Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Pressure of Expectation

So, while my husband and I have realized that polyamory was our ideal for most of our 11-year marriage, and have identified as "poly" for at least the past year or so, it's only fair to point out that we're still new to this journey, exploring where it leads us and how it will all play out.  A year doesn't sound all that new, except when you consider that it's been a year of being open and repeatedly dipping toes into the waters of poly, but never finding anyone worth diving in for (at least not who wanted to be dove in for, if that makes sense).  This to say, we've started putting ourselves out there, and dated some (sometimes individually and sometimes together), but that it hasn't gone particularly far (not beyond hanging out and the typical public-display sorts of affection that aren't exactly eyebrow-raising).

Part of the hangup has probably been that we've both gone so long in a monogamous relationship that we've become firmly accustomed to the kind of safety that comes from having been in a relationship with the same person for over a decade.  You know you won't be rejected.  You know you like similar things.  You know you and the other person are compatible. And you know, through and through, that the other person is completely worth any hassle they may bring into your life, because you know fully all the blessings they bring into your life.

Get yourself used to this, and you might start to discover, say about 11 years later, that the thought of going through that whole process of uncertainty, feeling things out, figuring out who the other person is, and all that comes along with dating, is a potentially terrifying process, anxiety-provoking and nerve-wracking.  Add to that the fact that I didn't particularly enjoy "dating" all that much the first time around, having often been a mostly-homebody with an occasional wild streak flare-up.  Don't misunderstand-- I enjoyed the process of falling in love, hanging out, getting to know each other, spending time together, and the rush of skin touching for the first (and second, and third) time.  But I didn't enjoy the stress of all the questions dating seemed to bring with it.

  • Where is this going?
  • Am I going to get hurt?  Will my heart get broken?
  • Do my expectations match my partner's?
  • Is s/he using me?
  • Do I seem desperate when I'm expressive about my feelings?  I'm much more expressive and authentic about my feelings than most people are used to, and this frequently gets misunderstood.
  • Does s/he really accept me for who I am?
  • What if s/he found out about (insert weird thing about my past actions or present quirkiness)?
In the old age of my primary relationship, I've become a bit of a fuddy-duddy.  I like knowing what is going on and what I can expect.  I'm still spontaneous and silly, with a wacko sense of humor, but I've become unaccustomed to the emotional swirliness that new relationships can bring.  

Which might be, in large part, why my partner and I started out our dabbling into the poly world with a big ol' slew of expectations and guidelines all hedged under the guise of being "clear in our communications."  I could offer a desperately long explanation here of what we'd discussed and agreed upon, but suffice to say that we'd created this big list of conditions upon which we'd feel safe exploring poly.  We'd need to be SUPER-DEE-DUPER BFF with the other person first to make sure we knew they cared about us and respected our relationship.  We'd need to have discussed (the ever-living daylights out of) our understanding of polyamory with the person first (thus creating a bizarre and arbitrary sense of urgency and intensity that may or may not match what the other person is seeking).  We didn't want to allow any room for that unpredictability that sucks about new relationships.

What we failed to realize is that unpredictability is almost always the defining factor in new relationships, and that isn't always a bad thing.

After falling in love with a very close friend, and keeping it to myself while I continued to fall deeper and deeper in love with her, the universe schooled us on a few things about poly.  And it hurt.  But it was something we needed, that taught us something we needed to know.

Some things we learned:

1) No matter how close you are to someone, you aren't going to be able to recreate the same level of safety and security entering into a relationship that you've developed over the course of 12 years of a relationship.  Plus, this isn't a fair expectation to place on a potential new poly partner.

2) As much as I thrill over the thought of being in relationship with someone that my husband and I can both love and be loved by, fully and in every way, that, also, isn't a fair expectation to place on a new relationship or poly partner.  I still stand by my desire for my husband to be able to maintain a sweet, safe, close friendship (if not romantic) with anyone I date, and for me to have a precious place (again, if not romantic) in the life of any partners he dates.  But maintaining a polyfidelitous closed triad or quad (or more) as the only ideal to which I'll aspire places too great a complication on new poly relationships.  For starters, it's hard enough getting to know one person in a relationship, much less two at once, particularly two who are already strongly bonded to each other.  Not to mention that this kind of expectation rules out anyone who doesn't identify as bisexual (or omni/pan), again adding a layer of burden to the exploration of a new poly relationship.  Do I really want someone to feel they have to pretend to be interested in me to have a relationship with my husband, or to pretend to be into him to be with me?  I need to have a safe enough relationship with his potential poly partners to know that they value and respect and honor our marriage.  It would be great if they also become close, special friends of mine.  And it would cause rainbows to spatter my cloudless skies and unicorns to prance the countryside if they also were to fall in love with me, and me with them.  But that isn't a requirement.

3) Chill the eff out and have some fun, will ya?  Seriously.  I am not a player.  I'm not a ladies (wo)man, or a player, or whatnot.  I'm not particularly fond of physical intimacy with other people outside of the context of either intense emotional intimacy OR ego-dissolving spiritual union.  This has led me in the past to feel like I was "saving myself," not out of some conservative drive toward purity, but more out of the recognition that the most mind-blowing make-outs and sex I've ever had (and I'm a very sex-positive, kinky, mind-blowing-sex-having kind of gal) have been in the context of a mind-blowingly safe and secure relationship with someone who was my emotional, social, spiritual partner, another expression of the core of my being in a separate body.  A friend once said, "I like to bump souls as well as uglies."  Amen, sista friend.  But I think I'm realizing that if I wait until I've found another "The One" to make any sorts of moves at all, I'm going to be waiting a long damn time-- time that could have been spent enjoying life, exploring other people's hearts, souls, and bodies.  Is that really my ideal?

I remember that while I was wrapped up in the falling-for-you stage of in-love with my closest friend, the thought of HER being my first kiss in over 12 years-- the first I'd kissed since marrying my love-- was a BIG DEAL.  I wanted it badly, not because kissing her meant she was MINE ALL MINE FOREVER AND EVER, but because it would have been a perfectly beautiful, intense, intimate, and precious expression of how I felt about her-- something meaningful and sweet and special and loving.  As it turned out, though, several evenings of emotional intimacy and closeness and cuddling aside, it didn't happen.  Although she said she loved me as I loved her, thought about a relationship, and had intense feelings about me, ultimately she was not comfortable dating a woman, and her vision of polyamory (as she envisioned it for her life) was built around her finding a primary MALE partner around which to build her polyamory network.  

The road since then has been a little rocky, but we're navigating it, trying to respect each other and preserve our friendship, because each believes the other is worth it.

And then after some time to reflect on it all, I realized that dating can be fun, not just for the kinds of long-term relationships it might allow to develop, but because being around other people in a fun, flirtatious way can be a good thing, whether or not it leads to anything serious or long-term.  This realization settled in on me over a period of a few months, and then something very interesting happened.

Out at a club last week, way too much alcohol in my system, I was chatting with my husband, our friend, and a few new friends.  Somehow the conversation turned to orientation and attraction, and although there are disagreements as to how it all came about, the end result was the same.  A beautiful, sweet, smart, and funny woman I'd only seen twice ever walked around my table, right up to me, and we kissed.  It wasn't planned, or the result of some kind of intense emotional relationship, or anything other than two women enjoying a kiss.

And it was great.  Instead of being freaked out, it was like a massive burden lifted.  There are no more "who will the first kiss post-husband" be anxieties.  And there weren't really any "OMG we kissed" anxieties, either.  It was like, "wow, we were tipsy.  And we kissed.  Go us."  And that was it.  And if we become great friends, fabulous.  I'd love to be her friend, because she genuinely seems like a wonderful person.  And if we simply stay on the peripheries of each others' lives, that's cool too, because there'd still be nothing lost but potential, which can't be the basis of all life decisions.  And if we ever do become friends and decide to date, not a problem.  See, that's the lesson in this for me-- what I needed to learn.  Ease up.  Let go of expectations.  Don't be a complete idiot, but don't weigh down every action in life with the burden of permanency.  Just be.  Flow.  Live.

I've long realized that as long as I live with authenticity and integrity, being who I am and treating others with kindness and respect, the rest will fall into place.  I'm now learning how to apply that spiritual practice to my approach to polyamory.


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