A story told in images:
This past Thanksgiving, I made it a priority to spend more quality time with my younger brother. We had a pretty confusing sibling relationship when we were both much younger, and I really want to build a better connection with him. He is a good, kind person, and in a lot of ways I always felt he was a lot better person than I was (which I resented when I was younger). And while I think he is doing really well, he lives solely with my mother right now, and I can’t help but want to provide another outlet for him, especially with regards to certain topics.
One of the goals of my trip home for the holiday was to create the opportunity to talk about sex with him. This opportunity was actually facilitated by my mother, who worried about not being able to talk to her son so frankly. She approached me and asked if I would be willing to send him some resources or talk with him, and I quickly agreed. I could not be happier that she felt comfortable asking me to talk to my brother about sex!
I bought him S.E.X., by Heather Corinna, and we spent a little time just skimming through the book together. I also showed him the It Gets Better Project and talked to him a little about bullying. My strongest memories of high school are of being miserable and having suicidal ideation, and while I don’t know at all if my brother feels similarly, he doesn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about school, and he’s getting a lot of pressure, both from teachers and from my mother, to perform better academically. I know this created a lot of stress and tension for me.
It has been a difficult balancing act, not wanting to project onto him my own history and my feelings about my mother, while at the same time wanting him to know that the world is a much bigger place than the small rural town he’s in. He knows some of this already, having traveled quite a bit now and having spent a summer taking classes at a university in a major city. And God knows he’s probably already been influenced by me through all the mischief I got into, which my mother has undoubtedly vented about to him (much as she used to vent about my father to me).
The other topic my mother stressed that I needed to address with my brother was the SATs. She has continuously prodded me to help my brother better prepare for the SATs, to give him tips, help him with practice problems, and encourage him to study the many prep books she’s bought.
And I was loathe to do any of this, waiting until the night before I left to grudgingly take a look at a book with him. I felt badly about being so reluctant, but that reluctance was not because I was lazy or didn’t want my brother to do well. I have a very strong opinion of the standardized testing, and while I’ve done SAT tutoring, I absolutely hate the test and think it’s an unfortunate standard to have in our education system. All that said, I did pretty well on the test myself, and I actually tend to do well on tests like this. But I also tried to make the point to my mother that I never even studied before I took the test the first time, and that was only the end of my sophomore year. My brother is currently a sophomore. I personally think he has plenty of time to prepare.
So when we sat down together with the 2-inch thick prep book, I instead spent the entire time explaining how to study the test itself – its format, the way points are tallied, how to guess and eliminate choices. I told him he has plenty of time to study the actual content of the test.
And when my mother asked how our study session went, I assured her that he would be fine. She seemed unconvinced and still worried about him. The conversation we had around this has left me feeling frustrated ever since. She explained all the ways my brother wasn’t prepared for college, from his lack of awards from competitions to his lack of leadership roles in any organizations. She lamented about him not being competitive or aggressive enough in seeking these things out.
And then she told me I needed to help him. She related a story of a friend’s daughter, who was very self-motivated and got into MIT without needing outside help. But her younger brother was the complete opposite, with his parents assigning him private tutors and consultants to prep him for college, and still he wasn’t accepted to MIT. His sister intervened, using her legacy status and asking the admissions office what he needed to get in. They told her, and he was able to get in.
So, my mother concluded, it behooved me to help my brother reach his goals, because he simply wasn’t like me, self-motivated and a self-starter. I’m not quite sure where my mother got this opinion of me, because I don’t remember ever being called that before. Regardless, I left for San Francisco the next day, feeling guilty for not being more supportive (what a horrible sister am I?) while simultaneously still believing that he is the only person who can decide how to form his life, and that I should not be so involved as to direct the path he should take.
I always downplay my own educational background to my brother, where my mother likes to ask him if he wants to get into my alma mater. I tell him it doesn’t matter, there are so many great schools – and great programs – and that he shouldn’t focus on the Ivy brand name. My mother used to tell me I’d never get into anything better than the local state university when I got a less than stellar grade.
So there is this constant back and forth, with my brother unfortunately caught in the middle. I’m not sure what step to take – if I should take any at all. We don’t speak often when I’m in San Francisco – partially my own aversion to phone calls, partially because he almost never has his cellphone on him anyway. I do think I should be more intentional in being a part of his life; I’m just not sure what role I should play.
Of course, while I am sorting all this out in my head (and agonizing over it in conversations with Max), my brother’s life continues to play out. He’s already grown up so quickly without me there a lot of the time. I feel an almost maternal guilt for not being around more.
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.
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.
As with every other time I’ve been with Max (short of Shibaricon), I’ve written and sent him a journal of reflections and chronology summarizing our time together. This one was particularly difficult to write, and it took me a week of struggling with words and with memories to be able to form something coherent and, more importantly, honest.
I stumbled, that week. Perhaps, with a little more distance and time, I will see the stumble for the small thing it was, and not amplify it into a monstrous calamity in my head, as is my wont. Either way, it was a good lesson in knowing when to ask for help. Because as much as I tried to fight off my chameleon myself, I couldn’t win the battle alone. As it was, it took lots of talking, listening, and fighting with my uncertainties to bring my defenses down and let Max in again.
Every time I do this, he settles deeper into my life and becomes that much stronger of a presence in my world.
As always, writing these journals leaves me very reflective and withdrawn, too focused on memories and introspections to notice much else. As I worked towards finishing the final leg of Max’s trip yesterday, I took a break to visit the Legion of Honor Museum. It seemed an appropriate venue in which to handle the flood of thoughts swamping my head. While walking through galleries of paintings and sculptures, I reflected on the past year. I have not mentioned it here before, but last weekend marked a year since I stepped foot into the Center for Sex Positive Culture, met Max, and then proceeded to have a 15-minute suspension scene with him later that evening.
As Max noted while here, I looked a little alarmed every time he mentioned our anniversary to friends we were with. To be fair, neither of us planned his trip to coincide with the date, nor had I even realized what the date meant – me, the one who’s fanatical about recording things in correct chronological order. And, because my mind had centered on Folsom as the one-year mark, I completely overlooked the date that we’d met.
Max commented on the funny way these disparities happen, especially with non-monogamy. Just how do you commemorate the forming of a relationship without the social normative markers of marriage or even, in our case, a first date? After that 15-minute scene, the next time I saw Max was to be in service to him throughout Folsom weekend, two months later. There was no gradual progression of coffee dates to dinner dates to play dates for us, so it is a bit harder to pinpoint one moment in time, or one event, as the start of a relationship counter.
And yet, we have somehow arrived at the one year mark after getting together for weekend to weeklong service dates almost every month since Folsom. New Year’s Eve, a visit in March, SEAF, Shibaricon, and now, Max’s visit with me, in my own home in San Francisco. It certainly gives me a lot to look back on, as well as a lot to look forward to.
Going through the museum also took me back to my trip to Seattle for the Seattle Erotic Arts Festival. The festival’s occupied a lot of my head space lately too, as I try to form a coherent article around my experiences there. I remembered the amazing pieces of artwork I saw and the mesmerizing performances that electrified the exhibit hall. Wandering through the Legion of Honor, I realized just how starved for art I’d become. My mind switched to the work around me. I was enamoured with the classical sculptures and head busts on display, and I marveled at their Rodin collection. The classic Renaissance paintings and Victorian furniture, I spent less time looking at. But regardless, it was revitalizing to be surrounded by artwork, alone and insulated by my own thoughts.
At the museum store, I spotted numerous books I’d love to read: Undressed: Why we draw, Love, Sex, & Tragedy: How the ancient world shapes our lives, and The Buried Book. I also spied a book with a painting of a nude woman entwined around a swan on its cover, which I didn’t pick up but reminded me of the Greek mythology that most captivated me when I was younger: the story of Leda and the swan. I have always been enraptured by both the story and the paintings it inspired, especially Michelangelo’s rendition.
Sex. Art. Eroticism. My own arts background helped build a foundation for my sexual identity and gave me a vast amount of appreciation for the human figure, as well as respect for the power of the erotic allure. I looked at some paintings and wondered at their power to captivate, and the emotions in the eyes of some of the sculptures made me want to weep. How can art be so powerful? So evocative? So piercing?
It was an inspiring visit. I should make the Legion of Honor a monthly visit, and I look forward to slowly making my way through all of the museums in this city.
(notes: all photos were taken by me, and I confess, I took closer note of the media than the artist’s name in some cases. Also, this post’s title is a line from Tanya Davis‘ poem, “How to Be Alone.” I still can’t stop playing that video…)