30 May, 2016

Wants, Needs, and Weeds

One of my many weaknesses is a need to feel needed, and a corresponding need to need.

You shouldn't need anyone in your life: philosophers have been telling us this for millennia. You are complete in and of yourself.

Many, perhaps most, people don't feel this way, of course. They feel as if there are pieces missing, and they seek these pieces in many places. Some think if they only had the right piece of stuff, or a certain amount of money, they'd be complete. Some try to fill the hole they perceive in themselves with drugs, licit or illicit. Or food. And the whole of our society teaches us that we can find the "missing" pieces of ourselves in other people.

This piece of faux-wisdom is so common that it's rarely even questioned. We refer to our spouses as "other/better halves"...and although that supposedly refers to the couple as a single unit, it's nevertheless telling. We write songs and poems extolling our need of other people: pop culture is positively littered with them. "You complete me" is a common love trope.

It's wrong. And it kills relationships dead.

Think about it: when you think of someone as the missing part of you, chances are excellent you are taking a single snapshot of them, however comprehensive, and claiming that as the missing piece. This denies your partner growth. If her life priorities change, if he takes up a new hobby that you have less than zero interest in, if his personality changes as a result of mental or physical illness...is that an extension or refinement of you? Of course it isn't. It's them, all them.

The greatest gift Eva ever gave me in a married life chock-full of great gifts was the ability to be myself, at my own pace, as painfully slow as that has been. I have grown steadily since I met her: it's fair to say I am not the same man I was then. My political beliefs have undergone a deep-sea change; latent thoughts have been encouraged to develop and be expressed in their time; my confidence has grown from non-existent to almost enough to be trusted. I've learned from her to consider things from more than one angle; that there's never an answer that's 100% right and will satisfy every interest; that the people who disagree with me hold their opinions every bit as fervently as I hold mine, and should at least be listened to with an open mind.

Eva has never NEEDED me in her life. Long before I ever met her, she was worlds more self-reliant than I am now. I like to think I have enriched her life, and gifted her with some tools that have helped her through some tough times...but those tools are not mine alone. Indeed, others have shown her (and me) uses of those tools I'd never even considered.

At a very high spiritual level, you're not even supposed to want people (or anything else) in your life. The Universe is a giant copy machine: when you state "I want thus-and-such" to it, you get back that precise experience...of wanting!

The way to get what you think you want is to realize you already have it. Do this wholeheartedly: don't give to get. For instance. Are you poor? Do you want to be rich? There's been a lot of talk about the "1%" in the past few years. Guess what? Chances are you're in that 1%. If you make US$34,000 a year, you're in. That means that even the poorest of the people reading this is actually extremely wealthy by world standards.
Want to put that reframe in action? Give money to someone poorer than you are. Now notice what you did. You thought that you were poor, but in fact you were rich enough to just GIVE somebody money, no strings attached.
I repeat: if you do this thinking about all the wealth you'll get by doing it, you're doing it wrong and it won't work. If you start thinking of yourself as wealthy--wealthy enough to just GIVE people money...well, then, you are. And chances are excellent you'll attract greater wealth.
This works with things besides money. It certainly works with love. The way to get love is to realize you have love to give...and give it. Just as with money, if you give love in order to get it back, you're not doing it right. You love people because they're loveable; whether they love you or not is irrelevant. In loving people, though, you will discover that love is actually yours already. And loving people are loved themselves.

The thing with love, though, is that we've created another pervasive societal trope about it that's just as wrong as the notion that another human can "complete" you. We view love as possessive.

Love is not possessive. If you are my possession, I own you and I use you. We abolished ownership of humans  a long time ago and we look upon it as morally repugnant...and yet our love songs celebrate it.  So here we are wanting something, not recognizing we have it already, possibly because the thing we think we wanting is actually a pale and twisted imitation of the real deal.

Love is not wanting, not really: we want for nothing, remember, we are complete in and of ourselves. Love is CERTAINLY not needing.  Love is choosing.

I love Eva. I choose to be with her. Every day, I make that choice: it's a conscious choice. She does the same with me. The choice is a free choice: she could choose to leave, and so could I. I can't see a situation where that could happen...especially since there are no artificial socially constructed limits on our relationship. It  has evolved and will continue to evolve. Do we need each other? No. Do we choose to experience life's joys and sorrows together? Emphatically yes.

The others I choose to share my life with--the friends, the loves--it operates on exactly the same principle. It's not looking to find something that's missing in myself OR my marriage: it's simply, and beautifully, a conscious and continuing choice to share life and love on some level.

There's a certain pleasure in needing and getting that need satisfied. There's a POTENT pleasure, for me at least, in feeling needed and fulfilling that need. These are the pleasures of the junkie, who lives for his next hit. Choice doesn't enter into it: once addiction takes over, there IS no choice. I call that level of want -- where you want something or someone so much that you've convinced yourself you can't live without it or them --  a "weed": if you're not careful, weeds can and will choke out all the life around you. That kind of pleasure, in short, is self-destructive. Love, by contrast, is creative: it creates a new expression of joy each time it is expressed. It could be the joy of a screaming orgasm. It could be the quiet joy of a night cuddling by a fire. It could be a newborn babe. Or any of a million million other things.

I choose creative love. I choose love that seeks to genuinely heal. Not to fulfill a need, but to demonstrate that need is an illusion.



29 May, 2016

Fell In Love

Is this the real life
Is this just fantasy
Caught in a landslide
No escape from reality
--Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody"

They say it's what you make
I say it's up to fate
It's woven in my soul
I need to let you go
--Imagine Dragons, "Demons"
------------------------------------

When will I ever learn?

Obligatory disclaimer: there are probably still folks out there who will misinterpret and minimize everything in this post. People who don't understand polyamory, people who believe the presence of one love detracts from another, people who think any form of nonmonogamy is unethical.
Trust me: poly people have ethics. In some ways our ethics are perhaps even more finely honed: more people to balance, more hearts not to break. And I love Eva more than I even know how to express...which doesn't lessen my love for the others I love, and it sure didn't lessen this, any more than this lessened that.

I've been hit hard by crushes in my time. Loving the way I do, they come on in waves, fairly frequently.  I'm used to revelling in them for a little while, and then letting them go. They're rarely mutual, after all, and even when they are there have been lines, clear lines I have toed playfully on occasion but never crossed.

This wasn't a crush. I fell in love. Head over heels, heart over head, full-throttle balls-to-the-wall love.

The bare fact of that didn't surprise me: it is, after all, the object of the game when you're polyamorous. No, the fact I fell in love didn't shock me.

The fact I fell so hard for a woman I talked to once, never really met, and who was already in a committed relationship...all of that surprised, shocked, and dismayed me. That's not supposed to happen. None of it. Online is dangerous that way--I've said it more than once myself. Intimacy can feel magnified, you can say things to a screen you might not say to a face, and blah blah, blabbledy blah. And the committed relationship? BIG red flag. I don't interfere in committed relationships. I've been tempted once, and pretty easily slapped myself out of the temptation.

This wasn't a temptation. This felt like a fucking compulsion.

That scared me. Exhilarated me, but scared the hell out of me. I couldn't even explain it. I could list off all the things I loved about her and lusted after, and I meant every one of them...but the depth of feeling, after so short a time...

As if time had meaning. I've chatted with her for five hours at a stretch that felt like maybe  twenty minutes. I knew her for next to no time that felt like forever.

There was a devil on my shoulder. It wasn't whispering like it normally did...it was shouting.

We clicked. Instantly and strongly. It was mutual, which added a layer of intoxication. You know the drill: you can talk about anything, nothing's off limits, and the more you know the more you want to know. She hit every single one of my buttons: empathic, stronger than she thinks she is, smart, killer sense of humour that tended towards the naughty. Hurt, and working to overcome that hurt. Desiring and desirous both. Beautiful inside and out.

A dream. A fantasy. But real. She was real. A real dream?

Can dreams be made real?

I pondered this question over several weeks; it rarely fully left my mind. There had to be some way to spend even one night. The boyfriend: still new himself. Not fully certain. I could steer this, exploit it. If I could get them to take a break while she sorted out her feelings for me, that way it wouldn't technically be cheating, would it? Technically, the best kind of correct? How could I best make this happen?

A part of me was horrified. This wasn't me thinking these thoughts. They were selfish, terrible, almost jealous thoughts. Almost jealous: extremely envious. I wanted what he had. I didn't...quite...want to take it away from him to get it. I just wanted to share. Was that too much to ask? To share?

Of course it was: of course it is. People don't share other people, Ken, you silly rabbit: polyamory is for dreamers and silly-ass weirdos like you. And by the way, whatever happened to your stated intention to date within your species?

She happened, that's what happened.

---------------

You'll note this is in the past tense.


We've agreed to take a break ourselves. Two months with no direct contact...which quite frankly I don't know if I can do, given that we have been practically inseparable since the day we 'met'.  Good mornings and tuck ins and commiserating over shitty jobs and...and all the rest. A day has not gone by without at least two quick conversations, and usually those conversations go for hours.  What the hell was I thinking?  I even doubled it myself from one month to two. I was clearly insane. But then, this whole thing was insane.


The deal is after two months, if we're still feeling this way, we do something about it; if it's faded for either of us (and I feel reasonably certain it will, at least for her) then it's settled forever.

It took about ten hours to get to that. Ten hours of I think I know where this is going to end up and parting is such sweet sweet sorrow.

My life is not empty without her, I don't want to give you that impression. Far, far from it. I have the love of a damn fine wife, I have friends who care and support me no matter what.

I'm still grieving this, though. I can't help it. I always wanted what's best for her...I just wanted what was best for her to be me, even if for a short time. I'm going to cry some tears...

...and try to move on. But as crazy as this sounds, I'm going to carry a part of her with me forever.











25 May, 2016

You Me Her

You Me Her is billed as a "polyromantic comedy" set in Portland, Oregon.  It stars Greg Pohlear (Amy's brother),  Rachel Blanchard, and Priscilla Faia.

It's the first show I've ever binge watched.  Nine episodes in one night.

I was worried going in. Polyamory on television so far has been exploitative trash, pseudo-"reality" crap like Married and Dating. It makes me feel dirty just watching it: I couldn't make it through one episode.  The news that this show had been vetted by actual polyamorous people mollified me somewhat, but I was still filled with trepidation going in.

You have to understand: well, just that. You have to understand. I was concerned that "You Me Her" was obviously depicting the most stereotypical (even if it's not ACTUALLY the most typical) polyamorous arrangement: one couple, one unicorn. And the synopsis gave me further cause for alarm: short of mutual cheating, it's about the most unlikely entry into polyamory imaginable, something that would be almost certain to die before it started in real life:

Jack and Emma are a married couple in Portland, Oregon. The zippity has gone out of Jack's doo-dah: while it's clear he loves Emma very much, the marriage feels platonic. Jack's brother Gabe, who comes across as a real douche, confesses to Jack that he once hired an escort to spice up his own love life; Jack decides to follow suit. He finds Izzy (Priscilla Faia) online.
Their first date is a tour-de-force of acting from both of them. The instant connection is very apparent. So is the awkwardness and the incipient guilt. They don't get beyond a kiss, but they don't have to.

Jack runs home to Emma and confesses. His wife is angry, but also intensely curious: who is this woman her husband really likes on such short notice? So Emma hires Izzy herself, and finds her to be smart, sexy and very likeable. utterly enchanting. This is where we learn along with Jack (Ken rolls his eyes) that Emma had a hitherto unconfessed woman phase.

That really lifted me out of the story, the thought that a couple could possibly be married for any length of time without the husband knowing that little detail about his wife. I almost stopped watching, especially since the setup was so implausible.

But what convinced me to stick it out was the chemistry between the leads. Izzy and Jack seem very genuine; Izzy and Emma SIZZLE. And after that ridiculous beginning, the relationships all felt real. That includes the relationships between all three people in the triad and their assorted friends, some supportive, some not so much.

There's remarkably little jealousy, and what there is is dealt with far too easily, in my opinion. However, the show tackles the other poly problem -- couple privilege -- head on, with real clarity and insight.

In the framework of the show, Izzy is hired on to be Jack and Emma's plaything. But she rapidly proves she's a real human being with feelings (lots) and agendas of her own, and it takes some beating over the head and several near break-ups for Jack and Emma to come to terms with that. This, and the neighbourhood reaction, is where the show derives much of its drama. Jack has a lot to lose professionally if news of his "arrangement" leaks out, which it inevitably does.

This show takes baby steps into portraying polyamory. It's the least threatening arrangement possible in public perception (one man, two bi women,  it reads like a standard male fantasy).  But what's portrayed has real depth, real heart, and the writing is very good. I'm looking forward to season 2.

You Me Her is up on putlocker.is.






24 May, 2016

It's Not A Competition



What's not a competition?

Everything.

Unless it's explicitly stated...for instance, if you're playing a hockey game or trying to win an audition...it's not a competition. And even if it is explicitly stated, the more you can forget that fact, the better you'll probably do.

We have framed so many things as competitions. We're all competing for limited resources, for instance. Reframe that: there's enough.

There is, you know. There's enough on this planet, allocated properly, to give everyone a reasonably comfortable existence. If the U.S. placed a moratorium on military spending for EIGHT DAYS, that money could eliminate child poverty the world over for one year. In 2006, one percent of the world's population owned 40% of the world's wealth: by October of last year it was 50%.  THERE IS ENOUGH.

We've set up everything from school placements to job interviews to political campaigns as competitions. It even extends past death: our religions are duking it out for a heavenly reward, after all. This fosters us vs. them thinking at every step, which in turn leads to some people declaring themselves superior and others inferior, and the cycle repeats and repeats, ad infinitum.

See, our mindset is always based on one winner and many losers, when -- if we were a truly CIVILIZED species, we would automatically calibrate our every decision on maximizing the number of "winners", minimizing the number of "losers", and also minimizing the effect of "losses".

To tie this to the last post on entitlement, you don't accomplish this by eliminating losses altogether. It is important to keep score: if you don't, you lose sight of objective reality. There are times when that's a good thing to do. But not when personal growth is a possibility.

The idea, though, is to view failure as what it actually is.

We've got this persnickety idea in our heads that failure is the opposite of success. It isn't, not at all.  I've covered this in one of my best-received posts from last year on impostor syndrome. The short version is that even the most abject failure contains two critical elements necessary in success: effort, and knowledge ("well, now we know THAT didn't work!"). While failure is not necessary for success, I would argue that it makes success taste all the sweeter. And of course, without the experience of failure as teacher, the first experienced failure can very well drive a person insane. It seems ridiculous, but when you've been told all your life that there's no such thing....well, when the impossible becomes not just possible but personal...that's a hell of a shock to the system.

The older I get, the more I believe the only way to win at life is not to play. Or rather, to make up your own rules and play by them instead of the ones the world insists on. You'll get friction...oh, hell, you'll get lots of friction. But you'll also find people who play by similar rules, and those people, dear reader, are your tribe. Cherish them and hold them close. Not too close, mind: they are not your prisoners.

I've had people tell me two things in the past week that niggled at me, both having to do with love. Love, of course, is the focus of a lot of competition in the world. Not my world, but the world I have to negotiate.

The first thing was "I hope you find what you need". The second was "how could I compete with her?"

I hope you find what you need. This is phrased with the sweetest of intentions,  but it feels...wrong, somehow. I don't need anyone. I am a complete person in myself. My goal in any and all relationships is most beautifully stated as part of a wedding service published in CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, BOOK 3, by Neale Donald Walsch:

. . . you are not entering into this [relationship] for reasons of security . . . . . . that the only real security is not in owning or possessing, nor in being owned or possessed . . . . . .not in demanding or expecting, and not even in hoping, that what you think you need in life will be supplied by the other . . . . . .but rather, in knowing that everything you need in life . . . all the love, all the wisdom, all the insight, all the power, all the knowledge, all the understanding, all the nurturing, all the compassion, and all the strength . . . resides within you . . . . . . and that you are not marrying the other in hopes of getting these things, but in hopes of giving these gifts, that the other might have them in even greater abundance.

Also from that series, Book 2 this time:

You know...I seek the same things the rest of the world does:

  • Power
  • Fame 
  • Success
  • Winning
  • The adulation of others
  • Being better
  • Having more
  • Knowing how
  • Knowing why
I just seek them to different ends:
  • Power with, not power over
  • Fame, not as an end in itself, but as a means to a much greater end that has nothing to do with me at all
  • Success, not at others' expense, but as a tool to assist others
  • Winning, not at any cost, but as something which costs others nothing, and even brings them gain
  • The adulation of others, bearing in mind that others are at least as worthy of adulation
  • Being better--not better than others (in a very high spiritual sense there are no others)--but better than I was yesterday
  • Having more...to give
  • Knowing how, and knowing why, not so I can hoard that knowledge, but so that I can share it. This blog is an ongoing example of that: I teach what I have to learn.
How can I compete with her?

You can't. Don't even try. She is her, after all. You've got no hope. I mean, she's perfect in her imperfections and she's a world unto herself,  a beautiful world of jungles and deserts and deep, deep oceans.  Just forget it.

And I told her the same thing about you. She can't compete with you. I told her to just give up. It's not even close.

And I'll tell both of you the same thing about someone else. 

IT ISN'T A COMPETITION. I love you for you--glorious you! I love her for her--wondrous her! 

This seems, I'm sorry, blatantly obvious to me, perhaps because I've lived with this worldview for so long. But to many people it's as if I'm announcing that 2+2= a red smelly noise. Even when they say they understand it, their words betray them. They insist I must love somebody "more", or that I can't really love two, or three, or x people at once, or that some day somebody will come along who will get all the love I have to give.

Never going to happen. You see...I don't play that game. 



21 May, 2016

Entitlement

"The world does not owe you a living. You owe the world a life."
--Ken Breadner

"Gimme, gimme never gets
Don't you know your manners yet?"
--schoolyard doggerel

I know of entirely too many people who are labouring under some giant misconceptions about how the world works.

I don't know any of them very well, mind you. I make it my business not to know such people well at all.

But oh, how you run across them. I've seen more than a few people who somehow managed to get jobs, then show up for them all shocked and put upon that they're expected to work. I'll never forget the guy who, on his first overnight shift at Sobeys, wondered when nap time was. The scary thing is there was another guy who worked nights there who, so far as I could tell, actually did punch in and go to sleep for seven and a half hours. He sure as hell didn't do any work.
It took several months to fire him. And that's what's wrong with that particular company. I don't know for certain, but I strongly suspect somebody sued them once for wrongful dismissal, and won. Because dead weight takes forever to prune, while (ahem) people with a work ethic go unappreciated.

Come to think of it, that's S.O.P. in any retail environment in my experience, and probably in lots of other places besides.

I had a boss once -- my direct supervisor! -- who made it his life's mission to do as little work as possible. He had thoroughly mastered the art of looking busy, so much so that (again) it took waaaaaaay too long for the people who mattered to even determine what (who) the problem was, much less do anything about it. This manager (!!!) who would come in on his day off to write a grocery order, as was expected of him. That would take him an hour, tops, and from that he'd somehow be owed a day. AND THEY'D GIVE IT TO HIM. OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

World's worst kept secret: I'm lazy. I'm actually lazier than most of the slackers I've coached and mentored, and believe you me that's saying something. But I work hard when I'm on the clock. You know why? Simple. If I slack off, time slows to a crawl. The faster I can make time go by, the sooner I get to go home. Wouldn't you rather be at home than at work? I would.

The entitlement culture is everywhere...and it's still spreading. It was bad enough that little Sam was supposed to get straight As for showing up at school, and that Pat couldn't be allowed to lose the baseball game because SELF ESTEEM...but now we're cultivating a culture where I'm entitled NEVER TO BE OFFENDED. If you say something I find offensive, I can ruin you.

Crazy. Where does it end? Is there a further step that can be taken? Thoughtcrime, I suppose. When do we start getting electric shocks  for thinking what a bitch she is, or telling a racist joke in our heads?


We all know where this came from: parents. Wikipedia tells us that helicopter parenting is the product of two social shifts: the economic boom of the 1980s, with its low unemployment and high disposable income; and the entirely misplaced (but remarkably persistent) perception of increased child endangerment.  The former had two first-order consequences:

  • it allowed parents to spend more money on their kids than had hitherto been normal;
  • and with the rise of two-parent employment, parents felt pressured to spend as much 'quality time' with their children as possible. In many cases this meant partial or total abandonment of the traditional parent role in favour of being the child's "best friend".  
And the paranoia that kids were in danger at every step of their existence? That would have been fuelled by the rise of 24/7 in-your-face media. The consequences of that have been incredibly far reaching:
  • a huge spike in child and teen obesity, since physical activity could result in a (gasp) injury;
  • a sharp decrease in self-reliance, since kids doing things for themselves might also result in injury;
  • the rise of hyperparasitic parent-child relationships, where both parties act as parasites on each other
  • and last but not least, that culture of entitlement. It becomes Mommy and Daddy's job to insulate Offspring from any physical or emotional shock. 
I know parents who drive their teenaged children to school each day; who cook their little darlings entirely different suppers from what the parents themselves eat, because "they don't like it"; who wake their teenaged, job-holding kids up in the morning because otherwise they wouldn't get out of bed and they'd miss their shift and be fired.

In my day (he wheezed)...well, I can't be sure it wouldn't have crossed my folks' minds to wake me up. Objectively, I think they might have done it once, with a strict warning that if I overslept my shift again, it'd be on me. They'd follow through on that, too. You bet your ass they would. And then I'd be fired, and I'd...well, I'd have bloody well LEARNED something from that experience, wouldn't I have?

We are living in a society where consequences are completely out of whack.  Egregious criminality such as robbing millions of hard-working citizens of their savings gets a pat on the wrist, or more likely a huge bonus; while an off-colour joke (or, on point, an accidental elbow) becomes grounds for nuclear warfare. Meanwhile, an entire generation of kids--two now--have been raised to expect...no, to DEMAND...that they not be allowed to fail. At anything. Ever.

I see it at work daily: we're treated like children. It grates. It grates even more when I'm forced to concede that some of us ARE children, whatever they look like. 

It's Neverland. We're living in Neverland, where nobody ever has to grow up.  I keep hoping for signs the pendulum has reached its apex and is about to start swinging back the other way. I haven't seen it yet, and damn it, I feel entitled to.  



15 May, 2016

From the mailbag: Once a cheater, always a cheater?

You do like the tough ones, don't you? Thanks for this one.

I've written about cheating before, less than a year ago, in fact. Summary of that post: I do not support, encourage, facilitate or condone infidelity; people cheat for various and sundry reasons; often they're unaware of why they do it; and believe it or not, a majority of cheaters of both genders consider their partnership to be a generally happy one.

That last is probably tough for most people to believe. But it's true: in many cases, people are not actually looking to hurt their partner when they have an affair. They're looking to get a need met.

Now, that need is by definition selfish when it involves deceiving your partner. And the selfishness is (of course) the overwhelming focus of the deceived when the affair is found out. The need is often completely ignored.

I have some limited sympathy for cheaters, having been one myself. But it's limited. Cheating is (by definition, again) selfish; and because it is selfish it is (by definition) immature. I try not to judge people for being immature...as the saying goes,

THOU SHALT NOT JUDGE
BECAUSE
THOU HAST FUCKED UP IN THE PAST ALSO.

The process of maturity involves

(a) realizing you did something wrong;
(b) owning up to the wrong thing you did and accepting any consequences thereto;
(c) making a sincere and honest effort to determine why you did wrong, so that you won't do it again;
(d) not doing it again, to the person you wronged or to anyone else

My sympathy evaporates to nothing for people who will not engage in this process...or who, having engaged in the process, are unwilling to see it through. People who deliberately hurt others, and who have no problem doing so...I don't have time or energy for people like that in my life.

Now, here's where the tightrope gets a little frayed. And there's no safety net down there, so watch carefully as I tiptoe through this part...or go splat on my face.

I am convinced that many cheaters are actually poly.

Jesus, it's windy up here, and who greased this damn tightrope?

Many, not all or even most. And anyone using polyamory as an excuse for cheating ought to be hung by their genitalia until further notice, which may or may not ever come.

But consider: it's a socially mandated given that once you've partnered up, the part of your brain that finds other people mate-worthy automagically shuts off. Because, you know, out of seven billion people on earth, you found your soulmate....amazing, how she just happened to work with you, or you just happened to meet in a park. What ARE the odds against that, I wonder. Never mind.  I can't help it: I find the scarcity model of love completely ridiculous, and if it means I fall off the tightrope here and now, no worries, I plan on landing in a big cushy pile of abundant love.

But if you still see me up here, wobbling, permit me to take another step.

Now, suppose you've partnered up, and one or three or six or thirty years down the line you suddenly feel that part of you waking up again. What's your reaction?

Probably a species of horror. This isn't supposed to happen. And yet here it is, happening. What happens next? Do I even want to know?

Often, horror is its own imperative. You may think you're scared, but you're also curious. You want to touch the shape under the covers. Yes. You do. You can feel it pulling at you. You try to resist, and if you are good and strong and upright and walk in the light, you succeed, and stride out of the dark room and go on living the life of the just. But if you allow that shape into your mind, it has a way of permeating your life, until you creep back into the room where it waits and you reach under the cover and touch it there...and there...and especially THERE.

Yes.

First-time looming infidelity can indeed feel a little like you're in a horror movie. You've surrendered logic and even a degree of sanity and you've turned over control of your body to something that does not have your best interests at heart. And it's going to take you places. In the dark.

Before it does, or maybe after it does, there's a mad rush for meaning. What does it mean, this desire for another? Does it mean I don't really love my partner? Does it mean there's something wrong with our relationship? Does it mean there's something wrong with ME?

Probably not. Possibly not. Definitely not.

Assuming you haven't succumbed, the question then becomes what to do about this impossible desire. Within the confines of what society deems correct, you now have three options.

You can stomp on that desire until it dies. This is ethical, avoids hurting anyone (except maybe yourself) and it reasserts normality with a thud. Love is scarce, damn it. There's no such thing as shapes under the covers, and if there are such things, I'm not going to let them in.

Breaking up with a partner over an attraction is extreme, but we all know serial monogamists who do just that, addicted to the thrill of the chase and never satisfied with the catch. This, to my mind at least, is actually a form of infidelity. It's a bait and switch relationship: Now that I've won you over, I'm going to throw you away. You thought you were getting me, you're not, ergo I cheated you even if I didn't cheat ON you.

The third option...well, I'll say this for cheating. It has the illusion of security about it. You figure  hey, I can do this without throwing my life away over it, and if it doesn't work out, he'll never be any the wiser.
An illusion is all it is, of course. But illusions can be convincing. Ask anyone in a desert (and many would-be cheaters feel, on some level, that they're trudging through some sort of desert).

Those are your options under the scarcity model of love. For a fourth option you have to throw away that scarcity model root and branch and adopt an abundance model in its place. But many people haven't considered that abundance model--it's not exactly something that has much exposure, even now--and so they're stuck with the framework they know.

More than half of all cheaters say there's nothing seriously wrong with their marital relationships. Society's narrative suggests they're delusional. What if at least some of them are telling the truth? It suggests to me that some version of ethical non-monogamy is a potential solution for such people. If it's sex they're after,  an open relationship may work. If there are lots of feelings swishing around being all lovey-dovey, then that's polyamory.  Here's the hard part: talking to their partners about it. AHEAD OF TIME.

You have to be prepared for your partner to bolt the instant you bring this up. That's why so many would rather simply cheat and take their chances.  And pro tip: don't, DON'T, DON'T have a partner in mind when you first discuss the possibility. Or the probability of your partner going poof approaches one hundred percent.

Luckily, Ken has a single simple question that will determine once and for all whether you could be poly.

CAN YOU SHARE YOUR PARTNERS?

Loving more than one is easy. Letting your lover(s) do the same is harder, and for some, impossible. Even some poly people have trouble with this (see: one penis policy, hypocrisy of). Speaking for myself, I learned how to share in kindergarten, but...

Sorry. I really don't mean to be condescending. It's just that after you've lived this way for a while, it can be hard to even remember that most of the rest of the world doesn't. You find yourself turning off romantic comedies in disgust, suddenly remembering that at the end there's going to be one disappointed party who will turn out to have been nothing more than a plot device all along, a device meant to bring the happy couple together. Certainly not a real human being with feelings of his own. You hear people at work wishing their husbands would just take up rock-climbing the way they have and you actually have to slam your mouth shut before you can ever-so-unhelpfully suggest they find a rock-climbing boyfriend.

Polyamory. It actually is a way of seeing the world.

Okay, I'm going to put the poly away now. You're not poly, but you're thinking of cheating, or you have cheated.

Well, let's follow society's narrative. IS there something wrong within your relationship? Are you not being satisfied in some way?  Is your sex life good? Are you getting the right amount of sex, in the right style? How about emotional validation? Do you feel loved, cherished, respected, valued?  Whether the answers are yes or no, do you talk about them?

Are you sure about that? Most people don't, you know. They think they do, but they really don't. "Honey, are you okay? -- "Yeah, I'm fine" is not a relationship talk. Men stereotypically hate these talks, but believe me, men, you'll hate the consequences of silence much more.

What would your partner say if you said "you know, sweetie, I'm finding myself fantasizing about Oliver from work." Would she believe there's something wrong with you, with her, or with your relationship? Or would he laugh it off, and say "dream away, but do me the courtesy of not acting on it"? Scrub "fantasizing" and substitute "falling in love with". Does your partner's reaction change? (Sorry if you find the mixmastering of pronouns confusing: I always try to be inclusive in these blogs).

YOU NEED TO FIND THIS OUT. Nobody can know for sure before it happens how they're going to react, but you can and should talk about it in the abstract. Because odds are it WILL happen sooner or later, for both of you. That switch only really does turn off in the most devoutly monogamous people...and devoutly monogamous people are not as common as we'd like to think they are.

Are you bored? We dismiss boredom as a trivial thing, but it can be fatal to relationships, especially those founded on a high degree of excitement, and infidelity is often a product of marital ennui. The answer is to talk about it. Maybe you can spice things up. Maybe you can't, and it's time to move on--that's almost as provocative as polyamory, the notion that longevity of a relationship is no guarantor of that relationship's success). Regardless: use your words.

Once a cheater, always a cheater? Like so many other things in this world, it depends.






09 May, 2016

From the mailbag: I bet you say that to all the girls...

Rewording something I put up on Facebook, for those who don't have access to it: I have received a number of private messages asking me questions about my most recent blogs. Thank you so much for those: the Breadbin is only partly mine, and I will seek to answer anything I can here, bearing in mind my respect for privacy is absolute. You WILL NOT be named here; nothing I ever write will permit readers to identify you. 
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"How can I really trust someone who says they love me, that I'm beautiful, etc, if I know for a fact they say the same things to other people? Respectfully, it feels like your love is cheap if it's so easy to gain."

Ah. Yes. Good question. Thanks for asking it. 

There are two pernicious assumptions here. I don't blame you for making them, because they're so common as to go almost unquestioned in our world. They're rarely written as baldly as I'm about to write them, however. 

ASSUMPTION #1: WE FALL IN LOVE WITH PEOPLE, NOT THEIR QUALITIES.

ASSUMPTION #2: IF YOU LOVE MORE THAN ONE PERSON, THE LOVES CANCEL EACH OTHER OUT.

The first assumption is easily disputed, because everybody has a set of qualities they're looking for in a potential partner. But once you've found those qualities in that partner, you're supposed to forget that it was the qualities you were looking for and pretend, forevermore, that it was the person who has them. 

I love: sincerity, empathy, humour, and intelligence. These are not rare qualities, any of them (well, intelligence seems to be in short supply),  and even the four of them together aren't exactly impossible to find in one package. If you have all four of these things in copious quantities, you are beautiful, and I don't give a shit what you actually look like.  Beauty like that attracts me like a magnet. Each person I love has those qualities in slightly different proportions and expresses them in different ways...but they're all loveable as far as I'm concerned.

The second is equally stupid...at least I find it so. People have this need to compare themselves with other people, and they always seem to come up wanting. This extends into loves..."well, if you love her, who do you love more? It must be one of us."

No.

There is no "more". What there is, is love. I love you, and I love her, and I love him, too. 

There is different. I think I like the colour metaphor. I was talking to someone I think of as purple this morning and I asked her where my world would be with no purple in it. It would be a purple-less world, and poorer for so being. Other people are other colours, and without any of them, the world as it exists would be impossible. But the existence of purple doesn't eradicate blue, and green doesn't make gold disappear. 

There is TIME, of course, and that, unlike love, has limits. And love takes time, so there's a de facto limit to the love even the most devoutly poly person can experience. We call it "polysaturation"...the inability to take on more partners, simply because there aren't enough hours in the day.

Polyamory does mean that you don't have quite as much time with any loved one as you would in a monogamous relationship. Some people can't stand that thought because they're obsessed with whatever he's doing when he's not with them: those people aren't cut out for poly. For those of us who are, there's frank communication about the generalities of what's going to happen (who, where, approximately how long)...and "go, have fun".  

Because each colour is worth revelling in. The colours together make up a tapestry; the more colours, the richer the tapestry. I don't think purple is cheap (it is, after all, the colour of royalty)...but nor do I think that green is, either. Or pink, or brown, or....


"I bet you say that to all the girls"...well, I do try and make people understand that they're loveable, and many women feel they aren't. But each woman is loveable FOR HERSELF and herself alone.

08 May, 2016

Mother's Day

The confessional tone of my last run of blogs has been very much intentional. I've been dreading/gearing up for this one.
Which doesn't mean this blog is going to come easily. I've written and rewritten parts of it in my mind for the last month, ever since I saw the first Mother's Day card display of the year. In the end, I chucked the whole thing out and decided to just write what I'm feeling...which I repeat, isn't easy.

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“You know...it's at times like this...that I really wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was young."
"Why, what did she tell you?"
"I don't know, I didn't listen.”
--Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy


My mom died six months ago this past Tuesday. As per tradition, my stepdad had to remind me of the date. 

The story of Mom and I is one of ever-increasing distance. Ever since I came out of her, we've slowly, inexorably moved apart. In my early childhood, we were far, far too close: the aftermath of divorce left me as the man of the house at five years old, a role I embraced with alacrity -- I'm a big kid now! -- and no least idea of how to fulfill its obligations. For three years, it was Mommy and Kenny against the world, a battle I didn't even know was being fought. It was only much later that I got the barest understanding of how precarious life was until my stepdad arrived on the scene when I was eight: how unthinkingly, instinctively heroic my mother had been. She worked three jobs at once and there still was too much month left at the end of the money, but despite all that she still managed feats of parental attention beyond what many two-parent households lavish on their children today.

Mom willingly gave the disciplinarian role to my stepfather early on. And it's a good thing she did, because by that point in my life I had learned how to play her. She was beset by guilt every time she had to so much as raise her voice to me. That guilt could easily be exploited by a not-so-easy me, and it was. 

My tween and early teen years were as close to an idyllic childhood as I got. Mom was the Fount Of Affection, and John was the Well Of Life Lessons, and between the two of them (and my wife, who finished the job) I think I turned out pretty much okay. This despite my own best efforts to sabotage their work. 

Lacking siblings and indeed friends for much of my childhood, I nevertheless have it on good authority that many kids rebel against their parents. That was unthinkable to me early on, because consequences...but it became a much easier proposition after I left the house, far too early, to pursue "higher" education.  

Oh, I left willingly. On good terms, but willingly: the I'm a big kid now! was still operant, and REALLY came to the fore in my twenties, when I acted like nothing so much as a whiny overgrown toddler.  That didn't stop me from resenting the overwhelming feeling I was being pushed, and to that I could look back and add the awful rootlessness I felt as a child, moving nearly every school year, mom and John out looking at houses before we'd even fully unpacked from our latest move. That they were always on the lookout to improve our life, and often strictly MY life, escaped my notice. Sacrifices were still being made, many of them, and they escaped my notice as well.

< It's not as if the thumb I had worked my way out from under was even remotely oppressive (although, of course, twenty-something-year-old me could quote you chapter and verse on parental oppression).

On a foundation of assumptions, most of them dead wrong, I built a castle of ignorance and alienation and I lived in it, all alone, shouting the teenager's battle cry long after I escaped my teens: IT'S MY LIFE.

My life was a shambles. Even I knew as much: how could I not? But it was my shambles, damnit, and ownership of a wreck was more important to me at the time than the wreck itself.

Mom had done nothing, not the slightest thing, to merit my neglect of her. Neither did anyone else in those years. Rather the contrary, in fact: Mom went out of her way, as she always had, to lend support in any way she could, and my twenties were an era of limitless opportunity that I kept finding ways to squander and waste.

I graduated high school (1990) with more than ten thousand dollars saved up after my entire first year at Laurier was paid for. This was in large part thanks to my Mom. I had worked for her in the summer between high school and university. She made sure there was no favouritism shown by giving me all the shit jobs to do, but behind the scenes she was paying me handsomely, at a wage equal to that of her assistant manager, and at a FAR higher wage than Mom herself was pulling down.

More than ten grand. AFTER all living expenses.

At the end of my first year I was stone...cold...broke. I had exactly one sip of alcohol that year and touched no other drug...but I ate literally every meal out. I bought things on the slightest whim. My phone bill ran between three and four hundred bucks every month. The arcade up the street ate at least a thousand dollars of my money. There are several pinball games and a couple of video games that I high-scored on. There's a life achievement for you.

I still remember coming home for Christmas in the middle of that year and my parents being in a state of high piss-off about the state of my finances. That was the last time I played the "say-enough-contrite-things-to-get-out-of-Dutch" game on so grand a scale, knowing if I could just stick it out through the holidays, my life of wild abandonment would be waiting for me on the other end. And it was.

It became clear to me by my sophomore year, if not sooner, that I wasn't cut out for university. The line I adopted then and still use today was that I was paying thousands of dollars for professors to read textbooks to me, and I had to buy the textbooks. My mistake had been mine alone, and (rare, for me) forgivable: I had opted for higher education rather than hire education, not fully grasping, let alone applying, that most of my schooling had already taken and would continue to take place outside of school.

I persisted with the mistake, because I didn't make mistakes in the 1990s. Then when the mistake became completely untenable and I snapped and dropped out in the face of internet addiction and general life suckitude, I hid it all from Mom and John, knowing how disappointed they'd be in the mistake I didn't make.

Fictions that ridiculous don't pass the smell test, of course: I'm sure they knew right quick that little Kenny would not be getting the fabled CREDENTIAL. But by that point I was keeping everybody, especially them, at arm's length or greater,  all the better to pretend that I didn't make mistakes in the 1990s. Any mistakes made were obviously made by my parents: who pushed me out of the nest too soon? Who neglected to teach me the value of a dollar? Who kept trying to straight-jacket me?

(Answers from 2016 Ken: I was just as happy to go; I bloody well should have learned the value of a dollar because my folks were frugal; I actually had more freedom than was good for me. Lots more. Too much. But once you start building arguments on faulty premises you can twist anything into anything else.)

My wife, incidentally, came from a polar opposite background. She was paying room and board long before she left home, and she left home early. Eva has all the resilience, street smarts and self-reliance  I lack....but it's taken me most of seventeen years to convince the woman she's loveable and I STILL haven't managed to convince her it's okay not to be perfect.

So, to recap: immature man-child blaming everybody but himself for his waste of a life and the loving mother he cruelly neglected out of sheer self-centredness mixed with a soupçon of spite and malice. Mother's Day? Fuck it, she knows she's my mother, I don't need to call her  to remind her of it, and gifts? Rob myself of a restaurant dinner and a new CD? Yeah, right.

Lovely. Just...lovely.

At this point I don't even recall what brought everything to a head, only that our wedding plans were involved somehow and (as usual) I had contributed MORE than my fair share to the animosity. It blew up. It blew up real good. There was no contact for more than five years, and when the relationship did reset, I got a richly-deserved taste of my own medicine. Not intentionally, I hasten to add. But the distance I had so lovingly cultivated over a lost decade? I got to see how it felt to have it cultivated right back.

It hurt. And I earned that hurt.

It didn't help that my mom's health was failing. My mom was always a pillar of strength that just couldn't bear to be seen as weak. I'm sure she was trying to protect me from her slowly creeping mortality, as well. But it felt as if I was being shoved away. It's entirely possible I have manufactured some of this emotion in some kind of malignant echo of the bad years. But not all of it.

Worst of all, the man who tells himself and others he's a communicator had no CLUE what words would knock down the walls, walls he had built and she had reinforced.

And now, of course, Mom is gone. It's too late. No words CAN work now. Nothing I can say will bring her back. All I can do is try to atone.

"Atonement". Comes from the Middle English "to make united or reconciled". As such, that word should be split into "at one-ment". I haven't been "at one" with Mom since early childhood. Now, in her death, I'm trying to make peace with her shade and I'm still, quite frankly, at a loss as to how to do it. I misplaced the tools of family somewhere. Those loving, close families that do things together? Not my experience. Something feels, I don't know, fake about the concept, I guess because it's never really been my reality. My reality has been family that splinters easily, and I have followed the path of least resistance in that regard as in so many, many others.

______________

I said all that to say this.

Don't be me.

You may not get along with your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother. Both of you may think the other's a total ass, and both of you might even be right. That's no excuse for a life lived apart. Try...try hard...to look past your assumptions of who did what why, because I tell you three times I tell you  three times I tell you three times most of those assumptions are WRONG WRONG WRONG. Even where they may be correct, they come from baggage...which, as I just got finished telling you, is bullshit.

There will come a point for you when it is too late. That point could come today. And after it has come and gone, you will have to live with the knowledge you didn't do all you could have. That knowledge, let me tell you, hurts more than the grief itself.

I was not the son my Mom deserved. I was the son she had, and she did her damnedest by me. The story of my mom and I is one of ever-increasing distance. And now she is so, so far away.

I love you, Mom. I never stopped...it's just that I hated myself for a while and it kind of stained everything. But I love you. And I miss you.

So much.



06 May, 2016

Bullshit and Baggage

The world we live in is far from ideal. As an idealist, this inescapable fact by turns inspires, enrages, and depresses the hell out of me.
They say every cynic is a disappointed idealist, and I'll admit to my fair share of cynicism. The word "cynic" is a fascinating study: it derives from the Greek for "dog" and was an insult thrown at people who rejected the fashions and mores of their age. Rather than let the word belittle them, the Cynics adopted it wholesale, even revelling in it. A dog, after all, is loyal and steadfast, as the Cynics were to their philosophical tenets; the dog is also discerning, and will examine any morsel offered to it. This sort of behaviour was rigorously taught in the schools of ancient Greece, and is woefully deficient today. It goes under the modern name critical thinking.

I also have within me a great deal of hope: hope for myself, hope for those I love, and in my highest moments, hope for humanity. (That's a hard one to achieve, let alone sustain.) 

I have written before, in what is possibly my favourite of the nearly sixteen hundred posts here, about the war that rages within me between the forces of hope and cynicism. I'd like to spiral out from inside my own skull and talk about Hope and Cynicism as tools.

You may have noticed that the world we live in runs on bullshit. (If you don't believe this, you're bullshitting yourself, and thus the point is valid either way: screw critical thinking and logical fallacies, this is the logic of the nerve endings. The stink and squelch of bullshit is impossible to ignore. It permeates the Internet; it infects our relationships; and the working world positively thrives on it.

In order to succeed in a world full of bullshit, we're almost required to spread a little of it. We must, if not actually kiss asses, at least get our noses up good and close and take a long hard whiff of them. This proves to the possessor of the ass in question that we're either comfortable with his bullshit or at least willing to pretend we are. We must also sprinkle nearly our every utterance with little wisps of bullshit...because everyone else does, and we wouldn't want to stand out, would we?

Every now and again I meet someone who is a straight shooter, a hundred percent honest, who neither accepts nor spews bullshit. I respect and admire these people, because they fit my ideal, but oh! how they tend to suffer. Most people don't know how to take them: we're all so used to bullshit that its absence strikes us as the purest bullshit there is. And running through life without a bullshit sprinkler tends to manufacture (and escalate) conflict. Some people seem to LIVE FOR that, and if it works for them, so be it; that mindset is so alien to mine that nothing I say about it would make any sense.

A third issue for the straight shooter is self-distortion. She either goes through life convinced she's beyond reproach...or he's plagued by self-doubt. Often both at once, which tears at a soul.

People like this have a surfeit of cynicism...and it's hard to blame them, because cynicism feeds on itself. How can you blame somebody for a worldview that is reinforced constantly? It's particularly corrosive when that cynicism gets turned on the self: I'm not good enough, I'll never be good enough. It's mighty hard work  to overturn that, because anyone suggesting I *am* good enough is obviously full of bullshit!

Conversely, there's such a thing as too much hope. The word for that is naïvety, and it comes from not recognizing the bullshit for what it is. I regret to inform you I'm still prone to this in many contexts. I so want to believe certain hunks of social bullshit. The hardest one for me is: we should get together sometime.

This is a verbal tic for most people, the end-of-conversation equivalent of how are you? --fine when you're anything but. They're empty syllables nine times out of ten: I find that out when I try to take them up on the offer two or three times and nothing happens. Then I hold it against them. Relax, Ken, it's just bullshit. Not even intentional bullshit. Don't take this personally.

If I'm not careful, and often I'm not careful, it tips over into cynicism, and that kind of cynicism is aimed squarely at myself. They don't like you, of course they don't, they don't even want to SEE your ugly face--

MORE BULLSHIT!

I think most of us oscillate back and forth between hope and cynicism. More and more, I'm coming to believe that one of the secrets of a happy life is to keep those two forces in balance and use each as a tool: hope to rise above the bullshit and cynicism to cut through it.

Your baggage is the accumulated store of bullshit you've experienced. Unless you're a saint born of a saint and a saint, you have at least some; many of us have legions of imaginary bellboys to tote our baggage for us because otherwise we'd barely be able to move for the weight.

"Life's too short, babe
Time is flyin'
I'm looking for baggage that goes with mine"
--Jonathan Larson, "La Vie Bohème", from RENT

Your life's store of bullshit -- your baggage -- determines a lot. It strongly influences how you communicate, what you hold dear, how you live.

It's good to examine your baggage...and it's critical to discern which pieces of baggage are booby-trapped and work to expunge those.
Suppose someone has an alcoholic and abusive father. He grows up to be an alcoholic and abusive father, and says "it's because of my dad." His brother grows up to be a doormat, an abuse magnet, who shuns alcohol entirely and regards every social drinker as a good-for-nothing lush...and says "it's because of my dad." There's a lot of baggage there either way... and of course somebody else may have packed those bags, but they're your bags. Your responsibility. Your bullshit. It's up to you whether to shove that bullshit in somebody's face, or to use it as the fertilizer it's intended to be.

I can read you the tags on (nearly) every piece of baggage I have, from my hatred of violence to my fear of rejection. The only one that stubbornly refuses to be explained is my phobia of driving a car. I've never been in anything worthy of being called an accident. I come from very good to superlative drivers all around, and that includes my wife. And yet I just know, with a dead certainty, that if I try to pilot a motor vehicle for any length of time, I will crash, and I will kill myself and others. There is absolutely no room for dispute in my mind on that score: that's why I know it's a phobia. That and the overwhelming urge to vomit if I do anything other than start a car...

As we move through the river of bullshit that is life -- and if that isn't a cynical image, I don't know what is -- hope is the paddle we use to make headway. Hope in ourselves, that we can rise above this day's allotment of bullshit; hope in each other, that we can learn to remove all traces of bullshit from our relationship (for some sad sacks, this is much softened to "that our bullshit is compatible"); and hope for the world, that, just for today, it shows us something positive for a change.

Hope. Without it, you're stuck...stuck in the river of bullshit.

At the same time, cynicism can be a tool, a bullshit filter that separates the truth out from the effluvia. Like its counterpart, it can be abused, and often is. But a touch of cynicism is almost as important as hope...because it grounds us. Where hope is a paddle, cynicism is an anchor. And sometimes, let's face it, you need an anchor.

The war between General Hope and Commander Cynic may never be over. Maybe it's never supposed to be.







02 May, 2016

Casual sex, part 2 (of 2, I hope)

MEANT TO BE READ IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE LAST ENTRY

Eva reads all my blogs (except the political ones) before they go live. The last one, which took a lot out of me in the writing, she assessed as "powerful...but not clear". Also, she informed me, I was labouring under a misconception. An eight month affair, says Eva, is not casual sex.

"But I went for the sex, and I kept going back for the sex. Sex was the be-all and end-all of that relationship. Judy and I had one Scrabble game: the highest point total (547)  I've ever scored at Scrabble, before or since, and I lost. That game took place in my bedroom, of course, and led to incredibly hot sex, of course."

Judy, says Eva, was a fuck-buddy. Which isn't casual, quite. Casual is a one night stand, a random hookup...which is something I've never done in my life. I think I intended Judy to be a one night stand (it being easier to hide one incidence of cheating than an ongoing affair)....but I succumbed, again and again, to the draw of a relationship based almost entirely on sex. And when love made an appearance in that relationship, I bolted.  Which sounds almost...(almost...)  the backwards of something I would do today.

But my wife tells me I've never done actual casual sex. Thank you, love, for offering me that out if I choose to take it.

The truth is I've lumped fuck-buddies and "friends with benefits" (ugh, I hate that phrase) in with casual sex and devalued the whole thing to pretty much zero for more than twenty years. Anything that didn't involve a mutual commitment was, in my mind, tainted. More than tainted, actually: outright disgusting. By extension, the people who engaged in casual sex were also tainted and dirty, if not outright disgusting.

I see now that I'm blaming casual sex for my own shitty behaviour surrounding casual sex. I was a jerk. I cheated, repeatedly and unrepentantly. I hurt not one but two women, badly. They're far from the only women I've hurt in my life, but the nature of the hurt really imprinted on me and I vowed never to let lust get in the way of an "honest" relationship ever again.

This, of course, is a knee-jerk reaction, and I'm famous for those. If somebody tells me I'm pulling too far to the right, my instant reaction is to lean as far to the left as I possibly can, which has damn near capsized me more than once.

What I SHOULD have done was break up with the live-in girlfriend (she was never meant to be: all three of us, the third being the man who was her boyfriend before me and who still IS her husband now, suspected as much.)  The relationship with Judy still would have happened. It might well have ended differently; it might not have. No matter, I could have done what guys in their early twenties are supposed to do, and play the field. Had I done that, I wouldn't feel the need to look down my nose at people whose behaviour reminds me even slightly of my own back then.

In short, I was a typical immature young man. I offer no excuses for my pitiful behaviour and the only defence I can muster is that I resolved to do better going forward. And I largely have. I try very, very hard not to hurt anyone anymore if I can possibly help it.

______________

Some people are undoubtedly reading this tell-all and drawing conclusions about my polyamory. After all, more than a few cheaters seize on poly as a way to justify cheating, don't they? And isn't the poly community kind of obsessed with casual sex, to the point where there's pressure to call ANY kind of ethical non-monogamy "poly"?

True and true. But in telling you about Judy, I haven't told you about Mel and Pam and Pat and (before them) Danielle and Nicole and Laura and (after them) Tina and Jennifer and send in the trumpet...

Theirs are completely different stories. Nary a whiff of sex, licit or otherwise, casual or otherwise,  in any of them. And I've only named some highlights: I could go on and on, right up to the present day and many of my readers might find THEIR names in the list. The only thing this list of women have in common is that I've loved them, or still do. Deeply. Some of them, to this day, have no idea how deeply. Some of them suspect. A choice few know.

I've committed to myself, and sometimes to them if I've figured out they'd understand, that I'd be there for any one of them in any way I could, as long as I know them. There are some of them I'm intensely physically attracted to, and about five I can think of right now that I'd kill to spend a night just cuddling, no sex necessary. Highly unlikely any of that will happen: some are in committed monogamous relationships, others have made it clear they don't feel the same way about me (which doesn't lessen my love for them: I love people because they're loveable, not because they love me back). This is why I'm trying to date within my species. It's hard to get attention on dating sites, given that I'm lacking the requisite vagina, but I'm trying, with the loving support of my wife.

That's polyamory for you. I see it as an opportunity to let love blossom where it will. Where I drew the line -- unjustly, I see now -- is when it came to sex. I felt sex without love just had to be cheap.

It is possible to be polyamorous, to have more than one committed relationship, and to engage in the various levels of casual sex. Possible? Pretty common, actually.  Can't Help But Fly (The Poly Song) has this to say on that:

there's no better way to love me then through honesty and trusting
it's not indiscriminate fucking, it's indiscriminate loving

Nothing dirty about that at all.

You've got your random hookups, your fuck buddies and friends with benefits (still hate that phrase: I have many close friends I don't have sex with who nevertheless are huge benefits in my life) and your comets. That's a newly coined poly term I really like to describe the kind of intense periodic relationship you have with someone you actually see relatively rarely. None of these are bad IF THEY ARE APPROACHED HONESTLY FROM ALL SIDES.

I used to think, up until about yesterday, that all of that was  in the realm of Things I Just Couldn't Do. If I'm really being honest with myself, though, I could. I just have to get past how  I did what I did last time, because how I did it was not the way to do it.


______
Whew. Thanks for reading that. We now return you to your regularly scheduled Breadbin.


01 May, 2016

Casual sex

Question: "Men: How should we women tell you we're interested in you?"

My answer:

Okay, women, I'm going to let you know something. We know you're interested in us. Or...we think we do. We're about 99% sure. But 99% isn't good enough. The price of inaction on our part is at worst a lifetime of regret. That pales next to the price of action, which could be anything from a crushing rejection to, in certain contexts, jail time. So the best way to show us you are interested is to TELL us. Using those words. Then define "interested". What are you interested in? A hot night of sex? A platonic date? Marriage? TELL US, and that way we can't possibly misinterpret what we think you might be trying to show us.

This yielded the inevitable backlash about a lack of testosterone on my part that I was just talking about last blog. When I questioned it, hoping somebody would come forward and explain things calmly and rationally, I got this from  "curious_charlie":

It's okay to be attracted to someone, and it's okay to express that attraction. Everything you said is coming from [a] mental and emotional model of the world where these things are not OK....Furthermore, if rejection would be "crushing", you're already doing it wrong. You're far too attached to the outcome....


Well, now, this got me thinking. Sometimes that's not advisable, thinking.

Break it down. No problem with "it's okay to be attracted to someone, and it's okay to express that attraction"...at least in theory. It's considerably harder in practice, because I get caught up in how it must sound from the woman's perspective, and freeze: is she creeped out? Does she think I'm going to grope her in a minute? I stress that I'm not that kind of man...but does she know that for sure?
That isn't a lack of testosterone, by the way. That's many, many women telling me how they feel when guys approach them.

I'm especially careful with the I-love-you's after one dear friend responded to one of mine with a "wait, do you love me or are you in love with me?" Now, to me there's no difference, but based on vocal stress patterns it was perfectly clear the answer she wanted to hear.  Since I'll take and give love on whatever terms it's offered, to whatever extent it's offered, I wasn't even lying.

"...if rejection would be "crushing", you're doing it wrong. You're far too attached to the outcome."

This is also true, of course. In an ideal world, we wouldn't be attached to any outcome: the Buddhists teach that, and it's helpful if you want to be happy in life.  But most of us haven't attained that level of enlightenment: rejection *stings*.

This is kind of a good thing, I'm thinking (oh-oh, here he goes with the thinking...): It means you care. If rejection doesn't hurt you as a man, then women are just interchangeable to you. Okay, that one won't take me. Moving on...THAT, I reject.

And yet...that seems to be the attitude of a great many men. Check out dating site traffic patterns: all you have to do to get copious amounts of attention on any dating site is have a vagina. That's it. Most of the attention you get, if you have a vagina, will be in the form of crude mass texts:

Sunday May 1 23:21

hey baby dtf?

cc: all
encl:  my dick


I find everything about that sickening. There's no there there at all. It's so...so...casual. And everybody knows I don't do casual sex.

If "everybody knows" such-and-such, then it ain't so, by at least ten thousand to one. — Robert A. Heinlein

 _____________________

1992

Wow, this is getting steamy.

I'm sitting in a computer lab in Wilfrid Laurier University's oh-so-creatively-named Central Teaching Building. I should be writing some essay or other, but the pull of connecting with other human beings online is too great.

Well, one human being, right now. And if this bulge in my jeans gets any more pronounced, quick furtive look around  a different sort of pulling may be in order shortly.

Her name's Judy; she lives about a three minute walk from my place; all the rest is noise. Very pretty noise, but increasingly loud. So loud, in fact, that it's blotting out more than just the essay. It has certainly blotted out all trace of my live-in girlfriend. I should probably be ashamed of this, but shut up I'm listening here.

Judy, it is coming clear to me, likes sex. She likes sex a lot. She has things she could teach me, if I'd care to learn them.

 This is an interesting proposition, given that to date my sexual experience has been minimal and very grudgingly given. That live-in girlfriend actually wrote me a letter a while ago in which she promised to get my 'needs' satisfied: that translated into once a week perfunctory lie-back-and-think-of-England drudgery. They say sex is like pizza because even bad sex is still sex, but let's face it, the sex I'm getting lately tastes like pizza with mustard and cornflakes. (So is the sex I'm giving, lately, and yes, I'm actually rationalizing what I'm about to do by telling myself I'll actually become a better lover out of the bargain. What a dick I am.

What a dick I have.

What I'm about to do is get up and go to Judy's house and...


...and we're playing Nintendo. Or rather, she is, and I'm just finding new and interesting ways to die. I haven't been a gamer since the days of the Atari 2600 and its ONE joystick with ONE button, and this Nintendo controller is just impossible to work, especially with Judy practically leaning over me.

"I'm sorry, I'm no good at this", I said as I died again, and she looked at me all doe-eyed and asked "so what are you good at?" and threw her controller away and pulled me down on top of her all in one motion and yes, this is a bed we're laying on with silk sheets and everything and...

...and everything. Including things I'd never done before. The noise built and built and built, chords coruscating like musical rain, sparkles of tingly things, holy shit this feels fucking amazing this feels amazing fucking....

..and boom goes the dynamite.

I luxuriated in the afterglow, marred only slightly by my conscience yammering at me. Shut up, conscience, I said. That was too much fun to be wrong.

"Well, that was fun", said Judy, purring like a cat who'd just got the canary. "Let's do that again, soon".

We did. Over a period of about eight months, we did a lot, in a lot of places...including that computer lab where we first "met", at three thirty in the morning.

I was not Judy's only partner, and she wasn't shy about the fact. She kept a wicker basket of condoms in plain view by her bed, at least at first. In a perverse way this excited me: here was a woman who really did enjoy the rub and the thrust and the lick, who engaged in it for its own sake. Casual, fun...and mindblowing.

I went over to Judy's three or four times a week. That basket disappeared after a month or so. She began pressuring me to spend the night. I wanted to do this but sensed it would mean discovery and doom, and so I kept putting it off. This didn't bother Judy, until it did, and when it did, I started making myself scarce. Not cutting it off entirely--the sex was too good for that--but turning it into a once a week thing, then once a fortnight, each time paying the price of denying her a full night, each time leaving with my emotions completely askew.

And one day she...

One day she wrote me a love letter. The kind of sappy, cloying thing I couldn't write without going into sugar shock. It was on the computer, and it came with a huge ASCII art heart she had put a ton of effort into, and she begged me to leave my girlfriend and come be with her. Be her one and only.

I panicked. She threatened to expose me. I panicked some more, and broke things off in a flurry of things I didn't mean and shouldn't have said. I went home, where as it turned out my live-in girlfriend had (of course) figured out what I'd been up to and taken a lover of her own. And everything went to shit.

_________________

Surprised?

I've thought about that episode a lot over the years. It says a great many unflattering things about who I was, and (I tell myself) it taught me a great many more things about who I shouldn't be.

It also poisoned my mind towards casual sex.  I had engaged in it at a time I shouldn't have, at all; it was so good it was scary; and it ended horrifically, again thanks entirely to me. But through the dark magic of transference -- because I couldn't really be that much of an asshole, could I? -- Judy got blamed for my own actions and attitudes.

I have a (male) friend who once lamented to me that sex, in a sane world, should be a sport: you should be able to go down to the sex court, reserve a block of time, and go have fun, either as a duo or as a team, and why not? Provided everybody's consenting and free of disease, where's the harm?

It's funny, you know. Many people are terrified of emotions and run from them when they show up. I did, once. Now I find them to be a huge safety valve. Love as an excuse for lust: the only permissible excuse, in fact.  I've spent almost a quarter century building this mindset, and it suits me well, but today I realized it's built on a lie.











"Nicknames"

My time online is split between Facebook and Reddit (the latter being a jumping-off point for who knows where).
If you're not a Redditor, good for you: it's an enormous time-sink. If you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, this video explains the site much better than I can, and just might turn you into a Redditor too. Suffice it to say that its slogan -- "The Front Page Of the Internet" -- is just a tease of what Reddit actually is.

The place has its downsides. The biggest one, as far as I am concerned, is the downvote button.
Reddit comments are supposed to be upvoted (made more visible) if they contribute to the discussion and downvoted if they don't. That's almost never what happens. Usually people downvote stuff they don't like, and much of the time you don't even find out why. Since the Reddit userbase skews young, any post espousing a conservative, religious, or establishment viewpoint (outside subforums devoted to conservatism, religion, or establishmentarianism) tend to be ruthlessly downvoted. So you get a 'hivemind' and those who oppose it are ostracized.

High school, in other words.

You get points ("karma", inexplicably NOT called "cReddits") when your links or comments are upvoted, and lose those points if they're downvoted. After seven years, my comment karma is sitting at 47000 and change; I only have 380 in link karma. Those numbers, particularly the link karma, are very low for someone who has been on the site as long as I have. That's because I don't submit very much content. I've started putting up some of these blogs...doing so pulls in readers like you wouldn't believe. But it's a tricky business: there's no telling how total strangers will react to things I've written.

I admit to keeping half an eye on my comment karma. It's always nice to know people agree with you, or at least think you've contributed something substantive to the topic at hand.

Some of the tricks to getting massively upvoted:

  • get in on any thread early. The earlier the better. 
  • Piggyback off an already highly voted comment.
  • keep your comment short: Reddit has no attention span.
  • Refer to famous or infamous content (this is called 'going meta').
  • Pun, if appropriate (and sometimes even if not). 
  • Or, if you're really good, put a kick-ass post together that is nicely formatted (avoid the 'wall of text' at all costs) and answers a question in a cogent, entertaining way. 
  • DON'T be controversial, or at least, know when you can get away with voicing an opinion contrary to the hivemind and when you can't. 
There is often no telling what will catch Reddit's fancy in any given moment. I've put many a post out there expecting huge upvotes and gotten nothing, or even downvotes; at other times I've stated some innocuous comment that shouldn't even attract attention and gotten a few hundred upvotes out of it. 

Downvotes don't bother me. They certainly don't make me change my mind, not unless they are accompanied with an explanation that makes sense (and many people just reflexively hit that downvote button and move on). 

Sometimes the mere fact of the downvotes is telling. Some of the most disliked posts of mine on Reddit have had to do with my attitudes on love, most notably that love MAKES someone beautiful while (physical) beauty alone doesn't make someone loveable. Physical appearance doesn't matter very much to me at all. Oh, how people hate to hear that: along with the downvotes I get comments questioning my sexuality and insisting I am the most "beta" male in the history of males. 

Big whup. I've had family question my sexuality, not quite to my face. I'll put it to rest here once and for all, I'm straight...and given enough emotional attachment, I can be slightly bent. I'm a strong gay ally, but that comes from having kith and kin who are very much gay, also from having been treated as if I was gay myself, growing up...something that still persists in the anonymity of the Internet, where people don't actually know me.

As for 'beta' male: I claim that particular label with pride!

I've yet to meet a self-described alpha male I could stomach for more than ten minutes. They're the ones who treat women as receptacles, for one thing; they always seem like they're just about to explode, for another; and for a third, their interests (guns and cars and women they've raped or are planning on raping head the list)...yeah. I'll be a gay as a cock-flavoured lollipop if it'll keep those people away from me. (And it will: just a little spritz of camp is excellent alpha-male repellent.)

...

Anyway. That kind of derailed. Downvotes. I was talking about downvotes. Sometimes, a barrage of downvotes makes for good blogfodder.

_______________________

The NHL just held its draft lottery (pardon me for a minute: LEAFS WON! THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS WON SOMETHING!...there, that felt good). 

Don't worry, this is only on hockey for a minute.

It wasn't a given that Toronto would select first overall; in fact, before they won the right to do so, their most likely destiny was to pick fourth. Mock drafts this year tend to have a player named Jesse Puljujärvi slated fourth overall. Some wit on the Leaf subreddit referred to him as "Pool Party" and it stuck.

This really rubbed me the wrong way. "Puljujärvi" isn't even that hard to pronounce: in Finnish, Js are pronounced like English Ys, and that umlaut yields a short vowel sound that's slightly elongated: YESse POhlyuhyaarvee. "Pool Party" just sounds disrespectful to me. Can't we call people by their names? Hell, drop the umlaut if you want to...many people don't know how to type one. Just don't call a human being "Pool Party". 

Well, downvote me to hell and set me on fire. Apparently I'm a (pool) party pooper who can't accept nicknames. 

Um, no.

A nickname is complimentary. Hockey nicknames: "The Great One" (Gretzky, of course)..."The Great 8"--Alexander Ovechkin, whom I'm hoping will win the Stanley Cup this year). Or nicknames are quirky...take mine, "Macaw", so coined by my father when I was two because "all I ever did was squawk and shit". I still go by that one 42 years later.

"Pool Party"...well, I'll grant you it doesn't sound offensive. Who doesn't like a pool party? It's just when you realize that the guy's actual name is Puljujärvi that it gets a little bit...racist.

Yes, I said racist. Maybe that's not quite the right word, but "Pool Party" in this case is closer to a racial slur than it is to a nickname.  "Hey, Pool Party! I can't be bothered to learn what your name is, because it's too goddamn foreign, so I'm going to use some English words I know how to say instead. And that will be your NAME! That will be the thing I call you by, from now until your career is over!  

I'm betting Jesse will laugh off the moniker bestowed upon him. I'm also betting that deep inside, each time he's called "Pool Party", he'll wince and grimace a little.  

Here's another instance of a nickname that's not a nickname at all...also from hockey. You've heard of Sidney Crosby, right? Plays for the Pittsburgh, like "Super" Mario Lemieux before him.  Guess what he's called?

Well, yeah, he used to be called Sid the Kid, and you used to hear him called 'The Next One" before he proved to be just that. And among his teammates, he's called "Creature", because of his superhuman lower body strength. But the epithet I most often hear applied to Sidney Crosby is...wait for it...."Cindy".

Misogyny? Homophobia? Both? So much misplaced hate in five little letters. Strong women of my acquaintance (and pretty much all the women of my acquaintance are strong) may wonder what's so bad about being called a girl's name. Nothing at all, says this man, but remember, this man is a proud beta. To an alpha male (and the sporting life is full of them, which is one good reason I don't play sports) the only thing more lame and weak than a girl is that special breed of girly-man known as a "faggot". And believe you me, that's another of Sidney Crosby's "nicknames". That may be the only thing Mr. Crosby and I have in common.

Am I being too sensitive? Too...girly? I don't give a shit. Names are defining. They are words of power. Like all words, they should be chosen with care and applied without rancour. Some guy comes from a foreign country where they have dots over some of their letters and he won't do you a favour and change his last name? Fine: learn how he pronounces it and call him that. Somebody plays hockey ten thousand times better than you ever did or will?

Yeah, you go on and call him a girl. Because the girls can outplay you, too.

Downvote away.