The love we deserve August 22, 2014Posted by Ginny in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
Tags: family, love, relationships
This is cross-posted from my brand new tumblr! Where I’m hoping to collect tons and tons of stories, pictures, videos, etc that also go under this theme of, “these are some amazing ways people have loved me.”
Dear Younger Ginny,
I’m writing to the girl who sat across from her mentor, tearfully talking through issues with the boy you were dating. Your mentor listened for a long time, and then asked, “Ginny. Does he make you happy?” And you thought for a minute and said, “No, not really.” And she said, “If he doesn’t make you happy, you can break up. You don’t need a reason or justification.”
It was a revelation to you then, and based on what’s happened in the last 15 years, it didn’t entirely sink in. So I want to tell you some true stories.
You have always loved opinionated and argumentative men, and a part of you probably always will. One day, you were sitting on the living room floor arguing about a feminist issue with the particular opinionated and argumentative man you were dating. It started as an intellectual argument, but at some point it started to hit you personally really hard, and you began to cry. And this man immediately backed off his point, said, “I’m sorry, hon, what is it?” and listened attentively while you explained through your tears why this issue felt so personal and how you’d been hurt by this thing before. He took you seriously and treated your emotions as a sign that your point was more valid, not less, and he made sure your feelings were being cared for before returning to the discussion. (This interaction, and others like it, was a key point in your decision to marry that particular opinionated and argumentative man.)
One day your friends, who know how important your birthday is to you and how lonely you’ve been feeling, will print up signs and hang them all over campus, so you see “Happy Birthday Ginny!” on doors and bulletin boards all day long, and many classmates wish you a happy birthday.
One day, just after having sex, you will cry in your lover’s arms, and he will hold you tightly until you are done, and he will stroke your hair and thank you for your trust, and invite you to talk or not depending on what you need.
One day, you will brave ice and snow to spend a day with your sweetheart, and you will walk in the door and he will greet you with a giant smile and a hug and a kiss, and then hand you a latte he’d just made, to drink while he finishes making an epic breakfast.
One day, you will hurt someone you love. You will actually do this a lot. And the person you hurt will tell you, tremblingly and sometimes with tears, and you will apologize and they will hear and forgive you, and you will talk together about ways you can keep from hurting them like that in the future, and they will believe that you can do better and will treat you like a good and loving person who made a mistake.
One day you will write about your hesitance to open a bottle of unopened cream in your boyfriend’s house, as a symbol of your general hesitance to make waves or take up space for yourself, and two different people will immediately write to you and tell you you can always open stuff in their house because they love you and you are family.
One day you will plan the perfect birthday party for yourself, which involves ice cream and singing and Buffy, and your friends and lovers will all work with you in ways big and small to make it happen, and your husband who’s not terribly into singing or Buffy will spend his day cleaning the house and setting up a media system for it. And many people will come, and when the first song starts they will all join their voices with yours and it will be just as you had dreamed and your heart will be full to bursting.
There are so many other stories I could tell, but this is a beginning. The point is this: you can and will be loved, and loved well, according to the needs of your heart. There will be many times that you believe you don’t deserve this kind of love, or that nobody exists who could possibly give it to you. Those are lies. There is so much love in your future that is nourishing and sustaining and brings joy to your heart. Seek it. Ask for it. Rise with courage and do the hard work you need to do, not to earn that kind of love, but to become capable of receiving it.
Tags: altruism, boundaries, communication, desire, family, happiness, intimacy, jealousy, love, manipulation, needs, relationships, rules, selfishness, shame
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?”
“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.
Not Okay August 10, 2014Posted by Ginny in Polyamory.
Tags: family, love, Mental Health, relationships
I’m not okay.
I’m a pretty stoic and self-reliant person, so those are hard words for me to say. I was telling a new love just recently the story of when my brother and I were waiting anxiously at the kitchen table, to hear whatever news had been making our mother cry that morning, and he asked how I could be so calm. I was calm then — I am calm usually — because I felt like I had to be. Too many people relied on me, growing up, for me to be able to melt down. I’m the person who holds it together in a crisis, who works the problem and saves my emotions for later, who’s always able to lay aside what I’m feeling and what I need this minute to take care of someone else. It’s a skill and quality I value in myself.
But sometimes I’m not okay, and that’s slowly becoming a thing I can say out loud. I’m learning that being not-okay today doesn’t mean I will be not-okay tomorrow. I’m learning that, instead of the entire world crumbling apart if I stop being okay because I am the last bastion of stability, when I’m not okay, other people will gather around and be okay for me. They will hold me and love me, and sometimes they’ll lay aside what they are feeling and what they need this minute to take care of me.
I’m not okay a lot these days, and my friends and lovers and metamours have been wonderful to me.
I loved Shaun’s post about family as ka-tet. Family, whether born or chosen, is such a powerful thing. It shapes us, changes us, tells us who we are and where we belong in the world. Like any powerful thing it can be incredibly destructive. It can hobble or cripple us, it can tell us that we are weak and bad and that where we belong is directly under someone else’s foot — and because it is family, those words will affect us no matter how hard we fight them. Like any powerful thing, it can be creative and uplifting and life-giving. It can give us support to stand when we tremble, it can tell us that we are strong and loved and believed, and that where we belong is out in the world, living joyfully and creating beauty.
I’m so thankful for the people who are family to me, whose lives are intimately bound up with mine and who have used their power to make me feel strong and loved and believed. I’m not okay a lot these days, but I’m also amazingly wonderful a lot these days, and while the ping-ponging is taking some getting used to, I feel safer than I ever have. I feel like I can sink into the depths of the not-okay when I need to, to work on and work through the stuff that’s down there, because I have a strong lifeline back to the surface.
I’m not okay, but that’s okay.
Tags: family, intimacy, relationships, Stephen King, The Dark Tower, vulnerability
So, I really love the Dark Tower series. I’ve read the books twice (I read the first three before the 4th came out, then read them again when the fourth came out, and then all of them again before book 7 came out). I’ve listened to the audio books, twice, and am listening to them again on my work commute. I’m currently on book three.
I also own some of the graphic novels, but am more interested in the earlier ones, which filled in the gaps of the story, rather than the ones which re-tell the story in graphic novel form. I’m not a huge fan of the graphic novel style, and prefer the details of the books.
As I was listening to the audio book this morning, something occurred to me. There are many reasons I love the story, the universe, and even how it ended (I know many people don’t like many things about how it ended, or even the direction Stephen King went with the later books), but something else poked it’s head out at me about the series which has, perhaps unconsciously, created a set of expectations about how the concept of family has formed for me.
I will not give any major spoilers, but if you plan of reading the books, graphic novels, etc in the future and don’t want to be spoiled at all, skip this.
Ka-tet, Vulnerability, and Family
Starting in book 2, we start seeing the formation of Roland’s little pack of gunslingers, on their way to the Dark Tower. We meet them, as they are drawn into Roland’s world through detailed and often deeply life-altering ways which expose the dark corners of these characters. Each character has to confront major personal struggles in order to find their way on the path of the beam, and each of them finds inner strengths through their adventure together. It is a metaphor, I believe, for the intimacy which people must share to truly be a part of another’s world, at least as much as we can be a part of each-other’s world.
This is a story of people drawn together by what in the mythology of the universe calls ka, and is related to the concept of fate. As they become entangled into ka’s web, they become ka-tet. They are more than friends, more than family, and they are intimately connected in ways that only the closest of friends, family, etc ever reach. Any of us are lucky if we ever have one person who gets this close, and some people may have a few people who become as close as these travelers become in Stephen King’s fantasy.
They, in short, are completely vulnerable with each other, sharing their lives, thoughts, minds, and bodies with each other in ways which defy distance and secrets (as well as actual possibility; it is fantasy, after all). In the end, they are as close as people can be to each other. There are moments of anger, regret, arguing, intimacy, victory….and defeat. But whether they will all reach their goal or not, whether their heart-breaking story ends well or not, all the while they were together, they were vulnerable and intimate with each other in ways that draw me closer to them, and has inspired me to become closer to the people I love, especially myself.
They were all in, withholding nothing.
Taking lessons from fantasy and real research
Related to this, I have just started reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly at the recommendation of a friend, who daring greatly, recently reached out to us to reconnect. This book, and other resources of my continuing project of allowing myself to simultaneously find my inner ability to love myself and make myself more open, intimate, and vulnerable to other people, are stepping stones to a better me and a better life. And as I was reflecting on these things over the last few days, I suddenly became aware of another facet of love I have for Stephen King’s magnum opus of a series; the concept of ka-tet.
The characters in this story of The Dark Tower are imperfect, complicated, and all have traumatic personal stories. They overcome shadowy pasts of various kinds to find within themselves strengths that they needed each other to cultivate. They have all made mistakes, have the capability to do so again, but their relationships are built upon a level of sharing and honesty which has few parallels in our culture. This leads to a level of trust, respect, and love which acts as a mysterious goal of my own–a destination not unlike Roland’s Tower.
We, in this culture, are not trained to be vulnerable, and so when we see true vulnerability we may admire it but find it difficult to do ourselves. Vulnerability, like responsibility, is an attribute admired in others and feared in ourselves. In reading Brene Brown’s book, I’m seeing that the values which our culture holds in esteem are counter-productive for mental, interpersonal, or social health. These are concepts I have been aware of, at many levels, for many years, but seeing it articulated in such a compact, vulnerable, and honest way is refreshing and perhaps a little bit of a slap to the face.
In a world (this real word) where there are no gods, no actual ka, and no Dark Tower weaving our fate, what are we to do? There is no actual ka-tet; no overarching and unavoidable power forcing us together in circumstances where intimacy is almost unavoidable. We will not literally experience the inner minds of others in order to draw them to our world, like with The Dark Tower’s second book, but we might be able to take a few pages from book three onward into our own lives. Whether it is shared traumatic experiences, overcoming uncertainty and fear of our capabilities, or facing death together there are things which we, as real people, can relate to in book three and many other examples of literature, mythology, etc.
In walking our own paths towards our goals, we find ourselves together and have a desire, almost a need, to share our stories, find strengths and skills encouraged by each other, and to dare (greatly) to achieve successes together we will inevitably create bonds. These bonds may be rare, but however many of these deep bonds you have in your life, for your father’s sake appreciate them and cultivate them well. This is what family is. This is the only refuge of the meaningless, cold, empty universe which cares not if you are happy, sad, or bored. It is only with the people we walk the path with that make the difference between living well and living poorly.
There is a moment, I believe it is in the early chapters of book three (it’s all a blur), where Roland is thinking to himself about what he has done (there was a boy!/there was not a boy!) and the tension for his quest for the tower and the relationships he is forming. He is reminiscing how many have fallen next to him in his quest. In a sense, he has sacrificed them all, and this haunts him. He’s thinking about the balance for the ultimate goal and how he treats the people who walk with him.
It occurs to him that this developing ka-tet provides him with an opportunity for redemption, to change his ka. Whether he succeeds in this redemption is up for debate, but the moment of realization holds powerful emotional potency for me. He stands at a cross-roads, of sorts, looking back at the many people lost in his path of the Tower. He has sacrificed so many others for his quest, and the moment when he becomes aware that he’s gathering more sacrifices, like a snowball rolling down a hill gathers more snow, he decides not to be a monster. For if he were to become that monster, he would sacrifice everything that his quest represents.
Would he hurl his friends, like weapons, at anything in his path? Will his ka-tet be another means to his ends? Such is the future; all of our futures. The ends, he realizes, do not justify the means. Utility, consequentialism, and all other mere goals are not enough to rationalize the path he could take. He recognizes that in the quest for his goal, he is almost certain that these people will almost certainly die like his Hawk, David, which he chose as a weapon in his very first step in the direction of the Tower (whether he knew it then, or not). But he decides, in that moment, that he will not use his new ka-tet as mere tools, as weapons. He will make them partners, and share a goal with them.
All the while knowing that they may all die, in this quest. As we all, eventually, will.
Stopping to smell the crimson roses
If you have not read The Dark Tower, but you want to, I want to alert you to something. There is a point, late in the last book (book 7), where Stephen King gives you a choice. He tells you to stop reading. But before this, earlier in the book, he also asks you to stop and appreciate a moment of victory. He reminds you to stop, take a look around, appreciate the circumstances you (because you’re invested in his characters, hopefully) are in, before moving on. Later, he simply asks you to stop reading.
In both cases, you have a choice. In the first, the choice is whether you will take a break in your reading at that point and reflect on the gathered ka-tet and appreciate them, or simply turn the page. Later, your choice is whether to keep reading at all. King actually suggests, knowing you will almost certainly not do so, you to put the book away and not finish the story. The reasons for this are not important for us here (it’s also a spoiler), but it is this kind of moment which stands stark against the wall of eternity, for me.
We need to stop, occasionally, and recognize what we have in our lives. We need to halt, take stock, and appreciate when there is something to appreciate, so that we can look back later and see those moments for what they were; beauty, love, and good feelings. But there may also come a time, in our stories, where there may be nothing left to see. There may be times when you should put the book away.
And yet we do not, much of the time.
The first time I read book 7, I actually did put the book down, and didn’t continue immediately. I thought, seriously, about taking the advice and not finishing the book. I walked away, thought about it, but inevitably picked it up again. I wanted to know, needed to know–burned to know–what would happen. Many uncertainties and blind-spots in my life are represented by this metaphor, and no matter how much I might know that it’s better to walk away, I feel the pull of curiosity and (sometimes) hope. What happened next in the book, in both cases where I paused, was hard to read even if it was necessary and compelling.
We all have our Dark Towers to climb, I suppose. Perhaps it is better to not open that door, when we get to it. Perhaps we would all be happier if we simply took in the sight of reaching our destination, then moved on. But as Eve learned (metaphorically, of course), the fruit is too tempting. And just like Eve, warned against tasting the fruit, no matter how long you may be warned against the consequences of such an action, eventually, in all of eternities (and eternal returns; yes, even Nietzsche is relevant to The Dark Tower) you will eat the fruit, open that door, and climb that Tower.
Imagine Eve, obediently avoiding the fruit for years, decades, millennia! Eventually, curiosity will get the better of her. Imagine a reader, at the end of a 7 book series, poised at the edge of the secrets of the story and never finishing it (I imagine at least a few have done so…so far). Gods! No creature capable of curiosity can withstand such a temptation forever, if forever were given to us. In eternities contains all things, I suppose.
We want to know. We want to understand. We can avoid looking for a while, but eventually, we must peek.
I see the inner lives of people the same way. My tower is understanding, of myself and of others with whom I walk the path of the beam. Many have been lost from my path, whether through death, enmity, or because we were questing for different Towers, ultimately (“Go then. There are other worlds than these”). And each meeting and separation is a moment of choice, where we have the choice of putting the book down or to turn the page. Sometimes, I turn the page and experience the heart-break that follows, and sometimes I put the book down. Sometimes, I turn the page and find my tower where intimacy, vulnerability, and love welcome me in. And perhaps, worst of all, sometimes I put the book down, and leave the hope of all that is beautiful behind.
We don’t know what is inside each Tower, and whether we open them, walk away, or stand with curious grasps at the handle to that great door with indecision, those moments tell our stories. I look forward to the many quests for towers I will find, and I hope that those who walk the path with me will not sacrifice me, or be sacrificed by me, on the way to their own towers, because that way lies madness. Because we are the only real towers, dark or not. All the other towers are illusions, idyllic distractions, and ultimately vanity.
Just like the Dark Tower series, the beauty is in the quest itself, not any hypothetical goal. All the goal will do, ultimately, is put us back on the path where we will either make the same choices or try something else. As Nietzsche observed, if we look at any moment in our lives as a metaphor for all choices, as an option to do this again, eternally, how would we behave? With such a perspective, does the goal matter? If we are forced to reflect on this life and all its choices, would we do the same? As we approach each Dark Tower, each person, will we open it? Will we walk the path with them? Will we hurl them as weapons? Will we sacrifice them for something else?
There is only one final destination we will all approach, either suddenly or with clear foresight. That “clearing at the end of the path” is the only goal we all must travel to, and no Tower lies there. But what friends, family, and ka-tet we bring with us to the edge of that clearing will allow us to look back at our lives with the complexity and unambiguous reality. What we see there may cause us pain, a smile, and most likely both.
It’s only what happens before that which matters. Make the most of it.
Transitions January 14, 2014Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: co-habitation, family, relationship
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This blog has been quiet for a while. The podcast has also been quiet. There have been reasons for this, most of which don’t need to be spelled out here. Some explanation, however, is relevant to readers, assuming you have not forgotten about us.
Back in 2012, Ginny and I got married. Our living situation was not ideal, our financial situation not great, but our relationships with a few people was such that we were given the opportunity to share space, as well as a blog, with some people that were integral to our lives. So we packed up and moved to Collingswood, NJ.
I was optimistic, at the time. We knew there were risks in melding lives in this way, and we all knew it could not work out. But like all relationships, you sometimes have to gamble for the sake of it working out. I’ve gambled in such ways in the past and not had it work out, but my view on life is perpetual self-improvement and not giving up, because I don’t want to resign myself to cynicism. I want to make things work, when possible, and I hate giving up because things get hard.
But that isn’t enough. Everyone in a relationship has to have the same interest in working through problems for a relationship to have a chance at working. And even if everyone does want it to work, sometimes there are too many differences for it to succeed. So, despite my initial optimism and our attempts to meld a new home, this gamble will not work out. At least for now.
Polyskeptic.com isn’t going anywhere, however. PolyskeptiCast has been hanging silently for a while and I hope it returns, but I am unsure about its future. For now, some transitions are upcoming.
To start, I will be wearing glasses from now on. I just got a new prescription, and two new pairs, that I will be receiving within a week. Ginny and I will be moving out of the PolySkeptic compound in coming months, and moving back to Philadelphia. I will admit, I am looking forward to being back in the city, but I hate giving up on all of this. It feels like resigning. It feels like running away. It feels like losing family. But it’s quite clear that moving forward as things are is impossible, and my feelings of resigning and giving up are not shared, so move on we must.
The details are not necessary to you all. I will say that most of my silence on the blog has been due to the fact that the subjects I wanted to write about being too close to home. I don’t mind writing about my own shortcomings and struggles for growth, but when the issues I have extend beyond my own issues, and are not about our culture in general, my moral compass gains my attention and I tend to remain quiet. In coming months, that may change, as I try and sort through and articulate what I can learn from all of this, but for now I am reticent because I’m too stuck in the middle of everything to be even remotely unbiased.
I will also say that Gina and I will be staying together, hopefully indefinitely. I love her very much, we both enjoy each other thoroughly, and we intend to work through the difficulties to come to maintain committed to each other. It will be difficult, in term of maintaining our relationship, to not share space in the way we have over the last year plus, but I realize that it is necessary. We have not seen her voice here recently on the blog, for her own reasons, but I hope to continue to read her hilarious and insightful posts here in the future and long down the road.
If Wes wishes to keep writing (and I hope he will), then he will. His perspective on the world is very different from mine, and I don’t wish this space to be an echo-chamber for my views on the world, and so I hope to see more of his posts start to appear in the future. Also, if Jessie, who has been invited to write but has not so far done so, desires to add her voice to the blog then I will look forward to read what she has to say. And perhaps as time moves on I will add new writers (as I have in the past, which didn’t work out). That is to be seen.
To sum up, our living arrangements and intimacy will change (as Wes might say, it’s not an ending, it’s a change in our relationship as a group), but I intend to keep moving forward with the blog, hopefully improved with some time. There are tensions here, and plenty of responsibility to be shared for those tensions, but I hope that in time those tensions will be resolved with new circumstances.
That’s the thing about family. Sometimes you love them, sometimes you hate them, and sometimes you really cannot live with them. But even when you hate them and can’t live with them, you love them. I don’t know what the future will hold for us all, but I hope that it gets better, and in the long run this will look like a mere stain on an otherwise really comfortable sweater. Because the winters of life are cold and often dark, and the people around us keep us warm, even if they might be imperfect.
Poly Life 101: Taking Turns (with Gina) June 7, 2013Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: family, relationships
OK, that title sounds lascivious, but just give me a sec and I’ll show that it’s not what that sounds like.
Since I have decided to write about more every day polyamorous life rather than always writing overly-philosophically about issues all the time, I figured I’d start with a bit about yesterday.
Thursdays are a day off for me, right now. So, that meant that yesterday I got up early, did some auto-didactic reading, exercised, made myself a healthy lunch, then spent some quality time further educating myself by reading various interesting blogs and considering the social and cultural ramifications….
OK, that was mostly bullshit. I did eat a healthy lunch (lettuce, spinach, red pepper, and tomato salad topped with chicken with a balsamic/oil dressing). The rest of the day was spent watching Game of Thrones (I’m trying to catch up, and just started watching it a week or so ago). I’m quite enjoying it, and am only a few episodes behind real time. Oh, I also listened to the new Daft Punk album, Random Access Memories, for like the billionth time since I acquired it a couple of weeks ago. Seriously, that album is amazing! I am really having a problem not listening to it. It plays in my head whether it’s actually playing or not.
But, back to polyamory. To start with, not only did I make myself said salad, but I made Ginny some to take to work with her as well (because I am uber-husband). Then, once she was gone I started watching Game of Thrones, and at some point in the day Gina asked me, over Gchat, to take the ground turkey out of the freezer to defrost. After finishing the episode I was watching, I asked her what she intended to make for dinner, and whether I could help. She said she planned on making sauce and meatballs, and knowing that I make awesome sauce (I’m also made of awesome sauce, it seems) and that Ginny (who subsequently came home from her short work day) makes meatballs well I suggested that I make some sauce, and Ginny volunteered to make the meatballs. And so that’s what we started to do, while drinking some fine Belgian-style ales (Kwak and Three Philosophers).
At some point after that, Gina realized she could just come home from a long day at work and put her feet up, and thus it became our turn, Ginny and I, to make dinner. Gina had planned on coming home and cooking, even though it was my day off and I like to cook, but I decided to do something nice and allow her to relax when she got home. Most days I’m not home for dinner, because I work in the evenings, but when I am home I look to cook. And having 5 people in the house means that there a number of everyday household chores and such which we take turns doing. Not everyone cooks regularly, not everyone cleans regularly, and we are not always all around at the same time either. But on Thursdays we are all usually here for dinner and thus it’s a situation where 1 or 2 of us accepts the duty (I’m very attempted to reference Kant’s deontological ethical rule here, but will resist more than this meta-comment…) of taking on a task for everyone.
Sometimes it’s shopping (Gina does that most often), sometimes it’s cleaning (that’s mostly Gina and I), and sometimes it’s barking at 3:00 AM (that’s usually Lola, the dog). Whatever the tasks are, there are tasks to be done and just like another kind of family, say one with 2 parents and some kids, those tasks are accomplished by different people at different times. And, like families with children, there are certainly some jobs some people just don’t do (for various reasons), or at least rarely. My personal inclination is to be organized, relatively clean, and efficient when it comes to house-maintenance. As a result of that, I end up cleaning things before other people tend to because I’m thinking about it and I care about it more than them. When it comes to planning events, making executive decisions, or me remembering to take my phone with me when I leave for work, other people take up those roles because those are not my strong points.
The point is that this arrangement, this abnormal relationship matrix of 5 adults living together with various types of sexual and non-sexual relationships, is not really that much different than any other family. The advantage, in this case, is that with more capable adults around the jobs that need to be done can be picked up by people who have the time and/or the inclination to do so. And so when it comes to how we manage all the food for 5 people, that requires not only an app to add groceries to a database we can all access easily, but a expenses spreadsheet which we all contribute to (according to our relative incomes), and the time and spatial acuity to Tetris-like fit all the food into the fridge. Then, when it comes to cooking the food into delicious meals, cleaning up afterwards, etc we have all done something to contribute, and that’s how this poly family works.
So, yesterday Ginny and I took our turn to cook, and since Gina was involved (in that we were doing it to help her) the situation it was with, or perhaps concerning, Gina. In other words, Taking turns (with Gina). Rationalizing creepy phrasing is fun.
Apparently, creepiness mostly what I contribute. OK, I’m done now.
Just remember, you don’t have to be creepy to be poly. In fact, it doesn’t help at all. Nobody told me this until recently. Thanks, everyone…..
How much I love polyamory February 27, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
Tags: family, happiness, love
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Anyone who has seen me recently will attest that I am pretty happy with my life right now. For a while, things were going pretty badly for me, but in the last year or two, things really turned out pretty well. I can safely say that I would not use a time machine to avoid any of the bad times, just in case it were to prevent the good that I have found.
And a lot of this has to do with polyamory. You see, being polyamorous has allowed me to maintain two very important and rewarding relationships in my life. And for readers of this blog, you may have figured out that I am now willing to share them with readers here, at least insofar as their writing can provide a slice of their awesome-pie.
I am excited by the prospect of having more voices here at polyskeptic.com, whose perspectives differ from mine in some ways even if we agree on most things when it comes to polyamory and skepticism. And I hope that you, whether you follow this blog, stop in now and then, or found us accidentally, will enjoy the perspectives and points of views that we all offer.
There is a lot that our culture does not understand about polyamory, but I think seeing it in action helps make it easier to comprehend. I could blather on for pages (and I often do!) about why I think polyamory is a wonderful option for people, how it is in some ways more honest and authentic a lifestyle in comparison to monogamy, or how skepticism and polyamory should overlap more (there is a larger project I am working on, which I hope to publish soon-ish, which will address that very issue).
The people that post here, as of now, are my family. They are my fiance (we will be married in less than 3 months!), my girlfriend, and possibly more to come. I hope that aspects of our personal lives do seep through this blog in such a way that shows that we are pretty normal, in a lot of ways.
I mean, we are freaks in that we reject gods, monogamy, and some other social niceties, but in addition to that we function, day-to-day, like most people do. We have dinner, drinks, watch movies or TV together, and sometimes we do awesome things like produce burlesque shows and so forth. OK, so that last one is not so normal.
Fine, our relationship structures are more complicated, but all that is about is more people sleeping with other people than any group of people who are friends and spend time with one-another. Think of us like a group of people, like in a sitcom, who are more intertwined sexually and romantically than you are used to seeing in a sitcom. There is funny shit, sometimes drama, and there are important moral lessons embedded in plot arcs which slowly erode the traditional concepts of love, sexual morality, and family.
In fact, we should write that sitcom. (Ginny and Gina, are you taking notes? I want daily reports on the status of this project!).
In other words, the Religious Right hates us, the Left tends to marginalize us (because they don’t want the Right to think we are associated with them), and most of the center do not even know we exist. Well, all parts of the spectrum share this ignorance, I suppose. I hope to help change that.
So, in conclusion, I am very happy with my life right now. I hope that happiness translates into an awesome blogging experience for years to come. I hope you continue to read, and I hope that your feedback can help us better communicate our worldview to a larger world which is largely unaware of what polyamory (or skepticism, for that matter) is all about.
Family December 7, 2011Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory, Religion.
Tags: family, relationships
1 comment so far
Family is more than the people related to you. Family is also what you create in your adult life. Who is part of your family also extends beyond who you marry, especially in a legal framework where marriage is restricted (that is, against our natural rights–and I use that in reference to the founding fathers intentionally) to a man and a woman. Our family consists of those who we want to be a part of our intimate lives, whether they be sexual partners, friends, or people with whom you share genetic information.
Polyamory is about family. It is about choosing who is part of your life, to what degree they are part of your life, and what rights they have in terms of access, decisions, and all other legal considerations. whether these rights will be recognized is not relevant to whether they are moral and rational. The good [sic] Lord knows that all that is legal is what is moral and rational….
The conventions of our culture, conservative and outdated (but I repeat myself!) as they are cannot contain what family is. We already have the concept of family extending to the people that matter to us, so why is it so hard to allow this concept to restrict us sexually and romantically? It is, to speak plainly, absurd. Love who you love how you love them. Do not be restricted or pushed towards obligation or expectation in the matters of love.
The mainstream is not wise, aware, or right; they are boring and atavistic even in looking forward.
Live your life as if it is the only life you have, because it is. Gods, assumed monogamy, and accommodation to fear are all poisonous to all of us, and we can do better. Let’s create families large and open, and let’s leave behind the nuclear family of the conservatives and fading liberals (which will soon be the conservatives).
Let’s be progressives not of substance but of perceptual looking forward to improving ourselves, our society, and our world. Liberal not just to be liberal, but liberal because liberalism is about the striving for improvement.
Controversial lifestyles and maintaining friendships August 8, 2011Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: family, friendship, relationships
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I have been an out atheist for many years. I have been open about being polyamorous for some time as well. I don’t hide who I am because I feel it is important to be a face for things that are controversial, because I feel like our culture is not ideally healthy, and controversy often comes from the sickness rejecting some remedy. There have to be people willing to take the social stigma away, over time and with patience, so that future generations will not have to consider the balance of social stigma to living fulfilled and authentic lives. Granted, this balance will probably always be a part of the human experience. but if we can mitigate the actual discrimination due to alternate worldviews and lifestyles, it will be a step in the right direction. I want a future where the argument that keeping quiet is better for your career, social life, and family life is rare. I want atheists, poly people, and other “abnormal” people to feel less insecure about being who they are, openly.
All of this implies that their still remains a cost to living openly as an atheist or as polyamorous. I have certainly experienced this in my life, and it has effected relationships with people I know. Now I’m not going to pretend that the alienation I’ve experienced from friends and family is always due to my being an atheist and being polyamorous. I have made mistakes in my life which have strained relationships with people I once thought of as friends, but it is also true that having strong, outspoken opinions about people’s beliefs makes you come across as unfriendly, overly-critical, and perhaps even a dick. I accept this outcome, because I understood the ramifications of living as I do. And while I do sometimes lament what I have lost, I am also finding that there are positive things gained that may have otherwise remained unfound.
One thing that happens, and I believe this to be a common observation that all people notice as they begin to mature, is that the people who stick around even after we make poor decisions, come out as some socially awkward minority, or proclaim some controversial opinion consistently and loudly are your friends. They are especially your friends if they tend to disagree with you. I don’t want all of my friends to merely be people with whom I agree, after all. Further, the people who shy away from you in times of stress and courage to stand firm in the face of such social stigma are not your friends. They may remain as acquaintances, but it is often best to cut off your losses with people who abandon you with nothing more than a passivity of intercourse.
But those people I still call friends (and this is not a word I use lightly), are people who know me as I am. They may not agree with me or understand me completely, but they are willing to live among my life without it affecting our relationship. And as I ride this thing called life I occasionally meet people with who I can ride along with; people who have qualities which complement mine and with whom I can enjoy my time. The friends that you meet after finding what has meaning to you are different kinds of friends, but nonetheless friends they are. Alternatively, the people I knew as a child, the friendships that I maintain that are decades old, are special and important because we know each other well in a way that transcends specific adult interests. And while not all of those relationships have survived the journey, the ones that have are especially meaningful. They are people who will be friends for life, most likely, and they keep you tied to where you came from, even we drift further from the safe shores of mainstream culture.
And family is similar. As I ponder the reality of marriage, which implies a wedding with guests, I ponder the realities of family seeing me as I am, not as they knew me as a child. They will see a ceremony devoid of god-talk, vows devoid of promises of exclusivity, and assuming my new relationship survives until then (and I truly hope it will dwarf that time-period in length) they will see two people marrying each other while being in love with other people with whom we shall dance, kiss, and celebrate with at our party. And they will not understand. And they will judge. And they will think us lost, perhaps.
They will miss the unrelenting beauty of reality that we dance upon with genuine joy and appreciation. The beauty of a world devoid of gods, but full of complexity and wonder beyond our ability to comprehend. They will miss the depths of love and intimacy which is shared beyond the artificial limitations of monogamy. They will miss the wonder that is my life, even as it sits before them, beautified and smiling.
And yet some will understand, even at a level that is not quite articulate even to their own ears. And this is the reason I live the way I do; many will not see, but some will. I live my life to experience the many joys of reality, and reality is awesome. I will not apologize for it.