Monday, April 25, 2016

"I Could Never Do That"

It's by far the most common reaction people get when they out themselves as polyamorous: so common, in fact, as to be almost universal. "I could never do that." It's sometimes followed by a quick explanation: "I'm the jealous kind", perhaps, or "I'm a one-woman man". And then that's followed, almost always, by "...but if it works for you, more power to you."
Far be it from me to contradict the almost all of you who say "I could never do that", or to imply to any one of you that your words are not sincere. Having observed this reaction dozens of times, to the point where I silently echo it as it's being spoken, perhaps it merely seems like a reflexive defence mechanism to me.  (Not when YOU say it, I repeat...but just maybe when HE does.)

Many people have suggested my polyamory posts haven't elicited a reaction because the subject is taboo, because of any number of personal feelings on polyamory (it's weird! It's wrong!), because people just don't know what to think. Some of them might even be wrestling with the thought that they could be poly (again, I'm not naming a single name here: I have none to name. But if that is you, or could be...)

I believe the universality of the reaction to coming out as polyamorous is more proof of that taboo. I've had quite a gratifying number of people tell me (privately, and in a few cases even publicly) that my poly posts are interesting, even "fascinating", and simmering just underneath the interest is a "but how does it work?" that people are loath to blurt out.

So. Generally speaking:

Loving more than one person at once is dead simple. We all do it, after all...quick: name four people you love right now.


That wasn't hard, was it?

Letting those people love more than just you is also dead simple. Quick: name four people your partner loves.

Been a while since I posted that. I first read it in second grade, thought "of course", and promptly forgot about it. In high school, I could hardly help but notice how jealousy was held in high regard, as proof of love (?!) , and that poem was twigged in my memory, along with another Shel Silverstein effort I never forgot at all:

Of course, the loves you have for those multiple people you love aren't romantic. Nor are the loves your partner has. There's love, see, and then there's romantic love. The proof of romantic love is exclusivity. This is axiomatic: it's been drilled into us at every turn since we were toddlers. The princess must find her prince: he must be male, he should be dashing and brave, and it goes without saying there must only be one of him.

I have this mental tic: if somebody says "it goes without saying", I immediately ask why. George Carlin taught me that. So did Robert Heinlein; so did several other writers and thinkers I respect and admire.

I've generally found that the world is going right to hell on the road of unexamined assumptions. "The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, that's just the way it is." "They hate us because of our freedom." "She's fat because she's lazy and ignorant." "My God is better than your God."  Oh yeah? Sez who?

This is the polyamory flag, designed by Jim Evans. Blue represents honesty and openness; red, passion; and black, solidarity with those who have had to fight for recognition and equality. The pi in the center has a double meaning: the Greek letter pi is the first letter in 'polyamory' the risk of sounding cheesy:

It is my belief, backed up by most of a lifetime of experience, that love is NOT like money, despite the fact it is very often treated exactly that way. Many of us have a scarcity model of love: any love I give to you is not available to give to someone else. 

"Last Christmas, I gave you my heart/
The very next day, you gave it away/
This year, to save me from tears, I'll give it to someone special"...

Ugh, I hate that carol. But look at those lines closely. She gave him (the lyrics elsewhere suggest it's probably a him, though not necessarily) her heart last Christmas. But mysteriously, even though he went and gave it away (the very next day! to whom? How does that even work?) ... she's still got her heart! She's giving it to someone else this year! How did that happen, I thought she gave it away! Hmmm, maybe it's possible to 'give someone your heart' AND STILL HAVE IT to give to someone else.

Funny, the things you find when you really look.

 Love is wonderfully strange in that the more you give away, the more you have to give. Come at life from a perspective of abundant love and you really start to notice how loveable so many people are, how deserving of love. And what I find heart-wrenching: most of the truly loveable people I've met have no idea they are that way. They think, instead, that they are worthless. I so want to hold these people,  for an hour or a night, and get a start on convincing them otherwise. If I can love them -- and I do -- then others can, too.  And you know what makes me happy? When they discover that's true for themselves. Showing someone she's loveable and seeing the light kindle in her eyes...I live for that.

Now, the reason most people give that they could never live like this is that they are too prone to jealousy. I find that very interesting, because I don't really understand it. 

I'm not kidding. I'd really like someone to explain it to me. See, here's how I see it. Let's say your partner works and you don't, or on a day you don't. She goes off to work and leaves you alone for eight or nine or ten hours. Unless you are truly deranged (and I think even the most devoutly monogamous person can agree this would be insane) don't get jealous of the time she's spending at work. She might even be friends with other men at work and it might not have even crossed your mind to be jealous. 

Then she comes home, has supper with you -- lovely meal -- and she goes out with some girlfriends. Again, you're not jealous: they're 'just girlfriends'. 

(If she happens to be bisexual, there's a whole lot wrong with your dismissive attitude: who's to say a relationship with another woman can't be a threat to your own? Many males, especially towards the alpha end of the spectrum, never even consider that. There's a whole other post there and I'd trying to make the opposite point about threats to your relationship anyway, so I'll let it go for now.) 

Now. Let's suppose further that this is her routine for weeks on end, and it gets to the point where she's skipping supper with you most nights and truth be told, not even really there when she IS in front of you. Now you're jealous...and you have every right and reason to be. You are being neglected, possibly even being treated as a doormat. Nobody deserves that, least of all you! 

That's jealousy's function. It's an alarm that trips when you're feeling insecure. Sometimes that insecurity is warranted, as in the case above where you're being virtually ignored and taken for granted. Often, though, it isn't. Often you may be feeling insecure and you've got no reason to. She's just at work, making money to support you both, and enjoying her career. She's just out with the girls, having fun.

She's just with another man.

Whoa, whoa, where did that come from, that's no good, why is there a JUST there, holy shit this is the end of the world---

Calm down a second. Have some dip. Remember this is not happening, this is a hypothetical exercise we're running here--

--Jesus Jesus Jesus she doesn't love me I'm not good enough what the almighty fuck--

(30 minutes later)

Okay. Let's look at this rationally. 

If she's with another guy (or girl: I really don't want to be heterosexist here)  and she hasn't told you that this was happening or even a possibility, yep, your freakout is completely justified. This would be cheating. It happens, inexplicably, in poly relationships too. Some people just gotta be arseholes, I guess. 


Suppose your relationship is structured such that this is acceptable provided you know about it and have consented to it (remember: multiple committed relationships with the KNOWLEDGE AND CONSENT of ALL involved).

First off, what does that look like in practice? Depends on the relationship, of course, but in general it's no different than if she's going out with the girls. "I'm seeing Billy-Bob tonight, I think we're doing dinner somewhere and then maybe a movie". Or "remember, honey, tonight's my sleepover night". I am aware of no case in which it's "Eleanor's going to sit on my face for a while  and then I'm going to drill her into next July". We're poly, not cuckolds. Each relationship has its own space....even for those polyfidelitous trios and quads who live under the same roof, each relationship has its own space and those spaces are respected or things get VERY messy, VERY quickly. 

If this is your relationship structure, do you still have a reason to be jealous?

Maybe he's better in bed than I am. Maybe he's a better provider. Maybe he's stronger. Maybe maybe maybe.

Yes, maybe he is. And the funny thing is that he's saying the same about you and he's right, just like you're right. This isn't either/or, this is both/and. There is no better or worse, there is different. Your friends like different things and you do different things with them. Lovers are the same. You cherish each person for who they are while they are with you. 

Maybe he'll decide to leave me.

Yep, maybe he will. He could die in a car crash on the way home from work today and the end effect would be the same as far as you're concerned. He could have decided to leave you at the end of that last argument you had, remember that one? You were both stomping around the house for hours, not speaking to each other. But he didn't leave and neither did you because you both make the choice every day to honour the commitment you made to each other all those years ago. So he has other commitments. So do you. What, you can only have one commitment in life?

I will say this on a personal note. My marriage is not a prison: Eva's free to go at any time and so am I. We both know it: we agreed to it before we got married (and we were, for all intents and purposes, married on our third date). Should that happen (and seventeen years after that third date I'd rate those chances as exceedingly unlikely), of course I'd be sad, angry, quite possibly jealous as hell. But fight to hold someone back when it no longer serves them to be in this relationship as it currently exists? I could never do that to another human being, much less one I love as much as I love my wife. 

But...but....right now she could be sharing an intimate moment. Right NOW, while I'm sitting here alone. Maybe he's fucking her brains out right now and she's in orbit somewhere and I can't get that picture out of my head.

I wish I had written this song. This is my philosophy of love set to  music. Every...single...line of it is pure perfection. The answer to virtually any problem that can come up in a polyamorous relationship can be solved conclusively by the conscientious application of one or another verse in this song.

"You love to hear me sing even if you didn't write the note/
I love to hear you laugh even if I didn't tell the joke"

That's called 'compersion' or 'mudita': joy unadulterated by self-interest. It is the opposite of jealousy and it's something that comes naturally to some polyamorous people and can be learned by others.  Are you happy he's happy? Shared joy, remember, is multiplied. If you're not happy she's happy, you're jealous. Is that jealousy reasonable or not? Probably not.

Which again doesn't mean you should just stopper up your own needs. NOBODY IN ANY RELATIONSHIP, mono or poly, SHOULD EVER FEEL TAKEN FOR GRANTED. That's where that justified jealousy comes in. 
And so, if it gets a bit much (and it will: NRE ("new relationship energy") is a bucking bronco)... you talk. Pssst...hey, sweetie, over here. I'm glad you're enjoying your time with her, but don't forget about me. 
It's a balancing act, no different from work and home life, or making sure each of your children knows he's loved.  Maybe a bit more complicated now and again, but no different. Many poly people are aware of the lonelies and try to schedule their dates at the same time their partners are occupied elsewhere. Many others just appreciate the time to themselves. 

Living in this poly bubble, I easily forget that this is not normal, that other people find it strange and even a bit intimidating. (Sad, that: there shouldn't be anything intimidating about love.) My goal in writing this, as with all my poly blogs, is to get people THINKING about polyamory. There are many people who are hard-wired monogamous and happy being that way, and there is nothing wrong with that. But there are just as many, possibly more, people, who are monogamous by default: who feel an "extra" attraction and stifle it because it goes without saying that's wrong and it means I love my partner less or don't really love him at all.

Those unexamined assumptions are the source of so much pain in the world...

If a girl asks you to dance-then dance with the girl.
If it feels right, then you should hold hands with the girl. 
'Cause I believe that god is love and love she keeps telling me
to step back, relax and deconstruct your jealousy.
'Cause jealousy is fear--some days I'm scared of losing you:
 but you and I are free to leave if we choose to!
I'm taking down the bricks of this invisible wall,
and when the wind of love blows, now we both can feel it all...

"Can't Help But Fly" (The Poly Song)
Naima Infinity

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