March 6, 2013 by aggiesez
All writers need to recharge. Without intending to, I took a break for about a month from this blog. Not that I didn’t have anything to say, but I found myself prioritizing time in other ways for a while. Looking back over how I’ve spent my time in the past couple of months, I see it reveals some interesting things about what the solo poly identity and experience means to me and my life.
So here’s what’s been going on:
Evolution and peace
I’m one of those people who thinks a lot through my fingers, through the act of writing. (Yes, as a kid Harriet the Spy was my heroine!) I actually have been doing a ton of writing in the past month, almost every day — but mostly in private, by hand, on paper.
I’ve always kept a journal. I find that I think differently when writing in this focused, slower, unstructured, physical non-goal-oriented process. It’s more emotional — and different themes, patterns, and epiphanies emerge than when I’m writing articles, blog posts, or participating in online discussions via my laptop.
Yesterday I finished filling up a Moleskine journal and realized, wow, that only took a couple months! Normally I take 6-8 months to consume an entire journal. Looking back over my entries since the beginning of February (which were almost daily, unusual for me) I saw that my posts were suspiciously upbeat, not angsty or whiny (as is usually the case, I often journal to vent).
For several months now, my life has been the best it’s ever been. Much of that is due to the space and freedom that living the solo life affords me. Even though I spend lots of time with others (more on that below), living solo allows me enough alone time to relax, be quiet, chill out (I’m shambling my way through Walking Dead Season 3 right now), and contemplate.
I’ve lived with others for most of my life, and I may again someday — although with friends, not with a primary partner. I’ve learned when I have a primary partner, I tend to identify too strongly with that person and that relationship — at the expense of myself, my own goals, and my own experience and perspective. A primary relationship consumes too much of my living space, headspace, daily life, and autonomy.
Personally, when I have a primary (or primary-ish) partner I am not my best self, I don’t make my best choices, and I can’t truly be present for the people I love in the deep way I prefer — including for that partner. Which of course defeats the purpose of entering that kind of relationship in the first place.
This isn’t just a matter of me not having found “the right” primary partner, anymore than a lesbian just hasn’t found “the right” man. For me, this issue arises whenever I have anything that significantly resembles a primary-style relationship — and I’ve experienced both healthy and destructive ones through the decades. This is just how I am. And it is definitely a feature, not a bug.
For me, the problem is structural. Living with a lover, or getting to the point that a partner and I routinely depend on each other for many aspects of daily life (coordinating schedules, providing each other’s primary baseline of emotional support through daily contact, and other forms of subtle day-to-day enmeshment) is simply not the best way for me to be.
Yet for most of my life, even after I embraced my polyamorous nature over a decade ago, I assumed that primary-style life enmeshment was the “best” or most valid/significant type of relationship. And I didn’t think this was optional. I subconsciously conflated deep emotional commitment and investment (which, for me, is love) with the primary-style relationship structure.
This led me to doubt myself: If I didn’t want that structure, or function well within it, then how could I possibly really love anyone in a deep, meaningful way? Did that make me less of an adult? An inferior person, lover, or partner? This self-doubt hindered my ability to experience joy, gratitude, and to fully value my connections with others.
Yet I do love, deeply and meaningfully, outside the primary-style relationship structure. I do experience emotional commitment. My relationships can be quite “serious” and significant. My heart is no dilettante. And this applies to relationships that are sexual or romantic, and those that aren’t. I feel a lot of deep love and commitment for my closest friends, and I never dismiss them as “just” friends. I’m starting to see the societal distinction between lovers/partners and friends as unimportant, or perhaps even destructive.
I don’t delve into deep love quickly, and not every intimate or sexual connection I make needs to be about sweeping romance or substantial life entanglement. I’m not trying to avoid love — or to avoid emotional risk or pain. I just try to love consciously, to not treat it like an uncontrollable, unpredictable force of nature. I don’t “fall” into it. I can see it coming, and I choose to step into it, or not. Sometimes I still get sideswiped by strong emotions, which is fine — but I tend to not let them rule me, or my choices.
So what if other people sometimes deem my relationships “strictly casual” or inferior because I don’t seek daily-life enmeshment? So what if people think I’m “missing out” on what they assume love is, or should be? I know my heart — so their judgements are their issue, not mine.
Most importantly, I think I’ve finally stopped judging myself because I don’t want to structure my life around a lover or partner. I really am good (in fact, best) while being the center of my own daily life. Overcoming the guilt and shame that this preference makes me “selfish” or “immature” was hard. It took a long, long time, and a lot of experience. Social conditioning is a bitch, quite thorny and insidious. Even though I’ve known for years intellectually that healthy, important relationships can take any form and have any duration, and that it’s indeed healthy to prioritize yourself — emotionally some part of me was still gauging myself by the standard social checklist.
I didn’t consciously arrive at this point, but my journal reveals the effects of this evolution. Real, deep change takes time — and no matter how much you want it or work for it, it happens at its own pace.
For most of the last half of last year, I wasn’t dating anyone. The first half of 2012 I was emotionally slammed by two brutal breakups and an interstate move. Starting this blog was part of my recovery process — although it’s since yielded far greater meaning and value to me. I made the effort to meet guys to date (I’m straight), mostly through OK Cupid. But no one really clicked for me.
In the meantime I started getting reconnected with the local poly community here, including attending the weekly meetups. I made some excellent new friends there, and started attending events I heard of through this circle — play parties and cuddle parties especially.
Whether or not I’m dating anyone, when I can regularly give and receive touch and affection (sexual or otherwise), I feel more stable and less lonely. So these parties and other events are joyful and healing for me — especially because of their emphasis on communication and consent. They’re not just anything-goes orgies or meat markets; they’re gatherings rooted in trust.
Through these gatherings I met two wonderful guys who have since become my lovers and friends. And in the meantime, another man who’d become a friend has started to shift into being my lover as well. They’re all very different people, and they bring me different kinds of joy. I’m greatly enjoying exploring these men and my connection with each of them, and what all of this brings out in me. And the sex, oh yes, the sex is delicious!
Nurturing these budding connections, and of course scheduling dates, takes some time and energy — but so far this process is easy and joyful for me (and, I gather, for them). Mainly because none of us seems to be striving for these connections to become anything in particular, to develop along any path or toward any goal. We see each other when we can, when it works out mutually. We stay in contact, but not every day or according to any pattern. We spend time together in different ways.
I wouldn’t say I’m “in love” with any of these men, or they with me, or that any of us are even hoping for that level of emotional investment. We’re exploring and nurturing friendships that include intimacy, joy and sex — as well as plenty of clear communication that would probably be considered unromantic in mono-land. They all know about each other, although I don’t believe as yet they have met each other. No one asks or expects anyone to conceal or compartmentalize relationships. So far they are all treating me with superb respect and consideration, not as less important than them or their other partners in any way — including my one current lover who is married. I try to offer the same respect and consideration in return. These men respect and value my autonomy, as I do theirs. This is great. And for me, it’s a relief.
To me, whether these new connections deepen substantially or endure for months or years doesn’t matter. Whether they develop regular patterns or schedules doesn’t matter. Whether the sex remains part of how we connect is immaterial. Whatever bumps and changes arise, I’m pretty confident that we’ll each navigate them in healthy ways. So far we all seem pretty self-aware, responsible, and willing to communicate and negotiate. And if any of these connections starts feeling unhealthy, skewed, or destructive for me, I am confident that I can let the sex and romance go with kindness and appreciation for what it offered — and probably retain (or even strengthen) the friendship afterward.
In short, the last few months of dating feel like the healthiest, sanest, and yet most joyful way to begin intimate relationships that I’ve ever experienced. And if I’d been in a primary-style relationship, or even had a pre-existing ongoing relationship with a lover, I don’t think I would have gotten to this point. Starting from a clean slate, being completely solo with no partners, was a scary place to restart my intimate life — but probably also the best place to start.
I’m a very social person and have dozens of friends I see or interact with at least occasionally. Among these there are about a half dozen who are my closest emotional intimates, who I love deeply and feel considerable commitment for, who I trust enough to open up to in my weakest and worst moments.
Last year, when I was going through so much heartache and change, these people were there for me — staunch allies, anchoring me and giving me lots of love and acceptance. And also calling me on my bullshit and cracking me up on a regular basis. They were more steadfast than any lover has ever been for me — and one of them is even my former spouse! (He and have had a far better relationship since we got unmarried a few years ago.)
A little over a year ago, diabetes nearly claimed the life of one of these friends. But instead, it only claimed half of one of his legs — and I’m so grateful that he’s still around, being wise and a wiseass in equal measure. That experience helped me see in a clear, brutal way how truly valuable such deep friendships are. I consider such connections to be the cornerstone of my emotional life, a core reason for being alive, and my greatest wealth. They have an enduring essence, and a level of flexibility and compassion, that help make life worth living.
So inside my head, I’m dismantling the friend/lover dichotomy. For me, the basic connection of friendship is the root of any relationship I care to have. From that, many things can grow: friends I can hike, drink, or attend a concert with; friends who I engage in deep conversation; friends who share sensual and sexual pleasures; friends who I don’t see or connect with much for weeks or months, then something happens and we’re totally there for each other; friends where we mostly teach or mentor each other in some aspect of life or work; friends I interact with mostly online; friends I talk to most days; friends with whom I share passionate romance; friends I would nurse through illness and comfort through dying; friends I would die for — or at least help hide a body.
Some of these friends are lovers, some of them are even family. But for me, in the last couple of months especially I’ve recognized that friendship is my most fundamental and valuable way to connect with people — and I never want to devalue it. Also, I try to let my friends know how I care for them, and how much I appreciate having them in my life, however and whenever we connect.
A couple months ago we launched a survey to gather a wide range of input and experience — and so far I’m stunned that so far we have nearly 500 responses! Seriously, I thought we’d get 100, maybe 200 responses over several months! I am gratified, humbled, and encouraged by this strong response.
Through this survey, people have been telling the most amazing stories, and sharing valuable insights. Many have written the equivalent of 1000+ -word essays! Mostly it’s been poly people responding, but we have heard also from lots of kinksters, several swingers, many people who consider themselves “open” but not specifically poly, and even a few dozen monogamous people who would like for more people to be aware of relationship options.
The age of respondents ranges from high schoolers to septuagenarians. While nearly three quarters of our respondents identify as female, we’ve heard from plenty of men — and also an intriguing range of genderqueer, gender fluid, trans, and non-gender-identified people, of every sexual orientation I’d ever heard of (and some I hadn’t). The array of relationship styles they describe is fascinating. As are their insights on the advantages and challenges of nonstandard relationships; what their “ideal” relationships might look like; what might make the world a friendlier place for nonstandard relationships; and what individuals can do to help bring about such social change.
To me, perhaps the most thought-provoking responses were the slew of surveys (about 40) that came in a couple of weeks ago from people who identify as asexual or aromantic. This is a community of which I knew little, and which I learned I had some unconscious presumptions about. I found it difficult to distinguish their significant intimate relationships from friendship — and through their contributions, I starting having the realization about the core importance of friendship that I discussed above. I’m very grateful for this insight and hope to discuss it more with these respondents.
And I’m also grateful for the education I received, through unintentionally offending people, about how trans people perceive and prefer to discuss gender identity. I changed how our survey asked about gender-related demographic info, which involved a fair amount of data juggling, but I’m glad I did it.
So look for more to come soon on the book project, as we swing into action on it. We hope to have preview chapters in the next couple of months — and we’d appreciate any support folks can offer, including taking our survey and spreading the word.
Yeah, work. Someone’s gotta do it around here, since my cats sure aren’t paying the bills. (I believe all their income is stashed in Cayman Islands accounts.) I’m self employed as a writer, editor and trainer, and lately work has been extremely busy. Which is good — but which is another reason why I’ve slacked off on this blog.
Speaking of which — time for me to meet some deadlines! Thanks for reading, and look for more soon!