theferrett: (Meazel)

I am a flitting butterfly, forming crushes based upon the faintest of interactions.  A pretty smile and a pleasant conversation? Chances are I’m swooning over her. And it would be utterly impossible for me to remain happily married if I didn’t understand one fundamental truth about relationships:

I don’t have to follow up on every possibility.

It’s okay to have a crush on someone, and have that crush hover between us, unspoken.  I’m not obligated to tell her.  If she looks as if she wouldn’t be interested, then spewing my unwanted crushitude all over her face is only going to smother this potential friendship under a tide of awkwardness.

But why do I want to unburden my heart?  Because deep down, some stupid part of me believes that if there’s a chance for a romance here, I must grab at it!  Which is a leftover feeling of scarcity from my teenaged years – that desperate feeling that physical passion is so rare that I must instantly gorge upon any opportunity presented to me, like a caveman who’s found a stockpile of honey.  If this opportunity slips by me, when will I ever have another?  Even if I’m dating to someone right now.  I gotta have this.  There’ll never be another.

That’s how a lot of cheating starts – with an attraction.  And both parties, unused to this sort of potential popping up during committed relationships, act as though this erotic connection was some sort of fiat by God, as though people aren’t drawn to each other unless they’re meant to fuck… and so they get down and dirty and destroy everything around them.  And you see that stripe of thinking in a lot of fundamentalist religions, where they’d rather swaddle women in clothing or dehumanize them or distance them because OH MY GOD THESE WIMMENS ARE LURING ME IN LIKE THE SNAKE IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN.  If a woman looks like she might want to have sex with me, I’m powerless in the grip of their come-hither lust-pheromones!

But no.  The world’s full of possibilities, and part of being a responsible human is recognizing that you don’t have to ride every rollercoaster.  I have really potent attractions to some of my closest friends, to the point where swirly daydreams invade my head while we’re talking and I wonder hey, what would it be like to kiss them.

Then I slot that fantasy into reality, and think: do I really need to wager this nascent friendship, putting all that on the table just on the one-in-a-hundred chance I’m misreading her and there might be a potential romance here?  And even if I won the bet, would this romance be something that fits into my life right now?  She’s got a boyfriend, I’m a little packed with poly right now… do I need to feed this flame just because I believe every candle wants to be a forest fire?

I look at them, and weigh the odds, and stay very quiet.  It’s okay to have this crush hovering between us.  It still exists, even if I never force it into action.  It’s not pathetic to leave this marked as an unknown; it’s an act of strength, not chasing after every pretty girl like some dog chasing cars. It’s an act of respect, not forcing her hand to give me a firm and verbal “no” when she’s been signalling her lack of interest strongly through body language and shut-down avenues of conversation.  It’s an act of maturity, being strong enough that Gini can trust me not to fall in love with every kissable face that comes along.

And that’s fine, having a few unfulfilled dreams.  It means the rest of my life has less drama, is more fulfilling, and contains wonderfully sexy buddies.  Not a bad tradeoff for a little ambiguity, if you ask me.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“I’d like to buy this television.  It’s got the high definition I’m looking for.”

“Good news!  This wide-screen TV also comes with a complimentary honey badger, at no charge!”

“…a honey badger?  Isn’t that, like, the meanest animal on earth?”

“We prefer to think of it as ‘fuzzy-wuzzy destruction.’  But it’s totally free!  You’ll pay absolutely nothing to have in your home, destroying your couch!  Biting you in your sleep!  Devouring your other pets and vomiting up their bones!”

“Can I just have the television?”

“No, no, you don’t get to decline.  We’ve already put the honey badger in your car.  It’s chewed off the knobs on your radio, so you’ll definitely need the additional entertainment of this brand new television!”

“Couldn’t I just buy another television?”

“Did you not say that this TV had the high definition you were looking for?”

“…yes.”

“Then I think your choice is clear.  Sign here.  Quickly!  Before the honey badger gnaws through your brake line.”

“All right, fine.  But what do I feed my honey badger?”

“Neighbors.  Homeless people.  Ultimately, nosy policemen.”


Now, obviously, this is a silly example, but I see too many people in relationships with a single, extremely positive aspect  – great sex, a partner with a good job,  a lover who tolerates your depression, a partner who would do anything for you.

…then there’s the honey badger.

The honey badger represents all the things that don’t work about this relationship – the furious outbursts, the emotional withdrawal by way of punishment, the sneering disdain of all your other passions, possibly even physical abuse.  There’s usually more than one in this kind of relationship.  And when you point out how obscenely dysfunctional this pairing is and how ultimately unhappy it makes them, they always say the same thing:

“But s/he gives me X.  I just can’t find X anywhere else.”

And that’s the hi-definition television at work.  Yes.  You can find that good aspect elsewhere, and almost certainly housed in a better boy/girlfriend.  Just like there are thousands of televisions that have hi-def cables, there are tons of people who can provide you with great sex or financial stability or depressive support.

Now, it’s scary that you’ll have to go looking, which is a distinct pain in the ass, because I’m not going to tell you that these folks are common.  No, you’ll have to do your due diligence here, comparison shopping at a lot of stores, doing online research, checking Craigslist for surprise bargains.  It’s a lot of work, and some days, yes, you may despair.

But your current television comes with a free honey badger to wreck your life… and there’s no separating the two.  Take the good sex, the honey badger is tagging along.  And that honey badger is ripping apart your other relationships, destroying parts of your happiness, forcing you to be always on guard for the next crazy honey badger assault.  And that’s not a good relationship.  That’s actually a terrible relationship with one good upside that you can mistakenly cling to.

But there are other honey badger-free televisions with the same features.  You can find a better TV somewhere – maybe not one with all the options you had before, and it’ll be a little scary learning to handle the new remote control, but you’ll find this new honey badger-free television has its own upsides you’ll grow to love.

And more importantly, you don’t have to spend your life managing some crazy-ass beast.

Seriously, though.  There are millions of human beings out there, each with their own benefits.  I’m not saying people are interchangeable – they’re not.  But when your lover is shredding your life from the inside, it doesn’t matter how clear this rerun of “Frasier” looks.  It’s time to go.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

The trick to understanding love is that it is the easy part.  Love flows freely, as we all long to be in love, and so given the slightest outlet love will come fizzing out of us like champagne from a bottle.

The problem is in this society, “love” gets confused with “like” – and anyone who’s ever loved a family member who irritates them with every single phone call and yet still rushes to the hospital in tears whenever something goes wrong, knows that love and like are as similar as apples and crankcase shafts.

Give someone a relationship full of love but no like, and it’ll be awash in petty arguments about mundane things – why do you watch that stupid FOX News, well, why do you listen to that insipid song, oh look we’re late for this movie again.  It’s like living in a sniper pit, where you’re continually being shot at by irritations.  But give someone a relationship with zero love, yet topped off with vast amounts of like, and it’ll function well enough.  Won’t be as satisfying as a sweeping romance, but you’ll live in a house without killing each other, and you’ll pay the bills on the time, and not fight over what movie to watch, and enjoy each other’s company.

Love often renews, automatically, like a magazine subscription.  It takes a lot to shake someone out of a good love.

Renewing like, however, takes an active effort.  And when the like’s gone, as I have been arguing here, the relationship might as well be over.  You won’t be happy in it.  You can’t be happy.  You’re with someone who’s constantly jabbing at your ribs with an umbrella, and though it may be an accidental jabbing, you’re still stuck with someone who’s lowering the quality of your existence.

And what no one tells you is that as each dollop of like evaporates, it leaves behind a thin layer of dread.

Like many things about relationships, dread is best recognized in retrospect.  It’s that small “Oh, God, I have to…” when you think about being in your lover’s arms.  It’s that reluctance to show up, lest s/he do That Thing again.  It’s that twinge of reassurance you have to offer yourself that everything will be wonderful if that just doesn’t happen.  It’s that weight on your heels as you go out the door, realizing that if you don’t go you’ll have to explain why and oh Lord let’s get it over with.

Learning to identify dread is a very valuable skill in a relationship, because most people are bad at it.  We’re trained that if we’re in love, everything is wonderful, and so if there is dread, we try not to acknowledge that.  We submerge it.  We argue it away by saying that doubtlessly, we all have bad habits, and this is just one soft spot among the many delightful things our partner brings to us, and aren’t we just as bad sometimes?  We see it as a problem to be worked on, something we’ll get used to, like choking down vegetables until you learn to like the taste.

Yet dread is different than annoyance.  Annoyance is when your partner does something, and you hate that, but you still want to be around them.

Dread is when you actively start to not want to see them.  You often do, because if the relationship hasn’t tumbled head-first into the Chasm of Dread, there’s still a left to like, and this twinge of please no is drowned out by a chorus of yes please.

Yet the relationship’s in trouble when, consciously or no, you hesitate and do that calculation: should I?

And dread creeps up slowly, because usually you’re floating on a big sunny sea of New Relationship Energy where everything is wonderful, and you’re loathe to call it dread because society says that you can’t be in love forever with someone you dread, and by God society is pretty spot-on on this one.  You don’t want to think it’s over this soon.  So you try not to think about it and just blindly hope that it’ll get better.

Little bits of dread can sometimes be snipped away, but that gets awkward, because you have to have to say, “Something you’re doing is so big a turn-off that it’s making me not want to show up.”  There’s a careful alchemy here, which varies from person to person – step too lightly and they’ll go, “Oh, you’re not really bothered by me subjecting you to Dutch Oven farts when we’re in bed!” Step too harsh, and they’ll react as though you’ve just told them a part of them is vile and repellent – which, you know, it actually is to you if you’re talking about it honestly, but you’re often not asking them to stop being that, just to not be that around you.

Which is tricksy.  Dread’s often a sign that you’re fundamentally mismatched.  Who wants to talk about that?

But dread is the death of relationships.  You need to recognize when dread is creeping up, and look it boldly in the face to say, “Maybe this isn’t gonna work.”

Since you can, as noted, get by without love.  If you have to, you can function as a unit for the kids or your career without like.  But when you’re saturated in dread, well, the biggest danger is not a break-up.  It’s that you’ll stay together, loathing so much of each other that it’s like living in a mosquito-filled tent and never being able to really swat, filled with all sorts of awful things you can’t bring yourself to say because you love them and don’t want to hurt their feelings and they don’t seem to have all of this dread, they’re filled with nothing but purest love, and how could you refuse that?

So you wait.  Dreading.  Flinching in anticipation of the next hammerfall, and it will fall.  But not leaving, because hey, you’re in love, that should mean something.  And there, trapped in a place where you have no affection left in your heart, you will find out just how bare, rocky, and discomfiting love – and only love – can be.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

You know what I hardly see anyone ever talking about in polyamory?  What responsibilities we have, if any, to our lovers’ other partners.

’cause I know if I wrote an essay on “Here’s how poly people abuse their lovers,” I’d get a zillion fist-pumps and a hundred inbound links and a hundred comments going, “SO TRUE!  Polyamory is all about being good to the one you love.”

But if I wrote an essay about “Here’s how poly people abuse their lovers’ partners,” I suspect I’d get a faceful of awkward silence, followed by a round of defensive, “Well, it’s not my problem.  I don’t need to worry what happens over there.”

Yet that shit happens.  You and I both know there are so-called “poly people” who start dating with the idea of chipping away at all the other lovers, edging them out like this was some sort of battle in the arena.  You and I both know that there are folks who don’t ask, “Hey, is this cool with your other partners?” when they’re both caught up in NRE and spiralling out of control.  You and I both know that for every case of polydickery, there’s another eager poly person going, “Well, every time I kiss him it’s like tin foil on her teeth, but I don’t care if she’s hurting as long as I’m satiated!”

You’ve got a lot of folks who are basically saying, “Well, if those other people get hurt, that’s awesome, as long as I get what I want.”

And I dunno.  I treat poly like I’m going camping in the woods; leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures.  (Lots and lots of pictures.)  When I’m operating in someone else’s ecosystem, I try to be respectful of not just them, but the people they supposedly love.  And if I sense they’re acting in a way that might potentially hurt those people, I take a full stop and go, “Wait, is this  okay?”

Which leads to some really awkward and painful fucking conversations.  It’s killed some chances at sex, because some folks get really upset when you double-check their motivations.  But my whole goal is to leave this relationship as I left it; when I walk away, I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that even if things are dysfunctional, at least I didn’t function it more.

…which is not to say that I’m a slave to the poly web.  If I think my lover’s dating someone who’s doing something bad or irrational, I’ll discuss that with them, encourage them to bring those awful habits up for discussion.  In doing so, I make some more room for myself.  But I always try to treat the guy (or girl) on the other side of me with respect, so at least if I’m pushing an agreement they know why.

Yet that’s also an aspect of privilege.  I’ve got my primary, and I’m always going home to snuggle up in a warm bed with someone I love.  If I was in the all-secondary, all-the-time club, would I be so magnanimous?  There’s a good chance I wouldn’t.  It’d be harder to walk away when the alternative is masturbation in an empty apartment.

I think the reason why the polyamorous really hate having these discussions is because getting to the partners on the other side is fuckin’ hard, yo.  You’re not dating them.  In many cases, you may not like them enough to want to sit down for long couch sessions to determine what they want.  In some cases you may see them as actively toxic.  You’re seeking out the company of people you don’t want to have conversations you hate to have that may lead to a breakup.

As noted, my insistence on “…and is this okay with the collective?” has torpedoed a couple of relationships.  It’s caused some intense fights I would have preferred to avoid, leading to premature shakeouts.  It’d be a lot easier just to shrug my shoulders and go, “Fuck it, that’s their issue” – and maybe that’s the correct thing to do.  You can’t save everyone from their own desires, and if they’ve got a problem, then they should have the guts to walk away.

And you get more sex and love.  For you.

Still, personally?  I can’t counsel a polyamory where you’re okay with protecting your lovers, and okay with watching the people your lover supposedly cares about get brutalized.  To me, that has the unpleasant stink of psychopathy about it, in that those “in the circle” are deserving of protection and those “outside” can eat a dick.

Plus, there’s also the aspect that I’m going to be an occasional inconvenience; that’s just how it is.  If my lover is callously disregarding her other partners’ feelings when I’m the new hotness in town, how can I trust that she won’t do the same to me when the new star rises in the east?

I dunno.  If my partner is dating people I can’t fucking stand on any level, perhaps that’s a valid approach; shes got me.  Dating all people like me might be too redundant, and so she finds people with wildly varying personalities to fulfill all the various needs in her life.  But if they’re so opposed that I can’t sit down with them for an evening and have pleasant conversation, that’s a dealbreaker for me.  I don’t want to have to tiptoe that much.

Thing is, if people weigh in, I’m sure they’ll weigh in as though there are clear and easy moral answers to this.  There aren’t.  Which maybe is why you don’t see a lot of ramblings like this hitting Kinky and Popular on FetLife; it’s really easy to thunder, “DON’T FUCK OVER PEOPLE YOU LOVE!”  Because if you did that, you were 100% wrong.

Yet it’s a lot less morally satisfying to say, “Don’t fuck over people you don’t really care about.”  Because you probably have, on some level.  And knowing how to avoid that is tough, yo.  Tough.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I’m fond of saying, “I don’t have one-night stands, I have three-day relationships.”  I’m also fond of saying, “I have slept with over a hundred women. This sounds good until you realize that it means over a hundred women have decided I was too much trouble.” When I was single, I’d burn through seven or eight girlfriends in a year.

And I do burn through relationships quickly, due to a bizarre combination of absolute self-worth and total utter confidence.  I’ve never thought much of myself, but I come from a family that was big on therapy, big on talking everything out, big on exposing your feelings.  So the moment I have any twinges about anything, I go straight to my lover and say, “This is bothering me.”

Note the lack of an intermediary step: is this worth bothering her for?

So I’d fall in love, and things would be decent, and I’d carp and create fights because this wasn’t a big problem now, but it would be in a few months, and it was better to hash this out now before it came to a head.  Except I was continually anticipating problems that might have worked themselves out, given time, and I was asking for large behavioral changes that may have been premature (after all, I was always willing to be mutable, and so must the rest of the world), and as such I’d be lucky if I lasted two months with anyone.  I’d fall deeply in love, then grind it to shreds.

And I always thought this was a failing.  I did, yes, eventually find True Love with my wife, but even that involved a two-year adjustment period that should by all rights have ended in a hostile divorce.  I should shut up more, be less protective of my own rights.

A friend of mine is having me rethink that.

My friend is recently quote-unquote single after having been kicked unceremoniously out on his ear by his ex.  He’d never discussed her problems much with her – all that emotional talk gives him hives – and so, month by month, over the course of a decade, his ex got increasingly sick of his shit until one day he woke up and found himself being ejected from her life.  He thought things were fine.

Why wouldn’t he?  Nobody had said anything.

Watching him date now, he’s re-committed quickly, and is now dating someone he dislikes.  We’re hanging out, and he goes, “Oh, fuck, that’s right, I have a date with her.”  When asked why he’s so reluctant, well, she doesn’t really like the same movies that he does, and they don’t have much to talk about so they have to go to movies or else there’s awkward silence, and they don’t have the same life’s plans.  Also, he’s pretty sure they’re both rebound-dating, though they’ve never discussed it.

They have a lot of sex, apparently.  At least there’s that.  And maybe my friend leaves all the bitching to me, and has more enjoyment than he lets on; I always allow for that possibility.

Yet when I ask why they don’t talk about it, well, turns out that he hates emotional discussions so much that once again, he’s hooked up with someone who also hates to have emotional discussions.  He keeps saying, “Yeah, this one’s doomed,” and talking (to me, not her) about how they have nothing in common, and expressing the concept that, since he’s busy, this is better than being single again.

This has been going on for, oh, three months.  I have a feeling that unless the new girlfriend does anything – which is doubtful, since she also appears to be of the “Wouldn’t say shit if she had a mouthful” persuasion – this could drag on for another six months, maybe a year.  And yes, there’s regular sex – always the consolation prize in your Relationship Despair Crackerjacks – but on the other hand, when this sputters to the inevitable conclusion, I don’t think there will be a lot of Lessons Learned.  The next relationship, I think, will be a lot like the past two relationships, because when questioning What’s Happening becomes anathema, you can’t really examine the wreckage to figure out what wrong.

I had wreckage.  Junkyards of wreckage.  But I did sift through them, trying to figure out why this plane had crashed.

I dunno.  Maybe my relentless conversations have been a boon to me, in the long run.  Yeah, I got caught in the quagmire a couple of times – but usually, if we were at all incompatible, we’d discover this quickly, chew our arms off in fights, and move on.  It was over in six, eight weeks tops, and I could find someone else I liked.  I thought of my relentless number of relationships as a bug, but perhaps on balance it’s more of a feature – things don’t drag on with me, usually, they often just crash. Which enabled me to a) learn a lesson, if I could, and b) eventually find the great loves who I’m currently involved with.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying my path is ideal; there’s a balance to be had, in terms of learning when to keep my mouth shut, and I’m always evolving with that.  But for years, all I saw was the down side of a rapidly fluctuating love life.  There was a subtle benefit of all those breakups, one I overlooked.

You shouldn’t choose either of these paths, obviously.  But I think, if you have to have one, hopefully you luck out and take the path of destruction.  Maybe.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

One of the reasons monogamy is so damned pervasive is that you can win at monogamy.  Every relationship in a monogamous setting has the goal baked right in: Date. Get engaged.  Move in together. Marry. Don’t cheat. Die.

…aaaaand you’ve won at monogamy!  Collect your prize from the funeral director in the form of happy signs from your mourners.  They’ll all praise your legendary love.  Fifty years together and they were still holding hands on their deathbed?  My God, how inspiring.

Me being stupid, I ported that ideology straight into my poly, a subtle corrosion I didn’t notice until about six months ago.

Polyamory’s got a lot of overlap with monogamy, because like Soylent Green, both are made of people.  But once you remove that core assumption that “exclusive sex is what defines us,” then everything else gets kicked strangely, bizarrely, up for play.  How are you supposed to have children?  Can you hold hands with your lover in public?  How does the insurance work?

After a while in polyamory, you start to feel exactly how many aspects in a relationship are actually not fundaments, but rather questions that we assume don’t need to be negotiated. And those unquestioned assumptions are like poisons, leaking into the ground water – a subtle corrosion that can harm you in small ways over time.

My corrosion was approaching long-term poly relationships as though they were monogamous.

Here’s the secret truth of poly: it allows you to successfully date people you could never marry.  You see the pressures of the Great Monogamous Victory crushing otherwise-happy relationships: I think we all know a couple who got along just fine as long as they had separate apartments and just had fun going to movies , but the moment they moved in together they devoured each other.  But that monogamy train, man, it keeps on moving; if you’ve been dating casually for a while, well, eventually you gotta Get Serious.

Getting Serious involves stepping right in the lion cage with their worst faults.  Does she have a temper?  Well, as her boyfriend, you’re gonna be called on to calm her down when she starts getting angry, or at least to stand support as she breathes vitriol upon whatever’s pissing her off.  Is he lazy?  Well, you’re the one who’s going to be trying to pay the bills while his unemployed ass spends the weekend in his underwear playing Halo 4.

Getting Serious means you become, to a large extent, your lover’s primary therapist, because you’re with them 24/7 and you have to learn to deal with all of their moods. You might find his jealousy exasperating, but you can’t really walk away – as the primary, your responsibility to either defuse, reassure, or route around it.  And I know, I know, it doesn’t necessarily have to work like that – but for most of functioning monogamy, if you’re relying on someone else to satisfy your emotional needs, and that someone is someone you can be sexually attracted to, then Bad Things are gonna creep in around the edges.

But with poly, if you hate the way your lover spends her weekends doing nothing but playing Borderlands 2, you can designate that as Not Your Problem.  That laziness does not mean she is a bad person; it means there are certain circumstances under which you shouldn’t be hanging out.  You don’t have to merge your lives.  You can go on dates when your slothful partner feels like rousting themselves, and leave them to their own devices the rest of the time.

In other words, you can maintain light sexual relationships for as long as you’re comfortable with them.  You don’t have to take it to the next level.  There is no next level.  There’s only what you want to have – and if that involves wanting to deal with her temper, then you can do that, too.

Now.  The problem I made was approaching every poly relationship as if they were all going to reach Gini’s level.

My wife is my primary partner, but that term is so weaksauce when it comes to what Gini and I have.  We fit together in every way that really matters, having spent thirteen years in the Pit Of Monogamy wrestling with each other’s issues… and we’ve been victorious because, over time, we’ve come to implicitly trust in each other’s good will.  Which is not to say that Gini doesn’t knife me in the heart occasionally, but when she does I know that there’s no malice in it.  She’s spent so much time trying to be kind and courteous and respectful of me that any bruises I get must, logically, be by accident.

Gini is the great love of my life.

Every woman I date, then, must therefore be on the path to become a similarly great love.

And the problem is that when you uncork that kind of sweeping romance at someone, it’s hard to say no; I’m passionate and poetic, so when I’d mutter yes, we’re meant to be together in their ears, they’d reply yes, this is special, it’s so amazing, isn’t it? And we’d start dating, and subconsciously what I’d be trying to do was groom them to be as intense and critical in my life as Gini is.  Because hey, Gini was the best thing in my life, and therefore all paths must lead to something very like Gini.

But that’s the Monogamous Victory speaking.  I’d swapped out “Get married, die” for “Have someone else as wonderful for me as Gini is,” but the victory condition was there all the same. And as such, I had to Get Serious with every woman I dated, as soon as possible, or I was losing.

Which led to tons of dysfunction.  When we had a disagreement, it was critical not just to resolve the disagreement, but to approach this as a primary relationship and to ask all the followup questions that sprung from that: why did you think that poorly of me?  What assumptions were we both making that led to this?  Do you understand how exactly that hurt, and why, and grasp every reason why you must never do that again?

I believe in open communication.  But there are also times when too much communication can smother a relationship.  And all the while, I was having these Great Loves that I thought were the Next Big Thing, each of which evaporated in less than a year.  And my poor, poor partners had to deal with a string of ridiculous NRE, followed by ridiculously strained conversations as I tried to turn what was a pretty good LDR into ZOMG THIS MUST BE CRITICAL TO OUR LIVES TOGETHER FOREVER.

Which is ridiculous.  Gini is the best thing that ever happened to me, a lucky lightning strike, and cultivating every relationship as though eternal beauty was the goal led to, ironically, premature collapse.  If I’d just been able to go, “Hey, that’s pretty cool, can we have a good time when we’re together?” I’d probably still be dating half of them. As it was, I was inadvertently slighting Gini (as if every relationship could become what we had made!) and applying a constant, hideous pressure to relationships that didn’t need them.

They crumbled.  As they must.

But that’s the thing about poly: you have so many opinions that you’ve inhaled from monogamy, unwittingly taking it into your system, that you don’t realize how it’s affecting your life.  For me, I carried this subliminal concern that every relationship had to go somewhere.  But they don’t.  Sometimes, they can just be what they are, hanging about.  Stasis is not necessarily a bad thing, in polyamory.

Relationships are not Pokemon, man.  They don’t need to evolve.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

One of the biggest problems that nice guys have: they think women want men who don’t want sex.

I think this attitude, unconsciously developed, stems from listening to women complain about the fuckheads who hit on them.  “All those assholes want is sex!” is what they hear their female friends lamenting, so they go, I’ll be the opposite.  I’ll be very quiet and never ever mention sex, or that I desire it.  This will make me a gentleman.

No.  It will make you a loser.

I think this attitude springs from this sad view of nature where they believe that women don’t really want sex, they just sort of endure it for the sake of the species.   So you have to sneak up on sex.  You can’t just mention it around women, because at the first hint of cock they’ll run like zebras from a lion.  No, you have to sort of sneak in the penis, waiting for the proper moment to, uh, bring it up.  This may take months.  And all the while, you’ll never ever mention sex, or if you do you’ll discuss it like you were handling a dirty diaper. Because that’s what women want.

So how’s that working out for you, chum?  Well, you’re probably standing by the sidelines while your ideal woman is going out and fucking these horrible behemoths, feeling resentful because you’re doing everything right and there they are – falling into bed with an oaf!

An oaf who actually expressed his desire for her, and she responded!  Carnally!  Why, it’s like she wanted to get fucked! But that can’t be the case, so these brutes must be, I don’t know, hypnotizing her with their gold chains and their Axe body spray and their abs or something.

No, dude.  What you heard was “All these assholes want is sex,” and came to the erroneous conclusion that sex was bad.

What she was saying was, “All these assholes want is sex.”  As in, “Remove my vagina, and I’m worthless to them.”  That doesn’t mean her vagina is some sort of null zone to be ignored. She wants to fuck, but she wants to fuck someone who wants to fuck.

And what are you doing?  By conspicuously not mentioning sex ever, you’re sending the impression that if she wants sex, well, it shouldn’t be with you.  You’re taking the default stance that as a guy you naturally desire it on occasion, like some sort of cyclical Pon Farr, but it’s not anything you need.  And if she really needs it, why would she want to fuck a guy who’s never said he really wants to, loves to?

Look.  What women like – what people like – like is passion.  And you being a wishy-washy huggabear will just make it clear that when you get into bed with them, she’ll have to tell you everything to do, making you kind of a voice-activated vibrator.  So she finds other guys who may have less attractive qualities but at least will satisfy her in the sack, and leaves you firmly in the friend-zone.

Why?  Because you never told a dirty joke, or shared an embarrassing sex story, or even told her how fucking gorgeous she is.  Not that she’s pretty, but fuckable.  And yes, there are creepers who make women feel awful by slathering them in filth, but the fix is to not go the opposite route and sanitize yourself so you’re as sexless as a Hello Kitty.  Yes, it’s awkward finding that fine line between “no sex ever” and “creeper sex maniac,” but if you squash your desires altogether then you’re lying to her about what you want… and you can’t complain when she doesn’t respond to a desire that she doesn’t know exists.  (Or that you’ve given the impression that you’d be bad at it.)

A lot of guys have this terrifically sad dance, wherein they never mention sex ever and if they do, certainly it’s not something they’re really interested in, no!, and then they wind up with women who aren’t that interested in fucking. Don’t do that.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

You can’t cheat on someone using the Internet, everyone knows that – that was just cybersex. You can’t cheat on someone who’s polyamorous, they fuck everyone anyway. You can’t cheat on someone if you’re a girl dating a guy, and you slept with a girl, because we all know girlsex doesn’t count. Oh, hey, that was just a blowjob, baby, that’s different.

There are fifty ways to leave your lover, and about five hundred ways of justifying cheating in a world full of crazy poly swinger leather-whipping cuckolds. Once you step into non-traditional sexual area, you’ll find whole relationships devoted to guys sending their wives out to be serviced by strange black men with huge cocks, humiliated daily, all in the context of a loving committed relationship…

…and yet cheating can still happen, even within those boundaries.

Look, folks, cheating isn’t about sex . Cheating is about breaking fidelity.

And fidelity is “Whatever you’ve agreed to do as a couple, either explicitly or tacitly.”

That doesn’t necessarily involve sex. If you’re a swinger couple and your rules are “You can fuck anyone you like, but don’t fall in love,” then in many cases “Going out for espresso and holding hands at Starbucks” is more of a violation than “Sucking his dick on camera.”

This fidelity applies to all relationships, but non-sexual cheating becomes of more import in open relationships – when exclusive sex no longer is the thing that defines you, then the non-sexual things become much more critical. Poly is rife with weird corner cases like that. Did you promise to see that movie with me? Did you go see it with her instead on a date?

Son, you just cheatamated.

The reason cheating is so toxic that it erodes trust. If you’ve broken your word once, then suddenly every other thing you say gets called into question. You say you love them, but is that true? You say you were at work, but is that true? It’s exhausting, and eventually you can’t date a cheater, because life is just too busy to independently verify every fact your lover presents. Eventually, you gotta sleep.

So why people so intent on telling you this wasn’t cheating? Simple: because if you’re a cheater, then everyone agrees you’re an asshole. But if you can redefine the rules of cheating so that you didn’t quite understand that this was off-limits, well, then! You can hold your head high! And, more importantly, you can keep getting your rocks off and enjoying yourself!

…right up until your partner finds out.

That’s the thing. It’s possible to accidentally cheat. Maybe you genuinely didn’t understand how much that movie meant to your partner. And those are hurtful, but contain such aspects of genuine misunderstanding to the point where you can almost – almost – not call it cheating, even though it’s still an act that wounds your partner deeply.

(Still. If your partner cheats a whole lot by constantly not understanding your emotional needs and forgetting all the promises that meant so much to you? Well, then maybe it’s a series of genuine mistakes – but damn, you can’t keep that shit in your life. You have to have someone who knows what’s important to you.)

But you wanna know how you can always, always tell if you’re cheating?

You don’t want to tell your partner.

Cheating is breaking an emotional bond, and if your first reaction is “This is something so special it’s just for the two of us, why should I have to tell him about it?” or “Oh, he’s not ready to hear that right now” or “I just don’t want to deal with the fallout” or “This is hot, and I’m completely fine with him knowing, but I’m just gonna erase my chat history and password-lock my phone and not actually get around to mentioning it ever,” then 99.9% guaranteed you’re cheating. Regardless of what you’re doing.

Hey, you don’t have to share every detail with your partner – Gini has some wondrously hot sex with her boyfriend, but the fine details would make me jealous, so she doesn’t share. And I know she loves him, without having to know every sweet whisper and promise between the sheets.

Likewise, Gini and Angie both know that I sext women periodically. I don’t tell her the fine details of what I got some beautiful woman in Florida to imagine me licking. But if there was a point where I’d promised, “Some day we’ll be together” or I got actually jealous when someone I was sexting was seeing someone else, then that would be something I should mention.

Because that’s outside the boundaries of what we personally have negotiated. I can sext, but not fall in love. I can kiss, but not penetrate. That’s all a unique negotiation between us, and what’s cheating for any single set of people is not necessarily cheating for another set.

There’s also a fine line to be drawn here, because if I suddenly realized I deeply loved someone I was sexting with, I know this discussion with Gini and my girlfriend Angie would be uncomfortable. But I’d also know that it had to be done, and would make sure that it got done.

If I didn’t do it, kept putting it off, then every day I’d be stepping deeper into cheating territory.

There’s a lot of debate about whether cybersex is sex, or casual sex is sex, or whipping someone is sex. That’s not the question. The question is, “Would you be okay telling your partner about what happened?”

If there’s something you’re hiding, then chances are extremely good you’re breaking some kind of fidelity.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

If I have a female friend, usually there’s some mild attraction, since the reasons I would want someone as a friend have a lot of overlap with the reasons I’d want them as a lover.

Not always.  But the thing is, I’m intensely sapiosexual – which is to say I value people’s thoughts over their bodies.  (I have attractions to women who I literally do not know what they look like, but hoo boy can they express themselves.)  So for me, friendship is in a very real way a form of attraction.  I don’t necessarily share the fundamentals of that attraction with them (most of my female friends don’t want to know), but it’s there, a constant backbeat of desire.

And yes, it gets tiring on occasion, all these silly crushes fulminating in my mind.  I don’t know how to turn it off.  Attraction is as attraction does; the most I can do is not follow up.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I’m going to say something controversial about relationships. But before I can do that, I need to define two terms that often get slurred together.

In relationships, there are two tools you can use to determine how your partner should react to things: Expectations and Rules. There’s a fine distinction between the two, which is often confused.

Expectations are what you believe your partner will do in a given situation.  For example, based on past history, I think Gini and I will probably sex it up a couple of times a week.  We’ve never discussed this; it’s just something that, assuming Gini and I are both healthy and in a good mood, I expect will happen.

Rules are limitations that you set down explicitly to avoid hurting your partner.  For example, I have an agreement with my partners that I will not sleep with anyone without getting explicit permission first.

Every relationship has expectations.   Not every relationship has rules.

Now, expectations are nebulous in that sometimes the expectation is, “I don’t expect anything from you,” as in a FWB thing or a very open poly where both partners do as they please, and have no say in what the other wants.  (In which case, the expectation is, “You’ll leave if what I do bothers you enough.”)  And expectations are useful in diagnosing potential relationship problems – if, for no reason that I can name, Gini starts having sex with me only every couple of months, it’s probably not a bad idea for me to check in and ask what’s going on.

But most relationships contain an (often hidden) expectation of a certain level of honesty, and of good intention (you’re not going to hurt me in a bad way intentionally), and of some form of attraction (or else why are you dating, unless you’re asexual?). Those expectations are, in fact, generally the reasons you’re dating that person, even if it’s as simple as “I expect we’ll have some pretty damn amusing conversations.”

The problem is, it’s extremely easy to break an expectation, because it’s just some mental construct someone’s formed of you – in many cases, completely arbitrarily!  I tell people time and time again, “I write up my essays because I screw things up so often that I have to keep notes.  I am not a together person.  I am a teeming mass of insecurities.”  Yet because I write strongly, and consistently, people often think that I’m a confident, wise person.  Then they date me, expecting a confident, wise person.

…that doesn’t work out too well.

But that’s usually the reason relationships collapse; you realize that the model you have constructed of this person inside your mind does not actually exist, and the person who’s really there is not anyone that you actually want to live with.

Managing expectations is difficult.  It’s complex math, trying to synchronize a model with a real person who doesn’t even fully understand themselves. You’re creating a simulation of the person inside your head, and running that simulated person’s reaction against what is happening now, then determining whether they’d be upset by this, and then deciding whether they’re correct in being upset by this and whether you’re willing to have the argument…

Rules, on the other hand, are simple.  You set down like a lawyer with a contract, delineate what is and is not acceptable behavior in a given set of circumstances, and hash it out.  They’re clear.  Easily understandable.

And here’s my controversial statement: Rules are a failure state of a relationship.

Not “the sign of a failed relationship.”  Many functioning relationships have rules.  But I’d argue that most of those relationships have a weak point that’s been poorly shored up, and relationships with a lot of rules are often on the verse of collapse.

“What’s wrong with rules?” you ask.  “Aren’t rules clear and easy to follow?”  Well, yes.  And no. There are millions of laws on the books out there, and having watched my wife do law, you could dispense with 95% of them if everyone just went by the tenets of “Be fair, be honest, and don’t be a dick.”  Most people can spot dickery in the wild, but there’s a significant percentage of folks who go, “No, that’s not dickery, that’s just good honest business practices!” or “That’s a perfectly fair price I’m offering this man with no recourse!”

So what happens?  You codify.  Endlessly.  Exactly what percentage of orange juice must you have in a drink before you can call it “natural ingredients”?  How many square feet can you devote to a home office before you can write it off on your taxes?  Basically, all you do in law is take a basic principle and narrow it down to precise, exacting terms – terms that are ludicrous when you look at them.  So, okay, 30 fly eggs per 100 grams of pizza sauce is okay, but 31 is just crazy?

But that’s what happens when you turn “fair” into “law” – you wind up with an arbitrary marker.  And maybe your pizza sauce contains 20 rat hairs, but hey, that’s not on the books, we didn’t check, that’s totally cool.  Until somebody complains about their furry pizza, and wham.  One more guideline for business owners to feel resentful about checking.  They feel hemmed in, taking this extra time and expense to have to someone inspect their pizza for infestations.

Which is what happens with relationship rules.  You think they’re well-defined, but often there’s a lot of room just outside the defined zone to cause further problems. And they cause resentment.

“You can’t sleep with other people,” goes the rule.  But can you kiss them, even if you never intend to sleep with them?  Can you flirt with them?  Can you go over and spend time at their apartment alone?  Can you give friendly backrubs?  Tickle fights?  Beatings at the club?  Beatings in private?

You’d think those should be simple questions – but the fact is, generally if you say, “You can’t sleep others,” then one or more of those things will often cause agita. Because the rule is “No sleeping with other people,” but the problem it’s attempting to address is something like, “You can’t form romantic, intimate bonds with other people, because that would make me feel completely insecure.”

The problem with rules is not what they’re intended to do – which is minimize hurt, a valid goal – but rather that an excess of rules encourages a certain laziness in expectation management.  People follow the rules blindly, forgetting why they exist, and their mental map often fails to take into account all the other things that might upset their partner. And so their partner piles on more rules, trying to shut off the undesirable behavior, not realizing that their partner literally just doesn’t get the root cause that all the other issues stem from.

Rules are not inevitably bad.  They’re often a starting point for a good mental map; I’ve been on hiatus from new sexual partners now for eight months as I try to devise a better set of rules that will lead to my long-term partners being happy.  But the rules are not the rules.  The rules are there so I can see what I’m doing wrong in creating new relationships (and I was doing things wrong, as far as I’m concerned), and create a new mindset that’s going to make anyone I’m dating happy.  And when they’re done, it won’t be a set of law, but rather a mental map of good expectations that works.

In other words, I’m developing rules as a method of what my partners expect of me.  When this process is complete, then I won’t need rules.  When I date other women, I’ll know exactly when I’m pushing the limits of my current lovers’ comfort zone.

Now, the danger of valuing expectations over rules is that there is the unspoken assumption that “If I just make my partners happy, then I’ll have a great relationship!”  Which is, of course, ridiculous. Sometimes, you go through all the effort of forming a proper set of expectations, understanding exactly what actions will make your partner happy… And discover that the only way you can keep them happy is to be miserable.

It also doesn’t exempt you from fights.  Even when I know exactly how Gini’s going to feel sometimes – and expectations being as inaccurate as they are, I’ll say that after thirteen years of marriage I still have about a 1 in 20 shot of getting it wrong – there are times when I have to say to her, “Look, I know you feel this way, but that’s crazy.”  And she has to do the same with me.

Then there’s all the times I get the expectations wrong, and have to talk about that.  The goal is not to be perfect, of course – that way lies madness – but to create a working model to determine what, if anything, you need to talk about in advance.  Which involves finding new information.

It also doesn’t exempt you from using that information.   The reason New Relationship Energy gets such a bad rap in polyamory is because people will meet a new partner and just fucking forget to run the actions by the Expectation Engine. Why should they?  That’s effort!   This is love!  I don’t want to think about old him when new him is right here, kissing me!  And so, rather than having to deal with any sort of model (which takes a fair amount of brainpower at all times), many kinky folk go, “Fuck it, I’m not bothering to consider other people’s emotions at all, I’m just demanding no strings whatsoever.”  Which is a workable way of doing it.  (Or, you know, you just date people with low expectations.  Which is also workable.  Which is also not me.)

Furthermore, expectations are not only nebulous, but they’re mutable.  What I wanted six months ago isn’t what I want now.  The reason they tell you that communication is a good idea is because the best way to keep those mental models updated is to spend time together, to be open to new experiences, to pay attention. I’ve broken up with people not because they’re evil, but because what they came to want out of a relationship wasn’t what I wanted, even if it we’d synced up at the beginning.

But I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that properly managed expectations are the key to a happy relationship.  Not rules, because rules are stiff and generate conflict, but a mutual understanding of what you think is fair and what you want of each other.  Which, when done properly, is wondrous.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

My conservative friend Brad Torgersen wrote this note on Facebook:

My wife informs me that the marriage of a close family friend is breaking up. Infidelity. I see it as a cautionary tale. No matter how strong your relationship with your spouse may be, it only takes being weak once to screw the whole thing up. In my 10 years in the military I’ve seen a lot of people play around on TDY. I always try to make a point of wearing my marriage on my sleeve when I am away from home. It’s a reminder to me that I am not looking for a fling, and it’s a reminder to others that I am not looking for a fling. And yes, I know some women adore a happily married man. And that this may make me a bigger target. The choice is still mine, however. Nobody makes me cheat. I have to want to first. I refuse. I refuse to disrespect and dishonor my best friend & eternal companion like that. I would rather divorce her honestly, than cheat behind her back. Our friend is now in an agony of shame, anger, humiliation, and confusion. It’s such a needless waste.

Now, I doubt Brad is much down with kinky polyamory, given that previously he’s posted links to the only safe sex being “get married and be faithful,” stating “we in modern society have invented 101 excuses for ourselves as to why this isn’t practical, or even necessary.”  But the fascinating thing is how much overlap there is between healthy monogamy and healthy polyamory.

Because even with multiple partners, if you don’t have fidelity, you don’t have a relationship.

In polyamory, the relationship is no longer defined by exclusive sex – but it’s doubtlessly defined by some expectations.  Many of those are sexual, such as “You’ll always use safe sex” or “You’ll always let me know who you’re with so I can make an informed decision.”  But when sex ceases to be the defining factor of your relationship, then the other expectations become that much more critical – “You’ll always be there for me when I need you,” or “Friday night is our special movie night,” or “This restaurant is our special romantic rendezvous, for no others.”

Keeping those agreements is fidelity.  And if you can’t keep those, then you wind up inflicting the same agonies of shame, anger, humiliation, and confusion.

Look, those agreements are who you are as a couple.  And when you suddenly decide to break those bonds, either out of convenience or just out of neglect, then suddenly your partner doesn’t know what you mean to each other.   They’re just as important as the “no sex with anyone but me bond,” and when broken it creates a cascade of terror in that “Well, does s/he still love me?  How could s/he do that to me?  Should we be together?  How could they claim they love me and yet manage to hurt me so deeply?”

Which is not to say that such expectations have to be lasting bonds.  Relationships are dynamic things (hell, Gini and I started off as monogamous, and there’s never a guarantee we won’t switch back if it makes us both more comfortable), and sometimes you want to renegotiate that Friday night movie night, or have unprotected sex, or bring a new lover to that special French cafe.

But too many bad poly relationships broach that by shattering the agreement, and then asking forgiveness.  Forgiveness is often given, because “getting a burger with some other girl at that diner” seems like a small, petty thing to get so wounded over.  Yet it’s not a small thing.  It’s something that defined you, together, and now suddenly it defines someone else, too, leaving one partner to wonder what the moorings of this this particular pair-bond is. You’ve broken fidelity, and that weakens everything else to the point where your partner has to wonder what trust must be accidentally broached next.

And is that really polyamory?  Or just you, doing as you please, regardless of the hurt caused? ‘Cause there’s not much love in that, Jack.

The problem with poly is that quite often, you don’t understand how vital these trusts are until you break them.  Maybe your lover thought your affectionate kiss on the forehead was exclusive to her, and discovering that you do with that anyone you like is going to wound her.  Maybe your partner didn’t understand how emotionally specific those burgers at the diner were to you.  Which is why, in a poly relationship (or in any relationship, really, but the poly ones especially), you have to be up-front about defining your needs and ever watchful of what your partners may think of as special to them.

My wife, who is wise and wonderful, refers to our style of relationship as “polyfidelity.”  I think that’s a wonderful term, and correct.  And one of many wondrous reasons why I go out of my way to keep my agreements with her.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“Baby, we’re poly; you can date all the women you want.  But no guys.”

That’s the kind of polyamory that drives me crazy.

Look, if your guy is such a brobdignagian studmuffin that after shuddering in the shadow of His tremendous cock you need no others, then great!  As the woman, you’ve made the choice not to seek other menstuffs.  I support that.  What I do not support is the polyamory model where the guy, majestically, allows his woman to date all the chicks she wants, but never men.

And it’s fucking everywhere.  As a blogger with a reasonably sizable audience, I usually enstate a cooldown time between “a friend of mine does something that vexes me” and “the day I blog about it,” just so they don’t feel like I’m picking on them.  But it never stops.  Every other fucking week, I have a good pal who meets a guy who’s wonderfully encouraging, because he wants her to have all the loving relationships she can handle – as long as they have boobs!  And no penis.  That penis is scary, y’all.

It’s so everywhere, and I just fucking hate it.

Now, not every poly relationship is the same, and I’m sure that YOUR poon-but-no-peen relationship is based on factual evidence that men are the crushers of dreams.  But what I usually see, when I look at these restrictive gardens, is a monstrous selfishness: Oh, you can have all of the sex you want, so long as it turns me on.  I think lesbian sex is the spice, and maybe if I’m lucky I’ll end up as the filling in your slut sandwich, so go on and have your fun.  Besides, we all know that women’s relationships aren’t nearly as deep or threatening as guy relationships, so it’s fun to indulge you – it’s like watching two kittens play!  You girls are so cute.

The reason I hate it is because that’s a form of polyamory, but more often than not it’s one that’s selfish, misogynistic, and dysfunctional.  It’s often a way of saying, “Everything in this relationship needs to serve my needs.”  Because I’ve talked to a lot of those women while their man is out on a date with a new girlfriend, and it’s not like they don’t get the usual poly-quivers of jealousy and terror (as these dude-types are invariably a) arrow-straight and b) always willing to find just one more woman to fuck, as long as she’s cute).  The women sit at home, not at all turned on by this new potential threat to their relationship, trying bravely to be fair because, “Well, this is an open relationship, this balancing of affections is just part of how it works.”

Except it doesn’t.  Does he ever sit at home, worried about her on a date with a guy?  No.  It’s a one-way street because when she’s flirting with a hottie male at the club he gets all OMG HIS COCK WILL SUPPLANT MINE, and that shit is just too terrible for any man to deal with – so no, just fool around with harmless little women.  (If you’ve read some of my previous rants on how dumb guys approach penises, you’ll know what I think of the whole ubercock routine.)

Look, my wife dates other men.  Is it always easy on my ego?  No.  But even the best polyamory involves a few inadvertent shots to the self-esteem.  There are people who will tell you that good polyamory involves never being jealous or insecure, and I’ll say fuck those inhuman robots right in their crankcase.  Poly has a lot of benefits when it works – but even the best of relationships will occasionally have these monkeybrain down times of, “If she’s having a really good time with someone else, can she really love me?”

Yes.  Yes, she can.  But walling off a whole fucking sex just so you don’t have to have your dark night of the soul is selfish.  Just go fucking monogamous, dude – there’s nothing wrong with that.  But no, you want your hot threesomes, and you want to sex up as many chicks as you can, and she’s conveniently bisexual so you can just let her have her explorations as long as it’s not threatening to you.

I shall repeat: If you’re the woman, and you really don’t want any men, then I say that’s great.  (As witness this excellent essay a friend of mine wrote on her trouble with “The ‘H’ Word” over on FetLife, which should be required reading.)  But if the reason you don’t want any men is because he’d melt down in jealousy, then that’s a marker of potential problem – and one where, in my experience, the woman will jump through hoops to avoid bruising his ego, but when he eventually finds someone who threatens her, suddenly he’s all “Baby, you’ve got to learn to be more open-minded!”

Generally, that means, “You have to be more open-minded about doing only things that make me happy.”  And “All the sacrifices in this poly are going to be yours.”  And “Women can’t really get attached to other women in a meaningful way.”  And I hate that.  Hate all of it.  Hate it, hate it, hate it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Without getting into details, last night my older daughter got some very bad news – the kind of news where you stay up all night, staring at the ceiling, wondering about an uncertain future. She sat on our couch, numbly, while we tried to comfort her.

“Do you want to see a movie?”

“…no, I don’t think that would help.”

“Do you want to walk down by the docks?”

“No.”

“Do you want to go hang with some of our friends, who are wise and may provide comfort?”

“No.”

“You wanna hack up some orcs?”

Now, it must be said that I am not a naturally improvisational DM. Oh, I’ll roll with the punches once the game starts flying – but when it comes to roleplaying adventures, I can’t just do “So you meet at the inn” and then make up stuff on the fly.  So I ran downstairs and searched through my collection of RPGs to see what I had in terms of canned adventures that I could run my daughter through.

Mostly Call of Cthulhu.  Hrm.  Not the sort of one-shot you want to give to someone who’s down on life right now.

All right, said I, this will have to be in a world I’m familiar with.  So I flipped through the Planescape Monster Manuals until I found an appropriate monster to hunt (a Sword Spirit), then called my kid and my wife downstairs to take them back to the campaign I ran for five years: Sigil, heart of the multiverse, the Casablanca of the planes.

I handed her a character sheet for a character she’d played twice, tentatively, back when she was seventeen, a Harmonium officer/ninja called “Officer Sunshine.”  Gini stepped back into her role of Ardenal, rock-demon ninja.  And so began an elaborate campaign that involved the usual Sigilian assortment of phoenix egg-juggling thieves, baatezu weaponsmiths, the best book shop in the planes and a rain of illusionary halibut, a trip through the dregs of the Hive and a chance to save some impoverished souls from certain death from an exploding weapons cache, culminating in a climactic battle against a whirling tornado of magical weapons.

They defeated the Cuisinart using teamwork, Ardenal distracting it while Officer Sunshine made a called shot to the spirit in the center that powered it.  And two and a half hours later, it was done.

My daughter hugged me, smiling for the first time since she’d gotten the news.  And I thought: this is why roleplaying has endured.  I remember getting kicked around in middle school, the constant slaps and stings of bullies, failing my classes, feeling like a loser.  Yet when Bryan set up that DM screen and I became Delvin Goodheart, with my improbable loot in the form of a +5 vorpal sword and my Invulnerable Coat of Arnd, for a while I could wander around in someone else’s world and be a hero.

Last night, I managed that for someone who needed it.  And I all I could think was, “Play it forward, man, play it forward.”

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

One of my best friends in town is pushy.  He never means to be, but he came from a household where he was encouraged to ask, enthusiastically, for everything he wanted – so when you go out to a restaurant with him, he’ll strongly suggest what you might like to order from the menu, based on what he would like to taste.

Now, before you go, “What a jerk,” keep in mind that he is also the most giving, loving friend you could possibly ask for.  Got a problem at three in the morning?  He’ll be there.  And, as a saving grace, he takes a strong “No” without complaint, so once you’re smart enough to go, “I’m not having the scallops, Ken,” he backs off without a word and never takes it personally.  He just feels – and perhaps not incorrectly – that if he wants something, it never hurts to ask.

Still.  It means you have to be aware of my friend’s foibles.  If you’re going on vacation with him (as we have), you will spend every day doing what he wants unless you speak up and go, “No, I am not interested in another wine tour.  We’re going to the docks instead.”  And then everything is wonderful, as once he gets to the docks he will be cheerful and happy and probably buy you dinner.

You might think this is an indictment of my friend, having to act differently around him.  But this kind of altered behavior is something I do for every close friend I have.  Because they’ve all got their weak spots.

D means well when he promises things, but never follows up.  K will disappear for months on end when she finds a new boyfriend.  B needs to be the smartest person in the room or he’ll get pissy.  N gets uncomfortable whenever you discuss deep emotional topics.

Hell, Gini has those warnings for me.  F gets snappy when he’s neck-deep in a tough work problem.  F has six weeks out of the year when he’s useless.  F will argue you senseless if you concentrate on the logic of your argument as opposed to discussing how his action make you feel.

To be aware of, and react accordingly to, your friends’ negative traits, is not a betrayal of friendship.  It’s reality.

Which is tough, especially for people in deeply dysfunctional families who were taught, “You never speak badly of us.”  What gets internalized is this fucked-up lesson that “If you really love someone, you won’t notice their bad points.”  Which is crazy!  Everyone has soft spots in their psyche, where trusting them to do X will lead you to ruin.  That lesson is basically saying, “You need to fall in love with an android who will never let you down.”  That’s not going to happen.

So what they do instead is shove aside reality.  They date someone who’s bad at paying the rent but act as though their partner was going to come through this time, then wonder why they’re living in squalor.

Look.  It’s a more honest act of love to look at someone and say, “Yes, she’s terrible at paying the bills, but I love her.”  Loving someone doesn’t mean slapping on blinders and running into things; it means going, “Okay, if we move in together, I’m going to have to make the sacrifice of taking control of the finances, because she can’t do it.”  Which gets even more complex if your partner really thinks she’s quite GOOD at paying the bills despite the copious evidence otherwise… But that’s part of negotiating a solid relationship.

There’s this whole attitude of love where saying bad things about your lover means you’re a bad person – and yes, if you’re bitching more than you’re adapting, then you’re probably not that nice.  But you can be realistic and be deeply in love.  You can commit, wholeheartedly, to someone who’s not perfect .  And it is not a betrayal to go, “Okay, this is something I know they won’t do, so I’ll either do it myself or find a way to get around that.”

Gini loves me more than any lover ever has.  She also knows I’ve got a lot of bad points.  Her real love comes not from ignoring those flaws, but in circumventing and reshaping them.  Because I’m human, as is everyone we’re ever going to date, and flaws don’t mean you’re unworthy of love.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

It is remarkably easy to convince your child that Santa exists.  After all, the child trusts you implicitly – why wouldn’t they take your word when you tell them there’s a red-suited jolly guy who brings them presents via a venison-powered transportation system?

Still, it’s a little declasse to do victory laps around the block, yelling, “See?  I convinced Virginia that yes, there is a Santa Claus!  What wondrous proof that Santa exists!”

Yet people do it.  They do it all the damn time, particularly when it’s about ex-boyfriends or arguments they’re having with soon-to-be ex-girlfriends.

The reason I’m writing this essay is something a friend of mine wrote a while ago: “The high road sure is a frustrating bitch, sometimes. Luckily, there’s all that rewarding moral superiority.”  That stuck with me, because I worry that’s how I come off when I tell people, “I try not to blog about the arguments I’m having with my lovers” – as if the reason I avoid airing my dirty laundry in public is because I’m just naturally superior.

No, it’s because I’ve learned the feedback you get is nonsensical and misleading.

There’s one of three reasons people read what you write on the Internet:

1)  They’ve come to trust your opinion enough to want to know what you have to say.  (Thankfully, this is the most common reason.)
2)  They think you’re a fascinating train wreck, and want to see what sort of dysfunction you’re up to this week.
3)  They think you’re an active hazard, and your blog is a lighthouse warning of what deplorable fuckeries you plan on committing.

Now, in the case of #1, you’ve built up a big ol’ well of trust to draw from.  People have showed up because you’re either a good friend who they like, or because you’ve dropped enough truth-bombs that they’ve become a fan of your blogsmithery.  In either case, whenever you post that Facebook status, you are talking to people swimming in a deep pool of “Benefit of the Doubt.”

In other words, you’re talking to an audience that is on your side already.  And as long as whatever you write doesn’t insult them directly, well hey, all your complaints are gonna sound good!  I mean, if I’m in an argument and dash off some Chinese fortune cookie complaint like, oh, “You can’t have true love without true trust,” then twenty people will like it on Facebook and the comment threads with my friends will be about how yes, true love needs a partner who believes in you.

But like all advice, that’s good in a vacuum.  What if my wife’s complaint is that I’m spending all my free nights with a single girl she has never authorized, a girl who she knows is deeply attracted to me?  What if she’s come home to find us cuddled up on the couch, knowing that I’ve been texting her at mysterious times and never letting Gini see what I wrote… And then, aggrieved after she’s been haranguing me for more detail on what’s going on, I flee to my Twitter and write angrily about her neediness and lack of belief in me?

NOTE: This has not happened.  But if it damn well did, then my complaint of “You can’t have love without trust” becomes an obfuscated complaint of, “Gini doesn’t trust me when I’m doing sketchy things.”

But hey!  I write the posts, so I get to frame how all this turns out.  And I’m talking to a veeeeery Santa-friendly audience.  They all vouch for my status as a Good Guy.  And what I get are tons of attaboys, and you keep dropping that wisdom, and lots of positive feedback for something that I could well be completely wrong on in the first place.

In other words, what I get when I post about my troubles to the Internet is an echo chamber, telling me how wonderfully correct I am.  It’s the kid, hanging the stockings by the fireplace.  Because relationships are relative things – it’s right in the fucking word, people – any complaint I have, no matter how fucktastically incorrect, can be extracted and made to be true for someone.

“The beautiful thing about being a grown-up is that you get to choose your own family.” – Charlie Manson

“When all else fails, you just have to believe in yourself.” – Jenny McCarthy, head of the anti-vaccine movement

“When you find the right person, you have to follow your heart.” – Britney Spears

See?  All true for someone… But not the people I’ve attributed them to.

And what’ll happen if I keep posting discussions on what’s wrong with my girlfriends?  Some of the #1s will automatically take my side, whereas many others will quietly slide into the #2s (train wreck) and the #3s (uses your blog as a warning).  But they won’t post, generally.  Why would they?  Your blog/Facebook/Twitter is generally a positive space, unless you’ve been so psychodramatic that you’ve actually edged out all the #1s and now the #2s and #3s are in the majority.

(NOTE: This sad state can be assumed if you’re in high school.  Everyone’s nutty in high school.  Be prepared to be flayed alive, should you complain.)

So when you do post, what do you actually accomplish?  You get a feeling of moral correctness that is not at all justified.  You get friends, using this as an excuse to tell you how wonderfully wise you are.  You get some people quietly stepping away, not wanting to be on the train that’s rapidly heading for another collision.  And you piss off the person you’re posting about, at which point they often post their own interpretations of what’s wrong with your relationship, which gets their own cascades of “Attaboys” and “You go, girl!” and “Santa loves me, this I know, for my friend she told me so!”

What you do not get:

  • Actual wisdom.
  • Forward movement with your relationship.
  • Presents from Santa.

As such, I try not to post about a personal foible until it’s so dead that nobody even thinks about it any more… And usually, I make damn sure that it’s clear that I was the one at fault.  Because otherwise, what I get is a big ol’ tide of supportive nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, pals.  I appreciate your being on my side.  But I want that to be because I’m on the side of genuine truth and justice, not just because I sound good.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I came from a family that taught me that any wound could be healed via good communication.  No matter how bad things got, I was told, if you just opened up an earnest dialogue and devoted yourself to listening to each other’s love languages, you could mend every grievance.

So my relationships were long, torturous things.  If I thought there was the slightest chance we could still work it out, I’d spend hours, days, month hashing out what that inflection had meant.  I never broke up before I had sucked the absolute last bit of enjoyment from a relationship; by the time we were done, we were wrung as sponges.

My recent breakups, however, worry me.  They’ve been short, sweet… even curt.  “I don’t think this is going to make me happy; I can’t do this.”  And it doesn’t mean that the other person is evil, but it does mean that the effort I’d have to put into this relationship to make it functional is beyond what I’m capable of giving now.

So when I break up?  I feel cold.  Mercenary.  As though I hadn’t given it a real effort.

That worries me.  But I’m married now, and I owe it to Gini to have largely healthy secondary relationships.  If I’m upset all weekend because someone said something that got me all butthurt, then that ruins Gini’s time as well.  That’s not fair to her, spending her time rehabilitating ol’ mopey here.  So there’s a certain callous calculation that runs through my mind now: if my lover can’t make me happy X% of the time, time to bail.  If you keep making me sad, I can’t spend my time trying to narrow down whether it’s my oversensitivity or your undersensitivity… if this doesn’t stop, you gotta go.

Which sucks.  There’s a part of me that wants to go, “Oh, let’s spend the next several months revamping our communication so I can be stronger and wiser.” After all, that approach did work with Gini, who by all rights should be my ex-wife now. Sometimes, that focused love and effort pans out.

So what am I now?  An uglier man?  Less caring?  That concerns me.  It’s a form of strength, I guess, but it also feels like a big weakness.  I feel like someone who threw a human being aside for convenience – give me what I need, irrational as that may be, or I’m not staying.  And it feels like I’m missing out on growth opportunities to find my own weaknesses.

It’s also why I don’t publicize my relationships.  Gini’s the only one who gets the rhapsodic “I’m in love” entries on Ye Olde Blog… Because if I add someone to my blog’s cast of characters, and make my readers invested in them, then if it doesn’t work out I have to find a good way to drag them off stage.

I’ve seen that happen to others in other blogs.  It’s ugly.  People take sides, usually with the blogger, making snarky-but-helpful comments about how you’re better off without them, prying to know what exactly caused the breakup, encouraging stung responses from the newly ex-ified as her motivations are dragged out in front of everyone.  And because of that, I usually will make mentions for someone’s cleverness (and anyone I date is clever), but not go all happy-dance to announce that I’m with someone.  Hell, I’m willing to bet you didn’t know about the previous breakups (which were, largely and thankfully, friendly ones).

That’s caused issues.  “Why am I not in your electronic life?” they ask, hinting that I should post about my love for them.  Well, I don’t put you in my e-life because you might not be in the real one some day.  Awkward, ugly… And true.

I dunno.  I’m prone to making dumb-ass, cryptic comments about something that’s annoying me in relationships, which I probably shouldn’t (even if I never make a cryptic comment that’s related to a trouble with only one person).  But once that relationship’s done?  It’s over.  I’ve had my say.  From then on, I’ll elucidate only when asked.

Which is worrisome now, because my exes may have a different take.  Used to be, I’d give it such a running go that you could say that I was needy, I was angry, I was childish, but you couldn’t say I didn’t care.  Now?  I don’t even have that.

(And yes, I’m still with my “core” relationships of A and B.  Thankfully.  Those partings would require an official announcement, as Gini and I have been dating both of them for almost four happy years at this point.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“So you play a lot at the dungeon,” I asked.  “You’re clearly very sensual and body-oriented.  Can I ask why are you sexually monogamous?”

“Couple of reasons, some bad,” she replied.  “The bad one is that I’ve got it very good with my partner and don’t want to screw things up.”

“Stop right there,” I said.  “That’s a good reason.  An awesome reason.  Don’t you dare think that’s a bad reason for being monogamous.”

One of the things that pisses me off about poly folk is their insistence that poly is some higher level of relationship, and if you can’t hack poly, then you’re a lesser form of being.  This is usually expounded the loudest by people who are trying very hard to get into your pants.
But monogamy isn’t better or worse than poly; it’s simply a different dynamic, and trying to judge which method is superior is like having heated debates on whether the fork or spoon is more awesome.  It’s all about what you want.

And look, even within poly relationships, there’s a limit.  I’m always sexually curious, and I have some new deep and caring friendships who mean the world to me… But right now, I have a wife and two wonderful long-term girlfriends and a serious dating partner.  That’s really about all I can handle.  It’s difficult keeping that many relationships spinning at times, and adding one more serious, full-time relationship would probably throw everything out of whack.

So in a sense, I’m in the same place as my friend: reaching for another full-time girlfriend would probably spoil this very good thing I have going here, and I don’t want to risk that.  And I can’t see why that’s bad.

Not wanting to be polyamorous because you’re afraid of losing the solid, loving relationship you have now?  Valid.  Wonderful.  Eminently defensible.  Nobody has to be poly, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you something.  Probably something that’s not worth too much in the first place.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

If your kid’s five years old and has never had a busted arm, or a cut head, or at least a couple of bruises, then your kid’s probably in trouble.

Now, I know that sounds horrible, as though I’m wishing broken arms upon toddlers.  I’m not.  But if a kid is exploring properly, she’s going to fall down occasionally – and fall down hard.  The cuts are the sign of a kid pushing the envelope properly, finding the edges of their knowledge and skill by occasionally sailing right over them.

Learning is failing.  A child who’s never had a bruise is a child who’s never taken a risk.

Likewise, I think relationships without bruises aren’t really good relationships.  You don’t want a relationship that’s all bruises (just as you don’t want a child falling down the stairs every day), but a relationship that’s all happiness is one that’s often static.

I’ve known happy couples who’ve told me, “We’ve never had an argument!”  And more often than not, those are the same couples who’ve split up after a decade because they quietly grew apart… or the couples who, as it turns out, didn’t have sex for three years because one partner didn’t want to and the other didn’t want to cause trouble.

A lot of the conflict-free relationships are inherently reductive – as in, “My going out on Friday nights with the girls bothers you?  Well, I’ll stop doing that.  Oh, and your playing World of Warcraft bothers me, so you should stop doing that.”  And slowly but surely, in these well-meaning, reductive relationships, you quietly give up everything that would cause the other partner stress.

It’s meant to be kind.  In a way, it is.  But eventually, you’re both bumping up against each other in the Venn intersection of each other’s comfort zones, which is often a very tiny and bland place indeed.

No, for me, relationships involve bruises.  You’re growing, taking risks, learning – and sometimes that’s going to inadvertently put an elbow in your lover’s eye.  You apologize.  You figure out what you could do better.  And then sometimes you discover this new thing you enjoy doing is going to be a little ouchy until both of you adjust, and you acknowledge that “comfort” is something that’s often overrated, and when it’s done you’re both the stronger for it.

If it’s a growing relationship, there are going to be growing pains.  It’s not always pleasant, but that’s often the way of ultimately good things.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So when I discussed how I was unwilling to help Gini clean the house to her spartan standards, I got a fair amount of silence.  The few comments I did get went mostly along the lines of, “…yeah, I think that’s you.”

I think many people’s reactions could be summed up by this comment:

“This whole ‘I don’t support Gini in this because I don’t need to because it’s her hobby that I have no interest in’ strikes me as contradicting a post of yours I really liked from a few years back, where you talked about how both you and Gini sort of adjusted your housekeeping standards around each other and found a sweet spot, where you’d pick up clutter and become more aware of your environment because you knew it’d please her, and vice versa. THAT, to me, is an expression of how awesome your relationship is.”

Here’s the thing, though: This is that exact same essay, told from a slightly different point of view.

In relationships, we’re told all about how giving is love, doing stuff for your partner is love, sacrifice is love.  And that’s what our culture interprets as “romantic” – every rom-com ends with one partner giving up some aspect of his/her life to be a better match with his or her mate.  So when I say, “I’m willing to do this for Gini,” that’s pre-programmed to give you the warm fuzzies.

But while boundary-setting may not be romantic, it’s every bit as valid to a functioning relationship…. And you write that off at your peril.  We’ve all seen the horrid relationships where a guy finds the love of his life, gives up all his hobbies and outside interests and friends for her, and then she leaves because he’s not the man she used to love.

Sacrifice and giving is but one aspect of a healthy relationship.  The other is knowing when to say “Fuck that noise.”

Is it romantic for Gini to have said, “You know what, Ferrett?  I can’t reassure you of my love as often as you’d like.  Either learn to keep it to yourself, or get the fuck out.”  Of course it’s not.  Viewed through our cultural lens, it’s rather cold and clinical.  It’s the speech of the first, bad girlfriend in the movie who throws the noble hero out on his ass before he finds the true love of his life.

But the alternative was her putting up with a behavior that irritated her to the point where she’d either have to leave, or would have to compromise her own self-esteem to the point where she’d be constantly miserable.

The reason we’re together is because Gini was willing to tell me to GTFO.  And God bless her.

This so-called “sweet spot” of house cleaning is actually a constant, low-grade irritation to the both of us.  In an ideal world, Gini would prefer that she lived in a cleaner house; I would prefer to spend less time cleaning.  We tolerate it because we love each other, and that love helps make it go down… but it is a compromise.

And the compromise can only be negotiated because we have upper limits.  Gini is not willing to tolerate me reaching a certain level of sloppiness, because it would stress her out; I am unwilling to do exotic cleaning beyond a certain level, because it would stress me out.

The middle is formed from these extremes.

Is it romantic for me to say, “You know what, Gini?  This level of cleanliness is more than I’m willing to pitch in on; it’d be hours of effort that I’d hate, and the end result would have me living in a house that would be as uncluttered and personality-free as a hotel room, a sterile place that would make me feel uncomfortable in my own house.  So you can do it if you want, but I won’t pitch in.”  Of course it’s not.

But it’s vital, because otherwise I’d be so in love that I’d do anything for my sweetheart, and I’d clean and work and quietly resent the change.  Eventually, my whole personality would warp to become nothing more than an extension of Gini’s desires, because without that ability to say, “This will make me unhappy, and I know it” then I’d be shifted into co-dependency one gentle “Aw, why not?” at a time.

Saying “No” to your loved one is a wondrous power, one that should never be taken for granted.

Yeah, it might be nice if I just schmoopily did everything Gini wanted and never questioned…. But that’s not the real world.  As it is, I’ll clean a lot more than I want to.  Do not think that having boundaries means that I am an unsubtle oaf; I put in a lot of effort to make Gini happy, having adopted hundreds of unnatural habits to make her environment more livable for her.  I work hard at pleasing her.

But the fact that I love her does not remove my ability to have limits.  And exercising those limits is not wrong.

Boundary-patrolling is wondrously hot, and vital. If all you get out of our relationship is, “We do wonderful things for each other,” then you’re failing at the lessons we’re trying to teach. Part of the reason our relationship is so wonderful is that both of us know when to say, “Okay, no, that’s more than I’m willing to give, and so I’m not doing that. Let’s discuss alternatives.”

Romance springs from this loving climate.  This boundary between “This is what I am willing to give, and this is what I am not.”  That’s where the real power grows.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

If you’re dating me, you’re most likely polyamorous, so let me give you some wise advice:

Be a little jealous once in a while.

I don’t desire a constant jealousy – a fuming “Oh, I saw you talking with HER” isn’t going to help much.  I’m apparently a flirty person, even if I don’t always see that, and if I have to spend most of my time smoothing your feathers, well, I can’t see this working out in the long run.

But a dash of jealousy lets me know you care.

The occasional revelation that sometimes you’re envious of the attention I lavish upon others tells me you value the time we spend together.  A periodic insecurity that I might leave lets me know that I occupy a space in your life that no one else can fill.

If you’re too cool, I start to think that I’m interchangeable in your life, a nice option that you’d get by without.  If your attitude towards the orgy I just had with the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders is a constant, “Oh, that’s great, I’m sure they’re wonderful in bed,” then I start to wonder whether you love me or just don’t mind having me around when I happen to be there.

And in return, I might admit the guy you were exchanging silly puns with on Twitter last night made me twinge.  Just a teeny bit.  Nothing I can’t live with, because the name of this game is open relationships, but hey.  Sometimes we’re irrational that way, no matter how we front.  And I won’t act upon that emotion, but I’ll let you know it’s there.

Admit you’re a little nuts.  Because I know I’m a little nuts about you, love.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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