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Vulnerability October 9, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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Intimacy brings with it the promise of wonderful pleasure as well as the potential for pain.

Whenever we open up to someone, we hope that the other person will do the same.  If you meet someone you like, you can try and talk to them and they may respond or they may blow you off.  If you ask someone out, they can accept or they may reject you.  The first time you tell someone that you love them, they may reciprocate and they may not.  But we make these moves anyway, knowing that we are taking a risk of emotional injury.

Among all of these stages, as well as many others, we make ourselves vulnerable.  We display a part of ourselves, whether it be our bodies, our minds, our dreams, or our creations and there is the possibility that these things will not be appreciated.  There is a possibility that something that is important to us will not be appreciated by others.

But for the sake of the possibility of real intimacy and appreciation, we try.  Better to love and lost than not to have loved at all, and all that crap.

The last couple of days I have been reflecting on why I waited so long to publish my book.  I knew that I really enjoyed writing it and  I know that I like it, but what I don’t know is whether anyone else will.  I find myself trying to accept the possibility that nobody else will like it.  The question then is whether that will be OK.

If I like myself, is it OK if I’m rejected? Is it enough to be comfortable with myself? What if I’m wrong? What if my tastes are bad? Is it possible about being wrong about what you like? To what extent is it meaningful to state that something is objectively good?

Similar to my reluctance to publish, I am generally reticent, and shy, in social settings most of the time.  If I have a few drinks, this changes (of course), but I don’t want to be as shy as I am normally.  I fear that the real me, the one that you cannot see behind my reticence, will look uninteresting to you.  I’m afraid of not being liked or loved.

And yet, there are people who like me.  There are people who love me.  Knowing that, I must believe that there are things about me that are good, right? I must be lovable in some way.  The people who love me are are intelligent, interesting, and pretty amazing people, so if they like me that must mean I have some worth, right?

Well, sure.  But that does not mean that everything about me is good.  That does not mean that all the thoughts I have, all the posts I write, and all the things I do are worth anyone’s time or attention.  So what if something I do or say is crap? What if I spent hours writing and editing a novel that is not any good?

Does it matter?

In one sense, all that matters was the journey.  I set out with a goal, worked towards it, and reached it.  My goal was not to create something that everyone would love–or even that anyone else would love–right?  Well, no, not exactly.  I want people to like it.  I want someone to appreciate the effort and the product.  In the same way that when I talk to a person at a party, ask a woman out, or take off all of my clothes, I want the person I’m doing it for to like it.

So, in that case, if nobody likes it have I failed? Is the fact that I like it insufficient, if I’m being honest with myself?

Well, failure is too strong a word.  I have not failed totally; I wrote, edited, and published a book.  That is a success in itself.  But to say that if I like it then that’s enough, I’m not being completely honest.  And so I hope that people will like it.  Even if they are only few.  Even if those closest to me don’t especially like it.  I think that success, here, is measured in making any connection with others.

In the same way that I don’t need to be attractive, funny, and desirable to everyone, I don’t need everyone to enjoy my writing.  I know some people do.  And I suspect that someone else will enjoy my book.  My success will be in finding who they are, knowing that I made myself vulnerable before them and they still like me, love me, and respect me.

Still, it’s scary.

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Fear is a compelling illusion September 24, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
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If you meet me at a poly meetup, for the sake of Lord Xenu and all the minions of Cthulhu don’t ask me how we deal with jealousy or other such banal questions.  Instead, ask yourself how you would do so.

I know.  Life is scary.  You saw your boyfriend check out that cute girl at the bar.  Your boyfriend is currently making out with that saucy minx in the hot tub.  You think that maybe your partner is having a good time, without you, on their date right now.  Maybe in a bedroom somewhere.  Hell, you might just be worried that the person you are in the current process of sexually pleasuring might prefer the way another person does it.  They might be thinking about the flirtatious sex bot at the party you just came from.  You know, the one that triggered your insecurities about your own imperfections.

All of that shit is in your head.

And it’s in my head too.  I worry whether I do enough to keep my partners happy.  I worry about all sorts of things related to insecurity and fear.  But I realize, even while suffering emotional throws of uncertainty, that it’s all an illusion.  It’s all stupid, terrible, lies told by a madman who pulls the levers of fear in my head.  I hate that madman sometimes.  But that madman is me.  And I don’t want to hate myself. So, instead it tell that madman to cut that shit out, because it isn’t helping.

He doesn’t usually listen to me, though.

I understand why people create boundaries, rules, and restrictions in relationships.  I understand the impulse to want to stake a claim of ownership, or at least of permission, around your lovers so that this madman inside your head does not go crazy and start making you feel terrible and afraid.  Monogamy, and polyamory with restrictive rules around things like sleeping over with another partner, not getting too emotionally attached, or something as simple as no sexual intercourse, makes sense from the point of view of accommodating this madman.

But those restrictions don’t solve the problem because that madman is, well, unreasonable.

Your partner really wanting to have sex with someone, but only being “allowed” to make out, touch, and get worked up with them while not doing what they want does not make you feel better.  That’s an illusion.  If your partner come back home from a date, does it matter exactly how much sexual contact they had with some other person (or people?) Isn’t the exact point of pain there either at the desire itself or your own fear? What does it really matter if they did what you were afraid of? Is the act itself the problem?

No.  That’s all bullshit.  When I’m feeling uncertain or jealous about what my wife or other partner is doing with someone else, the problem is not what “base” they got to (oh man, how stupid is that shit?), but my own fear of inadequacy.  And my concern with what parts of their date was touching what part of them is not the location of the problem.  And no matter how much it hurts, how many emotions flare up and demand to be attended to, the problem is illusory and stupid.

Whether a matter of social training about the possessiveness of relationships, an evolutionary/genetic set of dispositions, or something else, it’s all an illusion.  The emotions are real, but the emotions are lying to you about the source of the pain.  It’s a cognitive sleight of hand (and a good one, I’ll admit!), and even us poly people are susceptible to it.  It’s very similar to “religious experience;” the experience really happened, but the experience is lying about its sources. It’s all in your head.

Fear is the mind killer.  Emotions are powerful, and sometimes exist for legitimate reasons, but it is what we choose to do with those feelings that matters.  Jealousy might make you want to punch the guy hitting on your partner, but that guy is not the source of the pain and fear.  A sense of injustice might make you want to rant and rave against a clueless person (whether racist or not), but that person is not the source of the injustice.  In those (and many other) cases, emotion can take us off the path of being the best people we can be.  Fear, like depression, lies.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating any sort of Vulcan-esque repression of emotion or even a complete distrust of our feelings.  Emotions are wonderful, powerful, and useful parts of out human experience (when used well).  I just want us to realize that there is a thing called rationalization, illusion, and a set of cognitive red herrings which compel belief in untruths.  Emotions can convince us we are being reasonable when we are not.  So whether it is possessiveness, righteous indignation, or many other forms of emotion which may compel action, we need to keep in mind that we might be being lied to, by our own brain.

Anger, fear, jealousy, and all the other emotions that are often called “bad” sometimes exist for good reasons.  I will not tell anyone they cannot be angry, annoyed, etc.  I will say that they should be careful with how they use those weapons.  if you are not well trained in the use of a weapon, you are likely to hurt yourself or a loved ones with it.