Tag Archives: love

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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Welcome to the Future

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. 

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Diminished

Have you ever heard the saying, “A candle loses none of its light by lighting another candle”?  It’s a beautiful quote, author unknown, that speaks volumes to me about community, helping our neighbors, and giving for the sake of it.  But that’s probably because I’m a bleeding heart who works in the non-profit sector.  

But what if we applied this concept to Love? I would argue that right now, we don’t.  The model we’re peddle from day one thanks to companies like Disney is that somewhere out there this is a magical person who is your missing other half and all you have to do is find them! There are only 7 billion people on Earth, so how hard can that be? True love awaits!  

If you’ve been reading my blog for more than 5 minutes, then you already know I think this idea is bullocks.  There are just too many people in the world and too much love to be shared to say that we each have ONE person who’s our soulmate, ONE person who will be right for us for our whole lives through and ONE person whom will provide us with everything we need.  It sounds like a fairy tale because it IS a fairy tale.  

People ebb and flow in our lives.  Some leave as quickly as they arrived, others stay in it for the long haul, their involvement in our lives varying over time as we grow up, grow apart and come back together again.  I think of parents, for example.  No one would deny the important of their parents in their lives (for better or for worse), but most of us don’t talk to them every day.  We might even have friends that are our parents’ ages.  Does this mean we’ve replaced our parents? Does this mean we don’t care about them or love them?  Of course not.  When you’re 5, you spend every waking moment with your mother.  When you’re 25, you’re probably dodging her Sunday morning calls so she doesn’t know how hungover you are.  Our relationships change and evolve over time, but they are not somehow less important because they change. 

So back to my original question… what if we shared our love freely and weren’t ruled by ugly emotions such as envy and jealousy? Why do we hold onto this concept that by virtue of sharing our love, it is somehow diminished? 

It’s a insidious little thought, one that permeates every part of our culture.  The whole concept of “purity” or virginity is based on this idea– that you should only share yourself with ONE person, and if you share yourself with more than one person, you yourself are diminished– you, yourself, are worth less than you previously were.  Well I call shenanigans on this purity bullshit and all it entails.  Whatever higher power gave me this body also imbued me with bodily autonomy.  As long as I am sharing my love, and not hurting anyone, as long as I am consensually giving of myself, how am I diminishing myself?  The more I love, the stronger I feel, it just doesn’t add up.  

So if you’re a purist or a fundamentalist, if you think a woman’s worth is directly related to her virgnity, this is simply where we part ways.  I will never believe that a person’s worth is in any way tied to their virginity, regardless of gender, and frankly I find any other assertion disgusting.  We are more than the sum of our experiences, more than a series of actions taken or acted upon us.   Human beings are beautiful, complex creatures and I can’t think of anything much more meaningless than the number of people you’ve had sex with.  Like most numbers, it’s just used to shame.  Throw it out!  Love all, shame none. This is a SHAME-FREE ZONE.  

Over the years I’ve had run-ins with polyamory, as it were.  I used to say I just kept falling for people who identified as poly, but at some point I have take a closer examination of the fact that I keep gravitating towards people who identify as polyamorous.  Note: polyamory as in “many loves,” not polygamy as in many spouses.  (Which isn’t to say I’m against polygamy, but it’s not quite what I’m talking about.  Culturally speaking, polygamy is often tied to certain religious beliefs, while polyamory is basically the creation of many thoughtful, ethical sluts.)  

Recently I met someone who just awes me in so many ways, perhaps most profoundly in how much love he has to give.  He is, indeed, polyamorous and he has complete understanding of the idea that one relationship need not take away from another.  We are force-fed the idea of of monogamy (along with the marriage and picket fence end game) and the concept of relationship hierarchy.  And this is where I see a lot of new-to-poly folks fall into a trap.  They might’ve gotten rid of the monogamy thought, but not the hierarchy, and that will cause serious problems if you are juggling more than one romantic relationship at a time.  Trust me.  

But what if we throw both ideas out?  No more hierarchy, no more “primary partner” or “one and only”, just love.  Just love given freely.  It seemed so simple when it first hit me.  That jealousy is beyond pointless.  That I can love someone and have a deep and unique connection with them– and it doesn’t diminish what we have for me to love others, or for them to love others.  If anything, you’re just making the pie bigger.  More love, no shame, no jealousy, no competition.  I’m not saying it’s easy, especially when we’ve been taught the only way to be special to someone is to segregate them from all others.  But that’s not the way.  That sounds more like keeping a pet than loving a person, to me.  I mean, heck, even my cats are allowed to socialize.  

So I ask again, how is my Love diminished by sharing it with more people?  Knowledge is strengthened by spreading it around, I don’t see why Love is any different. 

Just use a condom.  Seriously, be safe.  

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End Game

Thanks to prolonged peer pressure from some of my coworkers, I finally caved in and watched Orange is the New Black, which I highly recommend.  For those who are unfamiliar, the show is based on the memoir of Piper Kerman about her time in a women’s prison.  The show itself is rife with prison and lesbian drama and while I certainly wouldn’t call it a comedy, it has it’s lighter moments.

Towards the end of season one, Piper asks her on-again-off-again lover what exactly the “end game” of their relationship is.  That is, are they going to move to Vermont and have a baby, or will they hop around the globe from one fabulous party to another, free-falling through life? These are but two lesbian stereotypes in an ocean of possibility, of course, but the point is clear: Most of us date because we’re in search of a particular end game.  And, for many of us, that looks like monogamous marriage with kids and, yes, a white picket fence.

I’m not knocking marriage or monogamy, but I don’t know what the rush is to get to the end of the game.   I mean, the world we live in is such that many people live into their 80s, 90s and beyond– so why the rush to pop out a kid by 25? Why the need to plan your wedding when you’re not even engaged? Why the insistence on labeling a relationship (and the associated expectations) so quickly? What ever happened to living in the moment?

I reconnected with someone a few weeks ago who’s company I’ve been thoroughly enjoying.  I guess it would be fair to say we’ve been enjoying each other.  It’s rare, at least in my experience, to find someone you’re just comfortable being with– where silences are just silences without the awkward, where looking at one another is endlessly engaging, where you’re free to be yourself, whatever that looks like.  But that’s how it’s been with us.  We sincerely like each other, we enjoy spending time together, and beyond that their are no expectations.

I think it’s kind of perfect, actually.  I love adding interesting and passionate people to my life, so why not do so without worrying about labels?  Why not enjoy the company of those around you without concerning yourself with where you’ll all be in ten years?  Not everyone sees it that way, though.

One of my closest friends is getting married next Spring, and unlike me she’s all about the wedding planning.  But she’s also all about monogamous marriage and sincerely doesn’t seem to understand that I am not worried about the long-term right now.  My last relationship was all about the long-term, empty promises and sweet nothings.  I don’t want any more of that… but the idea that maybe I changed my mind, that maybe I was wrong about what I wanted (a long-term committed relationship, for example) and just want to have fun in the NOW is very foreign to my soon-to-be-bride friend.

To use an analogy, our conversations feel like this lately:

Me: Oh wow! Look at this delicious cake! I’m so going to eat this cake! 
Friend: NO! Don’t eat the cake! You might get diabetes in 10 years! 
Me: Yeah, but, I want cake right now and right now I don’t have diabetes. 
Friend: But you have to plan for your future! 
Me: … *shoves cake in her mouth* 

I know she’s concerned that I might get hurt (that’s a risk you take when you put your heart in anything, I’m prepared for the consequences), and that she’s concerned because she cares about me but… it almost feels like concern trolling.  Even worse, it feels like she’s condescending to me.  I tell her about how happy I am and she says things like, “That’s so nice” as though what I’m doing is some kind of quaint placeholder until I wise up and go on a husband (wife?) hunt.

But what I’ve realized is that I don’t need to hunt– I don’t need another person to complete me or make my life work, and my life is full of dear friends who love me very much.  While sometimes it’s hard to separate the peer pressure (thanks, Facebook) from my actual wants and desires, I’m finally starting to accept that maybe I don’t want what most people seem to want, and maybe there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  After all, I have a lot of love to give, who says I need to give it all in the same place?

I came across this comment on an article recently and it really resonated with me: “As mentioned above, I’m older. I do NOT want to get married or have kids. The best relationships that I’ve ever had consisted of sex and dinner a few times a week, peppered with intense conversations and some social outings as a couple. I’m fairly self-sufficient, and don’t really WANT someone who is too deeply ingrained in my daily routine. I’ve been accused of everything from being a heartless bitch to a total evil slutsicle for articulating this.”

Well, I’m “younger” by many standards, but otherwise I feel very similar.  I don’t want to get married, and while I do want kids someday, that’s something I’m really not going to start thinking about for at least 5 more years.  I love having my own place and I don’t want to move in with anyone or infuse myself into their daily routine.  But I do want fun and great sex and intense conversations with someone with whom I share a sincere connection… yeah, I guess that does make us sluts, Internet Sister.   At least by the standards of the penis-barers.   (This is one of many reasons why I only sleep with feminists, no joke.)

Suddenly, English is failing me yet again.  How does one even refer to the types of connections I’m talking about?  The rhetoric we have surrounding dating and relationships reinforces the idea that the end game is, should and shall always be marriage, kids, house, dog, fence, etc.   If you’re “dating,” it’s for the hope that you’ll turn out to be great life partners and decide to get married.   I could effectively say I’m dating right now, since I’m going out on dates and having fun, but my end goal isn’t a long-term relationship and that’s the expectation with “dating.”  It’s a kind of courtship, at least it’s assumed to be.  So how do I say I’m non-exclusively dating and not looking for a spouse?  What a mouthful.   No wonder I’m a quirkyalone.

My friend says, “I’m just concerned that there is potential for you to fall madly in love with someone who won’t give you everything you want in life.” and I can’t help but laugh out loud.  Is this a common sentiment– that we’re supposed to get “everything we want in life” from ONE person– one person who isn’t even ourselves?  It’s just so ludicrous, I have to laugh.  If I’ve learned anything from my last relationship, it’s that making yourself happy is crucial and it’s nobody else’s responsibility but your own.  When we depend solely on others to make us happy or “give us what we want,” we’re not only setting ourselves up for failure, we’re being outright unfair.   I don’t know any psychics  so I’ve always found it good practice to ask for the things you want or need from others, rather than waiting for them to figure it out and pout passively in the meantime.  But I’m single and unmarried– what could I possible know about relationships?

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Recalibration

I wonder if this is what Peter Parker feels like when he goes home to MJ and finally takes off his mask.  

After a sincere, year-long attempt at a relationship, I’m actually pleased to be returning to single life.  Breakups always suck, and this one is hardly an exception, but singledom feels so natural to me– truly being the master of my own life, my schedule, my activities and, perhaps most importantly, with whom I spend my time.

I’ve never understood how some of my friends could hop quickly from one relationship to the next with barely any time in between to find themselves again.  I always find myself needing more alone time than usual after a breakup, time I often refer to as “recalibration.”  It’s not only that you need to figure out who you are independent of the relationship, but you need to figure out who you are after the relationship.  Every relationship we have, no matter how short, changes us.  Some teach us what not to do, some inspire us, but either way we are changed, even if in only subtle ways.  

I’ve learned a lot of what not to do this time around, but I also feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself, and that, being the “free spirit” I am, maybe the standard courtship mold doesn’t work for me.  After all, I really love living on my own, I don’t know that I want to move in with someone else, get married and start a family.  Maybe down the road, but right now I want to just meet interesting people and have great connections.  I don’t need a marriage end game, even though it’s a lot less illegal for me now.  (Bye, bye DOMA!) 

Anyhow, it’s good to be back.  I’ve missed blogging a lot, and I felt so out of place not being my single self, even though it was nice to feel a little bit “normal” for a hot minute.  And I can’t forget the love I’ve shared, even though things were hardly perfect most of the time.  I try to hold on to the good and let the rest fall away, but it takes time. 

Cheers to Single Life! 

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Our Job

I know what you’re thinking.  “Hey, Jade, where’s the bitter Valentine’s Day post?”  After all, what else do us singles do on V-Day beside grumble? Truth be told, I was earnestly trying to ignore Singles Awareness Day this year.  And I thought I was going to get away with it, too!  But then the sun came up.  I rolled out of bed, got myself to work and had the misfortune of witnessing this encounter:

Coworker1: “Hey, why aren’t you wearing red today?”
Coworker2: “Oooh, I don’t have a Valentine.  I’m a rejected Valentine!”
CW1: “What?? Noooo, we love you!! We all love you!!”
CW2: “No, no, it’s OK, you don’t have to cheer me up.”

This was around the time I vomited all over everyone and promptly put a stop to the conversation.  No?  OK, that didn’t happen, but I wish it had!  Because all this Valentine’s self-pity makes me nauseous.

Listen, I agree that V-Day mostly blows.  It glorifies couples (heterosexual couples, in particular) and shames single people into hiding.  It’s a dumb holiday created for profit– and as such greeting card companies, chocolate makers, florists and restaurants alike rejoice.  But if you do not own one of these establishments and you’re single, Valentine’s Day probably sucks.  Because it’s not just about “celebrating Love,” that I could get behind!  No, it’s about flaunting your coupled privilege if you have it. (Which is pretty rich considering how we constantly talk about gay people “flaunting” their relationships with hand-holding .. Can you imagine what hell would break loose if we behaved like straight couples do on V-Day? Kissing– in public?! Why I NEVER!)

I’m sure there are plenty of couples out there who celebrate V-Day quietly.  And for every one of them, there are pairs that have to have the BIGGEST Teddy Bear, the MOST flowers, the FANCIEST dinner and overall the most adoration poured over themselves.  In high school, I remember the popular girls would compete over who got the most flowers/gifts/admirers on Valentine’s Day.  Sadly, life after high school isn’t much different in this respect, except some of us have figured out how trivial it all is.  So you’re pretty and someone brought you flowers.  BIG DEAL.  What have you done to contribute to society besides look pretty?  No, seriously.  Looking pretty isn’t in and of itself something commendable, yet there is nothing we commend more (in women in particular).  No wonder this holiday has turned into a kind of pissing contest.  It’s all about being superior!

And the whole thing just makes me sad.  It seems like if you’re not busy feeling superior to the singles, then you’re busy throwing yourself a pity party.  JEEZEUS, Stop!  Seriously, stop competing with one another for the titles of Most and Least Loved of the Year.  Can’t we just Love? Can’t we just be grateful for the people in our lives who Love us and those whom we Love? Can’t we just see this as an opportunity to remind them that we care?

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.
-Thomas Merton

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Great Expectations

(Cheesy title, I know, but it’s my favorite Dickens novel and it fits the topic perfectly!)

As much as we all know we shouldn’t be held to anyone’s expectations in our pursuit of happiness, except perhaps those we impose on ourselves, the expectations exist nonetheless.  I had a wonderful, impromptu conversation with a coworker the other day who shared with me some of the pressure she regularly gets from friends and family about the progression of her relationship.  In anything new this usually happens: the people who care about us want to know every last detail and sometimes they do more harm than good in their relentless quest for details and updates.   And in relationships, there’s even an expected timeline for relationship progression.

Don’t believe me? You must be under 18.  Otherwise, you’ve lived long enough to notice that even if you don’t jump on this timeline personally, your friends will, and they’ll do it in waves.  Between 18 and 25 you will attend more weddings than you knew you had friends and relatives.  From 25-40 you’ll be invited to so many baby showers that you’ll take up knitting just to cut costs.  And after 40? The divorce wave cometh.

My aforementioned coworker is married, and she and her husband have been together for nearly 8 years.  However, they’ve only been formally married for a little over a year.  Despite never having been married, I know what this means, at least in terms of expectations.  The public likes hot romances and fast families.  That is, we consider it fairly normal to marry someone if you’ve been dating for anywhere from 3 months to 2 years.  Beyond that? “What are you waiting for?” “When are you getting married?” “When is he going to propose??”  Personally, I have a much more conservative timeline.  I wouldn’t marry anyone I hadn’t lived with, and I wouldn’t move in with someone who I haven’t been dating at least a year (I know, I’m shattering all your lesbian=Uhaul stereotypes!).  Then after you get married, you have exactly ONE year to get yourself knocked-up or family and friends give themselves the liberty to comment on your reproductive choices and lack of reproductive promptness.  Think of the children! Literally.

We laughed as she went through a sampling of the torrent of comments she receives: “When are you going to start your family?” “Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?” “Are you trying very hard? You know the longer you wait…” “Tick, tick, tick! That’s your biological clock!” “You should try [insert sexual position or type of medical intervention here, along with a personal anecdote]!”

Do you see it? How there’s also an assumption with the expectation?  Never has my coworker been asked if she even wants to have children, that is just assumed, but people have no problem asking if she’d prefer a boy or a girl before she’s even pregnant! Audacious doesn’t begin to cover it.  But the truth is, our friends and family absolutely think this is not just their business, but their sworn duty to ask.  Without pressure from our social circles, I’d wager some of us would never get married or have children.

The other thing that strikes me about this is how incredibly sexist it is.  My coworker noted that while she receives these kinds of burning inquiries on a weekly basis, her husband has received them… never.   Some questions are absurdly offensive, like “When are you going to start a family?” as though two people who love each other do not make a family already!  And some of the questions, like “When is he going to propose?” just make no sense.  Who says he’s going to be the one to propose?  If he is proposing, isn’t it likely a surprise?  What if they haven’t discussed marriage yet?  For some a lack of interest in getting married is viewed as an unwillingness to commit and a dealbreaker, but to others it’s just not that big of a deal.  I could go on.  Even still, these are the questions women receive and men do not.  In the case of lesbians, I’ve found that when one partner is more masculine (like me!), they’re often treated like the man in the relationship (which, ironically, is rarely the case in my experience; butches are like Cadbury Eggs, we’re tough and chocolately on the outside, and soft and gooey on the inside!).  Or, to quote a friend of mine, “There is no man in the relationship! That’s why we’re lesbians!” For gay men… I have no idea.  (Twinks, Bears, Gay men of all varieties– Enlighten me!)

All in all, these are intensely personal decisions that, for some reason, people feel entitled to inquire about.  Obviously, it depends on the relationship, but there are some friends with whom I truly have no desire to discuss my relationship plans.  But the sad truth is we do have an established structure in our society.  It approximately goes: Go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, buy a house, send your kids to school (cycle starts over with them), then work until your dead or can afford to retire.   Nowhere is it written that this is how you have to lead your life, but people will expect that this is what you want and eventually what you’ll settle on, if you haven’t already.

Gosh, it almost seems bleak.   But let me say what I said to my coworker:  “You’re allowed to not want children.”  Likewise, you’re allowed to not want to get married, you’re allowed to not actually get married, you’re allowed to not have children, you’re allowed to forgo a “regular” job for one of your own creation, you’re allowed to buy a boat or a hot air balloon instead of a house, heck, you’re allowed to run away to the nearest island and eat papayas all day.  It’s all about what makes you happy.  You are not required to live up to ANYONE’s expectations, no matter whose they are or how great they may seem.

As for single people, we have expectations too.  But the question we get is the same every time… So what’s new in your love life?!” 

Of course, I assume when I hit 40, it’ll change to, “When are you going to adopt another cat?” or “Have you purchased your grave-site yet?”

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The Trouble with Closeness

I’m starting to wonder if the trouble with relationships isn’t simply, well, relationships.  Or, to put it another way, becoming too comfortable with another person.

Right now I’m learning a new language, and even in just the first three class sessions we’ve spent a considerable amount of time talking about the difference between addressing someone formally versus informally.  All languages and societies that I’m aware of have these rules of decorum and politeness.  When you meet someone for the first time, you’re suppose to speak formally to them, usually until they give you permission to do otherwise or you two become close.

But it feels like once we get close to someone, that’s when we start taking them for granted.

Think about how you act when you’re in a brand new relationship.  I don’t mean the butterflies and the almost constant sex, there’s that too, but I mean how you treat the other person.  In the beginning, you’re much more likely to do thoughtful things for them, go out of your way just to make them smile, and even send them little notes to let them know you’re thinking about them.  Now, I’m not saying these things disappear as the relationship ages, but they become much fewer and far between or are reserved for special occasions (anniversaries, birthdays, etc.).

Emotionally speaking, I think we become more careless as time goes on.  A new couple hangs on each other’s every word, frequently wants to know what the other person is thinking, and is highly aware of the other’s emotional state and, perhaps more to the point, how your actions affect your partner.  But with time, we seem to become less aware of how our behavior impacts the relationship.  And, sadly, in some cases we outright start to abuse one another.

I can’t help thinking of my best friend.  For years, we were as close as partners without the sexual element.  We lived together, commuted together, took vacations together; at one point, we even started discussing what it might be like for two very close friends to raise a family together.  Weird, maybe, but we loved each other dearly.  For those years, there was no one in the world I trusted more, and the verse was true for him as well.  We knew each other’s deepest, darkest secrets and had seen each other at our best and our worst.  In other words, nothing was sacred anymore.

I never thought much about how we interacted, until he fell madly in love with someone.  Sure, he suddenly didn’t have much time for me anymore, but that’s predictable new-relationship behavior.  He didn’t have time for anybody but his girl.  But people began to approach me and comment on how he spoke to me–namely, that he was rude and even talked down to me like a parent might to a child.  I thought folks were exaggerating  that they just didn’t understand our relationship, until I saw him with this girl he was nuts about.

Goodness.  He hung on her every word, practically licking the ground she walked upon.  It was almost embarrassing to witness.  Things he would politely ask her, “Sweetie, can you bring in the dishes from the living room?” he would simply command me, “Jade, pick up your shit already!”  He was softer with her, kinder, and a hell of a lot more tactful.

Familiarity, I suppose, is a double-edged sword.  On the upside, you get to know someone and that can be really cool! But on the downside, we take each other for granted and sometimes forget to even be kind to one another.

Now, granted, the example I give is a friendship versus a potential relationship, and you definitely suck up to folks you want to fuck.  In that way, I may be comparing apples and oranges, but I’ve had the same exact experience within romantic relationships, the example of my best friend is simply the starkest.

My current relationship is no different.  In the beginning, we were careful with each other, kind and considerate.  Now we seem to bulldoze each other’s emotions like it’s going out of style.  No concern for how our actions might affect one another, it seems we’ve retreated into concern for our own needs and nothing more.  I know we both frequently feel disrespected, and I certainly feel belittled on a regular basis.  Is this how we treat people we Love? It makes no sense…

But, what my experience with my best friend taught me is something I think is true of all types of relationships, friendships, romances, family, etc..  What I learned there was that it’s often the people we Love the most that we take the most for granted.  We just expect them to be there, like they always have been, with no effort on our part.  But if the people we Love feel unappreciated, disrespected or, heck, even obsolete… then they won’t stick around for very long.

In all fairness, I’m basing this on personal experiences  which means it could just be me.   Maybe I’m just the kind of person people talk down to.  Even most closest friends tell me I have a tendency to be a doormat, often for the sake of niceness, in my mind.  I’m trying to usher some of that crap out of my life, but I have a hard time refusing to help someone when they ask for it I don’t have a “good” reason to turn them down.  Perhaps this is why I feel taken for granted so often.

So I’d love some more anecdotal data on this one.  What have been your experiences, dear reader?  Does familiarity breed carelessness? Or are people only as careless as you let them be?

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Forever

Let’s be transparent about it: I’m wary of relationships.  Anyone who’s been alive more then 3 years probably is.  After all, people hurt each other.  And, as my best friend says, “A big front has a big back.”  In the case relationships or love, the more you invest and the more pleasure you get from the whole experience, the greater devastation you’re risking yourself should it come to an end.

Or when it comes to end, I should say.  All relationships end.  Some do make it “till death do [they] part,” but most relationships will end much sooner than that for any number of reasons. Some ends are amicable, others complete blood baths.  I’ve had my share of both.  Nothing I’m saying here is remarkable, we all know it, right? Then why are we risking our hearts? Assuming we put heart into it– which is frankly the one way that seems at all worthwhile to me. But we do it anyway.  Time after time, failure after failure, we keep looking and trying and, more than likely, losing.  And it was never entirely our fault or entirely the fault of the other person.  Though, more than likely, we underestimated our power to change the relationship. Some are just bad ideas from the get-go.

But why? What, exactly, are we looking for? It’s not the risk of heartache that makes me wary of relationships.  Pain doesn’t scare me.  It’s that many of us are looking for “forever.”  Which is asking A LOT.  I’ve promised forever to some people.  I love them still, that’s true, but it sure as hell didn’t last forever.  I don’t really see it in the nature of relationships to last “forever.”  Even if it’s death that has to part you.  The Earth will still be spinning long after humans are extinct and all traces of our existence erased (save fossils), so what kind of absurd thing is it to say “forever” to someone, regarding your feelings and your relationships? Humans aren’t known for their stability of emotions, for one. But I guess “right now” or “as long as it lasts” isn’t quite as romantic as “forever.”

We turn again to Facebook.  Now, I know I talk about Facebook a lot, and it’s because I think Facebook is a fascinating place to study relationships.  I have my relationship status turned off because I hate that everyone has something to say when/if it changes… but it’s intriguing to watch how it plays out on other people’s profiles.  This image is just brilliant to me.  I couldn’t have made up something better:

So, the person who’s toasting to his “forever love of forever” has been dating this gal for about 18 months.  Year and a half… forever, same difference, right? It’s why we let 18-month-old’s drive cars.  But the string of responses just amused the hell out of me.  The first couple of responses are folks chiming in with their own relationship fodder–anything to talk about ourselves, right? But then my kindred spirits come out of the woodwork, and I’m comforted by the few folks gagging and making “Your Mom” jokes to combat the 40+ likes this post already got.

Oh well.  I hope this friend isn’t disappointed down the road of whatever is to become of his “forever love of forever.”  But I’m going to do my best to focus on what’s right here, right now.  I have to let my Love fuel me.  Whether I’ve convinced myself it’s the mystical “forever love” or any of the other, equally as worthy forms of showing Love towards another person, I’ve got to give all I can now and not worry about who I’ll have to Love later.

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