Tag Archives: fear

Overflow

Sometimes I worry that my heart is going to overflow. 
 
My best friend used to tell me that “a big front has a big back.”  It was his way of reminding me that, in both emotions and gravity, what goes up must come down.  But I’m starting to see the flip side.  For all the awful things I’ve seen, for all the hurt and confusion and helplessness, I’ve seen at least as much beauty in my lifetime.  In my memories, the beauty is almost blinding.  Even the bittersweet seems to become sweeter and less bitter over the years.  Things I swore would be important simply aren’t, and the joy in my life is made up of surprises I never even suspected.  
 
I can wax poetic until the reassembly of the bovine line.  I’ve always been good at making grand, sweeping statements and over-generalizing.  I mix up my tenses (in both English and Spanish) and switch between octaves over the course of a song.  I spend so much time teetering on the sharp edge between black and white, the shades of gray fog my vision.  If worrying were an Olympic Sport, I’d be a professional.  
 
It’s strange the way the realization that you have something worth protecting can fill a person’s heart with fear.  And fear pollutes everything.  Where once you saw inspiration, now you wilt in the presence of greatness like a sunflower in the shade.  Under a bushel seems like the only proper place to keep one’s light.  Do I even dare to exist in a world where there is so much beauty, so much talent, so much courage?  What gifts have I brought?
 
I’m not trying to save the world anymore; I’ve long since learned we can only save ourselves.  But faith is hard to come by. 
 
I think of all the trivial dating advice that’s passed through my ears over the years: that you shouldn’t love someone more than they love you; that you don’t want to be easy to “conquer” lest you become boring; that you must cultivate an aura of mystery.  I remember one of my exes telling me that people prefer to be around happy people, so I should just fake it if I’m not feeling it at the moment.  It all makes me want to gag.  I prefer to save the acting for the stage.  All I want to do is Love More– to leave things better than I found them.  It sounds easier than it’s been.  I don’t have an endless well of Love to go to, my joy isn’t contagious.  Perhaps there’s a hole in my bucket?  I smile more than I used to, much more, and it makes a difference.  Still, I’m told I’m “intimidating” and hard to approach.  Not by my coworkers, though, they all know me well enough to see the doormat within.  
 
How do I fill this bucket, I wonder? How I combat all the negativity, the insecurity, the worry? How do I drown it in Love?
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I’m way too jealous for that!

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.

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Please don’t ask…

The other night I was hanging out at the local studio and gallery I volunteer for.  It’s a multifaceted space, but most of the crew is composed of queers.  I was sitting working on some paperwork when two friends came in.  Dykes, both of ’em; one a regular crew member and the other is dating our artistic director.  (The two lovebirds have really been at it lately–twitterpated to the max–which would normally bug the shit out of me, to be honest, but I’m actually really happy for them, so it kind of negates the weird inferiority feelings.)

Anyhow, the gals are shooting the breeze, and suddenly I hear it–the question single people dread more than any other: “So what’s new in your love life?”  The other girl started talking about this lady she’s interested in and how that’s been progressing.  No big deal, nothing shocking.  But I was only sitting a few feet away, trying my best to be inconspicuous.  I could feel my stomach tying itself into hideous knots as I prayed and prayed that they wouldn’t turn to me and ask me the same question.

It’s as though I can literally feel the thorn in my side everytime someone asks me this question.  Close friends of mine have been known to ask me multiple time a week, which just feels like rubbing salt in the wound.  Really? You think my single status has been updated since yesterday? Or have we just truly run out of things to talk about?

Fortunately, the ladies moved on their conversation without dropping the question on me.  But it’s still baffling me how visceral my reaction to the sheer thought of being asked that question was.  I was getting activated the same way someone does when they have to fight, flight or freeze in the face of an immediate threat.  Somehow this looming question seemed like an immediate threat.

But really, how ridiculous is that? How have we gotten to that point? I’m sure there are single people out there who are not fazed by this question, but I know there are many others that fear it just like I do.  It should just be a query about one’s life, not much different than asking someone “So how’s work going?” Instead, though, it feels like a misplaced victory lap.  Maybe it’s just that most of my friends are coupled, but this is not a question single people ever ask me.  Only coupled friends ask about my love life, and even though I (assume) they don’t mean it that way, it feels condescending.  “How’s your love life? Oh right! You don’t have one! Haha!”

And all I can ask myself is, “When did we become enemies?” We’re all human beings and it shouldn’t matter if we’re with someone romantically or we’re not, but it does.  Somewhere along the line we made it matter, made it mean something, when it reality it’s a value-neutral fact.  You’re single or you’re not, so what?  The same way that the word “fat” is value-neutral.  I’m fat.  I have fat on my body.  That’s not me putting myself down.  But we think someone is putting themselves down when they say they’re fat because we’ve stigmatized fatness.  We’ve made fat mean that you’re also lazy, unhealthy and unattractive.  None of those things are inherently true.  None of them.  Fat is fat, body size is body size, health is health.  There’s no causal link between them.  But when people take it upon themselves to moo at fat people on the street, give them unsolicited health advice, or even tell them they should go kill themselves, then we’ve made it mean something else.

And single is no different.  By itself, single is just single.  There are pros and cons, just like pros and cons to being in a couple, but it doesn’t say anything about you inherently.  But we’ve made it mean something.  We’ve made it mean that you’re lacking, broken, unlovable, too picky, stuck-up or a loner.  And in this context, suddenly it’s not so hard to see why a question like “So what’s new in your love life?” feels like a very real threat.

So my question to you, dear reader, is how can we end this war? How do we stop seeing each other as single or coupled, fat or skinny, gay or straight, and just see each other as human beings with thoughts and feelings just like everyone else?  How do we see past the labels and start loving each other instead of all this comparing we do?

What if we stopped thinking of “love life” as meaning romantic love? What if “love life” meant all the love you give to other people, romantic or otherwise (which, thanks to English, we forget there are many, MANY other kinds of love besides sexual or romantic love)? If we thought of it that way, and all made a point of making sure our love lives were active–that we’re giving our love to someone, somewhere–I think the world would be a much more hopefully place.

So go and give your love away.

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