October 28, 2014 by aggiesez
I lead a pretty busy life — and so do, generally, my friends, and my partners. I also tend to find no shortage of interesting, cool, worthwhile things to do with my time. Somewhere along the line I found myself issuing invitations with the concluding caveat: “invitation, not obligation.”
…abbreviated to: INO
As in, “Emily and I are taking a blues dancing class tonight at 7. Join us if you like, INO.”
Lately it occurs to me that this is no mere polite caveat, but a foundational application of autonomy: of my own self sufficiency, and of signaling respect for others’ choices and preferences.
A core reason I prefer solo polyamory is that I deeply dislike entitlement and taking people for granted. It’s bad enough when people assume they’re entitled to my time or attention; or when they don’t appreciate the time, attention, comfort, or affection I offer them. (Which is a big part of why I prefer not living with my intimate partners.) It’s far worse when I catch myself doing that to others. I’m definitely not perfect.
When I issue an invitation or offer tagged with INO, it’s a reminder to be conscious of others’ autonomy. To remove the implied pressure that someone “should” want to be with me, spend time with me.
Each time I write INO, I consider what it means. How would I handle “no thanks” for an answer? Is my invitation wholehearted, do I really hope that person will accept? Can I let go of any expectation of a response at all? Am I really issuing a nudge, not just an invitation — trying to get more of someone’s time or attention without simply asking for what I really want? Am I more interested in having a specific person’s company, or simply in having some company?
These questions can be uncomfortable. Sometimes I am indeed strongly attached to an outcome, hoping that my invitation will be accepted — not just with a “yes,” but with “HELL FUCKING YEAH!!!” Sometimes I’m just being polite, not really wanting or caring about the other person’s company. Sometimes I’m not owning up to what I really want to ask. Maybe I’m secretly totaling up their sum of responses, reading them as tea leaves that might portend the kind of connection they wish to foster with me (instead of just asking them about that). All part of being human.
Sometimes when I go through this process, I realize that INO alone won’t cut it for a specific invitation. For instance, if I really need an answer, I’ll say “Let me know by [date].” Or if it’s honestly important to me that this person attend, I’ll say: “No is a totally fine answer, but I’m really hoping you’ll say yes, because I’d especially love to share this with you” — which, yeah, probably does put some pressure on the person considering my invitation, but it’s better to be honest if that’s what I mean.
The point is, no matter how they respond, I’m reminding myself that what they want to do with their time is up to them, not up to me. Because I’d much rather that people spend time with me because they want to — not because they feel obliged or manipulated, or because I’ve become a default/placeholder companion to fill otherwise empty time.
INO gives me space to check myself. To consider why I’m issuing an invitation, and how to roll with any outcome. To consider what I really want to share, and why. To not just spend time with others out of habit or obligation. To care for myself, and give others space to care for themselves.
Best of all, INO makes space to take “yes” for an answer, unreservedly, and to enjoy the sharing that results.
Plus, it fits so nicely and neatly into a text message. Handy.
UPDATE: HOW INO LOOKS ON THE RECEIVING END
My sweetheart IO read this post and offered this feedback on how INO looks to someone receiving an invitation with that context. Posted here with his permission (because he’s currently not on his computer often):
So glad you shared the INO concept with others. I think it’s one of the most unique and creative approaches you have developed for yourself, and it’s also very useful for others.
I have really appreciated being on the receiving end of INO. It has done wonders for helping me be aware of, and address, my own previously unspoken and unresolved wants and caveats regarding my ability to answer requests with integrity.
He said he may have more to add on this later, but he wanted to offer this perspective for now.