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Time, perspective, and healing November 2, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, Polyamory.
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Last week, I ran into this 6 word story in a listicle:

Strangers. Friends. Best friends. Lovers. Strangers.

and when I reached this story, I sort of froze inside. How many times have I experienced this? Too many? Just the right amount?

Not enough times?

Someone I used to think fairly well of used to say that relationships ending isn’t always a bad thing. A transition of a relationship from one thing to another is often good, and I have people in my life who have transitioned from lover to friend (and sometimes back again) and other transitions, in various directions, numerous times. I am on very good terms (even if we have often grown distant) with most of my previous lovers and partners, with a few glaring exceptions. Some people I thought I would never speak to again are now people I’m closest to. Others, who I thought I’d never be apart from, are now strangers.

Nonetheless there have been a number of relationships that have ended where even a friendship could not be maintained. Sometimes it was due to a mistake, miscommunication, or other problem one one or both of our parts, but quite often it was just because things changed, and our relationship changed. And, sometimes, we drift apart completely.

And, in time, no matter how I felt at the time, perspective is gained. Time heals all wounds? Maybe.

And sometimes that perspective provides greater truth and understanding, but not always. Sometimes, our own biases create stories that leave our memory of a person, and what happened with them, as a work of creative fiction. And while I try to avoid this (as all decent people try to do), I am as susceptible as anyone else (although I suspect I think about this more than most).

And through this process of greater understanding, perspective, and internal narrative creation I have come to look back on some relationships as failures (on one or both of our parts), some as escapes from something terrible, and some as really stupid misunderstandings which cannot be fixed because of one or both of our feelings (often pride and hurt).

Sometimes it’s just best to walk away, and leave a stupid situation be stupid, even if it’s for stupid reasons.

It’s frustrating, but there’s little we can, in general, do about it.

The last year

My life has changed very significantly in the last year. I was married, and now I’m not. 2014 was a tumultuous one of a household breaking up, dealing with unwanted drama, and all the people involved acting pretty terrible (yes, all of us. Some much more than others). And then my marriage went to shit (long before she left), partially due to the immense amount of tension from that situation, and it left me feeling unstable and perceptually afraid and hurt. Eventually, everything was awful and I suffered through months of the deepest depression I have ever known.

Now, I speak to none of the people I used to think of as my poly family two years ago, and have no desire to be involved with any of them again. I do not expect that to change, but I leave that to the future. I believe that nobody, no matter how awful, is completely beyond redemption. I’m just not holding my breath for any of them.

And I think I’m better off that way.

I never wanted to be divorced, so I waited to get married until a little later in life, and married someone I thought was someone who would be a good partner. I was wrong. The transition has been painful, anger-inducing, but mostly just disappointing. But I’m happier now than I have been in years, and I have, in fact, learned and grown significantly.

Anyone reading this who continues to scapegoat me as an abusive asshole can fuck themselves right off a cliff. I made mistakes, and I have always admitted my responsibility, and I will not accept your brushstrokes as reality. I’m not afraid of you, the truth, nor of myself (that, in itself, was a huge step for me). I accept the nuances that we all erred, we all had reason to be angry and hurt, and I can only hope that time will offer all of us the wisdom that it was all stupid and avoidable, even if not salvageable.

I’m responsible for my journey, and I will leave you all responsible for your own.

Am I angry? Damn right I am. But most days, now, I’m not. Most days, I’m actually doing very well. But I am angry, sometimes, and it’s for very good reason. The transition to get here has been shitty, but enlightening. And the goal is not to rid myself of the anger (that would be pointless to try, anyway), but to focus on the future rather than the past. The past is for learning, not for living.

The hardest part of the transition was forcing myself to remember that I made mistakes and hurt people. It’s so easy to allow the self-defensive narrative to write itself in my own head. Yeah, this person was awful in this way, and they did this, but I also fucked up. The other side of that is not taking all the responsibility; to stop punishing myself for mistakes I made because those mistakes happened in a specific circumstance, and I can learn both from the circumstance and from knowing how it felt to be responsible for hurting someone who trusted me and cared about me.

People who are now strangers.

And so I kept asking myself a set of questions; OK, so I fucked up. Now what? Am I going to stay the person who made that mistake or am I going to change? Am I going to solely blame others, or take responsibility? (those two are really the same question). Am I going to hide in a hole, allowing mistakes to define my whole life? Am I going to accept unquestioning support from people who sometimes said to me “they aren’t worth your time,” they are assholes,” “fuck them” or will I ask them to help me better understand what I did wrong and what I need to do going forward? When the people around you just tell you what you want to hear and feed the tribalistic impulses we all have, that’s not friendship or love; that’s part of what keeps narcissism alive.

And, perhaps most importantly for me, am I going to keep punishing myself, or am I going to remember that I made those mistakes because I was hurting, and because I tolerated people hurting to me for too long. Because I understand why I made those mistakes; I didn’t defend my boundaries and I allowed resentment turn into anger, and anger turn into being mean to people I cared about. Abuse happens for a reason, and where I have acted abusively I will simultaneously accept responsibility and fix the cause; and the cause is not that I’m an abusive person inherently, it’s that I am a person who has experienced abuse myself, over many years, and that cycle has to stop somewhere.

The Quakers have a saying, as part of one of the songs I learned while in (hippie) school;

“Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

Well, let the cycle end with me. I will try, every day, to no longer pass on the pain given to me by others because, as I have been working on for months now, I will defend the boundaries I need for myself better. I will no longer allow resentment and hurt build up until I hurt someone because they are (or someone else is) hurting me. In other words, I will not punish myself nor others for any pain, from any source. I don’t accept the threats of punishment from an illusory god, and I will not accept the punishment for an illusory sense of personal justice. When I, previously, saw the response to being hurt or injured as Justice rather than compassion, I internalized the same megalomaniacal fury of an insecure bronze-age god (YHWH/Allah/Elohim/etc) that I have been decrying for years.

Hypocritical as shit, I know. But at least I’m figuring it out now.

(I’ll point out, here, that Nietzsche has been trying to tell me that for years, but I wasn’t seeing it clearly enough. Thanks, Nieztsche, for trying.)

And I have never felt better about myself, my relationships, and my future. There will always be work to do, but I’m no longer controlled by the pain I have dealt with all of my life. And I no longer, as I said, fear myself. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but it did happen. I’m supremely glad about that, because being afraid of oneself is, perhaps, worse than hating oneself (which I have also experienced).

Coming clean and moving forward

I have made some pretty awful mistakes in my life. Most recently, I hit my ex wife with a pillow and yelled some pretty awful things at her while I was immensely hurt and angry at her for reasons which are not relevant here, mostly because they are not excuses. I still have nightmares about it ever since, although they are increasingly rare these days. And while many people close to me have sympathized with my own pain, and in some cases even argued that what I did was not bad enough to warrant the marriage ending, that is not my nor their decisions. No matter how much I disagree with that decision and wished there had been any room to try to go a different direction, I have done my best to respect it and made no attempt to fight the request for a divorce.

And now it’s all over. I’m mostly OK with that, I just wish it had been possible to make the divorce a transition, rather than an ending. I simply could not accept the terms I was given, to make it a transition. Had I accepted the terms I saw in front of me to try and rebuild a friendship, I would have been capitulating to what I saw as a lie. I will defend my boundaries, where previously my insecurity would have sacrificed by thoughts, feelings, and very self in order to save the relationship. That will never happen again.

Due to that same insecurity, I’ve lived through many relationships with people who were terrible to me in many ways. And rather than create firm boundaries I allowed my resentment, anger, and fear to build up until I would throw a stool, hit someone with a pillow, and yell hurtful things.

And then, of course, I don’t have much of a leg to stand on in pointing out my own pain because I’ve moved the attention to myself. I throw a stool, so it doesn’t matter if this guy is being an asshole and making other people’s lives a living hell. He can just point to the stool I threw, and now I’m the focus.

Or, I hit her with a pillow so now all the reasons I had for being furious with her are irrelevant and can be brushed off and ignored.

That’s been the pattern, most of my life and with too many people. Not in all cases, mind you, but especially with people who trigger certain insecurities within me. Had I not buried the anger, allowed resentment to build, and let fear govern it all I could have avoided the outbursts and the alienation I felt.

I have understood aspects of this over years, but it is more clear to me now, after the least few years, than previously. And I will work on, every day, making sure that this cycle is not perpetuated.

Mea culpa

To whom it may concern

So, those of you who are reading this and don’t trust me, think I’m an abusive person, or who might continue to make my mistakes the primary story…well OK. Cool story, bro. But we define ourselves not only by our decisions and mistakes, but also by how we respond to them. I will not ignore or merely dismiss your accusations and judgments, but i will only accept them as part of the story (unless they are true fabrications, which I have also had to deal with). I will learn from you, even if you have no interest in helping me, because there might be some truth to what you say, even if it is biased, embellished, or malicious. If I ignore that, I am merely pushing the narrative closer to my own comfort zone. That won’t stop the cycle, but merely inches along rather than strides towards growth.

Changing just enough as you have to is almost as bad as not changing at all.

And I will offer the same to you (all of you, out there). If you have made, or continue to make, mistakes, my judgment of your character will also be informed by how you respond, and not merely what you did. We all hurt people, to varying degrees. Own it, grow, and in time those you hurt may forgive you. In some cases, they never will. That’s hard.

Finally, those of you who have been there for me over the last year (or years, in some cases), I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you all, and I owe you a lot for your listening, emotional support, and trusting me enough to see that I am not the person that others say I am or are afraid that I am. You believed that I cannot be defined by my mistakes, and made an effort to see me through the work I had to do, when it would have been far easier to abandon me. You understood that if you really believed that I could grow beyond a set of mistakes, learn from them, and truly grow and heal, you had to stick around to see it.

Alternatively, If you said that you believed I could get through this but made no attempt to stick around….

Then perhaps you are not the person you think you are either.

I know who I am, and I like that person a lot.

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An Open Letter to Harassers: The Volatile Space Between Desire and Action August 9, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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This post is a combination of a confession as well as an angry rant about the phenomena of harassment.  If you have not been following, there is a summary here by Greta Christina.  I will say that this issue has been especially emotional for me, because I recognize many of the patterns of  behavior within myself, and they are attributes I have long tried to re-direct into healthy directions.  This is an attempt to show that there are many powerful feelings we must contend with, as humans, but that there is a better way than the traditional harass and hide behind the wall of silence and shame that harassment puts victims behind.  There are better ways to pursue what we want, and to get it some of the time, without hurting people.

—–

While I don’t really look to meet people much, sometimes it just happens.  Sometimes you meet people you like at a conference or at work, sometimes they read your blog and then start chatting you up, and sometimes there is just a person in your life who, after being around for some time, starts to become a person you really care about or desire strongly.  In some cases, they reciprocate your interest, and sometimes they don’t (or they do but perhaps not in all the ways you would like).  And when it works out, it’s great!  When you meet someone and have chemistry flowing both ways and both can fulfill desires together, it’s a great and beautiful thing.  We should pursue those things in those circumstances.

But then there are the times when you aren’t sure.  You are into them, they seem (logically) available, respond to you positively (or so it seems to you), and you want the relationship to go further.   Of course, you should communicate your interest (this is sometimes hard for me, being human and all) and you should be comfortable with a yes, a no, or a maybe.  Also, you should be comfortable with a “yes, but…”, because sometimes shit gets complicated.

Welcome to life among humans.

Today, I want to talk about what it is like to not be able to realize one’s desires.  More specifically, I want to talk about when your desires are not shared by the object of  said desires and yet the desire persists and you feel compelled to act on it.  This is a phenomena that occurs everywhere, to many people.  But even as a polyamorous person there are all sorts of reasons I might not be able to fulfill my needs or desires.  Whether it is because the person you desire is monogamous, too far away, or they just aren’t into you in the way that you want them to be (or at all).  Whatever the reason, there are ways to handle this situation well, and ways to seriously fuck it up (such as dick stumping).  And in the worst of situations you don’t stop pursuing your unrequited desires and you end up harassing people.  That shit needs to stop; like yesterday.

Yay for timely and topical content!

If you meet someone who compels you think some sexual things–for whom you have some deep, primal, natural urges for–it can sometimes be difficult to hold it all together around them if it’s not wanted or shared.  The feeling of wanting to act on it does not merely go away because it’s not reciprocated.  It would be great if it would, but for many people (including myself) it does not go away easily.  Wanting to act on it becomes a distraction, in some cases, and that distraction will often fade in time, but for some….

For some, this becomes a challenge or a goal to achieve rather than a place to re-direct one’s intentions and behavior.   I urge those people to reconsider this reaction because in many cases this impulse is the origin of some behavior–i.e. harassment–which will not be appreciated or appropriate.  I’m saying that if ze is not interested, this is not a cause to break out your charm, your powerful intellect to convince them otherwise, or your position of power to leverage their behavior.  I’m saying, find another way to interact with this person, if at all, if you can’t keep the unwanted thoughts at bay.

Clearly, many people don’t take this advice.

I understand that the emotions pushing you towards satisfying your desires are powerful, but those desires are not aimed at objects; they are aimed at subjects.  You must remember that these people have their own minds, goals, and desires that may not have anything to do with you.  If you are unwilling or unable to do so, then perhaps you should keep your distance and think about something else.  If you are a decent and respectful person, someone else may reciprocate to similar desires, or they may not.  Life is unfair sometimes.  If you keep pushing in a direction that isn’t working, you can only get short term inflated desires at the cost of hurting other people.

Some personal confessions here; for me, the anticipation of a fulfilled fantasy is a powerful motivation and even an aphrodisiac for me.  It’s related to the feeling of NRE, except that it can happen even with people I’ve known for years, and even with people with whom I’ve already fulfilled some desires with (hopefully two-way desires).  Thinking about someone for whom I have strong desires can be a powerful experience, and the idea of acting on that desire is exciting.  But I always am aware that this excitement might be solely mine, and so I tend to be cautious in trying to act on my desires if I am unsure about how it would be taken.  And with few exceptions, usually for the good*, I have succeeded in this caution.

I’m sure I’m not saying anything ground-shaking here.  I’m sure that much of this is shared by many people.  Human beings are complicated, and our desires sometimes seek to push us in many directions which are potentially inappropriate.  We need to be able to distinguish our desires, which are not a problem in themselves, from our actions, which can be problems.

Of course I’m polyamorous, which adds a layer of complexity to this issue.  With polyamory the desire for variety and new experiences is somewhat mitigated by the presence of the people we have relationships with, but not always.  Sometimes a different specific person, action, etc which you desire cannot be satisfied by just anyone.  Desires, needs, etc are not like a universal fuel that can fill you up by spending time with any person, at least not with all things.  Sometimes specific people evoke unique feelings and satisfy specialized desires that other people, even the people closest to you, simply cannot provide.  In healthy expressions, this can take the form of a specific kink that a specific person shares with you, a hobby or interest that you associate with a particular person, etc.  It can also be as simple as you have been fantasizing about a specific person and only that person can fulfill that desire.  Thus, being polyamorous is not a cure for this problem; harassment happens within polyamorous circles as well.  Being open is not automatic consent, after all.

Sometimes your specific desire will never be fulfilled.  No matter how hard you work, how much you try, or how long you wait.  Sometimes you must leave the desire aside, and do something else.  You cannot allow yourself to rationalize coercion as being acceptable because your desire is too strong (“I can’t help it, baby, you just turn me on so much”).  You cannot rationalize harassing people because you think you can hide it (“whose going to believe you, anyway?”).  You cannot do these things and expect to be a decent human being.  Your desires, no matter how intoxicating and compelling, are not excuses for bad behavior.  That is selfish thinking.

The object of your desire may never reciprocate, and you must be comfortable with that.  It is important to allow your fantasies to have some freedom to indulge themselves, but you must remember that if that fantasy involves another person it may not be possible to satisfy and so maybe you should indulge another fantasy.  If your fantasy is reciprocated and possible to act upon with consent, then that’s wonderful.  Fulfilled fantasies and anticipation rewarded are wonderful things which we should cherish, as they happen infrequently (unless you get really lucky).  But when it becomes clear–and we need to be watching for, and asking questions concerning about, this–that the desire is not reciprocated, we need to be prepared to shift our focus immediately and  appropriately.

These days, I find myself in a situation where I have some hopes, fantasies, and anticipations which may (or may not) come to fruition over the next few months.  I find that I am enjoying the hoping and imagining, but I also have to keep in mind that some of these hopes may never materialize because they may not be shared or possible.  And while that may disappoint me, I can survive this without emotional implosion (or dick stumping) because I have many kinds of desires.

The people I have sexual desires for are more than sex objects for me.  In addition to thinking about them sexually (and I do), I also try to also develop non-sexual desires which include them.  If they don’t want to get busy doin’ it, then we can be friends and allies.  Will that suck a little? sure.  But I must approach people for whom I have desires with the attitude that even if all my desires cannot become real, there are all sorts of ways that the people that I desire can be important parts of my life, short of my hopes.  And sometimes this may mean that we simply go our separate ways too.  That has to be OK as well.

If the only desire I have for someone is sexual, I better be damned sure I communicate that and be ready to hear a “no” before setting myself up for a situation I’d like to act on it.  If my hopes are multi-faceted, I can allow the relationship to just be what it is.  If they want to bone (yeah, I went there), then we can bone.  If they want to be be friends, close or not, then that is something I can appreciate as well.   But there is no room for coercion here.  There is no room in my life for pushing in a direction that is pushing back against me.  There is no room in my life for harassment.  There is no excuse for harassment, with all the varieties of people, interests, and things to do in the world.  There is a healthy way to pursue your desires, and harassment is not one of them.

I wish that all people felt the same.  Because while I share many of the desires and impulses which I imagine those who have been harassing also feel, I have enough compassion, respect, and consideration to not allow those desires to control my behavior (and I hope it stays that way).  That is, all the hardware and software for harassment exist within me, but somehow I have grown past that and learned to use those desires in healthier ways.  How unaware, how selfish, and how cowardly…how flawed and human…do these people have to be to have kept up the behavior for so long?

I will not allow myself to rationalize trying to “convince” or coerce people to fulfill my desires.  I will not convince myself that I’m just wearing down their uncertainty about what they really want (ugh).  That is a mistake I learned early, and which ended up hurting someone I cared about many years ago.  And so rather than having an awesome and interesting friend, I have a person who will not talk to me anymore.  I have acted in such a way that they no longer trust me, let alone consider me a friend anymore (let alone a lover).  What did my attempts accomplish? And what have the many people, now being named in the skeptic community, who have harassed people they worked with accomplish? At most, it gave them a power rush at pursuing, at the cost of another person’s happiness.

Worth it?

For these and many other reasons those people who have acted poorly have my sympathy, but not nearly as much sympathy as I have for those they mis-treated.  My anger is directed at you, harassers, but that anger is mostly fueled by the potential for the same that exists within me.  I am angry at our many human flaws, because they are what hurt us.  Knowing that had I had a different past, one where I was not exposed to introspection, compassion, and (yes) feminism early, I might have been more like you is humbling and terrifying.  I hope you will all take this as a learning experience, rather than as a time to dig deeper and make excuses through lawsuits and further lying and hiding behind a system that has protected you (and myself) for so long.

We need to keep challenging ourselves to be better as individuals, as skeptics, and as a culture.  I hope that those being named–and more importantly those not named or those just getting started or who somehow have avoided being called out–will take this as a moment of transformation, rather than rationalization and defensiveness.  After all, we have enough people out there rationalizing their poor behavior already.  We don’t need more swelling their numbers.

—–

A final word, about polyamory.

Polyamory is about more than romance and sex.  The fact is that the women in my life for whom I have hopes are people I genuinely like and want to be closer to, to varying degrees.  If that means we are friends and allies and not lovers, that is a positive things as well (if not a little sucky).  Polyamory is not merely about having more lovers.  It can also be about shifting the way we see desire and how fluid our desires and relationships can be.

There is no need for rush, no compelling anxiety, to pursue a desire now and here if one’s concept of relationship is based in allowing oneself to love, and be loved, by the people in your life as is shared with them.  There are many people that exist in my life, many of them for whom I have strong physical and emotional desires.  But there is no compelling reason to rush towards those desires if they are not reciprocated.  Yes, I feel an anxiety and need inside, but I don’t need to act upon it if it is not shared.  I allow the relationships to be what they are, when they are, because if they are not interested in sharing my desires my pushing will not change that (and if it does, it never brings us closer).  And if they are to change their mind, that will happen by earning their trust by being a decent person, rather than pushing them away through harassment or unwanted solicitations.

While swimming in the sea of the backlash of sexual harassment which has been plaguing the skeptic community of late (again, summary here), I can’t help but think how terrible it is that some people cannot see others around them to whom they are attracted as more than just fantasies to try and procure.  If the people who find themselves wanting what may not be possible would understand that there is more to the fantasy than just sex, especially when that is only possible through coercion, then sexual harassment would be vanishingly rare ( oh, what a nice world that would be!).  Of course, part of the problem, at least in some cases, is probably the desire to conquer, to have power, and to coerce is more powerful than basic empathy.  If that’s the case, then I don’t know what the solution is.

I fear that some people share many of the inner desires that I do, but do not share the capability for empathy that I have.  That is a truly scary thought.

*A point of honesty; I have times in my past crossed appropriate lines, and these acts haunt me from time to time.  The important thing here is that we learn from these actions and grow as people, rather than hide them and allow them to become a secret that we hide from, until they are exposed.  There are quite a few people in the Skeptic community who may wish they had considered that a long time ago, these days.