One Cringeworthy Move I Wish All Writers Everywhere Would Stop Doing

1. Writing long, snarky lists about what sex acts all women, (or all men) secretly hate.

Seriously, is this not 2014? Have we not yet absorbed the radical notion that different people like different things when they’re doing The Sex? And not just, like, male-type people like These things, while female-type people like Those things, so all you have to do to please your lover is determine their gender, google a bunch of lists, and do exactly what the lists say.

Lists like this are useful for one kind of person only: the kind of person who has never realized that a potential partner’s sexual tastes might not be perfectly aligned to their own, or to what happens in the kind of porn they generally watch. For those people, a list like this may be a helpful awakening. Sort of like how, for someone who grew up eating burgers and hot dogs exclusively, spaghetti may be a good first step to the world of international foods.

For the rest of us, following a list of advice like this is only going to make you a worse lover. The quickest route to bad sex is to be absolutely, 100% sure that what you’re about to do is going to be mind-blowing for your partner, without bothering to check in with them or pay attention to how they respond. (Well, I guess a quicker route is not to give a crap about your partner’s pleasure at all, but I’m talking to people who are above that level.) It doesn’t matter what some list off the internet told you women/men like. It doesn’t matter what your best friend told you women/men like, even if your best friend is of the gender in question. It doesn’t matter what all your partners before this one liked. If you saw an internet list saying, “The one color no woman can resist!” would you believe it? Would you go about assuming that you now know what every woman’s favorite color is? If all of your previous partners happened to love purple, would you assume that purple is your new lover’s favorite color? What a person likes sexually is just as much a matter of personal preference as favorite colors, or foods, or movies, or music. The quicker we can all get that into our heads, the better everybody’s sex life will be.

If you want to be a good lover, talk to your partner. Listen to your partner. Pay attention to your partner’s non-verbal cues. Make “how do you like to be touched” a fun naked game you play together. And check in every few months to see how your partner’s tastes and preferences may have changed, or if either of you have new ideas for things you’d like to try. (I’m terrible about this, but it’s still good advice.)

And FTLOG stop writing articles like this. It makes me cranky.

The love we deserve

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.

Obligation is a derail: some thoughts on negotiation in loving relationships

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

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

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

“No, never!”

“What, never?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Okay

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.

Loved ones of loved ones

This post by the always-excellent Captain Awkward got me thinking. It’s about an adult daughter whose parents began a polyamorous relationship with a third woman, who now lives with them (the parents, not the daughter). The parents and new partner are all trying to get the adult daughter to develop a close relationship with the new partner, and the daughter is balking. I think the Captain’s advice is sound, and I appreciate that she mostly approaches it like any step-parent relationship, which in essence it is, while also giving a nod to the fact that the non-monogamy aspect is playing a role in the daughter’s reactions. I don’t want to talk about that situation in particular, but it got me thinking about the larger question of what is reasonable and unreasonable to expect when it comes to our families and our partners, especially when we have more than one.

Some people would argue that it makes no difference whether we have one partner or multiple partners; our families should treat them all the same way. I have sympathy for the argument but I think it omits a lot of complicating factors. Even setting aside families that flat-out disapprove of non-monogamy (which is its own can of worms to deal with), the reality is that our culture has some deeply engrained assumptions about what love and commitment and exclusivity mean. For most of us, it took a fair amount of mental and emotional work to overcome those in ourselves; it is unreasonable to expect our families to just dump all their engrained beliefs about non-monogamy and behave the way we want them to from the get-go. And especially if our relationship was monogamous or de facto monogamous for some years, they likely have a level of investment in our first partner, and are going to have weird, complicated feelings about the way a new partner fits in. So I think there needs to be some delicacy in how we handle our family’s relationships with poly partners.

I have also, for a long time, said that in-law relationships are the best analogue we have for metamour relationships, in a lot of cases. We’re connected to somebody primarily on the basis that we both love and are loved by the same person; beyond that, we may have a lot in common and be great friends, or we may grate on each other at every encounter. The tools for handling in-law and metamour relationships are often similar.

With all that in mind, I want to lay out what I feel like are a reasonable set of expectations for how we treat loved ones of loved ones, whether we’re connected to them by blood, romance, or just intimate friendship. I’m going to first lay out my outline of what I think we are and are not obligated to do with regard to our loved one’s loved ones. Then I’ll dig deeper into the thoughts and principles that back these obligations. This post is going to be very general in addressing relationships of all kinds, and in a following post, I’ll write about specific situations that add an extra layer of difficulty or complexity, such as jealousy and differing values or beliefs.

With loved ones of loved ones, I believe we are obligated to:

  • acknowledge that person’s place in our loved one’s life
  • make an initial effort to get to know and like them; if the relationships last for many years, make repeat efforts every few years or so if the first ones didn’t take
  • do our best to understand the good things that that person brings to our loved one’s life, and even if we can’t understand it, accept that there must be some
  • accept with grace their presence at events our loved one is hosting or that are in our loved one’s honor, such as birthdays
  • show them basic courtesy and consideration whenever we are thrown together
  • avoid speaking negatively about them to our mutual loved one, unless there is a specific problem that needs to be solved
  • give our loved one room to speak happily about them from time to time

I believe we are not obligated to:

  • actually like them or love them, or pretend that we do
  • spend one-on-one time with them or interact deeply with them
  • hear about them every day or every time we see our loved one
  • accept their presence at events we are hosting or that are in our honor

Obviously, most of these are bare minimums, designed for situations when we and the other loved one don’t get along. For the most part, I think they apply even when the other loved one is not behaving well; when they’re openly hostile or passive-aggressive toward us. In those cases, the mutual loved one may have some responsibility to intervene or at least to avoid putting us in the position of having to see much of each other.

photo by flickr user Paul TownsendRelationships are not just between two people; most of our relationships exist in a communal context of some kind. We see our friends and families in groups at parties, holidays, vacations, weddings. There’s a particular joy in being surrounded by multiple people you love and like, whether it’s three people or thirty. Even my introverted self delights in the feeling of connection and support when I’m with people who all know different pieces of me, who are all there for me in different ways. When everybody in a room is getting to enjoy the same feeling — “Here I am, surrounded by people I love and like and who love and like me” — that’s real community, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Of course it doesn’t always work out that way. Just because I love Alex and Bryce doesn’t mean Alex and Bryce will like each other, or even be able to stand each other. When my loved ones don’t like each other, it means that for me to be surrounded by the people I love, at least some of those people have to be spending time with someone they dislike.The more intimate and prolonged the setting (and the greater the dislike), the harder a burden this is on them. So a balance needs to be struck.

photo by flickr user Halo EfektiIn general I believe that we should do what we can to make our partners happy — but not to the extent of abandoning our own sense of self or making ourselves miserable. This is why I say that we should make an initial effort to get to know and like loved ones of loved ones, and should make repeated efforts over the years if the first one didn’t go well. People grow and change, and two people that clash horribly at 20 may able to be great friends at 35. If we can give our loved one the gift of liking the other people they love, we should do so. (Usually the reason we might resist this, and develop an antagonistic relationship with someone we would normally like, has to do with jealousy of some kind, which I’ll talk about in the follow-up post to this.)

However, I’m pretty ferociously in favor of people’s right to feel the way they feel, and not be pressured — by themselves of others — to fake or force feelings just for someone else’s convenience and happiness. If you don’t like someone, you don’t like them, and piling on guilt and obligation isn’t going to make those feelings go away. Your loved one’s love for someone shouldn’t compel you to spend massive amounts of time in their company.

In most cases, I think it’s fair that I should get to have the people I love most near me at important, celebratory occasions that are about me, and that they should all make the effort to make the experience as pleasant and free of strife as possible: thus the obligations to accept the presence of our loved one’s loved ones at such events, and to show them basic courtesy. (The possible exception to this is when there’s a deep history of hurt between the two outlying loved ones, such as a divorce or breakup. I’ll discuss that situation more in the follow-up post.)

At the same time, Alex and Bryce should get to celebrate their important events and milestones surrounded by people that they love and like, and it’s unkind for me to impose them on each other if they strongly dislike each other, especially if it’s a very small gathering where they’ll have a harder time avoiding each other.

In US culture, at least the part of it that I inhabit, there’s a very strong pattern of viewing people who are married, living together, or long-term monogamous partners as a social unit. If one person is invited to a thing, the other one is assumed to be invited as well. In many circles, in order to have a party or group event with one half of a couple and not the other, you have to designate it a “girls’ night” or “guys’ night” — which doesn’t work so well if the couple are the same sex, or if the friend group isn’t segregated into men and women. I have a whole host of thoughts on the social unit trope, which I’d like to write about separately, but in brief: I’d love to see the assumption that people have to travel in pairs loosened, for a whole host of reasons. It sucks for poly people, at least those not using a primary-secondary model, and it sucks for single people, and it sucks for loved-ones-of-loved-ones everywhere who don’t really want to spend an evening together but can’t let go of the assumption that an invitation to one person must include an invitation to their partner.

Going back to the the list of obligations: for many of us, part of having a close relationship with someone is sharing what’s on our mind, what’s exciting and interesting and important to us. And in many cases that involves talking about another person we care about — whether it’s “Jamie did the nicest thing the other day” or “Kim and I keep fighting about this one thing.” This is normally not an issue, but when the person we’re talking to hates Jamie or Kim, suddenly it’s a huge deal. Even if they want to be supportive, they’re going to have to be managing their own feelings about Jamie or Kim while listening. Again, a balance needs to be struck between “I can’t ever talk about Kim because Jamie hates hearing it” and “Every time I hang out with you it’s Kim this and Kim that!” Where exactly the balance falls is something that should perhaps be explicitly negotiated and discussed.

Another thing that makes these relationships fraught is the implicit value judgement in saying, “I dislike this person that you love.” Are we saying that we think their judgement and taste in friends is lacking? Even if we don’t mean that, are they going to think we do? Saying something like, “I don’t know how you can stand Dallas,” or “I don’t know what you see in Shelby,” can come awfully close to saying “What’s wrong with you that you like this person?” And “what’s wrong with you that you feel X?” is pretty nearly always damaging to hear from a loved one.

photo by flickr user Jorge BernalSo while I think it’s important to own and acknowledge our feelings about our loved one’s loved ones, whether they’re positive or negative, I also think we need to be careful not to make the false jump from “I dislike Jamie” to “Jamie is a sucky person.” A key hallmark of maturity is being able to separate personal, subjective feelings from objective realities. To say that another person is unbearably annoying is true, as long as I’m only making a claim about their effect on me. I can find someone unbearably annoying, while someone else finds them funny and adorable, and neither of us has to be wrong. Even with more arguably objective traits, such as how self-centered or intelligent or polite a person is, we each have our own priority list of the things that make someone likeable and worth spending time with, and our lists will likely not match perfectly with our loved one’s lists.

This is why I say we should make an effort to understand and appreciate what our loved one values in the other person. If you’re like me, it’s really fun to spend time doing the, “Oh, I see, to YOU it’s really important that someone be self-aware and socially skilled, while I don’t really care about that as long as they’re kind and well-meaning” kinds of calculations with your loved ones. You get to figure out what qualities are important to you in your friendships and what’s important to your friends in their friendships, and how all those things dovetail and intersect. Even if dissecting personalities isn’t a hobby of yours, it’s worth taking the time and effort to notice at least a few positive qualities in the loved ones of people you love. It helps build a barrier against the resentment you might feel at the way this person hits your own personal buttons, it protects both you and your loved one from feeling like your dislike of that person is a negative pronouncement on your loved one, and — most importantly to me — it exercises your understanding that your loved one is a distinct person from you, with values and needs and interests that are different from yours, and that you need to be able to acknowledge and honor those things if you are going to love them effectively.


Why I loved the HIMYM finale

My opinions about the season finale of How I Met Your Mother have grown stronger in the days since I watched it, and saw many other people’s reactions. My first response was, “I never thought I would be okay with this but… I kind of like it.” Reading a lot of people’s negative responses, and the reasons behind them, has pushed me firmly into This was one of the best romantic comedy endings ever territory. And here’s why.

The whole premise of the show, we thought, was ultimately going to be a fairy tale, Ted questing for his true love and then getting his happily ever after. Ted buys into that narrative whole-heartedly. Words like “the one” and “destiny” get thrown around. While he has a number of good relationships, alongside the multitude of not-so-good ones, he clearly views them as failures and false starts on his way to finding his One True Love.

All romantic comedies are fairy tales, and meeting or marrying the destined partner is the happily ever after. Plenty has been written about how inadequately that storyline reflects reality: that there are just as many (almost certainly more) messes and tears and misunderstandings after the big I Do or I Love You as before; that the most dramatic stories don’t usually lead to the happiest love relationships; that maybe teaching ourselves to view meeting The One as the endgame of life isn’t the healthiest pattern. But it’s a compelling story and it’s easy to get invested in it.

One of my big worries throughout the show was that The Mother couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. But she did! She was fantastically written and fantastically cast, and pretty much charmed the pants off me in every scene. She was a perfect match for Ted without being at all obnoxious, which in itself is a minor miracle. (I don’t hate Ted nearly as much as a lot of people do, but I grant his frequent obnoxiousness.) I loved her and if she’d shown up as a character and NOT been The Mother, I suspect the writers would’ve had a riot on their hands.

So it was that much more surprising (although in retrospect, it was telegraphed throughout the season at least) that that turned out not to be the story at all. The entire show was never about finding the one person who completes you, the one true love that give you your happy ending. It was about how love can be amazing and perfect and right at the moment, and then three years later, maybe it isn’t right any more. Or maybe you lose that person through circumstances neither of you can control. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real love, doesn’t mean it wasn’t amazing and perfect and right when it was happening. And if you later fall in love with someone else, you don’t have to pick which of the two is your “real” love story, your true destiny and the love of your life. They both are.

I was rooting for Barney/Robin from the moment they suited up and drank scotch together. (Hotttttt.) And their relationship was important to both of them: it let two commitmentphobes get a genuine workout in their issues, and when they broke up, it wasn’t about lack of trust or the impulse to run away or the inability to resist that one little fling… it was just that they weren’t making each other happy any more. And they were both honest enough, and cared for themselves and each other enough, to admit it. That’s a brave and positive step, and one that I wished we saw more in stories. They had a great relationship, and the fact that it ended doesn’t erase that.

And then The Mother’s death. (Even though we find out near the end that her name is Tracy, she’ll always be The Mother to me.) I’d read speculations that that was going to happen, and the way the last season played out brought me closer and closer (and with a heavy heart) to believing it. That one episode with the flash-forward of them going back to the inn and the “What mother would miss her daughter’s wedding?” bit? Yeah. I got it, and I cried, and I hugged Shaun. One of the things HIMYM has done brilliantly is the tragedy of untimely death. In our medically advanced, “wars happen on other continents” culture, that’s a thing that we try really, really hard to pretend doesn’t happen. Or we try to give it a bigger meaning or significance, to distract from how much it hurts. HIMYM has never done that. People die, it hurts, it doesn’t make sense. The only comfort is that we got to love them while they were here.

Tracy’s own story foreshadows this really nicely, and it tells us (in case anyone was unclear) exactly how to take her death. We never met her former lover (what was his name? Mike maybe?) but it was clear she thought of him as her One True Love, her destiny… and when that destiny was cut short, she thought that was the end of love for her. And letting go of him, finding the ability to love again, didn’t erase her love for him. The whole episode “How Your Mother Met Me” was great both in that we got to know Tracy better, but more so in that it pre-figured the process Ted was going to have to go through. We don’t see him going through any of the steps Tracy did in the six years between her death and his telling of the story, but it’s easy to imagine him slowly letting go of the idea of One True Love, and instead thinking of her as a true love.

And then we come to Robin, and here’s where the show fell down a bit. (Or a lot.) Ted’s pining for Robin in the latter seasons was SO obnoxious that it became impossible to root for them, even if the show hadn’t been insistently telling us that they wouldn’t get together (or so we thought, because we didn’t question the assumption that “the mother of my children, the woman who made my life incredibly happy” = “the only woman I’ll ever be with for the rest of my life.”) I actually did root for them in the early seasons, or wanted to: there were a lot of moments where I was like, “Dammit! Why can’t it be Robin?” But by the end it had turned from “two people who are so close to being right for each other, but agonizingly not close enough” to “OMG Ted will you GET OVER IT?” I can see why he didn’t. He loved her, and he was fixated on the idea of romantic destiny, and when those two things go together it can be very hard to let go of someone. But it dragged on too long and was too one-sided, and ultimately that “I love you + destiny = obsessing futilely over you for years” equation is not attractive or healthy.

And I guess, because of the whole destiny delusion, it was easy for people to read the whole story as, “Robin was Ted’s ultimate destined True Love, Tracy was just another distraction that happened to give him kids.” But I don’t see that and I don’t think the actual writing of the show supports that. The Robin-as-destiny concept was false and flawed and childish. Ted had to grow up and grow out of it. He sort of did, in the last season, but it was too little and waaaay too late to have any impact other than “my god, finally.” And then the whole locket thing brought it back in in a way I really disliked. I think it would’ve been better if Ted had had his “actually letting Robin go” moment a few seasons back, and then their continuing chemistry and love could have been gently hinted at at moments here and there, without it ever being about one of them helplessly pining for the other.

I also get why a lot of people feel betrayed by the way it all played out. In a lot of ways, the whole show was a huge bait-and-switch. The entire premise was supposed to be a traditional love story with a fairy-tale happy ending, and it turned into a story about how love takes many forms, and loving someone sometimes means saying goodbye, and there are actually no happy endings at all, because the story keeps moving and changing and what you actually get (hopefully!) is a sequence of happy middles, sometimes very different from each other. That is a much better story! Or at least it’s a much truer story, and one I wish our culture would tell itself more often.

And it’s not that lifetime love never happens, either. Marshall and Lily provide a counterpoint story, one of a single love that flourishes over a lifetime. But theirs is realistic too: they have to fight and struggle and sometimes their dreams conflict, and they have to make tough choices. I loved that moment when they said new wedding vows to each other, and agreed that they’d probably need to do the same thing again multiple times in the future. They keep choosing each other, through all the changes that happen, and it’s a free and happy choice for both of them.

There were other little things in the finale that I loved: I loved that becoming a dad was Barney’s real transformative moment, and goddammit if Neil Patrick Harris didn’t make that well-worn trope moving and beautiful. I like that Marshall had to go back to being a corporate lawyer for many years more before getting his judgeship. Having to take jobs you don’t like is another harsh, oft-denied reality that the show’s done a good job with over the years. I like that Robin fulfilled all her personal dreams: if she had ended up giving up on them in favor of a relationship with anyone, I’d have burned shit down. I like that there were long periods where the group of friends had grown apart and rarely saw each other; their lifelong friendship wasn’t about things always being the same between them, but about the fact that they could always come together after a long separation, and always wanted to.

I dunno. I thought it was great.

How Sherlock surprised me in season 3

I’ve just finished watching Sherlock season 3… yay for another lengthy wait before the next season. For those who haven’t watched it yet, I won’t be spoiling any major events or revelations, but I will be discussing character dynamics quite a bit. Read at your own risk.

Ever since I heard they’d cast Mary Morstan, I was anxious about how they’d handle a serious love interest for John. All Sherlock stories rest on the love between Holmes and Watson to some extent, but the current BBC series it is the overt and unquestionable core of the show. The clever deductions, the rise and fall of public opinion, the tension between Sherlock’s narcissism (I contend that he is much more a narcissist than a sociopath) and his chosen life of fighting evil… all of these are secondary thematic players to the mutual love and mutual need between John and Sherlock. (I have no stake in the shipping vs. non-shipping game. I don’t care if you want to interpret their love as homoerotic, homoromantic, or just platonic devotion, and everything I’m going to write here works just fine however you like to spin it.)

Because the John/Sherlock relationship is so much more essential to this adaptation than to many others, the presence of a Mary Morstan was much more dangerous to it. I was honestly surprised they included her character… if you’re writing a love story about two characters, why bring a third in? Nobody in the audience would take her seriously as a rival for John’s affections, nor would they tolerate her if she was. I was prepared for, at best, a passive background figure who we’d only see in the corners of John’s life with Sherlock, and at worst, a source of irritating tension who everybody couldn’t wait to get rid of. A Mary who fought Sherlock for her place in John’s life, who complained about his being out late and fretted about the danger he put himself in, would have been a disaster. All of those concerns would be completely justified, but because they interfere with the relationship that we, the audience, really care about, that kind of Mary Morstan could only have been unlikeable.

Instead, the writers did what I didn’t expect: they gave us the nearest thing to a poly relationship I’ve seen on mainstream TV. Within hours of Sherlock’s return, John, Sherlock, and Mary have slid into what is essentially a quite functional polyamorous V. It’s Mary who sets the tone: she gets what Sherlock means to John. It’s clear from her reaction when she realizes who Sherlock is that she’s seen all of John’s grief and all of his love for his dead friend. It would be understandable if she’d become threatened and territorial, but instead she sees an opportunity for the man she loves to be happy, and she goes for it. She positions herself very clearly as an ally to their relationship.

And it’s her doing this that allows Sherlock to do the same. He’s not mature enough to make the same move on his own, and if Mary had positioned herself as a rival in a zero-sum game for John’s affection, he would have fallen to her level. Instead, he rises, and puts as much work into supporting her relationship with John as she does into supporting his. For me, it was an almost unbelievable level of character development, but I’m willing to buy that the Moriarty affair was humbling enough to effect a bit of genuine growth (his behavior toward Mycroft and others in this season bears that out as well.)

For a really good metamour relationship, both people have to truly value the good things the other brings to their mutual love’s life. They have to be willing to step aside at times to let the other relationship flourish, and to advocate for the health of the other relationship whenever necessary. It helps if they like each other, too, as Sherlock and Mary clearly do. So many little dynamics were familiar to me, like the back-channel communication for and about the mutual partner.

Again, you don’t have to put a sexual or romantic interpretation to John/Sherlock for this to work: plenty of stories involve bitter rivalry and jealousy between a best friend and a lover. In today’s culture, it is just assumed that only one person can be The Most Important, and that everyone close to a central character must be vying for the position. I can count on my fingers the number of movies or TV shows where the characters are allowed to rise above that, to go beyond open competition and even beyond silent insecurity, and to actively support the important relationships of those close to them. To act from the position of, “This person makes the person I love happy, and therefore, I want them in our lives as much as possible.” Sherlock, John, and Mary are all deeply damaged people, but they get this one thing stunningly, incredibly right.

Emotions and love

Over at Evolving Thoughts, one of the many blogs that I read, John S. Wilkens posted about emotions.  I know, the post is nearly a week old, but I’ve been busy this last week and I’m catching up today.

In any case, the starts with an eye-raising question as the title; “Are emotions 2D?” What on Earth can that mean?

Well, it’s really about how he categorize the basic emotions into a 2 or 3 dimensional model.  From the post:

Paul Ekman, who works as a human ethologist of the emotions, has devised a scheme in which there are six “basic” emotions:  anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. Evolutionary psychologists like Cosmides and Tooby have extended this further, arguing that guilt, fear, jealousy, etc., are adaptive responses that increase fitness in our ancestral state.

emotion map

It’s a model I’ve seen before, and since emotions have been a particular lay interest of mine, I think about things like this sometimes.

Now, much of the analysis is way outside of my area of expertise (and as John says in the post, his as well), so I will leave most of the content without comment.  Read the post (it’s not long, but there are links!) if you are interested in the subject at all.

But what I found interesting is where he starts talking about love.  Love, in the model here, is not really its own emotion.  Further, love is not necessarily tied to sex.  Both ideas I agree with, and I think there is good support for that view.

Then, he says the following:

If sex and the value we take from others is separate from the positive regard we have for others, then to my mind, there’s just love. Love for partners, family members (particularly children), and friends is all of a muchness, and the differences are just socially constructed.


For various, and complicated, historical, cultural, and religious reasons we have created boundaries around difference expressions of care we have for others.  As a result, we often distinguish, in our culture, between (for example) romantic love and friendship.  But many see this differently.  For example, Wes wrote yesterday about Relationship Anarchy, and I agree that for many people, including myself, the barriers between different kinds of relationships fall away when examined.  For me at least, part of the reason for this is that the cultural and social distinctions between love itself fall away, in a similar fashion.  The cultural walls and definitions which seem to differentiate between relationships and types of love are mostly illusory, conventional, and in some cases simply wrong and ultimately harmful.

A 3D model of emotion categorization
A 3D model of emotion categorization

Yes, there will be differing levels of intensity of the “love” feelings I have for people in my life.  There will also be subtleties in the differing emotional recipes which we call love (a little more serotonin here, a little less dopamine there…).

I can say, without any contradiction, that I love some people more, or at least for more reasons and with greater frequency, but the same basic feeling of caring I have for those closest to me is present with people I really like, whether I have sexual interest in them or not.

And while sexual intimacy is often (but certainly not always) a cauldron where those feelings may brew with greater intensity and speed, those feelings can exist with or without said intimacy.  It is true that I have friends whom I love.  Some of them are sexy as Hell (Hell is, after all, just an eternal orgy, right?) and would hop in the sack with in a second, and others I get no pants feelings for at all.  Similarly, there exist some people for whom being in the same room with is sexually intoxicating, and yet I have little to no love feelings for.

In other words, they are truly different things.  But I’m digressing.  The point is that I have differing levels of pants feelings and love feelings for different people.  You know, I’m human.

John Wilkins finishes his post in a way I really appreciated, for reasons that will become obvious.  I don’t know anything about his personal life, so I don’t know where he lies on the monogamy/polyamory question, but he says the following:

We can choose to have relationships that are of varying strength of commitment without needing to meet the expectations of popular psychology or sociology. We might even be able to adopt a plural relationship of sexual partners or a mix of sexual and nonsexual partners in life without prejudicing those relationships by constructed categories derived from past institutions like marriage that rely upon the ideologies of class, religion or economics.


The Musicality of Love

4e6c6fb2Several weeks ago I acquired Daft Punk’s new Album, Random Access Memories.  I had heard a review, and part of a couple of songs, on NPR (because that’s what I listen to if I’m not listening to Daft Punk).  One of the songs (Doin’ it Right) got into my head (the NPR piece had used it as a bump after the review–good choice, NPR production!) and so I had to get the album to satiate the insanity of this song playing in my head.  So, upon acquiring it and adding it to my playlist on my player (I use Foobar), I started playing it and listened to I while I played some Starcraft 2 (yes, I’m that kind of nerd).  Let’s just say that I loved it.  I mean, the kind of love where after the album was done, I re-started it, and listened to it again (I had finished my Starcraft playing at that point).  And then, after that second listening, I listened to it again.

Soon enough, I burned a disc so that I could play it in the car (not having a fancy mp3 compatible player in the car).  And so for the next couple of weeks or so, whether I was in the car, had my iPod on, or at my computer I was likely listening to that album.  The more I listened, the more I liked it.  I would have different songs running through my head while not listening to it, and just had to hear them when I was able to do so.  The album took over my life for about 2 weeks.  It was love at first hearing.

I have a number of favorite albums and songs from various genres and time-periods, including Collective Soul’s Dosage, Counting Crows’ August and Everything After, Beethoven’s 5th and 7th Symphonies (well, the first 2 movements of the latter), Pink Floyd’s Meddle (among others), T Rex’s Electric Warrior, Green Day’s Dookie, R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi, Nas’ Illmatic, Miles’ Davis’ Kind of Blue, quite a few Phish albums (to name a favorite would be too hard), The Beatles (mostly their later work), The Clash’s London Calling, much of The Talking Heads (and David Byrne’s later solo work too),  Ween’s White Pepper, ….

I could go on, but I won’t.

There is some music which simply found its way into my brain and I love listening to them, especially in certain moods.  And as I reflected on this, I started to think about how, at least for me, certain songs, albums, or even musicians have a relationship with me in much the same way as people have.  That is, there are analogous relationships between my history with music and with people.  And in many cases, certain music will always remind me of certain people, and sometimes whole albums are associated with specific people.  Sort of the way that the line “with fingernails that shine like justice” will always remind me of Ginny (as she intended).

The last few weeks, in other words, have been akin to a torrid love affair where I could not get enough of, well, an album.  It’s worn off, mostly, now.  Now I can hear or think about a song from that album without having to listen to the entire thing, but I still love the album and will continue to listen to it in the future.  This experience is not unlike some relationships I’ve had in the past.  You know, with people.  And while the analogy can only go so far, I started to realize, as I thought about it, that I feel the same way about a lot of those people as I do about some music.

counting-crows-august-and-everything-after-delanteraLet’s start with one of my longest-loved albums, for example.  Counting Crows released August and Everything After in 1993, when I was in high school (the beginning of my sophomore year, in fact).  I have a vague but emotionally powerful memory of driving away from a vacation, with my parents, the following summer listening to that album.  I had met a girl, Nikki, who I liked considerably.  I was 17, hormonal, and the mere few days I spent with her was one of the earlier experiences I had of really getting to know and like somebody in a sexual and romantic way.  Having to say good-bye to her, get in the car, and drive away knowing that I would likely not see her again (we were in Hot Springs Arkansas–my parents choice of location of course–and I was going back to Philadelphia, Nikki back to Ohio) was emotionally devastating for me.  And listening to Round Here on my discman (you remember those?), a song which is emotionally crippling in many ways already, just made the feeling surge in ways I could hardly contain (if I had only known then what Borderline Personality Disorder was, the heart-wrenching pain would have made more sense to me then).  There is a piece of that still every time I gear the first few notes of that song.  I never did see her again, and sometimes I wonder what she’s up to now,  19 years after those few days spent with her.

Ever since then, I associate that song, and much of that album, with that summer and that vacation.   I love that albums still, and I think I always will.  Listening to it now, remembering that summer, thinking about how Nikki made me feel with her skin against mine all bring me the same cocktail of emotions.  Later associations of that album, as well as their second album (Recovering the Satellites, which was not nearly as good) with a relationship of 2 years while in college with a woman named Erin, many of the same feelings arise within me .  That album feels like young and naive love, the kind that incited deep feeling, stinging pain, and nostalgia for being young and being able to give of myself freely, without fear.  It feels beautiful and alien to the man who still is capable of love, but perhaps who will always be tainted by cynicism and fear when it comes to allowing that level of openness. I feel almost the same way about that album as I do about those 2 early relationships in my life, and I still have wonderful feelings about both of those women, even knowing that many years have gone by and neither of them is likely anything like who they were then.

And I could, if I chose, recount the many associations I have with specific music, friends, and lovers from my past.  I won’t do that because it is not all of the specific events of my personal life that I want to emphasize today (plus you probably don’t want to read that).  What I want to emphasize today is that, for some of us anyway, our relationships with music is, in many ways, akin to our relationships with people.  Music is, of course, an object so the analogy falls apart because people are, well, people and thus subjects of their own.  But in my experience, how I feel about things like music is similar enough to how I feel about people to make the analogy useful.

We change how we feel about music over the years the same way we change how we feel about music.   There is music I used to like, for example, but do not like as much anymore.  There is music I didn’t like at first, but now love.  And there is music that I always loved and always will love, but perhaps in different ways than I did before.  Our apprehension of music is not static, after all.  Our experiences of life change us, so how we will feel about other people (who will also change) and how we feel about music is dependent upon the function of that change.

GinnyGinaMeI genuinely miss, and often still have good (if not complicated) feelings about, some ex girlfriends.  There are some I don’t talk to anymore, whether because I don’t want to or they don’t want me to, and there are some I do still talk to (too varying degrees).  And of course, there are Ginny and Gina, who I am still with (and hope to always be with), as well as others who I have other kinds of relationships with.  When I met Ginny, I was into her immediately and immensely, much like my relationship with that Daft Punk Album.  I just wanted to be around her all the time and could not get enough of being with her.  Granted, I was in a bad place in my life and did need emotional support (which she gave), but when I was able to be calm, sane, and forget about that I realize I just wanted her around most of the time, and hopefully she will be around for many years to come, with her fingernails shining like justice.

When I first met Gina, on the other hand, I was not sure how much I would like her at first.  Granted, I first met her when she was in a crappy mood, and we didn’t have much time to actually interact directly for some time, but she was around enough that I got a chance to get to know her a little.  I knew I was attracted to her, but I didn’t know whether we would click together well and so I never took the opportunity to pursue conversation or flirtation of any kind.  But like many of my favorite albums, I didn’t really start to love her until I stopped what I was doing and just listened to her.  It was not until I stopped just having her around, as part of the background of my activities, and started giving her some attention that I realized that she is complex, hilarious, talented, and awesome.  In fact, now that I think about it, it’s not unlike how I see David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust (an album which Gina loves).  It’s an album I had heard, at least in part, before but I had not really listened to as an album.  But once I took the time to really listen to it, I picked out qualities that a casual or background listen would miss.  Just like with Gina.  I had to have other people apparently leave us alone while at some Steam Punk event about 2 years ago to really talk with her and discover that we had very compatible senses of humor and knew that I wanted to be with her.  I went from liking her, to really liking her, to loving her in a short time because I paid some attention to her.  It makes me wonder how much great music, and people, in the world I’m missing by not paying more attention to them.  I know, first world problems.

And now I’m listening to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars as I write this.  Thanks Gina….

Then there are the non-favorite songs, but the ones you really just have to hear occasionally.  I mean, I cannot prevent myself from singing along to Ice, Ice Baby or Baby Got Back, but under no circumstances would I label either song as good, or songs I must have on my iPod nano (neither is, BTW).  Also, there are songs I like, but not in context of their albums.  The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony is a song I really like to hear occasionally, for example (that song is on my iPod, but not the rest of the album), but it’s not from a great album or a favorite band of mine.  I just really want to hear it occasionally.

And so this is the point where I, unsurprisingly, make the transition to argue that polyamory is superior to monogamy.

I’m sure that many of you saw it coming.  If you didn’t, you have not been reading this blog long enough.  I could do the surface-level argument and say that just like we all love many albums, genres, etc of music, and are not expected to (and should not have to) choose between them in some exclusive way, neither should we be expected to choose who we love, or at least what kind of love we should have with whom.  And while that is true, and ultimately that is what my argument is,  I think that there is some deeper utility to the analogy than that surface point.

PFJust like one might love albums from high school or college years after those times are over, people can still have fond feelings for exes or for people who are not your current partner.  I mean, not always; sometimes there is no good feelings left after a relationship ends or with people you just don’t like.  Personally, I still have good feelings and memories about ex partners who hurt me and who I generally would generally prefer to never see again.  I mean, the relationship existed for reasons, and those reasons do not always evaporate when the relationship ends.  Just like my love of Pink Floyd did not affect my love of Daft Punk or Collective Soul’s Dosage when I discovered them, neither does any residual feelings I have for someone I am not dating anymore, or even someone else I’d like to date in the future, have to affect how I feel about a current partner.  There is a trope in our culture that talking about, liking, or thinking about exes or other potential partners is doing it wrong.  Somehow, if we chose someone, we cannot continue to, effectively, choose someone else.

And then there is that fact that we might not love certain music, but really like it, like it occasionally, or only at certain times.  Similarly, there are people we know who we don’t feel the need to interact with day to day, or to dedicate our lives to, but with whom we share similar interests, desires, etc and can establish a less committed relationship.  I am not sure how often this happens, but imagine two people who spend time together a couple time a month or so, perhaps even a sexual relationship, but who recognize that they are not good partners for one-another.  They enjoy their time together, but they have other things going on in their lives.  So, in our monogamy-oriented culture, if either, or both of them find a better partner match, this relationship may be expected to end (especially if it’s sexual in nature).  But why?

It’s obvious that the relationship is not a threat to some other more committed relationship (remember, commitment does not imply exclusivity), so why should it have to end? Wouldn’t it be better to allow such relationships to continue or end on their own terms, and not the terms of another relationship? I mean, I don’t want to listen to The Verve all the time, but my life would be (slightly, but noticeably) diminished if I could never hear Bittersweet Symphony again.  For rational reasons or not, that song contributes to my feeling happy (but in a bittersweet way…sorry…), so why, just because I like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories a lot more, should I not continue to enjoy another song or album?

I’m not trying to be flippant here.  The social and cultural rules about monogamy really do seem as absurd as having to choose one album, or favorite food for that matter, over all others.  Why would we deny the variety of potential valuable relationships there is in the world for the sake of your (perhaps) favorite partner? I mean yes, if I had never met Gina and was married to Ginny and was only with her for the rest of my life, she would be a great partner for me and I would be very lucky to have her.  And if Gina and I had met under different circumstances and were exclusive, we could be happy as well.  So yes, I could be content (in the way that many monogamous people are “content”) with one partner, but the simple fact is that I have existing, and potential, relationships with other people who have things to offer that neither of them can offer on their own (and there are other people they could have relationships with–and do– whom offer things I cannot).  So why would any of us choose sexual and romantic exclusivity?  It’s simply as absurd, from my perspective, as having to choose one song, one album, one artist, or even one genre of music to listen to.

I love many kinds of music.  I don’t often go out of my way to discover new music, or new people for that matter, but I love that both music and people exist in my life.  I love different kinds of music for different reasons, appreciate them for different moods, and listen to music in different contexts and with different frequency.  I approach music on its own terms, like it for its own terms, and enjoy it irregardless of what I think about other music.  It would be silly to say that I can only like this or that genre, artist, or album.  Let me re-phrase that in case you missed the important part of that statement; it would be silly to create a rule which stated that I had to only like one kind of music, and not enjoy other music.  It would be silly because we cannot choose what music we like, just like we cannot really choose what people we like.  Insofar as we can make choices, we can only choose what we do, not what we like.  And just like we choose to listen to a variety of music because we like a variety of music, we should allow ourselves to have the relationships that we want, as we want them.

Some people, and some music, will be pleasant to have around, in the background of our lives.  Our passing acquaintances with people and music can give depth to our lives.  And while we only have so much time and space to truly and intimately appreciate music and people, that limitation should not be defined by the monogamous expectations of our culture.  I can appreciate Beethoven and Green Day, in different moods, times, and spaces.  In that case, I am willing to say I appreciate Beethoven more than Green Day, but if you were to ask me if I preferred the 5th symphony to the 7th…I don’t know.  I don’t know if it matters.  And so with people.  It is clear that I care more for Ginny than an acquaintance who I see from time to time, but beyond that we should not have to sort and rank people into hierarchies and choose one to be our romantic and sexual partner for life, or even just one at a time for weeks or months.

No, we should allow the beautiful musicality of love to add value to our lives as it does naturally, unconstrained by silly social conventions.

That said, anyone have any music that you really love and you think I should listen to?

Also, any awesome people I should meet?

Emotion, Memory, and Quality

I met my wife just over 3 years ago.  On the anniversary itself, which was just a couple of weeks ago or so, she reminded me that it had been 3 years since, and we shared a nice moment between us and I reflected on how much I appreciate having met her.  Of course, we met at almost the same time as an event which shook me to my core, leaving me more depressed and emotionally raw then I have probably ever been, and which had stuck with me for many months (and to some extent, years) afterwards.

I have written about the events in question previously, and even had a now non-existent post about the event itself a few days after, but I found further evidence, just now, for how much emotion affects one’s perception of reality.  I made a video, about 3 years ago now, that was intended for an ex girlfriend of mine to see (I don’t know if she ever saw it).  It was a video which was created in a fever of creative energy based upon a dream I had woken up from.  The creation was an extremely emotional event, and was cathartic in many ways, even though I didn’t understand it then.  No, I will not embed that video here.

Upon finishing this video, I saw it as a sort of great achievement; it moved my deeply and I was unable to delete it from my hard drive even long after it was clear to me that the lost relationship was never to be restored.  The video involved a song–which was part of the dream–in the background, and ever since then that song has had an important emotional affect on me.  In a sense, this video was a great achievement, as it was the first step I took in healing from this loss, and it was not long after that Ginny and I were quite obviously moving towards being together as a couple.  She is a woman who saw me at my worst and helped carry me out of the darkness.

So, tonight while sitting around Polybar Galactica with Gina having some drinks and talking about quantum mechanics, chemistry, and relativity (like you do), the song in question comes up on my computer, which is randomly playing music for u while we pretended to know what we were talking about.  The song, as soon as I notice it, punched me in the stomach (figuratively), and I used my phone to skip to the next song (because Polybar Galactica exists in the future where you can control your computer with your phone) so I could allow the emotional tumult to pass by not listening to that beautiful but painfully mnemonical song (a link just in case you just have to know what song it is).

But then, right after Gina went to bed (because she has a job that involves getting up early and shit) I have this intellectual curiosity to watch this video, which is still on my hard drive.  I wanted to see if I would still feel as vulnerable and sad watching it now as the last time I watched it, which may have been 2 years ago or so.  I was prepared to be emotionally ruined for a few minutes, reminded of the pain that engulfed my life 3 years ago, but that’s not what happened.

So, here’s what did happen.  I smiled and even laughed.  Not comically, like at the gross inadequacy of the video-editing skills (although they are mediocre at best),  but because the images in the video reminded me of good times.  I remember having fun with and loving this girl who tore my heart out so long ago.  I remember her fondly, despite all that happened, and I was able to watch this video without the pain I prepared for.  And I was able to reminisce about some times long gone, with only a tough of bittersweet (which I think is appropriate).

But, perhaps more interestingly, I noticed how not-awesome the video was.  It made me grossly aware that my previous opinion of the quality of this video was intricately and intimately tied to the emotions involved with it.  Emotions which have changed, faded, and perhaps forgotten.  Emotions have a real affect on both memory and perception, and now that the raw emotions have faded away, the quality of the video was perceived, tonight, as appropriately mediocre (at best).

Ginny and I back in Atlanta, after I healed some.
Ginny and I back in Atlanta, after I healed some.

But what has not faded over time, but rather grown, is the other thing that happened 3 years ago.  Ginny, I love you dearly, and I am happy that you are my wife. Thank you for all you have done for me, and all you continue to do.  I live a charmed life.

And thank you, Gina, for sitting with my at Polybar Galactica while talking about things we have no idea about while I make you chocolate martinis.  Also, for being awesome and stuff.

I want to leave with a direct quote from what is on my Google calendar from the date that the event happened.  I don’t remember when I added this note, but it is true, even for this heathen:

Saturday, January 16th, 2010:

All hell falls upon me…and an angel was there to catch me before i fell into its depths



Also, if you missed this previously, you need to read this post (which also mentions the evil Seana event, which is why I was reminded of it right now), because it is me channeling Gina’s hilariousness in a way that I am not sure I can replicate again.  I made myself laugh. Wait, i do that all the time.

You know what? Never-fucking-mind!