The word that came to mind when
you made that sound,
he said, was
I shuddered. Agony. The word pierced me to the core, and I looked down, unable to meet his eyes, betrayed by the sudden evocation.
Agony. Used to mean a suffering of immeasurable depth. It fit the circumstance, key smoothly sliding into lock – at least superficially.
Agony. Why did the word elicit such a strong reaction?
And then I realized. Because that, at its simplest, at its purest – that is what I crave.
He finished securing the rope. Knelt down, level with my head, beard brushing my cheek. I felt the heat of his breath against my skin and turned my face, eyes closed, towards him. The rope burned its tendrils into my calf, clenching down on jeans, skin, muscle. Friction against friction.
I breathed through gritted teeth:
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
This is it. This is the summer of Fully Exploring Poly. I’ve been holding a lot of resistances and – not quite fears, but wary expectations – of how this summer will play out in my gut and in my heart, and I feel very strongly that, whatever happens, these next two months will be challenging and life-altering. I hope, and expect, that it will also be a time of positive change and joy.
Poly is on my mind more constantly than ever before, and I was pretty obsessed about it while I was in San Francisco. I found a fascinating blog that follows a woman’s personal journey through opening her marriage and trying to figure out if she can be in a relationship with a polyamorous partner; you can probably guess that I’ve already read the entire archive. There are just so precious few resources for having a polyamorous relationship when you yourself feel you have only enough energy to devote to one person at a time – maybe two, if one of them is long-distance.
And, as I process my own emotions and reactions, watch others’ relationship dynamics, and read, read, read (or listen, in the case of the Polyweekly Podcast), I continue to suspect that I lean more towards sexual monogamy than polyamory.
It’s been difficult for me to admit this, because I have read many of the warnings to poly partners against dating monogamous people. There’s this article, for instance. Granted, I have no desire or fantasy of turning Max monogamous with my seductive wiles (snort), but for a while it was easy to conflate the difficult emotions I felt over our relationship with the concept that my not desiring other partners was detrimental to him in some way.
It doesn’t help to be bombarded by a diverse mishmash of messages of what poly should look like, how your relationship to your partner’s other partners should look and feel, and what emotions are and aren’t healthy to feel and express.
To that end, I’ve been working to develop my own, personalized poly primer, which I hope to use as a guideline in defining and shaping my own flavor of relationship style. I’ve begun to realize, now that I’m facing the full brunt of poly, that I have relied very heavily on Max to define “poly” for me – too heavily. And while I certainly haven’t figured it all out yet, if I am to delve into this, I have to be able to identify and communicate the needs I’m looking for from my partner(s). Luckily, these needs are beginning to crystallize as I dig a little deeper inside myself.
My Poly Primer
- Dedicated space – Taken from my friend Red’s post, a space where I fit and belong in my partner’s world. Also, a space where I feel safe to express my emotions, worries, and concerns, without fear of mockery or scorn.
- Collaboration – I need to feel that there is a collaborative effort to sustain and build our relationship.
- Trust – Trust that my partner acts with good intention, compassion, and kindness.
- Support network – Something I’m actively developing and growing, a network of poly-knowledgeable friends that I can turn to for advice, comfort, or a listening ear.
- Self-acceptance – Be able to feel that my being and presence are an asset to my partner’s life, and that my self-worth is not diminished by sharing my partner with others.
- Couple versus partner – Perhaps my biggest epiphany: Desire for a “couple” relationship, versus a “partner” relationship. I say desire instead of need, because I’m not quite convinced it’s a need, but it’s at minimum a very, very strong desire.
- No surprises – Taken from one of Allena Gabosch’s Poly workshops, keep surprises to a minimum. Significant relationship shifts, new additions, NRE – please keep me informed!
- Balancing poly and D/s – I’m … still working on defining this one…
That’s a pretty long list already, and I could add more, but I don’t want it to get too unwieldy from the start.
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.
I took a few photos of my back a few days ago to capture some striking rope marks from a self-suspension I’d done Monday night. Once I uploaded the pictures to my computer and got a good look at them, I did a double-take. Was this really my back? I was stunned to see any muscle definition at all – so stunned that it took a few moments to even see the rope marks.
My surprise may sound odd given that I do try to keep active and exercise, but I’ve historically never been more than just a casual athlete, and I never went through any consistent exercise regimen with weights or aerobics. Certainly, I’ve never had much muscle definition to speak of, so while this isn’t at the same level as what I’ve seen at the climbing gym, I view it as a personal victory and tangible evidence of my months of climbing and yoga.
The other victory is that, while I’ve come a long way in accepting my appearance and dealing with my personal insecurities, it’s only been fairly recently that I’ve been able to move from mere acceptance towards loving my body. Looking at this photo and actually being attracted to what I see – that feels like a huge leap in the right direction.