Pondering “Partnership”

The idea of ‘partnership’ is something that has been very much on my mind lately.

This week I finally (finally- two and a half years later!) completed my divorce. Hurrah! As the various loose ends from my marriage are finally tied off and tidied up, I find myself breathing easier. I am at last legally unshackled. I am single. I am free.

It’s a lovely, and welcome feeling of relief.

Midst the elation of completing this very grown-up rite-of-passage, however, I’ve been grappling with an extreme period of depression. The other night, I had another break down- the latest in a more frequent series of emotional melt downs. I don’t even remember right now what triggered that particular feeling of despair, but it prompted me to write a status update on my facebook that night:

“There are times I really really miss Partnership. You know, that “We’re in this together!” kinda feeling. That partner who’s got your back, and who- when you’re lost in the darkness of your own self- calls out to say, “Hey, I love you, I need you, please don’t loose yourself in there.” That person (or persons) who can help you remember to love yourself when you forget how to or find it hard.Those rare folks who share a certain closeness to you that they’re like mirrors, and light up the road back to laughter, joy, and all the good and beautiful things because they know you’d do the exact same for them…”

This elicited a lot of positive responses, some understanding comments privately- and one message from a friend where it became clear that he had interpreted my words to mean that I was missing monogamy and marriage. I was so perplexed, but realised he was thinking the same way as most of the world would: equating partnership and monogamous marriage as the same thing!

I, on the other hand, don’t believe that partnership has to mean monogamy. It doesn’t have to mean marriage either. It doesn’t even have to mean a commitment in the long term. I know that’s how a lot of us have grown up to think of this notion of ‘partnership’, but I would like to propose a different perspective.

partnershipPartnership, I believe, is not about promises, obligations, or swearing our lives away to another person.

Partnership is something that we find in the moment. It’s a place of understanding and seeing someone, and choosing to do more than just be present with them: you choose to share your experience of being present with them.

It’s something that can happen between lovers, between friends, between family, between total strangers. It can be a life long sharing, or a few fleeting moments. You may find partnership on the dance floor, or sharing a table at a coffee shop, or helping someone on the street who needs medical attention, or carpooling to a music festival. Partnership can happen one on one, or it can take the form of a group collaboration. It can be romantic, intimate and emotional, or it can be platonic, business-like and formal. Partnership does not equal marriage, nor monogamy, not in my books.

And this raises interesting questions. How do we navigate between living independently and living interdependently? If we were to choose to shun ‘partnership’ altogether within our individual relationship lives, how do we then avoid things like isolation and falling into a trap of narcissism? Does seeking partnership that exists in the moment- without any binding vows- mean that we can treat relationships disposably? And, if not, how do we go about consciously treating the relationships with value? How do we maintain a continuity of integrity within ourselves?

Writing this, I am painfully aware of my own privilege in society, more than ever before. I’m a divorcee. I appear white and femme and pass as a straight woman- circumstances which mean I skirt around a lot of the stigma and oppression that multi-racial and queer people tackle on a regular basis. I live in a country where I can actually have multiple relationships with people of different genders, and not be risking my life or theirs to do so. I am not being pressured into finding a partner for social or financial security. I am very, very fortunate, and very privileged. And writing about my solo poly privilege could be an article in of itself.

I acknowledge that the path I am wanting to walk is not easy. There is a long way to go for mainstream acceptance of the way I and others like me want to explore relationships- and we are still figuring it out, what it means to be solo and polyamarous.

For eight years of my life, “partnership” meant a commitment to being in a romantic relationship with one man where we wanted to raise a family and live off-the-grid till death-do-us-part. It no longer means any of that for me. I have always sought the kind of connection with others where I can be more than present with them; I seek to share my experience of being present with the people I hold dear. It took experiencing what didn’t work for me in order to figure it out: partnership doesn’t have to be anything prescribed to us by society. We’ve each got the right and ability to define for ourselves what it means, and perhaps in so doing, shift the more rigid way that society as a whole thinks about partnership and relationships.

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O Brave New World!

I’m sitting here, waiting for the bath to run, listening to the pitter-patter of rain and the exploding Halloween fireworks outside, and I am feeling so incredibly lonely and alone.

I question my life choices far more than I should.

What if my mom was right? What if ‘sexually deviant’ people can never be happy? What if there really is no silver lining in all this. Have I been foolish? My heart yearns so badly to have connection with one person, let alone multiple people, and at every turn I find myself feeling disillusioned, disappointed, distracted, defeated.

I want to love with every pore of my being. And I don’t want to limit it. And I’m tired of feeling the connections of love that I build cut short.

WordPress says that the writing assignment this week is to write on the theme “I wish I were”.

Some days, I wish I were monogamous and straight.

I wish I could have had a more ‘traditional’ life. That I could be like the happy housewives, starting their families, looking after their homes, their babies, their husbands; preparing large festive meals for their family and friends; attending community functions and being a productive member of their society. I wish I were able to fathom what that life could be like with me in it.

I wish I were able to stay focussed and devoted to just one person in an intimate monogamous relationship. That I were content with one man and one man only.

However, that isn’t my reality. I tried the mono-hetero thing. 8 years. I was miserable, unhappy, and only began to find joy in my life again when I started to see the possibilities of a poly and bisexual lifestyle.

I spent some time today hanging out with my ex-husband, Finn. People are sometimes surprised that we are still friends, that we still talk, and share with each other what’s going on in our lives. Our separation was so entirely mutually amicable that there’s not really any ‘bad-blood’ between us, and for that I’m grateful. I do miss his company some times. Not the pot-smoking, or his body odor, or boring sex, or frustrating way of doing things, but I do miss his company.

We used to cuddle up on the couch almost every night and watch a tv series, usually sci-fi. We went through Stargate, Farscape, Battlestar Gallactica, Fringe… sometimes we would watch comedy movies, like Blades of Glory, or epic action adventure superhero movies like The Watchmen. He knew my ups and downs, understood my frustrations with my mother, and over the years he learnt how to read when I was just tired versus really depressed. Out of every one who is a regular feature in my life today, he has known me the longest. And so it really hit home this afternoon when he shared with me that he’d had a dream a couple of weeks ago that we were sitting on the couch, cuddled up, watching a movie just like we used to do, and that he missed that- because I miss that too.

Not that we are going to get back together. That’d be a most resounding “no”. We’ve had a good laugh at the very divergent relationship paths we have taken. He’s in a really beautiful, loving, monogamous relationship with a woman who I think is a perfect match for him. They compliment each other in wonderful ways, and I’ve seen that she brings out some of his best qualities, qualities I never saw come out when he and I were together. And I, on the other hand, have been a wild child- this summer especially- diving into the deep end, in many ways, to a world that I had for so long yearned to experience, and yet, never had, till now.

I miss the companionship. The comfort of that reliable relationship.
When I have longed so much for the freedom that this poly lifestyle affords me, when I have spent so many years with my real self pent up, why is it I feel so discontent and unhappy now?

I wish I could have more emotional detachment in my poly relationships. It’s a common misconception that poly people have some kind of immunity to feeling hurt, jealousy, anger, or any of those more shadowy-side of the emotional spectrum. Well, I can’t speak for everyone, I just know that I most certainly feel all of those, as equally as I feel the happier things like love, adoration, joy and contentment.

I can’t help but love someone. And love them completely. And want to share that love all-the-time. And maybe its the impatience in me that causes me so much grief, perhaps I want things so immediately that I rush into things with a wild abandon, only to grind to a halt when I realise I’m moving too fast and should stop to think things through.

What on earth do regular, normal people do? You know, those straight and monogamous ones? Is there some massive chapter in life skills, covering patience and virtue, self restraint and thoughtful consideration, and maintaining one’s emotional well being that I somehow missed out on entirely? Are there bi and poly people who have those skills too? If they do, how on earth did they learn them, and where can I sign up for the next course please?

I wish I were able to take a peek into the future. To look at myself in 10, 20, 50 years from now, and see what I’m doing. My hope would be that I’m happy, and content. Surrounded by people I adore and share mutual bonds of affection and love with. It would be so consoling to know that, despite the momentary ripples and tremors I experience day-to-day in my here and now, somewhere down the road there’s equilibrium waiting for me.

So much of my self-work the last few months has been about receptivity and my inability to be open to receiving. This has manifested in many ways- even down to my ability to let someone else give me an orgasm. Somewhere in my subconscious lies a pattern of diving into connections and then shutting down when they might be reciprocated fully, of refusing help from people who love me lest I seem weak, of stubbornly persisting in courses of action that I know will lead me nowhere and/or could cause me harm, a pattern of lashing out in anger at the people I care about the most when I feel my most vulnerable and scared.

In that preview of the future, I’d hope to see a me who is able to receive: who can trust the people she meets, rather than treat them as enemies first and friends later; a me who has forgiven all wrongs, including the mistakes I myself have made; a woman who can really walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk, and fully embody the core values she believes in and espouses. A me who is gentle with herself, and with others.

Interesting to note that in expressing that future vision, I don’t seem to care if I have a life-partner or not, or whether I have children of my own or not. I think I’ve trained myself to be unattached from the notion of either, even though deep down in my core, I know I still want both. It won’t look like anything that I had in my marriage with Finn. I honestly doubt, if it happens, that it will resemble any other relationship model I’ve known. But, there’s that fantasy lurking in the subtext of my mind- of the perfect picket-fence partnership, with plenty of poly playfulness- that needs to be acknowledged.

Yes, I am still looking for a life partner. Eventually. Not right now, though some long-term security and stability would be quite welcome. Can I do this while still being poly and singleish? I wish I were certain that I could. I’m not. I’d like to believe it’s possible. Only time- and a heck of a lot of patience- will reveal if it really is.