Uh, yes. Spot on!
These three words should come as little surprise to any of you: I like men.
But what does this actually mean?
Working in the alphabet soup communities for the last decade, primarily as a journalist and filmmaker, I’ve had the opportunity to seek out and meet many different kinds of people who fall under the rainbow of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Lately, since I’ve started dating non-monogamously, I’ve gotten a lot of questions and comments regarding jealousy. Usually something to the effect of, “You’re poly? Damn, I’m waaaay too jealous for that!” After mulling it over a while, I’ve come to the conclusion that jealousy really has nothing to do with it. I’d like to propose that we are not inherently jealous, but that we’ve been taught that jealousy is an appropriate, perhaps even necessary, reaction to these kinds of situations.
Jealousy is a secondary emotion. In other words, this means that the jealousy is blossoming from another emotion– almost always fear (which, coincidentally, is also anger’s primary emotion). In the context of relationships these fears tend to be fear of losing your partner and/or fear of not being good enough for your partner.
Let me first say that your fears are unfounded. For one, your definitely good enough. Could your partner still leave? Of course. That’s the risk you run with relationships. But from my experience, people don’t leave a relationship they’re happy in. Even in situations where there has been “someone else,” they were the catalyst to ending an already failing relationship, not the cause. Which isn’t to say things couldn’t seem blissful and then one day your partner does a 180, it happens. But it’s unlikely that if there have been no warning signs, something will happen out of the blue.
So jealousy is really just fear dressed up for the party. And if everyone is communicating openly and honestly, there’s little to fear. So what’s with the jealousy? Do we just enjoy tearing ourselves down? Or do we think, somehow, that we’re protecting what’s ours? Defending our claim? Does anyone else think that sounds weird?
Relationships are just that– the way you relate to people. You aren’t employing a servant or buying a flightless bird to keep in a cage. You’re relating, you’re learning, you’re getting to know another person and sharing yourself with them. So the possessiveness that can arise in relationships is actually kind of a scary thing. We become defensive and greedy when we’re afraid, we try to hide our partner away and keep them close to us… and when they get fed up with being treated like a pet, we use this outcome as validation for our fears when, in reality, the fear created the problem from the get go.
No joke, if you want to chase away a partner as quickly as possible, try keeping them tied down. Keep them from the other things in their life, friends, hobbies, family, etc. and they’ll leave faster than you can say, “Did I do something wrong?” A lover or partner is not meant to be the center of our lives. Our partners are supposed to enhance our lives and support our choices. If that’s not happening, it won’t last long.
The more we flesh out jealousy as an idea, the clearer it is to me that it’s a hallmark of monogamy, oddly enough. Think about it: Where is jealousy more likely? In a relationship where each partner is emotional and physically exclusive, or one where partners, though emotionally committed, are free to find others attractive and pursue that? Instinctively you want to say the latter, but the latter situation is one where boundaries have been established that allow partners to engage with other’s sexually without threatening the trust or the emotional intimacy of the relationship. Your poly partner is going to tell you if/when they sleep with someone else. In monogamous situations, we consider that cheating, which in turn encourages lying.
An example might help. If I’m walking down the street with my monogamous girlfriend and I see someone else attractive, I keep my mouth shut. If I mention the attractive person instead, the response is usually something to the effect of, “And I’m hideous??” or something as equally insecure and needlessly aggressive. When I’m walking down the street with my poly boyfriend and we see someone sexy (which happens a lot) he might say, “Wow, she’s beautiful!” and I might say in return, “Yeah she is! Why don’t you go talk to her?” One of those is going to result in a fight, and it’s not the poly example.
Listen, I’m not saying everyone should be polyamorous. Clearly, monogamy works for some people and I do believe that some people are better wired for a monogamous situations. What I am saying is that it’s funny to me that people associate jealousy with polyamory since what polyamory does is basically remove the barriers and insecurities that cause and feed jealousy. To me, it’s more honest in that you’re admitting up front that you WILL find others attractive. The difference is that in poly situations, we know that finding someone else attractive doesn’t mean NOT finding us attractive. We know that both can and do co-exist. What’s even better, though, is we don’t make you choose, either. It’s not like you have to leave one partner to be with another.
But I do understand what people are getting at. They want to know how I can handle seeing someone I love love others. (It sounds like a silly question when I put it that way, huh?) And the answer is two-fold: (1) I’m secure in the relationship my boyfriend and I have, and he does a great job of making me feel special and loved even though I’m well aware that I’m not the only person in his life in that capacity. (2) I got over my insecurities. And this really is the key. For a long time I didn’t think I could handle non-monogamy, but at least I was honest about why: “I just think I’m too insecure for that kind of relationship.” And at the time, I definitely was. Confidence is sexy, sure, but confidence will also preserve your sanity. That is, it doesn’t bother me seeing my boyfriend with another woman (or man–actually, that sounds hot, but I digress) because I’m confident in who I am and that he likes and cares for who I am, regardless of whether or not there are other attractive people around.
This isn’t a call for polyamory for all, that just wouldn’t work. But this is a call for confidence for all– whether you’re monogamous, polyamorous, single or asexual. Faith in ourselves is essential for survival, and if you only get yours from other sources, one day your well will run dry. Learning to love myself (because it’s still a work in progress) has been simultaneously one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s hard, but it’s well worth the rewards.
Consider starting small. I know I did. My therapist gave me these post-it notes to put around the house with positive messages on them. I tried not to gag when she first gave them to me. (Yeah, I’m definitely that person who rolls her eyes at “positive affirmations,” even knowing they can work.) For weeks I sat with the post-it notes, unable to think of a single nice thing about myself that I actually believed. And then it hit me, “Love yourself anyway.” I started writing things like, “You’re a ridiculous human being, but I love you anyway.” or “I have seen your struggle and I love you anyway.” It managed to acknowledge my resistance to loving myself while still sending a positive message. Go figure. But those words have come to mean quite a lot to me. They mean that even on days when I just can stand myself, when I muck everything up, when I want to just pull all my hair out and throw a tantrum, they mean that despite all the imperfections I should love myself… anyway.
Love more, fear less.
I’m a bit of a perfectionist by nature. School was the ideal distraction for me as a kid: I could dive into it completely and dedicate myself to learning all the rules, reading all the books, getting the highest scores on tests, etc. Unsurprisingly, math was my favorite subject. (Or maybe surprisingly, since math is always getting a bad rap and I am, after all, A GIRL. GASP!) There’s more than one way to arrive at an answer in mathematics, but ultimately there’s only one correct answer (or set of correct answers). There’s something comforting and definitive about math that the other subjects lack, and math doesn’t even have to sacrifice any creativity for it.
Direct, decisive, but creative. In a nutshell, what I aspire to be.
But math doesn’t stop there. Because you have to show all your work (or, at least, we did when I was in school; I don’t know how the state of calculator use has advanced), you can always go back and find your mistake. Find your mistake, fix it, recalculate and we’re back in business! If only determining and remedying our mistakes in the rest of life were so easy.
I was called “wise,” tonight. It’s not the first time I’ve been described that way, but frankly I don’t think I possess any special skills or insight others lack. Truthfully, if I’m wise it’s because I make a lot of mistakes. I make mistakes, I reflect on them, and I try to make different and/or better choices the next time. It seems simple because it is, this is how we learn. But as I grow older I am honestly floored by how many supposed “adults” I’ve met that are afraid to make mistakes or, worse yet, learn from them! Even my closest friends warn me against taking risks. I know they mean well, I know they don’t want to see me hurt, but the size of the reward is generally directly proportional to the size of the risk. You dream big? You’ll have to take big risks to get it.
So let me propose that the idea that mistakes are in any way, shape or form “bad” is completely ludicrous. Mistakes are a blessing. For one, we’re not actually required to be perfect, even if we insist on putting that pressure on ourselves. (I’m utterly convinced perfect would be boring anyway. The Twilight Zone fans out there know what I’m talking about.) More importantly, mistakes open the door for new knowledge and insight. Some of history’s best inventions began as “mistakes.”
If mistakes are inherently good things (which seems oxymoronic to say, I know), the best mistakes are the one you learn the most from. Which, unfortunately, often correlates with the size of the mistake… There have been times in my life where getting my heartbroken, saying the wrong thing to the new boss, utterly embarrassing myself, etc.–the things that sting so damn much in the moment–where the best things that could’ve happened to me.
Relationship mistakes are perhaps the most interesting because we don’t learn what’s necessary “right” or “wrong,” we learn about ourselves. We learn who we are, how we love, how we cope, what we want, want we can give and what we’re willing to give. And those are some of the most important things to know about oneself. So was dating my coworker dumb? Sure. Did dating someone twice my age present more challenges than I anticipated? Absolutely. Will co-dependency gnaw at your sense of self like a hungry rat? Of course. But I don’t regret a single one of these mistakes. Perhaps I wish I’d know better sooner, but I know better now. And that’s what matters.
So what exactly have I learned through my various relationship follies? Well, it sounds cliche, but I’ve certainly learned that the most important relationship I have is with myself and that self-care is not optional or self-indulgent, it’s a matter of survival. I’ve learned that while relating is important, I never want to be the most important or *biggest* thing in someone’s life or vise versa. I’ve learned that relationships are supposed to enhance your life, not become your life, not engulf your life. I’ve learned that you don’t give to get, and, at the same time, if you’re consistently giving and not getting anything in return, it’s time to move on. Often the act of giving gives back to ourselves, but if that’s not happening there’s a problem. I’ve learned that jealousy is an extremely silly emotion that usually arises from not speaking your peace. I’ve learned to speak up. I’ve learned that sex is better when you’re loud.
I’ve learned that Love is not always enough.
I’ve learned that while I cannot control the actions or reactions of others, I can make informed choices and be in control of my own emotions and reactions, which is actually quite a lot. I’ve learned that I don’t have to catch what others are throwing at me. I’ve learned that making and keeping boundaries is hard work, but well worth the effort. I’ve learned that love is meant to be shared–inclusive, not exclusive. I’ve learned that 99% of the time it’s not personal. I’ve learned to trust the person who shows me they love me without saying it, over the person who says it without showing it. I’ve learned that my heart will heal and grow back, and being bitter just keeps the wounds from healing. I’ve learned that if I love myself first, I have more to give others as a result. I’ve learned that dating co-workers is about as good an idea as living with friends (i.e. not very). I’ve learned some people will take as much as you let them. I’ve learned that you are not obligated to anyone, even if they love you. I’ve learned that communication is crucial. I’ve learned that genuine love means letting go, even when it’s the last thing in the world you want to do.
I’ve learned that there’s more than one right way to Love.
This is an incomplete list, by far, and I know I still have much to learn. The things I’ve learned are not necessarily universal truths, though some might be. They’re what’s true for me, what I want in and out of my life. I think that’s why there are so many mistakes we have to make for ourselves. Not because we’re stubborn and won’t listen, but because we’re all unique people, so we’ll learn different things through our mistakes. We’ll learn what we value, what we love, and what hurts the deepest.
As long as you’re willing to take a risk, the rest will follow.
Starin’ down the stars
Jealous of the moon
You wish you could fly
Just being where you are
There’s nothin’ you can do
If you’re too scared to try…
In one of the most entertaining movies I’ve ever seen, The Mummy (1999), there’s a scene where the main characters are being chased by a mob. Evy is trying to translate something that will help them stop the mob and Rick asks her to PLEASE hurry it up. She simply responds without stopping what she’s doing, “Patience is a virtue.” It’s always tickled me, and sometimes I use it to respond to impatience in real life.
However you feel about virtues, patience is a useful skill. Very few things in life happen overnight, most of the time we have to wait. And the better something is, the longer we have to wait! (Not the all the time, but often.) Because of this, learning patience is downright practical. Impatience brings a great deal of unnecessary discontent upon the barer. Which isn’t to say don’t speak up or advocate for yourself when you need to, but learn to be patient too. Timing is key.
This is very much how I feel about relationships. I rarely go looking for a relationship, they seem to elude me when I do anyway. But I wait, I meet people, I do things I enjoy doing, and eventually I meet someone I want to date and sometimes they want to date me too! Sure, many of my friends are married, some married in their teens, most in their early to mid 20s. And sure, it’s tempting to compare myself to their timeline, but what’s the use in that?
My beau and his wife have been married for 12 years. They’re happy and they’ve built a life together despite challenges such as both of them being poly and very busy people. It’s hard not to envy such a amazing relationship, but then I remember that my beau was 8 years older than I am now when they met. There’s still time. Heck, as long as we’re breathing there’s still time. And surely their relationship did not come to be so awesome without hard work and–wait for it!–patience.
Truth be told, he waited for me, too. We met over a year ago, really hit it off, but I didn’t call him… I was caught up in my own junk at the time, and it took me a whole damn year to call him. But he didn’t prod me, he just waited. And eventually I came to him. If he’d pushed, I wouldn’t have. (I know this about myself from past experience.) And now… now I feel like such an idiot for not calling him sooner! But really, the timing wasn’t right then. And I almost passed this up entirely because the timing wasn’t right. What a terrible fool I would’ve been…
I can’t tell you whether it’s fate or coincidence, honestly, but sometimes life’s timing is uncanny. Sometimes you get exactly what you need at exactly the right time. And sometimes you have to wait a little while.
I’m just a little flabbergasted. Apparently we need to brand single people now so you know they’re single (like how you totally know someone is unavailable if they wear a ring their left ring finger).
There are two major problems I see with this concept:
(1) Despite Facebook’s insistence that you’re either are, were or wish to be married, there’s actually a lot more nuance to relationship statuses, even if you’re single. I mean, heck, at the moment I’m “single but seeing someone,” what color wristband would that be?
(2) It’s downright degrading!
Jezebel’s coverage of the issue is actually pretty thorough, and I appreciate the seething sarcasm. They certainly cover the problem of nuance, “seven colors cannot possibly contain the multitudes of relationship statuses within singleness.” True story.
Perhaps the creation of these isn’t as insidious as I suspect… Creator Rob says: ‘Whilst working at my previous office of 3,500 people, I realised that I saw hundreds of people each day that could potentially be a suitable partner, yet there was no way of knowing their relationship status.’ Then again, maybe it is.
Really, Rob? NO WAY of knowing? So it’s safe to assume you cut out your tongue to win a bet and that’s why you can’t simply TALK to people to find out what their deal is? REALLY? I mean, it’s not even hard nowadays: you can talk, text, skype, chat, tweet, post, like, etc. etc. The ways we communicate keep expanding, but you need a special colored wristband to know who’s single so, HEAVEN FORBID, you don’t accidentally have a conversation with someone who’s romantically unavailable but may, nevertheless, make a great friend? I call shenanigans.
I really do find this degrading. Maybe that seems a little out of proportion. Granted, it’s hardly the same as the pink triangle, and it’s still a form of branding. Branding a person to reduce them to a single characteristic and separate them accordingly.
Not only is it degrading because it reduces me to my status as “single” and nothing else, but it also springboards off the assumption that there’s simply no way I would willingly choose to be single.
“The new MY Single Band bracelet aims to take some of the complication out of looking for love, enabling singletons to easily spot each other.”
Clearly, I am a “singleton” against my will, but thanks to this nifty colored wristbands (that happen to look exactly like the colored wristbands people wear for causes or those “shag bands” kids were into for a minute) will solve all my problems! All I need to do is find someone wearing the right color wristband– no need to waste time talking or getting to know people!
Sinceriously– it’s degrading. And they absolutely reinforce the idea of there being ONE TRUE LOVE out there, waiting for you with baited breath. “The silicone wristbands are embossed with the words fate, destiny and future.” I think I might gag. If “fate” and “destiny” were REALLY at play here, then why would you need a stupid silicone wristband to find each other???
This idea does vaguely remind me of a quirky film I saw on Netflix called “TiMER.” The concept is that science knows who your soulmate is and you can get a timer installed in your wrist which will tell you when you’re going to meet them! It’s an interesting idea, and despite my general cynicism I actually adored this movie. Why? I thought it did a fabulous job of challenging the traditional narrative about how you’re supposed to fall in love and raises some interesting questions. In a world where you can know who your soulmate is, does dating have a purpose? What if you meet someone you like, but know they’re not your soulmate per the timer? What if you meet someone you like and they don’t HAVE a timer? Ultimately, the point I took home is that there isn’t a right way to love. There’s just love.
So, in response to disgusting wristbands: No thanks, I’d rather continue having meaningful conversations and getting to know people without being focused on their relationship status. Cool?
Last night was yet another amazing evening spent with my new beau. I was recounting some of the night to a close friend of mine, telling her about how happy I was, how a meteor could fall on my head right now and I’d still have a smile on my face, but inevitably “the future” came back to haunt me.
“Don’t hate me,” she began, “But what does this mean for the future?”
I get it. I understand the path we are taught to take always ends in marriage and kids and this one doesn’t. But why is that so scary?
“Uh, lots of hot sex with someone who adores me as much as I adore him?” I responded.
But of course it’s more than that. Of course I’m emotionally invested (meaningless sex really does it get me off, but power to the folks it does!) in this relationship, non-tradition though it may be. And of course a relationship has to go somewhere. Even if the habits stay the same, even if one doesn’t progress towards marriage or living together, being together for a long time will inevitably lead to a deeper connection– and that, admittedly, is something I do desire.
But let’s pretend, for argument’s sake, that he were single and monogamous. It really wouldn’t change where we are right now: enjoying each other’s company, figuring out each other’s quirks. We’re still new to each other, and at this stage, we’re having fun and learning. All relationships start this way, regardless of where they end up.
So I can’t help but wonder, what’s the rush? What’s the rush to see it “evolve”? And why does evolution only look one way (i.e. marriage)? I think Darwin would be disappointed by the suggestion. Yes, my options would be different, but so what? Even if I had options like marriage and kids and living together, is that something I even want? Right now I can definitely say, “Hell no!”
“Wouldn’t you eventually want to live with your partner?” asks my concerned friend. ”Not necessarily,” is the answer, but more the point, who says I couldn’t? I’ve seen some very creative polyamorous households, for the record. But really, I don’t know. I’ve never actually lived with a partner (unless you count that semester from hell back in college, I don’t) and I don’t know that I’d want to. I very much enjoy having my own living space, and even if I did agree to move in with someone, it would be with the caveat that I had at least a room that was all my own space. A place to escape to, in case of emergency.
“But don’t you get jealous?” she asks. A fair question, and I tell her honestly, “Yes, sometimes. But actually it’s good for me to get confronted with my jealously. When I stop to think about it, I realize there’s really nothing to be jealous of. When I’m with him I feel loved and sexy and desirable and heck, even important. Each relationship is unique, and when I’m aware of this comparison begins to seem so foolish!”
I really appreciate how open my friend is being, I know it’s hard for her to think I could be happy without getting married. ”When you do believe that marriage and babies is the path that people take and the structure you believe in, its scary when people you love step outside of that.”
“I guess it’s just dawning on me now, truly, that marriage isn’t the ONLY path to happiness, to family, to love. It’s disorienting, to be sure, but freeing too.”
But really, what I can’t get over is what’s the rush? Honestly, what is it? Is it that my biological clock is ticking? Don’t worry, my ovaries never let me forget. Is it that everybody else is doing it (I’m at that age, I’m going to at least a wedding a year)? Or is it that life is short?
Well that’s the irony, I suppose. It’s because life is short that I DON’T see the rush. Why am I going to plan for 5 or 10 years down the road when, in reality, the world could explode this evening? I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I could win the lottery, I could get hit by a bus, I could find a baby goat on my doorstep and be tasked with raising him to be a proud, badass adult goat. I don’t know! And that’s the beauty of it.
So yes, I’m staying in the here and the now as much as possible. I’m focusing on all the amazing things happening in my life right at this very moment– the future will come soon enough no matter how (un)prepared I am. So why concern myself with the amorphous FUTURE, when I can spend my time being grateful for everything already present in my life?
THE FUTURE, as far as I can tell, has already arrived.