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At a Distance February 27, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, Polyamory.
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2 comments

One of my personal love languages is physical touch, or affection. Being too distant, for too long, from a lover makes it really difficult to maintain the feeling of care, love, and appreciation for some of us. But it’s not impossible for a person who really values physical affection to find love, comfort and appreciation at a distance. Sometimes, it may take a little longer and you may have to shift your expectations and the way you express and accept love a little bit, but it can be done.

Long distance relationships have been difficult for me, over the years, and I really prefer to have people I’m involved with close, so that I can see them fairly frequently. Currently, I’m involved with three people. None of those people live in Philadelphia (where I live). Two of them are within an hour (or so) drive, but one is a few states away meaning that our relationship is maintained primarily through texting, phone conversations, and other forms of telecommunication.

It’s not necessary, I’m discovering, to cohabitate with partners to feel fulfilled (although, ultimately, I will probably want to with someone I’m partnered with). Nonetheless I require, to feel fully happy and loved, regular physical touch from people in my life. With one partner, that’s once a week (Saturday night/Sunday morning, usually), another it’s 1-2 days a week. With the third? Well, that’s a little different.

When someone lives  10 hours away, finding time to see them is more challenging.

Anticipation is a thing. For someone (like myself) who has struggled with patience all of my life, anticipation is a really difficult thing. Knowing that I will not be seeing someone whom I care about for weeks, months, or longer can be a really difficult thing to get through day to day. There are simply some times you want to cuddle with them, and not being able to do so is really difficult, for many of us.

Now, the fact that I have two other people I see regularly helps, but not completely.  Also, most of my relationship with my long-distance partner has been, well, long distance. In fact, we’ve only met once (a weekend last Summer), so I am sort of used to not being able to touch and be touched by them. But now that we are getting closer, trusting each other more, and are identifying as being more significant to one another I am definitely feeling the lack of physical touch more and more.

And I find myself looking forward to seeing her more and more, the closer it gets to our plans to spend a weekend together.

What do do?

So, for a person who might be struggling with this lack of physical presence, what might we do to make it better in the meantime?

Start with finding what kinds of alternative interactions are appreciated by your loved one. If you can’t hug, cuddle, and share physical intimacy with them this week or this month, what will you do?

First, you need to start by knowing how much your partner, lover, friend etc wants to interact with you. Some people are completely comfortable with only occasional interaction. They may be busy with other partners, personal projects, or they just may not need to interact with you as much as you’d like. Make sure that you are not being too needy or negligent, and find an amount of interaction that works for you both.

And keep in mind that sometimes the amount of contact, intimacy, and attachment you have for that partner may not match their desires and needs. It may be OK to occasionally say “hey, I really need to talk with you right now, can we please set aside some time now or soon to do so?” but there will be times when they may not want or have time for your attention. Just be sure to communicate when your needs don’t seem to match up.

Use your words, and know how important those words are to your partner. Express your feelings of appreciation and affection. Whether you’re rapport is periodic, comes in bursts of long conversation, or seemingly never ends, make sure that You are expressing how you feel about them in a way that is both meaningful and appreciated. And remember that not all people respond to words of affirmation in the same way. Some people don’t need to be reminded of how you feel, but others do appreciate hearing those kinds of words.

Conversation is a wonderful means towards intimacy and trust. Whether with friends, occasional lovers, or your live-in spouse, conversation can be a really important way to develop and maintain intimacy.  You don’t have to talk every day (and, in fact, many people won’t want to), but make time to talk and stay emotionally connected. When you are distant from each other in space, that conversation becomes the primary vehicle for relationships maintenance.

Make plans. OK, so you are not going to see them for a week, a month, or maybe not until the next conference. But try to make some plans to see each if you can. Knowing exactly when you will be seeing them can act as a focus for your feeling separated, and give some structure to the feelings of absence that you may be having. It gives you a goal to move towards, and (at least for me) the anticipation can be delicious while simultaneously frustrating.

But also be aware that some of us can, sometimes, put too much pressure on ourselves for these things. We create fantasies, ideals, and can also over-plan so that we can’t just let that time together create its own spontaneity. Having said that, I’m also aware that I err on the side of being too spontaneous, and tend to (perhaps) not plan enough. Be sure to communicate about expectations, desires, and activities you’d like to do (aside from just spend the weekend under the covers, lacking sufficient sleep and possibly nutrition….actually that doesn’t sound all that bad….).

Try to build memories and to make the most of that time together when you are there. Because if you are not going to see them for 2 weeks, a month, or 6 months, make sure that when you have that time, you appreciate it and are not getting caught up in concerns about what we are “supposed” to do, but that we are doing the things that we want to do.

Remember that distance can extend the normal NRE experience. New Relationship Energy tends to last anywhere from 6 months to about 2 years (if my memory serves me), depending on various factors I’m not an expert in. But that time can be extended when you don’t see each other as much. This means that there is potential for some of those really wonderful feelings that exist for the beginning of our relationships over a longer period of time with that distant partner.

This, has the possible draw back of making a long-distance relationship harder to maintain in the long run, however. What happens when, after 2-3 years, those visits become less new and shiny? Well, what do you do in any situation like that?

Sometimes, you just have to recognize that those ebbs and flows are going to come and go. Sometimes, you may have to re-discover new aspects of the relationship, and connect in new and different ways. Sometimes, you may just end up drifting apart in ways which are comfortable for both of you.

Sometimes, you may actually decide to re-locate. And then, maybe, that long-distance is not so long.

I’m thinking about all of this because I’m made steps towards becoming significantly closer to someone who lives far away from me. And while I will see her in a few weeks, it may be a while until I see her after that, and so I am simultaneously anticipating the trip, am wondering if 2-3 days will be long enough to stay (I mean, I could just decide to stay an extra day, I suppose), and am wishing that I were seeing her sooner.

And it’s weird, because it’s really rare that a develop feelings for someone at a distance. I think, maybe, that I am learning that affection and sexuality are important aspects of relationships for me, they are not necessarily the strongest altogether.  I’m learning more and more about myself, my capability to love, and what I have to offer is expanding with that understanding.

Three weeks!

Last summer, when we first met IRL

Last summer, when we first met IRL

Obligation is a derail: some thoughts on negotiation in loving relationships August 18, 2014

Posted by Ginny in Polyamory.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
4 comments

You probably saw that spreadsheet of reasons a wife declined to have sex with her husband, a couple weeks back. As these things do, it’s generated a fresh round in the continued conversation about sex and obligation. The conversation goes like this:

Feminist bloggers and commentators: “Nobody ever owes anybody sex for any reason.”

Less-feminist bloggers and commentators: “What, never?”

“No, never!”

“What, never?”

“Wellll, hardly ev– no, actually never.”

All this is well and good and needs to be said and re-said until everybody gets it. But at the same time something’s been troubling me about posts that talk about how the whole concept of withholding sex is flawed. They’re not wrong; the very idea of “withholding sex” implies that sex is something granted by default, something a person can take back as a hostile act, rather than being always and every time a gift each person freely chooses to give the other. But. I also know people who have suffered in relationships because their partner was never choosing to give them the gift of sex, and in a situation like that, repeating, “Nobody is obligated to give you sex” does not really answer the issue. Nor is it just about sex. The post that I linked argues that it makes just as much sense to talk about withholding baking cookies for your lover, cookies being another way of expressing affection and care that is not in any way owed within a relationship. Nobody is obligated to bake you cookies, have sex with you, kiss you goodbye in the morning, stay in touch during the day, or hug you when you’re sad. And because our cultural dialogue is so warped around sex particularly, and because a lot of people do feel that there’s obligation around it, it’s really good that posts like the above are being written and spread around.

That being said, though, when we’re talking about a loving relationship, I think the whole question of obligation is a derail, if not an outright red flag. True, nobody is obligated to provide their partner with sex or cuddles or kind words or a certain amount of time, but in a loving relationship, obligation is not really the point. If my lover says, “I would like X from you,” where X is any form of attention or affection or caregiving or really anything that would meet their needs or make them feel happier, and my response is, “I don’t think I’m obligated to give you that,” that indicates that there’s a fundamental problem in the way one or both of us thinks about loving behavior.

The problem might be on my lover’s end: they might be in the habit of demanding things from me on the grounds that as their partner I am obligated to give those things. Sex. Cuddles. Making dinner. A ride to the airport. Whether they’re doing it knowingly and intentionally or not, if they tend to make requests with the attitude that it is something that I owe them, that is a problem. This is the side of things that the whole “no such thing as withholding sex” dialogue is coming from, and it’s an important one.

The problem might also be on my end: I may be using “obligation” as a handy way to justify not caring about my partner’s needs and wants. Especially if my lover is a self-effacing type who is easily convinced that they’re not worth effort and care (and so many of us have those voices within us), the exchange of, “Baby, I would love it if you did this,” “Nah, I don’t feel obligated to do that,” can completely shut down the conversation, and make my lover feel guilty for even asking.

Putting obligation behind a request is a means of coercion: it’s a way of attaching moral value to a person’s answer, which is a very coercive thing indeed for those of us who like to think of ourselves as moral. Putting obligation (or lack thereof) behind a denial is a way to make someone feel unvalued, uncared-for, and not worth the effort, while retaining the moral high ground for yourself. Nobody could fault you for saying no to something you were never obligated to do! Case closed, no need to consider further. And that does its own kind of damage.

Obligation is a distraction from the real issue, which is, “Do I feel that making you happy in this way is worth what it will cost me?*” Sometimes the answer is no, and that is an acutely uncomfortable thing to say, which is why we shy away from it and use “obligation” as a screen. We are social beings and most of us are taught that caring for others is a virtue, while refusing care in order to meet our own needs is a suspicious act that must be justified. (Women, in general, receive this message about 2-3 times as strongly as men, but everybody gets it.) Just saying, “No, I’m going to prioritize my own needs here” is incredibly difficult for most of us, and we often feel a strong impulse to justify it, by invoking obligation or another concept that gets away from the central question.

Sidebar, but an important one: some people use the “obligation” screen not because they’re uncomfortable with prioritizing their own needs, but in order to mask how little they actually care about the other’s happiness. “Caring for you isn’t worth it to me” over and over is likely to get the other person questioning why they’re even committed to the relationship, why they’re investing so much in a person who is manifestly uninterested in meeting their needs unless it’s convenient. “I’m not obligated” pushes it back on the person making the request, highlighting how unreasonable they are to keep asking for things, and encouraging them to make themselves and their needs smaller and smaller. It’s a tactic for emotional abuse, and I recommend running very fast in the other direction if you see it in play.

Back to the realm of relationships that are sincerely caring, but have some toxic beliefs swimming around (which is most relationships). It is important for everybody in a relationship to really internalize that they get to have needs and wants. That the presence of other people’s conflicting needs and wants does not obliterate their own. That it is okay to prioritize their own needs and wants, even if that means denying the other person something that they want. That my need to not have sex right now, to not make you dinner right now, to not drive out in the cold to pick you up right now, is just as valid and worthy as your desire to have me do those things. This is essential, and it’s hard to grasp.

But the conversation doesn’t end there. It can’t. Because if my needs and your needs are in conflict, at least one of us is not going to get what we want, and the way those conflicts play out makes up a goodly portion of the overall health of the relationship. For some people, bringing in obligation seems like the only way to resolve the standoff. I want X, you want not-X. Let’s ask Obligation to arbitrate and decide which of us gets what we want! But, as I said above, this just brings in an aspect of moral coercion and guilt, which is super not conducive to long-term relational and individual health. (I lived the first 25 years of my life under heavy burdens of moral coercion and guilt. I know whereof I speak.)

To resolve the situation in a way that’s going to strengthen the relationship, you have to look head-on at what’s really going on here: Person A wants something that it will cost Person B to give, and Person B is judging whether the happiness or relief it would bring to Person A is worth the cost. Sometimes the answer will be yes, and sometimes the answer will be no. Sometimes you need to do a lot of talking through the situation in order to reach the answer that will be best for both of you and the relationship. (Because this post started out talking about sex, let me point out that submitting to sex you don’t want to be having is usually very costly; a partner that is comfortable with their partner bearing that cost is likely either uncaring or unaware. On the flip side, for many, going without sex for months or years because they are in a monogamous relationship with someone who isn’t inclined to have sex with them is acutely painful. Again, a partner who is both caring and aware will not be complacent about this situation.)

While both parties may be tempted to control the outcome of this conversation, by bringing in obligation or guilt or consequences (like, “If you don’t do X, I won’t do Y for you in the future), any of these entities are going to do damage. What the conversation needs to center around is both people understanding, as deeply as possible, what the request really entails for the other person. What feelings lie behind the need, and the cost? What fears and insecurities, what unresolved baggage is attached to it? What joys and hopes and satisfactions go along with having the need met? What symbolic meanings does each person attach to this action?

The most productive conflict conversations I’ve had always happen when each of us cares deeply about the other’s happiness, and trusts that the other person cares deeply about ours. When you trust in someone else’s love for you, you don’t have to manipulate and threaten and guilt them into doing what you want. You don’t have to bring in Obligation to arbitrate. You can lay your need or wish before them, and explain to them exactly what it means to you, and you can listen to their explanation of what the cost is for them, and what that means to them. And you can work together to resolve the dilemma in a way that makes both of you feel loved and cared-for.

Another part of this is accepting that sometimes you will do something that causes your partner pain, or decline to do something that would bring them happiness. One of the valuable things about poly is that most of us have to grapple with this pretty regularly. A very few of us are lucky enough to have partners that never feel jealousy, but most of us have to cope from time to time with the fact that our new love is causing another partner some pangs. It is so, so hard to say, “I see that this is hurting you, and I choose to do it anyway,” even when that’s the choice our partner wants us to make. It is much easier to get angry with our partner for feeling hurt (I’ve done that), or to feel guilty for even wanting the other thing (I’ve done that too), or to construct sets of rules that delineate what each person has a Right or No Right to do, thus again bringing in the moral weight of obligation to distract from the reality of feelings (I’ve done that less, because I started my poly life with an experienced partner who stayed away from those pitfalls.) It is easier to do those things, but it is healthier in the long run to be able to say, “I love you, and I see your pain, and it hurts me, and I am choosing to prioritize my need in this case.” (This is made significantly easier when the partner can say, “Yes, it hurts me, but I want you to have this joy and freedom and I am willing to bear that cost.”)

Here is the final piece, and for some of us it’s the hardest: the decision has to be made together, and sincerely together, with both people’s full input. I have been in conversations that look a lot like the one I recommend two paragraphs up, where both people are talking about what they need and want and the feelings that lie behind those and seeking a mutually agreeable solution, and it seems at first glance to be a healthy discussion, but in reality one person is controlling the conversation. They may be telling the other person what they’re “really” feeling, or they may be casting the other person’s feelings as wrong or invalid or harmful, while their own are rational and correct and embody what’s best for everybody. Nae good. That’s another “run very fast in the other direction” situation.

But another, more common dynamic is that one person will look at the dilemma and decide for themselves that their need is not worth what it would cost the other person, without even expressing the need to the other person. I do this all the time, and so do most of my intimates, because we tend to be giving and self-effacing to a fault. “I want to go out tonight with Lover, but that means Spouse will be alone and sad, so I can’t.” And Spouse never even realizes that you’ve given up something you wanted for their sake. Over time, if you’re me at least, this leads to a feeling of resentment and entitlement: “I’ve made so many sacrifices for your emotional comfort!…” And you will at some point become upset when they ask you to absorb some emotional discomfort for their own enjoyment: “…how can you not be willing to make the same sacrifices for mine?” (Because they never even realized you were making the sacrifice, dumbass. Meaning me, on many past occasions.) Or you might decide abruptly that you’ve earned some guilt-free enjoyment, and get frustrated when they still express pain over your choice because OMG, can’t you ever do anything for yourself? (When, again, they didn’t even know you were choosing not to do things for yourself on other occasions, and are likely to feel some nasty whiplash at your sudden, unprecedented, and highly defensive selfishness. And yes, I’ve done that too, and it sucks.) Or, in a specifically poly context when making a sacrifice for Spouse’s sake often involves some sacrifice on Lover’s part as well, your bond with Lover may dwindle because they are never being prioritized.

Asking another person to bear some discomfort or pain or inconvenience for our sake is hard. So, so hard. I can barely bring myself to do it unless I feel completely justified (see again: Obligation and its dysfunctional uses.) But I know my loves love me, and desire my happiness, and that there will be times when they’re more than willing to absorb a little cost to see me happier. After all, I do the same for them all the time, and it’s insulting to behave as if their love is weaker than mine or their ability to handle some discomfort is lower. (Sometimes it is… but not usually as much lower as my private decisions would imply.) And I need to give them the opportunity to do that, by asking for what I want. And I need to do it in good faith, without invoking rules and justifications and obligations. If I am truly loved, the fact of my feelings, my needs, my wishes and hopes and desires, is enough to make them at least consider giving me what I want. And if they decide the cost is too high for them, it’s not because I don’t deserve happiness or because it was wrong of me to even ask: it’s because sometimes, the cost is too high. That’s okay. By talking out our different needs and feelings, we both understand each other better, and can continue to love each other well.

*This sentence is adjusted slightly from the originally-published version, which read, “Do I care enough about making you happy in this way to accept what it will cost me?” Midnight Insomnia Brain threw out the revised sentence, which is a better expression of what I mean.

Time to communicate: when shit gets real September 23, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far

So, anyone who tells you that polyamory is always easy is lying.  I mean, the rewards, when it works out, are amaze-balls, but it requires a lot of work.  And sometimes that work is really really hard.  And scary.  And utterly terrifying and real.

But, you know what makes it harder? Feelings. (Aren’t you glad I didn’t say “feels”? Yeah, well too bad because I said it anyway).  I mean, all the warm fuzzies and sexy feelings from meeting someone new and awesome are great, and I love meeting awesome people that I like.  Seeing your partners happy is a really nice thing as well, and seeing the people in my life continue to grow, mature, and learn about themselves is a wonderful thing (go us!).  There are aspects of relationships, poly or not, which are wonderful.  I would never not maintain relationships because it’s hard to do so.

I’m capable of allowing my partners to pursue what they want and need, and am doing so.  The happiness that they get from their other relationships are not negotiable; they are part of those people, and I could not love them as they are (that is, authentically) if they were not also with those other partners.  The rewards are being with those people I love, no matter who else they love.

But then there are things like anxiety and other fun things that come up when shit gets complicated.  You know, like when the woman you are really into has a boyfriend who is new to and unsure about polyamory, and you feel like a total shit for making him feel terrible for fucking their shit up.  That, coupled with the fact that the woman you are totes into is totes into you and doesn’t think she can go back to just being exclusive with her long term partner, largely because she has never really wanted monogamy.  And then the time you meet is, perhaps, not the most ideal and it leads to shit getting real.

I don’t try to proselytize polyamory by meeting awesome women in monogamous/monogamish relationships,, or really at all.  In this case, it just happened that way due to a random set of circumstances that lined up the right way (or wrong way, perhaps, from another point of view).  I’ve never dealt with this type of situation before.  I’ve met monogamously inclined single women that I liked (that didn’t work out), but not polyamorously inclined women in a relationship with a monogamously-inclined partner.  I’m sure I’m not the first, but it’s new to me so I am trying to tread carefully.

After long conversations late into the wee hours of the night, it became clear that there is no clean way out of this situation.  Sometimes, we can’t go just back to the way things were.  Sometimes, to go forward involves changing everything, whether in good or bad ways.  If circumstances were a little different, I might just walk away and let them repair their relationship, but I’m not sure that’s possible anyway.  So I’m not just walking away, because I like her too much, and she likes me too much.  At this point, the damage has been done, so it’s a matter of how we are going to re-build the boundaries.  And it might mean that I might have to not be part of it, which I don’t prefer but have to accept as a reality.

This is where communication is most important.  There are people hurt right now, and it’s partially (largely) my fault, but it cannot simply be ignored.  Communication will be awkward, terrifying, and nerves will be raw.  But it must be done.  As I write this, I’m starting lines of communication with the boyfriend.  I don’t know where it will lead, if it will be awful or fine, and I am all kinds of nervous.  I’m nervous to not come across as threatening, aggressive, or flippant.  I am also impressed that he’s willing to talk, despite his obvious discomfort.  But it must be done.

For the sake of the woman in question (who will still remain unnamed), so that she does not have to keep mediating all of the conversation, we have to be adults and talk this out.  It  probably will not be fun, but it is necessary.

If there is a take away from this post, it is this.  Make the effort to talk about the problems which exist as early as you can.  Relationships are hard, and you should communicate all of your preferences, desires, fears, etc.  Communication may not lead to the solution you want, but it will avoid the worst case scenarios that come about by ignoring the problems.

So, here’s to being adults!

Off I go….

Shifting the standards of communication June 19, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: , , ,
8 comments

I said this in a comment to my last post:

The standard social rules, as I understand them, privilege a worldview of monogamy, heterosexuality, and a stance leaning towards sex-negativity. I would like the standards to shift towards polyamory, pansexuality (or at least bisexuality), and sex-positivity. How far should the standards shift? I don’t know. That’s the discussion I want to have (Generally, not necessarily here and with you. Unless that conversation interests you).

This, I think summarizes my primary issue with the whole harassment policy/sex-positivity issue I have been talking about recently.

The way we communicate in this culture has been devised, probably organically, in a world of  conservative sexuality; hetero-monogamo-sexnegativity.  That is, the rules about how we flirt, express our desires, arose in a world where you had to first determine if the object of your desire is single, interested in your gender, etc.

In an ideal world, it should not matter.  If a person directly and respectfully expresses interest, it should not matter if they are married, monogamous, and like only people of not-your-gender.  It should not matter if they are asexual.  They can simply say that they are not interested, and the world simply moves on.

Granted, it is tiring having to say no many times (just like its tiring explaining what “atheism” and “Polyamory” are many times), but it is better than not expressing what we really want, clearly and unambiguously.  That’s my view.

If we get used to directness, it will eventually becomes as natural to us as our current standard of indirectness and politeness.  As Nietzsche said;

that may be a strange and insane task, but it is a task

Conversational music of sex and religion March 26, 2010

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
3 comments

Plato's Symposium

I’ve been thinking recently about conversations.  Polite conversations.  You know the kind I mean; you are at a dinner party with people you do not know well, having lunch with some acquaintances, or maybe you just popped into the local tavern for an ale or two and struck up conversation with some other people doing the same.  The circumstances are immense in number, but the basic situation is the same; you are talking with people casually, and polite conversation will evolve into touching on topics of all sorts.

There are a set of unspoken rules to such things, right?  They are not written (nor will I attempt to write them now), but they are accepted and understood (to some extent). And while those involved in such discussions are usually aware of the mental composition of ideas in relation to other non-verbalized thoughts, most of what they are thinking is left unsaid.  We can’t say everything we think.

There is that filter that I–as well as most people–have which allows me to say one thing and not several others that arose to consciousness but not quite to my tongue.  And some of those alternative thoughts remain in consciousness, treading the waters of my mind while waiting to sink or swim as the polite conversation continues to evolve.  The presence of these unsaid thoughts, in adjacent position to the conversation perceived in my mind as I listen and contribute, will sometimes form a theme of parallel thoughts that are left unsaid but play like a harmonizing phrase to the conversation shared by the society in which I find myself.  That’s how it often is for me, anyway.

But what I long for, what I hope for even, is when those silent themes emerge among the greater score.  When, while the orchestra of conversation begins to grow and increase in complexity, the whine of a violin makes it’s way into the background, playing with the theme in a way that is both beautiful and sublime.  And, eventually, that violin silences the rest of the orchestra, and plays itself while every ear perks to hear it in its quiet grace.  The music of conversation evolves such to set the stage for such moments.

And they often leave us silent.

But that silence is not always appreciation, but is sometimes a tumultuous composition being raised in the the mind of another who does not see the only the beauty of this moment.  They may feel discomfort, anger, annoyance, insecurity, indifference, or even a mad desire to hear more and to repeat the phrasing with another instrument–perhaps an oboe–but does not do so.

Oh what beautiful music we humans are capable of playing, but rarely we do.  Just like with the real world and music, it is often the monotonous babble of popular tones that drown out most of the world.  Subtlety and rarity is left, as Nietzsche commented, to the rare.

Out of metaphor

Enough of music metaphors.  What the hell am I talking about?

One of the things I like about such social situations is the uncertainty of what will transpire.  The anticipation of either heated argument, genuine curiosity and interpersonal intimacy, or polite indifference or discomfort.  It’s almost, well, sexy.

As a person who self-identifies as polyamorous and an atheist, I run into this type of communication anticipation on these two fronts from time to time, and I relish the expectation.  It’s not completely unlike meeting an attractive woman and, while talking with her, noticing her body through the clothes she wears, wondering if she is also trying not to let me notice her own interest while I try to thrust away images that my mind creates of the anticipation of passion thus far unrequited.  I eagerly watch the facial queues for subtle emotional indicators, body language, and changes in tone of voice as certain subjects are hinted at, caressed, and occasionally penetrated. Yes, a conversation is a lot like the anticipation of sex, which makes good conversation a lot like sex.

Good conversation–and good sex–is about the exploration of the other person.  It is about opening up and letting people in while trying to maintain the awareness of their needs as they seek to fulfill yours.  It is about saying what you think, hearing what is said, and responding to what is actuallysaid rather than what you wanted to hear.  It is about actual communication, and not merely saying your bit and then having done with it.

Wait, I thought I was done with metaphor….

*sigh*

I know, but in a sense is not all language metaphor?

You may find yourself with some people you don’t really know very well, and some talk about current events comes up. Perhaps it is Iraq, the healthcare bill, or local politics, but eventually something will approach a more sensitive and controversial topic. Perhaps it is a comment about the recent discovery of documents that indicate that the current pope was responsible for covering up child abuse; perhaps it is playful flirtation between two couples who meet at a bar and play with some rising sexual tension and making jokes about swapping or some other arrangement; or perhaps it is the discussion of polygamy as a force for female subjugation in some FLDS and Moslem communities, and why don’t you ever see a woman with four husbands rather than the other way around.

And then the voice inside me says well, I know this woman….

And that is the sort of thought, that lonely whine of that violin, which is rarely played.

Reactions

Some people are wound tight.  It may be traumatic experiences with either sex, relationships, or religion.   it might just be that some people need to just loosen up a little, but I really can’t generalize while being fair to each person’s circumstances.  What I can say is that in my experience some people react quite defensively, even if they have learned to do so quite subtly, to their comfort zones being poked at.

The part of me that is all about free speech, intelligent conversation, and personal growth wants to merely dismiss this as cowardice or emotional weakness, but that is not really fair nor true in many cases.  I cannot know the cause of such discomfort or caution in the face of certain topics, but I am almost always interested in knowing what those causes are.

It is the intimacy of it that I love.  And it is a desire for this intimacy that has caused some uncomfortable relationships in my life.  The reasons are sometimes clear to me, especially in hindsight.  I have been a person who has been closed off behind my own fears, defensive and reactive at certain questions, perceptions of criticism, etc.  But my desire to grow past this has left me sensitive to the behavior in others, perhaps to the point of projecting it when it is not there? (I cannot say).

Perhaps, but I have trouble imagining that I never recognize it accurately.  In at least one prior relationship, I am certain that I was correct in this conclusion, and I think that it was part of the reason that it is a prior relationship rather than a continuing one.

But I’m straying too far from the point.

Some topics of conversation will bore, frighten, or annoy people.  And often this is for good reason, but still those reasons are interesting in themselves.  And it may not always lead to a meta-conversation, but it may lead in that direction in some cases.  But I enjoy the ability to discuss things of moderate or ultimate concern; philosophical discussions, details about personal experiences or beliefs, or passionate defenses and debates about things of personal stake and interest.

It is in these moments of personal insecurity where intimacy grows.  There is a vulnerability about it, but that is what makes it rare and (perhaps thus) beautiful.  It is scary to trust to open up, especially to people we don’t know well, but there is a certain point where I think it is empowering and powerful to do so.  And in such conversations truth may occasionally be born, and we may find ourselves open to new possibilities and expand our boundaries a little at a time.

I may be wrong; there may be a god.  I may be wrong; polyamory may be ultimately unhealthy.  I may be wrong about many things.  So may you, and so let’s actually discuss them rather than sit silently and let those beautiful phrasings play silently in our heads while we try to imagine what melody plays in our neighbor’s head.  How often do people assume things only to find they are wrong when they actually talk with other people.

(How many times have I had to explain the definition of atheism/agnosticism or explain what polyamory is about if not a fear of commitment)

How many times has Glenn Beck sat and really listened to a progressive or liberal without replacing their music with his own biases?  How many times has Keith Olbermann listened to the music of the Tea Party people?  And no, I’m not advocating the view that necessarily some ideal in between opposing sides is always where the truth is.  “Teach the Controversy” is a joke when there is no controversy except that which is contrived for political or religious effect.  Listening does not compel respect for the idea listened to.  Respect has to be earned by reason and evidence, not merely demanded.

And while I may agree more often with Olbermann than Glenn Beck (who I think may be mentally ill), I still listen, really listen, to what is being said.  I only hope for the same.

Conversation avoids misunderstanding and mis-communication while it builds intimacy.  It works in relationships, religion, politics, and even sex.

We all need to communicate better, including myself.