June 17, 2015 by aggiesez
This month I’ve closed chapters on two intimate relationships: one I value very much, but ended up making me more sad than not; and a shorter one that started well but quickly lost all energy.
So currently I’m single as well as solo, not really dating anyone. Which is fine, although not my preference.
Here’s what I learned from these experiences…
1. It’s always worthwhile questioning the basics, and experimenting. In the longer and more important of these relationships, over the last few months I made a big effort to learn to adapt to a lover’s growing intermittence and ambivalence. This was hard, because I hate feeling alone in a relationship (which is a big reason why monogamy doesn’t work for me, it always seems to end up there).
I prefer some level of consistent intimate connection — it can be very minor and occasional during some phases, and it can be affectionate or sexual. But if it vanishes altogether for too long, and if a lover isn’t willing to collaborate on reconnecting, it gets too frustrating for me. That’s totally subjective, and totally up to me. It’s demoralizing to keep lowering my expectations for a relationship, and then see my partner limbo under them again. Even if I know they’re not intending to do the limbo, they’re just being themselves — that’s not a dance I want to do.
I’m glad I learned, by stepping outside my comfort zone, that my tolerance for a lover’s variability is wider than I thought. I learned a lot about how not to take a lover’s variability as a personal rejection (which was hard). These skills can be useful in ongoing relationships. And: I have limits. I reach a point where hoping for connection hurts too much. And that’s when I need to back off. It sucks to start to hate hope itself.
So my onetime lover is now my friend. (Well, we’ve been friends all along, but now being lovers as well is out of the picture.) I still love him dearly, but see him more clearly. Now my connection to him doesn’t hurt, although sometimes I still miss what we had. We are still affectionate, but our contact is likely to remain infrequent (compared to what it once was).
He might fade from my life altogether, but I hope he doesn’t. I’m willing to let that particular hope live in my heart.
2. Getting clarity helps to end pain. In both relationships, I was faced with men who’d romantically and sexually left the building, but neither would say that they were altogether done. They both kept holding out vague claims that at some indefinite point they might be more present — and perhaps that’s true. I suspect they thought saying this was kinder. Anyway, in the end, I was the one who had to call time of death, since I was the one who needed clarity. And after I did, in both cases, I felt better.
Declaring that something is over may cut off options. However, if those options are only theoretical, sometimes cutting them off is best. Less emotional clutter.
The short-term, less involved relationship was an easy call. Tepid is not a turn-on for me, especially just a couple of months in. (He made a strong start, but sputtered quickly.) He said he “plays the long game” in relationships, but to me his long game was indistinguishable from “game over.”
So I bailed. Instantly, my frustration with him lifted. He responded cheerfully, saying he just got busy, hopes to circle back later… Which he may, or may not. We haven’t really been in touch since, and that’s fine. Honestly, in this case it doesn’t matter to me whether we retain any connection at all. He’s a cool guy, I’m open to friendship, but he’ll have to muster the interest and availability to make that happen.
With my longer-term lover, we had a long, hard conversation on his visit to my town this weekend. He feels a lot of love for me in his heart, which suffices for connection for him. But I need for my intimate relationships to involve some actual intimate relating, and that’s not on offer right now. So I gave up hope that our intimate connection might rekindle — because honestly, my hope was all that was left. Telling him this was a big relief for me. A day later, I felt much better, more focused. (Yes, it was less of a breakup than an acknowledgment of change, but it still aided clarity.)
Pushing for clarity when discomfort first arises is a mistake; discomfort is instructive and thus valuable, and many difficulties are transient. But never getting clarity is torture — at least, it is for me, in my intimate relationships.
3. There must be a “there” there. I’m the kind of person who needs to feel a strong enough mutual attraction and spark (emotional and sexual) in order to want to begin or continue an intimate relationship. It doesn’t need to be a WHAM! experience of total passion. (I think the Fuck Yes or No stance is facile; attraction is more nuanced in the real world.) But it has to feel like it has enough mutual energy.
With the shorter term relationship, with a married poly guy, I made the mistake of getting drawn into a lot of “poly overhead” (meeting his wife and kids, long discussions about relationship preferences, etc.) before he and I had explored at all how interested we were in each other. Seriously, we spent far more time discussing sexual health than actually having sex! Affectionate texting sustained my interest at first, but when even that dropped off, I was done.
So I know this about myself: although mutual affection and attraction can emerge over time, it’s a mistake for me to put any significant effort into a relationship before that spark has emerged and established itself pretty well. If we’re both very interested — enough that we both make ourselves available to explore our connection, cool. But if I have to jump through hoops before much initial dating happens, only to discover that mutual interest or availability is lacking after all? That’s just annoying. But it’s up to me to set my boundaries on up-front overhead.
With my longer-term relationship, there is still a “there” there (mutual love and respect, genuine friendship that has weathered adversity, plus we did share a strong romantic and sexual connection over many months), so that case warranted my effort. But now, that “there” has drifted way, way over there — below my horizon for the most part. Time to stop trying. Even hope takes effort.
4. Pushing for accountability is usually pointless. When ending the intimate part of a relationship, it’s so tempting to rehash who did what, and what was “really” going on, questioning each other’s intent. There’s a deep emotional urge to be right, to be justified.
If I feel the need to own up to my own stuff (and I often do), I’ll offer that, as well as apologies for the pain I caused, if any. But that is something I choose to offer, for my own sense of integrity — it does not oblige others to reciprocate by owning their shit. I do prefer that they own up, of course. But that is not something which I am owed. So owning up with that secret agenda is rather manipulative, and will probably have no result anyway.
Except in cases of grievous betrayal, pushing a former partner for accountability is almost always wasted energy, and it causes defensiveness that usually cuts off options for friendship. If you really want to stay friends, best to just accept that you grew apart, or that there wasn’t much there to begin with.
This has been an especially hard lesson for me to learn. Personally, I always like to be right — especially when my heart is on the line. If we’re concluding our intimacy, I’d like there to be a damn good reason. But breaking up (or calling time of death on a relationship) is best handled with gentle clarity and acceptance.
5. Love is hard to find, but keeping it is not the point. Hell, sexual compatibility isn’t easy to come by, either! When love and attraction happen in compatible ways, that’s wonderful and I treasure it. And it’s ok to nurture continuity in these connections — but permanence is not my goal. (Which is good, because it’s never really possible, regardless of relationship style.) So, when nurturing a relationship doesn’t rekindle it, I’m willing to let it go when it’s time. If it revives later, I’ll consider that option at that time. It’s not real until it’s happening.
I won’t stay in a relationship for the sake of having a relationship; just like I won’t stay just because it’s hard to leave. My intimate connections need vitality –and that doesn’t show up on my doorstep every day. As much as I treasure intimate relationships, I don’t curl up and die without them. This isn’t a part of life where “fake it til you make it” works.
…Overall, I’m glad I’ve chosen a way of life that allows me to be open to intimate connection that happens in many ways and levels, not just the all-or-nothing of monogamy.
And having closed the intimate chapters of two relationships that became unsatisfying, being relieved of that stress and frustration, I feel better — if a little lonely at the moment. But that will pass. I’m good on my own, and I’m working on an important and absorbing project. Overall, life is good — some challenges with work, but that’s temporary.
I still have bumpy moments. I do strongly prefer to have affection, romance and sex in my life. I’m keeping my radar up, and reaching out. But bouts of singlehood are inevitable, and I can roll with it. I have much love from friends, and that’s a treasure, too.