Navigating Non Escalator Relationships

aka “So, you’re in a non-escalator relationship- what now?”
(dedicated to ‘Alexander’)

no-escalatorThe most common script that we follow in relationships is that of the Relationship Escalator. And that’s a model that works for a lot of people. But, increasingly, people- especially in the non-monogamous community- are challenging that default script and exploring what it means to have relationships that are not on the Escalator.

And, let’s be honest- most relationships you will experience in your life (including platonic ones) are not on an Escalator.

Non-escalator relationships can be short term and casual, and they can also be long term, emotionally invested relationships. They are build-your-own-lunch-box relationships, relationships a la carte. But, how do people in non escalator relationships measure the investment? How do they read emotional commitment, security, and the ongoing life of the relationship, when they aren’t defaulting to the regular milestones of dating, moving in, getting married, and so forth?

58ddb1c5ae37f0734abdebfdc58a08b0Something I’ve both experienced and witnessed in my explorations of this non-escalator paradigm, is that when we don’t talk about this stuff, and instead fill in the blanks based on a default set of assumptions we carry about the other person, then we end up either trying to control the relationships we are in, or being controlled by it. And neither of those options is much fun. Personally, I would rather see Relationships be spaces of freedom.

I think it is important to remember that we aren’t following a script, we are co-creating a relationship. All relationships have the possibility of being an ongoing conversation- and Non-Escalator relationships more so, because there’s no script to default to when there’s uncertainty (though, we might try to). Radical relationships, in general, are about making conscious choices about relating.

Awesome-quote-Running-awayWhen you’re Solo, and looking for non escalator relationships only, there can be a fear that the “RE” established people you meet are only dating you to get a temporary fix. You wonder if they are using you- consciously perhaps but unconsciously more likely- to spice up their sex life or let out their frustrations, or exercise some otherwise unrealised disfunction or fantasy. I’ve personally had a recurring fear of becoming part of the ‘Disneyland Relationship’ where the married family person goes to a fun-loving singleton to escape the reality of their responsibilities. It’s depleting to your self-relationship to feel used. So, us non-escalator folks look for certain things as marks of commitment and emotional investment- things that say “Yup, this person’s going to come back for another date!” and “This person recognizes and respects who I am.”

The Relationship Escalator has implicit marks of commitment and investment- each floor reached symbolises deeper intertwining, like moving in together, sharing finances, getting married, having children. And, when people are on an escalator in their relationship, when they are invested in the concept that their relationship has a set destination, they will go to great lengths to troubleshoot and address the conflicts and areas where intimacy has been lost. They’ll go to therapists and counsellors and do the work to figure out what went wrong and how to course correct.

I hear of so many couples- married, common law, primary, nesting, however you want to define it- going to relationship Counselling. But how often do people think of going to Counselling with their partner when it’s a non escalator relationships that’s on the rocks?

“You don’t measure love in time. You measure love in transformation. Sometimes the longest connections yield very little growth, while the briefest of encounters change everything. The heart doesn’t wear a watch- it’s timeless. It doesn’t care how long you know someone. It doesn’t care if you had a 40 year anniversary if there is no juice in the connection. What the heart cares about is resonance. Resonance that opens it, resonance that enlivens it, resonance that calls it home. And when it finds it, the transformation begins…”

~ Jeff Brown

Relationships that are decidedly not on the escalator, don’t have to lack direction or purpose. Being off the escalator and without a predetermined trajectory doesn’t mean it’s not going to require conflict resolution or course correction. For those of us traversing the terrain of the non-escalator paradigm, we need to know that we aren’t going to be disposable in relationships. We need to know that we aren’t going to be dropped at the first upset, the first sign of conflict, or the third or fourth. And, while we don’t want to see a ring on our fingers as a symbol of contractual obligation, we do value assurances. We value knowing the landscape, and knowing that the relationships we share can still have direction, intention, and milestone moments, like any other relationship. The likelyhood is, we aren’t in it for the promise of a 40-year anniversary; we’re in it for the juice, the connection- and, the potential for personal growth and transformation.

non escalator landmarks

Things small, things that might seem inconsequential in escalator relationships, can take on greater significance in Non-Escalator relationships. It’s not that these wouldn’t or couldn’t be significant in escalators, it’s just that, in a non escalator relationship, you begin to appreciate them more. Removing the options to live together or get married or share finances as things that might grant a feeling of security down the line, you have to seek the present moment affirmations that the relationship has presence and continuity and value. So an extra toothbrush appearing in your bathroom is a milestone moment because it implies they plan to come back. Defining and redefining your relationship labels marks a turning point and affirmation of the level of commitment and engagement you have with one another.

We may avoid conversation because we’re afraid it might challenge us; there is always the possibility that we may not get what we want out of the relationship if we end up having to define it. But, if we don’t communicate, if we don’t get clear on our own boundaries and relationship sandboxes, things will get messy, and we’ll get hurt. Knowing the terrain you’re crossing together is key. And it’s okay to stop and ask for directions, and make course corrections when you need to. This is not an escalator, it’s a treasure map, with multiple types of treasure chests to find.

What’s important is asking yourself what you want to explore, and asking your partners what they want to explore, and figuring out what are you each willing to explore. In all of this, you’re looking for the things you both want. And, because I know how scary it can be to have these conversations, here’s some things that you might find useful to talk about with your partners in non-escalator relationships. Some might be things worth bringing up on a date zero, others might be better saved for that toothbrush moment, when you realise that yeah, this person’s going to be sleeping over more regularly. So, go forth, and converse with your partners!

Non escalator guide


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The Perfect Poly Person

The Perfect Poly Person develops in all of us who start exploring polyamory.

Polyamorous 'perfection'?

Polyamorous ‘perfection’?

It’s this future ideal, this high-bar image of perfection inspired by the scripts presented to us about polyamory (many of them, common misconceptions), that we aspire to. We attempt to fake-it-till-you-make-it; the PPP is that glossy poster-worthy role model for How Polyamory Should Be. And, it’s good to have role models. However, I’d like to examine the problems we face when this role model is a projection we have created for ourselves.

The PPP is an extension of that “you must be perfect, you must be good, you must be nice” voice that internally critiques our actions. We each create our own unique PPP based on what we are told polyamorous relationship perfection looks like, and what we aspire our relationships to be.

 

Here’s some beliefs you might notice your inner PPP holding on to:

  • "I told everyone I'm polyamorous, guess I better stick to that now- no jumping ship!"

    “I told everyone I’m polyamorous, guess I better stick to that now- no jumping ship!”

    I don’t experience jealousy, nope not me.

  • I don’t compare myself to others.
  • If I don’t acknowledge the way my metamor makes me feel insecure, everything will work out okay.
  • I need to be dating more people or I’m not doing poly right.
  • I have to give everyone equal time or I’m not being fair to them.
  • It would be selfish and inconsiderate for me to express what I want.
  • That messed up situation wasn’t my fault, it’s their fault for doing poly wrong.
  • If I own my responsibility in this messed up situation, it’s going to make me look like I’m a bad person, cos I did poly wrong.
  • I told everyone I’m polyamorous, now I better stick to that!
  • Even though this arrangement isn’t that convenient for me, I’m going to go along with it anyway cos I don’t want to cause a disruption to everyone else’s life.
  • If my poly relationships end, that means I’m a failure, so I’m just going to keep them all going, even if they aren’t inspiring me.
  • I’m not sure my partner is really poly, so I’m just not going to tell them about all the other relationships that are developing for me- that could scare them away.

 

The inner Perfect Poly Person likes to rewrites things to avoid taking responsibility for the fuck ups, and is a master of emotional bypassing and passive communication. If we acknowledged that we messed up, it might imply that we’re just not ‘naturally polyamorous’, and given how much people can risk to explore polyamory, that’s a scary prospect.

Sometimes our PPP doesn’t want to have those difficult conversations with exes because to do so would involve acknowledging that we have fucked up just as much as the other person, and aren’t that role model for non monogamy we’d like to be.

The PPP can silence us- not just to our partners, but to ourselves. We so easily find ourselves intoxicated in relationships, being in love with the idea of the relationship more than the person themselves, and when flaws begin to show up, rather than rock the boat, we shut up and keep rowing, sometimes cramming as many other people onto the sinking ship as we can.

The PPP blames others for the mistakes in relationships and never takes on shared responsibility where it’s due. How often have you heard of a relationship breakdown where all the blame is placed on someone else? Even some of the best regarded writers in polyamory have shared their personal stories of breakups and bypassed their own degree of responsibility. As my dad might remind me, it takes two- at least- to tango.

shadowsNone of us want to hurt or harm others. But sometimes, in moments of selfish idiocy, we do. The PPP shows up in some of those moments, and in their desire to Be Perfect, can disrupt not just our own lives, but the lives of others. And usually, it’s because the PPP wants to deny the shadow-side of the emotional spectrum, it doesn’t want to admit to any fears, to any sense of loneliness, or to any anger. And, that’s problematic, especially when you consider that denying these three emotions is one of the most common triggers for betrayls within relationships, and the ideal that polyamory is seeking is an open, honest, consensual approach to non-monogamy, one that hinges heavily on the degrees of trust between everyone.

In summary, when your inner Perfect Poly Person is running the show, you’re showing up as a set of expectations for yourself and who you think you need to be, rather than as the wonderful, genuine, beautifully flawed You. And, you might end up sabotaging your own relationships without realising it.

So, what do we do?

self-hugFirst of all, I think we need to have some compassion for ourselves. It’s okay to mess up. It’s okay to be imperfect. As far as I know, there’s no dissertation committee waiting to asses us on our successes and failures in relationships, let alone poly relationships.

 

Here’s some things I’ve taken to reminding myself on a regular basis:

      • It’s OKAY to screw up- as long as you can own it and be willing to talk about it.
      • It’s okay to have conflict in relationships. In fact, a healthy conflict process is a worthy goal for long term relationships, and far preferable to cycles of hostile dependence or conflict avoidance.
      • It’s okay to have illogical and unreasonable desires- and it’s better to give voice to them (disclaimers of irrationality included) than to suppress them. Yes! You have permission to ask for what you want! Remember that expressing something doesn’t obligate anyone to meeting those needs for you. However, asking for what you want is a fantastic way to grow communication within relationships.
      • It’s completely natural to feel jealousy and insecurity around a new relationship developing for a partner. Acknowledging these feelings and examining them is important to do. It’s also totally okay if you don’t feel any jealousy or insecurity about new relationships in your partners’ lives.
      • It’s okay to feel that something has changed in a relationship and to talk about it.
      • It’s okay to fall out of love, and it’s okay for the love you feel to change and morph- give yourself permission to talk about it when that happens.

What I’ve found, is that, when we embrace our own vulnerability and share that with our trusted friends and lovers, the inner PPP has no choice but to surrender and melt. It’s still there, a whisper in the background- and I think I’m okay with that.

Perhaps ironically, I remind my inner PPP that the perfection is in the imperfection, that it’s wise to stay humble, remembering that I don’t have all the answers- that none of us do- and this sense of humility and vulnerability is actually the ‘perfect’ way to go about having relationships, because it gives us permission to show up as our genuine, imperfect selves, and maybe even be loved for who we are in the moment, rather than the impossible ideal we are desperately trying to become.

photo (1)
 Some further reading that might interest you:
Successful Non-Monogamy (includes free download) and The Good Girl Recovery Program (both by Marcia Baczynski, whose coaching has been invaluable for me).Gratitude to all the friends who helped me flesh out the ideas in this article (you all know who you are), and to my friend and colleague Mislav Marhonic for offering editorial guidance on this piece. Love you all!

Expanding and Exploring

“You have permission to ask for what you want.”

Do you really know how to play?

Do you really know how to play?

These words of relationship advice, from Marcia Baczynski, shifted my perspective about the relationships I was in at the time, leading to an evolution in the way I have found myself approaching relationships today. I had been growing fed up of intimate relationships where it felt like no one ever knew what they were doing. In bed, I too often felt like a beautiful musical instrument, with a novice randomly plucking strings, hoping to coax a melody- or concerto- from this highly complex form. I didn’t want that any more. I wanted that to change.

Last summer at a music festival, I fell in love on the dance floor. The crowds parted and I became mesmerized by a young man spinning a glowing staff. My attention caught, I complimented him on his dancing, saw him again briefly a few days later- but it wasn’t until running into him several months later in the city that we actually had a chance to connect.

The incredibly beautiful, exotic, fire and poi-spinning Marco had me curious. We chatted online and on the phone for a couple of months before going on a date zero- I was a little hesitant to date someone eight years younger than me, but I soon forgot about that and had an amazing time. On our next date, we discovered that we lived ten minutes walk away from one another.

Marco puts extra anarchy into relationship anarchy, in a really good way. It’s almost impossible to keep up with how many women he might have dates with. His work schedule is on call and often unpredictable and so dates are sometimes really spontaneous. One of the things I enjoy the most is that the dynamic he and I share together is one of experimentation and adventure.

Where would the electricity be without willingness to experiment?

Where would the electricity be without willingness to experiment?

Our dates have included a trip to the STI clinic (followed by lunch), midnight booty calls, loud and kinky morning wake up calls, making a stilt-walking elephant together, an epic sexy after party in our hotel room where we mostly observed and directed our friends having an orgy, eating ice cream together in his bedroom hammock, sensually grinding together on the dance floor after almost 24 hours of no sleep, poi spinning lessons in my back yard, and whispering poetry to one another into the wee hours of the morning. We talk about kinky things we want to try out, we share thoughts about shamanism, and we collaborate on creative projects.

From past relationship experiences, I’ve found myself growing cautious of diving too deep into clothes-ripping passion all the time. I’ve had some really beautiful connections burn out because the focus was so much on physical expression- but not so much on exploration, and as a result I would have great sex the first few times, fuelled by the excitement, adrenalyne, novelty and NRE- but it would quickly peter off, resulting in a string of six-week long relationships.

I didn’t want this to be another six week relationship.

I also found myself in a quandry over sponteniety versus consent. Marco and I were exploring the edges of our kinky personas, and both enjoyed doing so with sponteniety. He knew I was very passionate about enthusiastic consent, and expressed once that, in his perspective, the conversation around consent was taking away from the spontaneous aspect that made things so much fun.

Just because you're enjoying something, does it mean your partner is enjoying it too?

Just because you’re enjoying something, does it mean your partner is enjoying it too?

For my part, consent has become an important part of relationships and building trust. I’d experienced holding back a lot in intimate exchanges because I was afraid of having my own boundaries crossed or of crossing someone else’s unintentionally- something that had happened for me in the past. I mean, there’s always that hope that I will find partners who are 100% psychic and can read my mind to see if I’m comfortable or not- but the reality is, we can’t expect someone to know something about our intimate preferences unless we reveal that information to them, and likewise, we need to ask our partners for feedback about whether what we are doing feels good for them or not- instead of just assuming that it probably is.

One night when Marco came over to my place, I decided that I needed to ask for what I wanted. So, I put forward a proposal to him:

“Tonight, I’d like to invite you to explore me. Just do whatever you want. Follow your instincts. And I’ll give you feedback at every step. I want you to learn my body. And if something doesn’t feel good, or doesn’t do anything for me, I’ll communicate. And if it’s amazing- you’ll know, and if I know how to, I’ll guide you on how to enhance the pleasure for me.”

Never before had communication felt so sexy. As we played, I got to show him how my different erogenous zones can be connected, how a slap or a bite in just the right place can make me melt or take me to the edge. I learned things about my own body as he experimented with differing pressures in different places. And after, we talked about all sorts of other things we want to try further down the road.

After that experience, not only was the quality of our physical intimacy enhanced, but our communication around sex grew leaps and bounds too. We’d taken time to learn one another’s language. He, as someone who plays more dominant, had discovered how to read my responses, and I’d learned how to communicate with fewer words and in ways that made the communication part of the play. As a consequence of just that one night, we started to feel more comfortable with greater sponteniety. The trust we share evolved because we took one another to the edges and learned to recognise one another’s “no”.

piano maestro

“Practice Makes Perfect”

There is tremendous power in slowing down from the insane devouring passion and finding our way into a natural flow of communication between bodies. Tuning in, and learning how to read our partners, rather than just assuming we know what’s going to feel good, assuming that all people function exactly the same.  Think of the difference between someone who sits at a piano and randomly tinkers on the keys hoping to make music, versus someone who has studied and become a piano maestro, effortlessly dancing their fingers across the keys and filling the room with the sweetest music.

We may both be Solo, we may be one another’s ‘proximal’ relationship, we may be in love, but we also know this relationship may not last in this same form for all time. Marco reminds me to be present to what’s in front of me, to be present to the moment. We are growing and learning together, and there is no telling what the future may bring. I pinch myself from time to time that someone as unique and talented an individual wants to hang around with me, let alone undress me and devour me with so much passion- and it’s a passion that seems to just grow deeper and deeper.

Exploring the edges of our comfort zones, and expanding beyond them, has never felt so comfortable, nor been so fun. We explore eachother’s bodies, eachother’s minds, eachother’s souls.

And the lesson in this- that asking for what you want is one of the best things you can possibly do within a relationship- has me contemplating all the other things I have often wished for but never outright asked for from my partners. There’s a sliver of risk involved in asking. What if they say “No”, or judge you for it, or break up with you because you asked for something? That’s the fear dialogue running through our minds holding us back.

We don’t have to listen to the voice of fear. We can embrace the risk and choose- dare- to ask the ones we love and trust if they might be interested in something that we are interested in too. And when we do so, we give ourselves- and our partners- the opportunity to experiment, expand and explore new edges of being.

Endings and Evolutions

Almost all the the literature on healthy relationships is about how to stay together. Which, if you’re looking at it from a Relationship Escalator perspective, makes sense, right? We want to stay on that escalator. We want to ascend it with someone. That, after all, makes us successful at being grown up, or so we are led to believe. But, what if you aren’t interested in escalator type relationships? What about for those of us who are Singleish? The Solo adventurers among us? The Relationship Anarchists who aren’t attatched to any particular mold or outcome? Are solo style relationships ‘disposable’? Where is the literature,the self-help books, and the support forums about how to conclude relationships?

The reality is this: all relationships end.

And, when you choose a love-style that does not bind you to vows of “till death do us part”, how then do you recognise when it is time to part- and is it possible to do so without personal emotional rollercoasters?

People who are singleish will probably experience more breakups than their monogamous, escalator seeking friends. In the last two and a half years, since I separated from my ex husband, I’ve been through at least twelve “breakups”. Some of them smooth, some of them horrendous and turbulent.

kpi9I9J

There is almost nothing written about how to end relationships with integrity and positive intentions. With all the advice about how to have beautiful relationships, very little exists about how to have graceful breakups.

A while ago, I learned that integrity was one of my core values, and how to have, and conclude, my relationships with integrity is something that has become important to me. It is something I work consciously to create, as I dislike the messy, ugly, emotional breakups.

I stayed in my marriage way beyond the point when I was emotionally invested in it. It took me two years to realize that I was trying to beat a dead horse with a stick in attempting to continue a blind pursuit of a picket-fence-perfect family with him, when my heart, my dreams, my desires were already beckoning me elsewhere. When I reached the point in my marriage where I knew with certainty that I couldn’t stay married anymore, I felt awful for not having acted on the impulse sooner. I had strung him along because I didn’t want to disappoint him, I didn’t want to break his heart- even though I had been cheating on him and having an affair. I gave a lot of thought to how I could leave the relationship in a healthy way, regain some respect for myself, and honor the man I had called my partner for eight years.

There is tremendous power in walking away from a relationship that no longer feeds or nourishes you, in not binding one’s life path to another. Yet, leaving people to their journey and stepping back into your own- alone- can hurt. It can be hard- even though it is, ultimately, empowering.

There’s a beautiful point in relationships where we know one another so well we can see parts of the other person better that they can see themselves, and we grow to value the way that our partners can reflect those parts to us- but sometimes that’s uncomfortable. We aren’t always ready to go there to witness those hidden parts, and we can trigger one another because we try to see the Self that isn’t wanting to yet be seen.

Ultimately, my ex husband and I had been growing in different directions. We had both been compromising for the sake of our marriage, and neither of us was happy with that. It wasn’t easy to say those words to him, “I want to divorce.” But, once I said it, a huge weight began to lift from both our shoulders. It has taken time, and there have been many challenging conversations along the way, but we are, at last, legally unshackled from one another. And our lives have each flourished in amazing and previously un-imagined ways.

That’s not to say that everything is ‘done’. There are still some unresolved wounds from my marriage: the deep sorrow of a decade of never really being seen by my partner; the shame of sexual rejection; the pain of hiding under a proverbial rock- creatively, sexually, professionally- and only now realizing just how much of me had been missing from the picture. I wish I could have been seen, I wish I could have been all of me without the fear of being me. These wounds have bled in to some of the more recent relationships in my life, including one that I have held incredibly dear, and written about a lot in this blog.

My emotions have weathered far deeper, far harder storms than this. Processing the end of my marriage- I was already over it by the time I chose to end it. With Orion, however, getting over has been hard. Complicated. Unfamiliar.

417849_179968288824675_180673540_n

In the past, with breakups, I’ve been able to retreat away from the person, and they’ve been able to retreat away from me. In this instance, it’s different. There is no avoidance. I dance with my emotions and the discom-poly-ation of things and must learn to embrace and flow forward, despite the parts of me that yell and scream and tug. There’s no other way- the longevity of our friendship and the all-encompassing nature of the spiritual kinship and emotional connection we’ve shared more of in the past year plus means that our lives have multiple overlapping friendships, social connections, activities, and work opportunities. In this case, the only way out is through.

Breakups feel like waking up from the intoxication of a dream. There’s a hangover as the presence of the relationship in our lives begins to wear off. Now, writing a few weeks after the fact, rather than a ‘break up’ I see it more like a break through. I feel like it’s a leveling up, a giant gear shift to the next chapter of exploring what Singleish means for me. I’m learning completely new things about how I relate to my relationships, renewing the relationship with my Primary- my Self- and diving in to new, exciting, connections with others.

The transformations that I’ve experienced in the last few weeks seem to reflect that the relationship with Orion was over long before it was over. I feel disappointed that we both were stringing things along, trying to dance between friendship and friendtimacy when the healthier thing (as has now become evident) was to walk away entirely if we ever hoped to hit reset on the friendship. Rather than get caught up in the petty game of resentments- a path of bitterness that I do not choose to buy in to- I ask myself, what could I do differently, in the future? How can I build healthy relationships that have empowering conclusions, and do not emotionally drain any participant in the process of the relationship ending?

I have some theories.

First of all, acknowledge that all relationships have endings. Come to terms with it for yourself, and, acknowledge that with the person you are in a relationship with. Talk about it- remove the veil of fear that exists in talking about endings! One sweetie, Gerard, who I have been dating since last fall, has been great at conversations like this. Without going in to details, we both know that our intimate relationship has a very limited time frame. We don’t know when it will end, we just know that it will. That fact has been on the table right from Date Zero. And so we’ve talked about how we want to talk about that when the time comes. Very meta, right? I know.

photo (1)So that’s the second point- talk about how you like to experience endings. We have been ingrained with this terror of ending relationships, a fear that it means we will be a ‘failure’- and so when time comes to end it we either ignore the signals, or we act from that place of fear, that place of fight-or-flight. We might try to keep things going ‘as friends’. We may lash out. We can say irrational things. We start talking at one another rather than talking with one another. The best way to get over any fear is to deal with it before it comes up. Ask yourself- and your partners- how long do you want to explore this relationship? What are your indicators for when a relationship has run out of steam? How do you want to communicate these things to each other when they come up? How do you like to relate to former lovers when the relationship has ended? These are important conversations to have with ourselves, as well as with anyone we form a relationship with. It’s like having an informal relationship pre-nup chat.

Third- recognise that there are no problems, only opportunities. The end of one relationship births the way for new ones. The conclusion of a chapter opens the path for exploration of novelty. Learn how to embrace the changes it brings. For me, I’ve been reconnecting with activities that I love, and spending more time with people I haven’t see in a long time. I’ve shared beautiful walks in the forest with wise and intelligent friends. I reorganized my bedroom. I’ve been taking myself out on Me dates. I’ve discovered that someone I was mesmerized by on the dance floor at a music festival last summer lives ten minutes walk away from my home, and he happens to have a passion for rope and bondage that’s very compatible with mine. In summary- I’ve been actively rediscovering the world around me, and finding that I love it so much more than I thought I would, and so much more than I have been in the last several months.

Last of all: when things are ended, find a way, if you can, to communicate what you have loved and cherished about the relationship, and what the relationship has meant to you. Allow yourself to feel gratitude for whatever was in it to be grateful for. It could be big things, or it could be the little things. This is possibly the hardest part, as it can take years to figure out. Last time I saw my ex husband, we talked a bit about this. I shared with him that I was grateful to him for introducing me to the world of psychedelics, and for being the reason I came to Canada. I can’t imagine where my life would have gone otherwise. He, on the other hand, wasn’t sure what difference I had made in his life, but said he would think about it. It was one of the most nourishing and positive conversations we have had in years. Being able to say to a partner, “The external presence of you in my life has nourished the internal experience of my Self,” when we have broken up- that’s something I now aim for.

Endings signal evolution. Breakups breed growth, and growth isn’t in the easy flow. The easy flow is what you get to once you’ve grown. The growth is in embracing the challenge, in diving in to intimacy with your fears and judgements. It’s in being able to look someone in the eye who you have loved, who has triggered you, turned your heart inside out with thrashing anguish, brought about emotional reactions that have completely and utterly terrified you, and the absence of whom has made you feel you are nothing and insignificant- and being able to feel like you can still love their soul, fall in love with their cosmic essence, and dance with them in the uncertainties between you.

photo (3)

 

 

Magical Mysterious Maybe

‎”Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
~ Carl Jung

I’ve been thinking about three little words: Yes, No, and Maybe.

This article on the power of “fuck yes” really got my attention. I think of how many times I’ve had an intoxicated liaison that wasn’t a “FUCK YES!” but more of a, “Well, I don’t have anything else to do…” and how different those experiences have been compared against the rolling crescendo building in my body when I’m with someone whom every cell of my being is yearning for.

noThe “No-Way-Jose”s are always very clear to me, and if I am not interested in someone’s romantic overtures, I tell them so quite plainly and in a straightforward manner. I’m told that the word “No” was one of the first words I ever spoke, right after “Baby”, “Mama” and “Dada”. Apparently, I have always been assertive in communicating my boundaries.

And then- there’s the mysterious Maybe.

A “maybe” can be so confounding. Because we often say maybe when we mean no, or say no when we mean maybe, and hardly ever do we say maybe to really mean that we aren’t sure yet because we don’t have all the information to make an informed decision either way.

Say What You Mean, And Mean What You Say

Several months ago a friend of mine found herself as the metamor of someone I had just started seeing. We already knew we attracted a lot of the same people, so when she told me she was going for brunch with my sweetie, I asked, “Is it a date?”

“No, no” she said emphatically. ” It’s not a date. I don’t think I would date him.”

So you can imagine my surprise when, a week later, the beau in question told me how attracted he was to her and he wanted to date her- and that the feeling was mutual.

What?

I felt a lot of anger towards her. What happened to the “I don’t want to date him”? How did that turn around? And why, as a friend, had she not thought to maybe say a few words to me after their brunch to say that, actually yeah she might want to date him too?

Honestly, if she had said that she might want to date him, or if she had texted me or called me up after their brunch and said “I know I said I wasn’t interested but that was before I got to know him and I’m actually really attracted to him” – I would have been okay with that. Really, I would have.

And for all that this friend kept saying about how much our friendship meant to her, I really had thought I could have expected more from her. I would have thought she would be the person to tell me. This certainly wasn’t something I thought I would hear from the mouth of my lover after some particularly magical and sensual afternoon delight.

I haven’t quite gotten over the shock of this. I still go back to that time in my memory and wonder how things could have played out differently, positively. I know we were both still figuring out this poly thing (heck, I think I am still figuring out), but I keep returning to this situation again and again.

Why did she do what she did? Why didn’t she speak her mind and say what she was thinking and feeling?

I can’t say for sure, though I wonder if it has to do with people pleasing. When we don’t want to ruffle feathers, we are more likely to say what we think other people want to hear, than actually express ourselves from our hearts- even if we know that it may not necessarily cause conflict to do so. Sometimes we just hold back from saying anything at all, stick our heads in the sand and hope that whatever we are feeling that’s incongruent with what we think we’re supposed to be feeling will just go away if we baton down the hatches for long enough.

But it doesn’t. It can fester. It can cause ambiguity that sews discord that in turn breeds distrust. And when you circulate with a social group of poly people who will all, inevitably, at one point or another date everyone else, that kind of discord can be a poison. And it hurts.

Taking responsibility for expressing ourselves

How do we take responsibility for the intentions we bring in to any situation- or relationship?

How do we become aware of how we express ourselves externally? How aware are we of the message we send to the people around us by the way we speak and interact?

Conscious ownership over our actions and the intention with which we move in the world and through life is a form of self-mastery. It is going to take some work. You can’t be complacent. You have to have courage in communication.

Most of all, I think we need to be able to engage in authentic dialogue within if we hope to have authentic expression on the outside.

I believe it’s healthy to question things, to assume nothing, and also to allow yourself to be present to each moment fully. That’s how we connect in with ourselves. You can call it meditation or self examination, or contemplation. It’s not about being detached from past or future, but allowing yourself to be fully You in the moment. And knowing who it is that you are.

Having An Authentic Dialogue with Yourself

It could be argued that being Singleish is a way of avoiding responsibility in relationships. Heck, being poly could be seen as a way of avoiding responsibility. The more on the promiscuous side of the spectrum you sit, the more tempting it is to treat relationships as disposable. I can hold myself guilty of that- of taking things for granted and not having the maturity and wisdom to exercise responsibility for the relationships I’ve been in.

But- as much as poly can potentially be a breeding ground for disposability and avoiding relationship responsibility, I also think it can lead to learning relationship responsibility in a whole new way.

We support one another the best, I think, when we are clear with ourselves in our own journey. When we are proactive in owning our own shit, and astute and self-aware enough to not take on anyone else’s caca. It takes a tremendous dedication to working with one’s self. Me- I like to journal. I enjoy the self-dialogue that grows organically from the stream of consciousness flow that simply seeks to express where I’m at internally, in my relationship to my body, my heart, my mind: in relationship to Me.

I’ve found that when I’m doing that work- regardless of whether or not I feel like I’m actually making progress- I am so much more connected to myself, honest and authentic with myself, and able to be honest and authentic with others far more readily.

I think I have come a long way in how I say- and how I hear- the words No, Yes, and Maybe. I’m working on making sure that when I say them, that I really do mean them, and really do feel them. And gradually, I’m learning to find out what those words mean for other people, and how comfortable they are saying them to me with honesty. Will I ever get it all figured out? Maybe. That’s certainly something I can work towards. I kinda like the ambiguity that comes with a true maybe. It means- the future’s unpredictable, don’t get complacent. If I want it to be a Yes, I’m gonna have to work on myself to make it a Yes. Heck, some of the most rewarding and enjoyable and meaningful experiences of my life have come about because I took the time to explore the Maybe.

As Miranda has reminded me, sitting in the space of Maybe takes a commitment to the moment, to how you are feeling in that moment, if you want to discover whether it’s a No or a Yes. And, since no two moments are ever the same, it also requires a willingness to embrace change.

The Compersion Conundrum

Compersion: Describing an empathetic state of happiness and joy brought about by knowing or witnessing the happiness and joy of another individual. Often used to describe the positive feelings an individual can experience when a lover is enjoying another relationship. Considered to be the opposite of jealousy.

Polyamory: The practice, state or ability of having more than one intimate, physical, loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved. 

How, and when, do you let your other partners know you are interested in someone else? When do you tell them when you are now seeing someone new?

I find I am fairly laisez-faire when it comes to this. I don’t expect anyone to be beholden to me in relationships, just as I wouldn’t expect to be beholden to them. Still, though, I like good healthy communication, and I am always curious to know about my lovers’ other lovers. I have friends who have joked that I seem to be immune to jealousy. I wouldn’t say that I am totally immune. Just that my capacity for compersion in most cases out weighs the jealous part of my brain.

I’m uber compersive. I can feel compersion at the drop of a hat- at the sight of strangers walking arm in arm down the street; as my friend tells me about his first romantic getaway with his girlfriend; when I am having dinner with a new crush and his wife and see them get snuggly together; even reading gooey Facebook statuses will have me in compersion. I will admit, there are times I even feel compersion and jealousy simultaneously- like they are battling in my head for supremacy. There’s a rationale process that usually wins over and compersion triumphs. See, Jealousy just wouldn’t be logical.

And even so, I cannot feel compersion if I do not know something is happening.

The network of cross-connections amongst my sweeties and metamours is complex- and with so many interwoven relationships, it is healthy to remember to treat every person as an individual, and to honor each relationship as the unique and dynamic phenomena it is. I’ve struggled with this a lot in the past. I think I am getting through that finally.

Well, almost. I found myself tested on that this week.

For a while now I’ve happily watched a flirtatious relationship develop between Orion and one of my best friends, Miranda. The friendship Miranda and I share is one of the closest platonic friendships in my life, and I really value that. I’ve rejoiced at her explorations into polyamory, celebrated her NRE, cried with her heartbreaks. We are bonded by many commonalities in our backgrounds and lifestyles. A few months ago we talked about the possibility of someone wanting to date both of us, and decided it would be weird, tricky, messy. We are in each other’s lives on a daily basis. We share a lot of things; sharing lovers seemed like taking things too far. But I started to see the chemistry between Orion and Miranda, and knew that something was likely to happen.

Orion talked to me about his crush on Miranda a couple of months ago, and I said that he should just go for it. I knew she was attracted to him. I love him, and I love Miranda, and I want them to explore and enjoy. I feel totally confident in the uniqueness of what I share with Orion, and I know how much he has taught me through being my lover- there’s no feeling of ‘I might be replaced’, which could come up in a newer relationship. Orion and Miranda? I instantly knew, right in my gut, that this was a good thing, and something that needed to happen.

I was therefore totally unprepared for the fit of anxiety and jealousy that came upon me when I found out, after the fact, that Miranda had spent the night at Orion’s.

Perhaps the weirdest part was that I had dreamt about it… in those sleepy moments of almost-wakefullness, I dreamt I heard Orion’s and Miranda’s voices talking. When I woke up, it hit me right then- she must have been at his place. But why wouldn’t I know? Shouldn’t I have known?

A little gentle prodding, and Miranda let on that this was, indeed, what had happened. I spent the day questioning myself. Should anyone have told me? Was this something I had some god-given right to know? Not really. Miranda’s always been good at keeping me up to date on her latest goings on. Orion has always told me when he’s got a new crush that might develop into more. And with Orion, I have never felt anything but happiness about him developing his other relationships. I have never wanted anyone to be beholden to me about anything in relationships. All I ever ask of my partners is ‘please be present with me, please communicate with me, please honor our connection whatever it may be’.

So why was I so upset?

I played through alternative scenarios in my head- what if I had known? What if, when Miranda had texted me that she wasn’t free that evening, she had mentioned ‘I’m at Orion’s’? How would I have reacted? I think I’d have sent her a thumbs up and a ‘Yay! Have fun!’ I feel like I was kinda denied that instant compersion because, well, I didn’t know it was happening, and you cannot feel compersion for something you don’t know is happening. The Big Sister in me feels sad that I was left out of knowing about something that I was really excited about, even though it had nothing to do with me. It’s not that I feel there’s an obligation to let me know every little detail. I just feel that in a spirit of perpetual openness, why hide something that might be relevant for someone to know? It’s not like I need a play by play detailed account. And going forward, it isn’t something I need to get too involved in. I just wish I’d had that opportunity to feel the compersion first, before the jealousy. I’m still uncertain how I should have found out though.

I’ve talked about this with both of them now. I think things are all good. We’ve all learned something out of this.

pompomThis experience has taught me something very important about myself and how I process things. I like to know what’s happening! Once I have shared my love with someone, that is not something I can take back, and even if I am no longer involved, I love to know that they are experiencing beautiful, happy things in their life. I had a huge grin on my face last night as ElkFeather told me about a girl he has a crush on. She’s someone I know peripherally, and I feel like they would be a really lovely pair. I’m rooting for them. This discovery of my desire for compersion brings me as well to understand the frustration I have felt with some other situations in my life: I think two exes of mine are now seeing each other. But I really have no idea. I just pick up on things, and it is sometimes enfuriating to be in the void of ‘not-knowing’. I get a little resentful of it. I’m not sure that there’s any obligation to tell me, of course. But again, they are two people whom I can see being incredibly compatible together  and I just wish I knew for sure if that was actually the case, so I can cheer them on!

I acknowledge this might make me one of the strangest people on the planet. I’ve just never found the head-in-the-sand approach worked very well for me. Whilst looking up definitions of compersion for this article I came across a book, “Compersion: Using Jealousy As A Path To Unconditional Love“, and I think that this concept- that you can transmute jealousy into a positive experience that brings about a feeling of emotional expansiveness- accurately summarizes one of the things I absolutely adore about polyamory: it challenges me on every ounce of selfishness and past-attachment, and the only way through all of that is by continually working on myself to find that place of natural (not forced) unconditional loving. When jealousy turns into compersion, it is a beautiful thing indeed. And I don’t like the feeling of being denied that opportunity to experience compersion with any loves, whether they are still a central feature of my life, or not.