evening sitting between the two of them, holding hands, sharing drinks, and watching the girls dance. That, in and of itself, would have made for a fun evening in terrific company. But it got better.

Our shy fellow found a reserve of courage and approached a cute dancer on the stage. For a tip, a girl would bend down and gyrate especially for a customer – rub her breasts across your face, briefly embrace you, shimmy her butt at eye level. He took a liking to one, a blonde with pretty, round, real breasts and pierced nipples. She had a fun attitude – not the weary, scheming or damaged look some girls tried to hide, but a kind of tomboyish, careless approach. I think she just didn’t take any of it very seriously, and that made her appealing. Lots of people liked her. Several people in our party approached her over the course of the night.

I have to admit I eagerly watched him stand at the stage and receive her little performance for the tip. In a way, I was proud of him for having the guts to go up there – I certainly didn’t, as much as I would have liked to. And I liked seeing the smile on his face that came from this brief transaction.

When she approached our group, he asked her for a lap dance, and I asked if I could watch. No problem there, and we both were a little giggly and giddy at the prospect. We followed her back to the semi-private dance area, and I was seated across from him for prime viewing position. We chatted for a moment about her nipple piercings, then she got down to the business of the lap dance.

Watching her slide around against him was a complexly emotional, exciting experience for me. It was probably the most erotic thing I’ve experienced that didn’t involve personal physical contact. But it also was an inner storm of emotions that buzzed like guitar distortion – some a little painful, but all worth the experience.

As with the stageside tip, I enjoyed seeing the smile on his face and knowing the pleasure he was experiencing. For my own benefit, I enjoyed watching a pretty, near-naked girl moving seductively a few feet away. Watching him touch her, the way his hands slid along her sides and up to her breasts, gave me a fleeting stab of envy that he would touch her that way before he would touch me. But I also watched knowing that this may be how he might touch me, with the warmth of anticipation. I felt grateful that he was comfortable enough with me, at this early stage, to allow me to watch him do this. In a strange way, I felt a kind of pride that I was with him for this experience. And when his eyes met mine over her shoulder, I could read the same feeling in them that I’ve been seeing every other time we connect. A happiness that I’m distinctly a part of.

It was unsettling, lovely, and strangely intimate. It’s something I want to remember.

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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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Falling.

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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