This is really hard to write, and it’s a little raw at the edges, but if I’ve learned anything these past few months, it’s that getting this out in some form is always preferable to keeping it in.
I realize that I do not have the best background for understanding polyamory, and my past relationships did nothing to improve that understanding. But perhaps unraveling some of that baggage will give me a better foothold for parsing out why I continue to have the issues I have with all of this.
What immediately comes to mind is my first relationship with Tim. After discovering the existence of his fiancée through her finding out about me and writing to me, I then found a letter she had written to Tim on his computer. It was heartbreaking, and the realization that I had caused that level of anguish to another person – unwittingly, due to my naivete – was, and still is, hard for me. I saw myself, the outsider, as an intrusion, wreaking havoc on this existing relationship, and loathed both being the outsider and the effect I had had on an innocent party. I despised myself for it, while simultaneously despising her for the anguish her existence now caused me.
Of course, the main force of all my anger was directed at Tim; for (among many things) his manipulation of my trust, and also for tingeing the discovery and budding growth of my kinky side with lies and deceit. It still angers me how strongly my subsequent relationships have been affected by this experience. I truly believed I would never wear another’s collar again, nor would I submit to another and call them Sir.
But the hardest realization for me to come to terms with, which subsequently branded a new fear in me, was that my connection with him, our relationship, had always been that tenuous by its very nature, had always been necessarily secondary and easy to dismiss to preserve his primary relationship.
Whatever initial impression I might have had regarding poly was colored very strongly by this. I read others’ blogs and forums discussing poly, and while a part of me was curious, intrigued, another part of me shook my head in disgust. All I saw was poly being used as an excuse to manipulate multiple people at once. In poly, I saw the effects of hurt and pain magnified with each additional person involved, each additional line that connected one person to another. Drama seemed inevitable, and drama was the last thing I wanted to endure.
Now, it is four years since I left Tim, and I find myself suddenly with the opportunity to change that view very drastically. Since becoming involved in the Boston rope scene and then moving to San Francisco, I have seen examples of stable poly relationships, though I admit the majority of them still look like a train wreck more often than not. I saw people cycling through new partners and culling out other partners as quickly as clothing, I saw statuses change so often it was hard to remember who was with who, and I saw all of those connections as superficial at best.
I recognize that this works for some people, that they and their partners handle it well, and that they have a different emotional capacity for it. I also recognize that I am not one of those people. So, while I was being exposed to positive, working examples of poly families and getting to know and become friends with many of those people, I still didn’t believe I was “one of them,” so to speak.
Then, I met Max. What started as an experimental, short-term service relationship with a start and end date has become something much, much more significant, and I am still reeling a bit from the transition. Although it’s now over a year that I’ve been in this evolving relationship with him, it still feels very new and raw – undoubtedly due both to the physical distance and our individual time constraints and schedules.
I am so deep in this new, foreign territory that I can’t even identify the horizon – the smooth, clear line of balance to aim for. It used to be easier, during those first few visits, when the bulk of our time together was only with each other: focused, intense, and deliberate. It was also easier because I saw myself in the very specific role of play partner and service submissive.
I should have realized, by Shibaricon, that those roles were no longer accurate. I should have known it when I dropped almost all other commitments there to spend more time with Max. When it was all I could do to force myself to go to the workshops I had planned on attending, rather than the ones he wanted to attend and the ones he was teaching.
Even despite all of our prior time together, the promise of more to come in the future, and the intensity of our connection, I really didn’t anticipate falling. So. Hard. In love.
Writing that was more difficult than revisiting my relationship with Tim. There is a lot of fear in that statement. Whenever I find myself resenting our distance or the time I don’t get to have with Max, I am afraid. I’m frightened by how much I want him, and by how much he fulfills a part of me that I have been deeply craving. The service, the rope, the sex, the D/s – they all fit so well with my own kinky makeup. It’s the closest I’ve come to finding someone who complements my kinks this way.
At first, the fear was rooted in the possibility of loss – of finding such a close match only to have it end, a short-lived play partner relationship with some nice memories and nothing more. Though honestly, those memories would still be very nice, and I cannot imagine leaving this relationship on anything but amicable terms. I cannot envision a future where I’d think back on my time with Max with anything but fondness and love.
No, the fear has evolved into something quite a bit more complex and poly-related. I’m not even sure how to explain it clearly, but the main idea is this: it seems only fair for me to have my shit together and figured out before embarking on this kind of journey into non-monogamy – fair, that is, for Max and his other partners. And yet, every time I find myself in the same space with Max and another partner, I automatically relegate myself to that post of outsider, never sure of where, exactly, I belong, and always, always hesitant to step on toes and disturb established patterns and habits.
Perhaps it is as simple as having been raised in the binary culture of heterosexual couples that makes this so difficult. In dissecting all of this with Max, I’ve come to see the number three as a highly destabilizing factor. “Three” seems to require so much more effort, vigilance, external and internal awareness, and communication, and creates such a divided focus, as to overwhelm the poly beginner. Not to mention that my only prior experience with this has been as the nonconsensual third of a main couple’s relationship. That experience has amplified being with Max and one of his partners into the fear and belief that my very presence in their space is an unwelcome intrusion. And so, in those situations, I withdraw, step back, and build distance between myself and Max.
This is an all-internal issue. All of Max’s partners, all of his extended poly family that I’ve met, have been nothing but warm and welcoming towards me, and I could not ask for a better role model for learning to navigate the poly world. I also have the added benefit of genuinely liking his partners, making it simultaneously easy to want to see them happy as well as more difficult to request time to spend with Max alone. I want to spend all of the time I can with Max, while simultaneously wanting him to spend time with his partners. I see the joy in his eyes and in theirs when together, and I want them to have as much of that joy in their lives as possible. And I want Max: all of him, 100% of his time, focus, and energy. I want him with the same ferocity and intensity that he expresses in his desire to own me.
I am greedy for his time, and I am able to rationalize some of that greed because of our distance. The reason is two-fold; being 800 miles apart makes me cherish any time we are in the same vicinity all the more, and makes me want to guard that time jealously. It also prolongs the timeline of the different stages of our relationship, so that it was only at Shibaricon (our sixth encounter, but nine months in real time) that I found myself becoming fully immersed in the “new relationship energy” that made me want to clear my schedule for Max. But when it is not just the two of us, alone, I am afraid of the destructive nature all of that greed and desire also holds, of the baser emotions they elicit – when it is not joy I feel at seeing Max with his partners, but jealousy and resentment.
Add in the inherently unequal nature of our relationship and the fact that Max is my only partner, and the equation becomes exponentially more complicated.
What it comes down to is figuring out whether or not I can do this, and do it well; whether it is fair to be going through this learning process and developing these skills – with all of its bumps and bruises and missteps – with Max and his family, knowing that it will inevitably cause waves; and whether or not I will have the self-awareness to understand if I am holding on to something I cannot sustain or manage, and holding on to the detriment of everyone involved. And to be able to let go, if that’s the case.
At this moment, despite my tendency to catastrophize things in my head, I don’t believe it will come to that. My motivation for doing all of this digging around in my head, after all, is so that I can figure out how to make poly work for me and thus continue being a part of Max’s family. And if part of that means revealing more of my vulnerabilities and imperfections than I am comfortable with, and risking more honesty and communication rather than less, I will do that.
Amongst my many neuroses is the inner monologue that occurs each time I debate whether or not to make a phone call to someone. This is something I’ve always done, and as early as I can remember I seldom ever called my friends unless prompted or unless an immediate response was absolutely needed. I find talking on the phone awkward at best and frustrating at worst, especially now with cellphones where the signal may be spotty. I overwhelmingly prefer texting to calling.
Oh, and I hate leaving voicemails. I used to stutter (in both English and Chinese, no less), so I’m forever trying to mentally compose my dialogue before speaking. It’s a habit that’s hard to kick, and talking to an answering machine does not make that easier as I feel I’m being timed. I’ve gotten better at this now, but it’s still not my preference to call and leave a voicemail.
So. An example of a phone deliberation monologue might run something like this:
“Should I call X? I should – we haven’t talked in awhile, and I’d like to catch up; grab coffee or something. Let’s see, it’s 12:10 now, he might be at lunch. I don’t want to interrupt him while he’s eating or in line or something. Maybe I’ll call after 1.”
(1pm rolls by)
“Oh, I was going to call X. But – what if he’s busy? It’s so annoying having your phone go off when you’re in the middle of something. He could be driving, too. Or in the middle of a meeting. But – what if he is free right now? I just don’t want to call and get to voicemail…”
(half hour later)
“Ugh, now it’s even later. Forget it.”
Years of this means that I am now rarely inspired to call someone spontaneously; calling is just not the first option that comes to mind when I think of getting in contact.
I finally landed back in San Francisco late last night, and I have an obscene amount of work I need to catch up on. I am exhausted from the roller-coaster ride the last week has been, and there’s a lot there that I need to reflect on. So, in lieu of any kind of organized thought, a list of some things I took away from this trip:
- Even relaxing, week-long conventions are still conventions and crazy to schedule
- Asking for clarity is almost always better than trying to guess at intentions
- Life will throw wrenches into any planned schedule
- Needs cannot be neglected for very long without personal consequences, and being submissive does not mean forgetting about my own needs
- “Do you need anything right now?” is an open invitation that I should take up more often
- Being at an outdoor kinky event means submitting to the weather and the passage of natural light
- Building a relationship with thought and intention has been a new, satisfying, scary, and intense process
- Poly is hard
- Coming into an established poly family is like taking the graduate level course without having read the primer
- Building expectations in my head without making them known to the people I’m building them around is a sure recipe for miscommunication and unnecessary hurt feelings
- Waiting for what I want to fall in my lap is unproductive and leads to festering emotions
- Relationship lessons are hard, painful, and emotional, but they are important lessons nonetheless
- It’s all worth it. When the dust clears, I feel love and power and connection unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and how can it be wrong to want that?
- Because it’s worth it, it will take work and thought and communication and personal responsibility
- Communication, communication, communication
90% of Paradise was immensely fun, and I am glad for that experience. And while the remainder of my visit was difficult and created some personal turmoil, it was all important to experience as well.
More to come, perhaps, when I’ve more time and thought to devote here, but for now, I know at least the future is hopeful and bright as far as my relationship with Max is concerned, and that is all I need right now.