The Funny Thing…

The funny thing about you is you’re a hopeless romantic who doesn’t believe in love. In the movie of your life you, played by Anaïs Demoustier, will chase Lily Cole through a field in the rain to give her an umbrella and say it could never work out. Then you’d probably break six more hearts and die of pneumonia and ennui because you kept giving other people your umbrella.

I just found this message, clearing out my phone. It’s old, from about a year and a half ago. At the time, it made me smile. Tonight, it made me laugh.

It’s surprisingly apt, I’ll give her that.

Skiing

I don’t ski. It doesn’t come up so much these days: there aren’t many snow-covered mountains in Louisiana. But when I did live in the mountains, with skiing roommates and skiing friends and my sister saying she’d visit but only if I’d take her skiing, the invitations were pretty frequent.

I don’t ski.

No one ever put real pressure on me. There was the occasional “why not? It’s fun! You could at least try it once.” sort of comment. I would explain my violent, unmitigated hatred of cold, general clumsiness, dislike of high speeds and low control, and again the violent hatred of cold.

They’d shake their heads and say “suit yourself” and leave me alone to enjoy a book and a pile of blankets.

Here’s the thing: I’ve never said “I don’t ski” and had anyone get offended or defensive. No one’s assumed that I think my non-skiing lifestyle makes me superior, or that one of us is duty bound to convert the other.

It confuses and annoys me how often these principles fall apart when a monogamous person and a nonmonogamous person talk about relationships. Conversation becomes very defensive very quickly. It’s not even because one party is on the offense (or if it is, I’m too socially clueless to realize). Folks just assume that if one person chose to have this kind of relationship, and the other chose differently, that choice has to reflect a perception of inherent, objective superiority.

Why?

I don’t ski. I don’t want to. It scares me. I’ve seen people ski badly, and laughed or sighed about it. I’ve seen people ski extremely well, been impressed, and had long, exciting conversations about this sport I will never ever try. Likewise, I don’t enter into monogamous relationships. I don’t want to, and yes, the idea scares me. Any commentary on a dysfunctional monogamous relationship is a commentary on the dysfunction, whatever its source, not on the paradigm in which it is placed. Likewise any congratulatory squeeing over weddings and relationship conversations with happy monogamous couples is completely sincere. Talking about relationships is a significant part of what social groups do. It would be nice if we could just talk about them, instead of pitting them against each other.

A Letter Not for Sending

I used to write letters. To family, close friends, occasionally lovers. It’s been a long time since I bothered. The last three went unanswered. It hardly seems worthwhile to pull out the stationary and fill my fountain pen for a long silence.

Some letters aren’t meant to be read. They’re just a place to say the things one can’t or shouldn’t say aloud. Angry letters, frightened ones, letters to the dead. It’s a form of processing, rarely rational, often ugly. It would be mad to send them, and I never have. This one… it wasn’t worthwhile to pull out the stationary, fill my pen, so it may as well end up here. It is not rational. It is ugly. I don’t much care.

I fucked a girl you can’t stand. Told her “don’t touch me” and dared her to think of what I might do if she did. Shoved her back with high heels and delighted in the way she leaned into me and not away. I made her beg, loudly, for the privilege of eating me out. There were ten people watching, maybe more. I asked them to critique her pleas, made her try over and over until she got it right.

I was trying to cleanse the palate, rid my nerves of the want of you. Her hands are small. Her lips–everything about her is soft and round and delicate. Nothing rough. Nothing that can hurt me. Nothing like you at all. I jerked her by the hair, felt her moan, arched my back and closed my eyes.

I came thinking of you growling “come for me” in my ear. I didn’t tell her that was why I pushed her away.

I want to say “fuck you,” but I can’t.

I want to fuck you. I can’t do that either.

There’s so much that I can’t do, or say, or believe. You said you were afraid so many times. Of fucking this up, of saying the wrong thing, of being wrong. I understood. I was afraid too. You said you didn’t want me to go. I believed you. You never did say you wanted me to stay. I thought this was caution. I never said I wanted to stay, either. You were important. Are important. Enough so that I was willing to wait.

You fucked up. You didn’t make a mistake. You made a choice. Over and over you chose secrets and lies and I don’t know why. I wasn’t afraid when I was with you, of anything but myself. Now I’m afraid that all your lies were somehow my fault. I’m afraid that I’d let you do it again. All the fear I should have had, would have had with anyone else, is crashing through the levees and I can’t do anything but let it come.

I wish you could tell me why. It doesn’t matter and I won’t ask again, but God, it’s killing me not knowing. I’m wounded. That’s fine. It’s happened before, more severely and more often than I care to admit. It makes one adept at closing wounds. This one is held open. I’m digging through muscle and gore as if you might have left some hint of your motive there. You didn’t. Of course you didn’t. Some horrible parody of faith is telling me to keep looking anyway.

I forgive you. For all of it. You don’t deserve it.

Unbelievable

I have trust issues.

These are serious and they are long-term. There are never more than half a dozen people in my life whom I feel I can trust. It is paranoid. It is isolating. It is unhealthy.

The Techie somehow, terrifyingly, became one of those half dozen within a few months. Everyone else on the list I have known ten years or more.

There’s a piece of advice that’s all too common in terms of relationships: listen to your gut. If you’re constantly paranoid, second guessing, suspicious, there’s a reason. Get out. This advice is useless to me. It describes every interaction, every day. Knowing that my emotional response often has no relation to reality is a necessary part of survival. I can’t let anxiety make decisions without evidence, unless I want to completely dissociate from humanity. I have done this. It is paranoid. It is isolating. It is unhealthy.

The last few months, I have essentially not seen the Techie. This was expected. He works nights and often weekends. I get up early, go to bed late. Grad school comes first. Classes, research, writing. I have a job, teach a class, organize board gaming events, cook, clean, occasionally exercise. Relationships have to occur around the fringes. I see Spouse less than I should; the Techie’s physical absence did not suggest a problem except that I missed him.

We texted, most days. About nothing much. His work, his health, my studies, recipes. He stopped responding to flirtation in kind at some point. Acknowledged, apologized: work was eating all of his time and energy, causing pain. I stopped flirting.

There was a phone call in September. He said he’d had a positive serotest for HSV-1 (itself a non-issue). Mentioned he had other calls to make, plural. I was aware of only one other partner. He and I had engaged in unprotected sex. I debriefed my doctor: my boyfriend has likely had partners I do not know about. I do not know his risk behavior with them. We moved up my routine test. Talked about the staggering inaccuracy of HSV serotesting. Most doctors will not perform it in the absence of clinical symptoms, of which I had been assured there were none. Interesting. Suggestive. Insufficient data to justify listening to anxiety.

I asked him for data. Said we needed a conversation about risk behavior and risk communication. That while we were at it could we please put a term to this relationship because I’m tired of not knowing what it is. He said yes and of course, it’s important, we’ll make it happen soon. “Soon” kept falling through, always for reasons that seemed to make perfect sense. I knew his job took priority. After a month I saw him. It wasn’t planned. I was hanging out with his girlfriend at his house, he came home early. I have too much pride. Didn’t want her to know I was upset. Asked him to let me know, when he had time to talk. I offered to discuss it by text message: written communication is far more comfortable for me than verbal. He said that wouldn’t be fair. Anxiety said: be done. I ignored it. Insufficient data.

By Halloween I’d decided he was simply too cowardly to end things. (Behavior: said “we’ll talk soon” for seven weeks. Did not talk.) We were at the same party. I told Spouse and the Fireman and his wife that I was going to go tell him I was no longer waiting; whatever it had been, it clearly was no longer. I’m fond of closure. All three of them objected. He’s busy. Exhausted. You owe him a chance to explain. I did not say I’d offered half a dozen chances. I did not say intent and explanation were not relevant: the behavior is not one I accept. I cornered him outside. Said I didn’t know how to talk to him, or whether it was worth trying. He was calm, compassionate, apologetic, sincere. Work. Always work. He wasn’t willing to steal my attention from the Fireman, he said. They visit rarely enough, he knows I miss them. We’ll talk soon. I said I no longer trusted soon. He amended: I will look at schedules tomorrow. You will have a list of my expected free time for the next week by midafternoon, but expect it to be limited. It was limited to times I had work or class.

He tried to contact me a few times in November. I had extra complications with classwork: an unexpected paper was assigned, I spent two hours with a biostatistician going over some numbers I’d analyzed for a project but seemed too high (the math was correct). I was organizing a group project, finishing a grant proposal. This is real life, not a Nicholas Sparks novel. Romance does not trump all. I told him to expect a call when term ended.

Things started to come out. Spouse started seeing a girl who used to date the Techie. Exclusive relationship, she thought, but then he just stopped returning calls. Our timelines overlapped by several months. He’d never mentioned her name, had explicitly said he had had no other partners since his last STI tests when we started fucking. Laughed when I asked, in fact.

I’d been spending time with his girlfriend–the one I knew about, who lived with him. She got awkward and silent if I mentioned him. He said this was anxiety, she felt I was only spending time with her to get closer to him (not the case. She is bright, studies my field, and as damaged as I am. We get along well). I asked if this was the case, she said she had wondered. That she knew he needed other partners to be sexually satisfied. She gave names, approximate dates. Three or four women either never mentioned or whom I had been explicitly told he had not and would not touch. She hesitated, asked when my physical relationship with him had ended. I told her: we had not fucked since early September. We had a couple of brief, intense makeout sessions, he found excuses to finger fuck me in semi-public a few times, as recently as a week ago.

“Did he tell you we were having unprotected sex?”

“No. Did he tell you we did?”

This led to all three of us and poor Spouse sitting around my dining room table for a few hours comparing notes. He said he was going to a funeral? No. He and I went on vacation. He said he was emotionally involved? That this was unusual, frightening, moving fast? Lovely, we all got the same line. He told none of us about having had unprotected sex with the others, explicitly denied the existence of a sexual relationship with the others (he had not hidden me from girlfriend, likely only because I predated their relationship so she’d heard both scenes and sex from his bedroom when they were just roommates. Bit hard to deny). The girlfriend kept shaking her head. “This is emotional abuse. This is inexplicable, compulsive lying and emotional abuse.” The girl Spouse is now seeing kept crying. The girlfriend was angry enough to be shaking. I wanted to be. Angry, upset, something. I couldn’t manage more than confused. Two of us at least were openly nonmonogamous. What possible motivation to lie? What possible chance we wouldn’t eventually talk?

It didn’t matter. Overwhelming consilience of information. Lies. To everyone, about everything. Behavior is what matters, not motive, not intent. We texted him, got a passive-aggressive and rather martyred email in reply. Not good enough. Confrontation in a diner at 0200, all of us wanting to hear the truth. They may have even hoped for it. I was holding pieces of broken trust and trying to remember how it could possibly have ever fit together. Truth or not, I don’t think I could believe him. He was calm, compassionate, apologetic, sincere. Yes, he had lied. No, he couldn’t say why. Of course we should be angry, he never claimed not to be a terrible person. I reminded him that I had explicitly offered to step back into the role of platonic friend or to just go away if that was what he wanted. That just 24 hours before, he had asked me to be patient, insisted he cared. I did not ask whether that was true; his behavior was not caring, so the sentiment became irrelevant. I just asked why. A few times. He didn’t answer. I suppose that doesn’t matter, either.

I’m not calm. Trust issues. Anxiety is telling me to question everything, everyone. I am confused, frightened, appalled at myself (supposedly an intelligent woman), filled with self-loathing that I could trust someone so easily, that I would choose a mythomaniac to have faith in. The flight reflexes I held down for him–because he asked me to–are wound up as bulls in a bucking chute. But oddly, I’m okay. Not crying. Not angry. Not grieving.

The others, I don’t know. Spouse is taking care of one (Spouse is not the Techie’s biggest fan right now. Can’t be fun to find out one’s wife and new partner were systematically lied to with no explanation by the same man). She’s young and rather fragile. The girlfriend went back home with the Techie. She has a higher stake in this. I am not sure whether she is attempting reconciliation, whether she would welcome support, or if I should expect to be villainized. I suppose I’ll find out eventually.

In any case, that’s done with.