Maddening

I am thinking about endings.

“My wife will be home Tuesday after next.”

I nod. I’d forgotten the exact date but I knew it was coming. “You must be excited,” I say. I guess this is our last lunch out, I think.

“I told you I can’t see you once she’s back.”

“I know; you have an arrangement while she’s out of the country. Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn up on your doorstep and make a scene or anything.”

She’s sitting very straight, hands folded on the table, all business. “There is no arrangement.”

There’s a sudden weight in my stomach. I set my chopsticks down. “So what did you tell her?” I know the answer but I have to ask.

“About you? She doesn’t know.”

“I see.”

“She doesn’t need to.”

I don’t say anything. We are sitting in the restaurant not eating and not speaking and not looking at each other. I don’t have anything to say and don’t much mind that it’s making her uncomfortable.

“Nic–”

“Is there anything else?”

“What?”

“That you lied about.”

“What does it matter? We could only do this until she came home. She is coming home. Nothing has changed.”

“If it’s all the same anyway why bother lying about it?”

“Would you have given me your number if I had told you the truth?”

I am thinking of her right now, defensive and closed off and not lying for the first time and I want to say “no, never, not a chance.” I can’t think of any better way to slap her right in the conscience and that’s all I want to do.

I am thinking of the last four months, of meeting her in pubs and movie theaters and here, in a Chinese restaurant in a strip mall. Of how she always stood out, looked a little too bright and perfect to be real, like she belonged in a book of pin-up art. I am thinking of the day she cooked lamb tagine and baklava that smelled of orange blossoms. I am thinking of electricity and sex and almost drowning. Of how she preferred to speak French when she could, and how she laughed at my accent when I tried to speak it with her. I am thinking of the day she looked in my closet and declared it had to go: all my shapeless T-shirts and ratty jeans and fully half of my shoes. I am thinking of the spines of her books, arranged by color. I am thinking of her hands, with long, long fingers and nails that always looked as though she’d had a manicure that morning. I want to say “yes, I wouldn’t have missed these few months for anything.”

I am thinking of the day we met. She was selling anime and a book on corsetry. I tried not to flirt too much while I looked them over. I asked for her number–“for the sale form, not for me.” She said she’d give it to me if I gave her mine. I am remembering all the things that made her stand out, that day. Her cocky grin. Her Tinkerbell eyes. Her taste in books and film. I want to say “I don’t know.”

“I guess we’ll never know.”

“We can still go out this weekend. Or you can come to the house.”

“No, we can’t.”

She doesn’t seem surprised. We pay for lunch, reassure the waitress that our still-full bowls are not a commentary on the quality of the food. She pulls a book out of her purse before we part ways. “Have you read this?”

“No.”

“You should. It’s one of my favorites. Here.” She’s gone and it’s in my hands before I can decide what to say.

It’s inscribed: “Merry Christmas. Love, C.” C is her wife’s initial. It’s called Written on the Body and it’s about an affair, and she’s right. It’s one of my favorites, too.

I am thinking about endings. Sometimes they need to happen, are the only thing that can happen, but they still feel like a play without the final act. The uncomfortable truth is that the final act still happens, I’m just not in it. I was never meant to be.

[this is ancient history, years ago. Mad has texted a couple of times. I haven’t answered, have deleted her number from my phone. I never did turn up on her doorstep to make a scene. I didn’t look up C and tell her what she deserves to know, and I don’t know if she’d want to hear it. That was it, just an ending.]

e[lust] #63

Subbee HEADER
Photo courtesy of A to sub Bee

Welcome to Elust #63

The only place where the smartest and hottest sex bloggers are featured under one roof every month. Whether you’re looking for sex journalism, erotic writing, relationship advice or kinky discussions it’ll be here at Elust. Want to be included in Elust #64? Start with the rules, come back November1st to submit something and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!

~ This Month’s Top Three Posts ~

I am Sexy at Every Size
Censored? Never By My Hand #DarkErotica #BDSM
Hovering

~ Featured Post (Molly’s Picks) ~

Show Me, Daddy
The pride of being a dom

~ Readers Choice from Sexbytes ~

*You really should consider adding your popular posts here too*
Ask Better Questions

All blogs that have a submission in this edition must re-post this digest from tip-to-toe on their blogs within 7 days. Re-posting the photo is optional and the use of the “read more…” tag is allowable after this point. Thank you, and enjoy!

 

Erotic Non-Fiction

Two Hours of Bliss
Save the Sheets
All He Could Do Was Moan.
I’ll Have What She’s Having
Attitude on the Autobahn
Go get a toy so you can fuck yourself.
Cumslut

Thoughts and Advice on Kink and Fetish

Why I love my Packer
Tools of the trade
On being a feminist and a dirty little slut
Stapled
Getting Acquainted
Not Your Fetish
Why Kinky Women Are All Gold-Digging Trash*
Schoolgirls a Lasting Obsession
Kink-Blocked by Burners

Thoughts & Advice on Sex & Relationships

We Still Have To Work At It
Sex and Motherhood – Part 1
Tips for using sex toys & avoiding infections
How to Have Sex Naked
Bipolar Sex

Erotic Fiction

Oopps Wrong Number
Pour
Minister & Mistress
Surprises: A Threesome Story
Door Frame

Sex News, Opinion, Interviews, Politics & Humor

Sex, lies, videotape & being a decent person
Two Women One Topic

Events

Rubber Band Brilliance

Blogging

Stripping away the Shadows

Poetry

Sweat Slick – An Erotic Sonnet
The Poem Challenge, Day 6: “Owned”
Sixty Years On – A Lusty Limerick
Poetry: I Am….

Writing About Writing

On Writing Daddy Porn
ELust Site Badge

Scenes from a Break-Up

Z and I broke up. It wasn’t pretty. The conversation followed a couple of weeks of silence and a passive-aggressive facebook post, so it was obvious where it was going to lead. Still. It wasn’t pretty.

Z: “I assumed you were lying and trying to manipulate me.”

I understand this fear. I don’t understand how it excuses her lying to and manipulating me. She feels paranoia and mistrust, she decided it was true, she decided not to say it, and she decided to treat me differently based on those feelings. She decided I was lying to her. That I wasn’t invested in a relationship with her. She closed off to the relationship in response to that fear. She didn’t tell me. It’s long standing (I’ve written about it before), and we’d discussed it more than once at length.

Z: “So if I think you’re manipulative, I shouldn’t stay in a relationship, but you don’t trust either of us. Shouldn’t you not be in a relationship?”

She may be right. My trust issues are severe. I’ve hidden things I shouldn’t, and a part of the problem that led to this most recent mess came out of that. I wasn’t being open about my mental state or the effects of illness. I’m not being open about them here, even, and you folks don’t know who I am. I hide in closets sometimes, or in my car. It’s probably not healthy.

The difference, as I see it, is how we respond to fear. I am always afraid. Anyone who is allowed to get close is close enough to cause hurt, and that thought is never far away. I try not to make decisions based on fear. If I have to–if I can’t think straight anymore and terror becomes certainty and the floor falls out–it’s not an excuse to attack. It’s not an excuse to lie. It means I’m leaving.

Z: “Every time you say you want someone else, what I hear is ‘not enough, not enough, not enough.'”

This wasn’t directed towards me. It’s not the first time she’s said it. Not enough. That may be what she hears, but that’s not what is being said. I’ve always found this line of thinking particularly childish and narcissistic. “If same-sex marriages are legitimized, my heterosexual marriage means less.” “If you’re bi, you can only half-like me.” “If you want other partners, it’s because you don’t want me.” No. No. NO. Look, I get that we’re told to believe this basically from birth, because that’s a major tenet of the theory of One True Love. In reality? “I want to be in another relationship also” doesn’t say she’s not enough. It doesn’t mention her at all. The need to make herself the subject of a sentence or topic that has nothing to do with her is kind of baffling.

Also, she was dating both of us. Does she translate her own behavior the same way? Were we each not enough for her? Or did she never consider us to be in a relationship?

Z: “You’re saying this is all my fault.”

I wasn’t, and I don’t believe that. “I’m saying your choices and your behavior are your fault. And my behavior is mine.” If she doesn’t tell me there’s a problem, she’s not giving me the option of addressing it. But that doesn’t erase anything I’ve done wrong, of course not.

Me: “You’re important  to me. I’d like to know we could still spend time together, but I don’t see how a romantic relationship could work.”

Z: “It can’t.”

I respect the hell out of her for being blunt there. I should have been, and I chickened out; softened it to uncertainty even though there was no doubt that this needed to end.  Maybe I felt I’d been harsh and unkind enough in the hours leading to this, but more likely it was plain cowardice. It is not kind to leave the burden of saying what needs said on someone else, and I did.

 

As we left it, she and the Techie are still together. In theory, so are he and I. I’m wary: if she can’t be happy with polyamory and he can’t be happy with monogamy, it seems to be a pretty clear recipe for misery unless one of them changes their mind or they split up. In the meantime, I’m in a real good spot for collateral damage. But that’s hardly new.

 

Obviously this is only a few snippets of the conversation, the comments that most upset me. Obviously this is only my interpretation and perspective. I’m upset. These are patterns I don’t find acceptable and I am known for showing little compassion and no flexibility when faced with things I don’t find acceptable. It means there’s a fundamental incompatibility. It doesn’t mean she’s a monster or a villain or a Bad Person. I’m not interested in any support/commentary that feels the need to say she is.

Communicate!

That’s the answer to all relationship problems, right? Just communicate! It’s so simple! Gosh, to imagine people still have conflict in relationships. We must all just be willfully avoiding the perfectly obvious solution.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had (okay, am having) some catastrophic relationship issues that come from failure to communicate: from lying and misleading to withholding information to simply not realizing that something needed to be said. Communicating often and well is absolutely requisite to any relationship.

But it’s not sufficient. And it won’t solve all your problems.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Communication is not simply the dispassionate exchange of factual information. Relationships are complex social situations that each party understands in a different context, sometimes wildly different. We’re dealing with social norms that tell us from early childhood that certain things are simply understood, and discussing them can easily be perceived as gauche if not accusatory. Two vanilla monogamous people may find it challenging to discuss monogamy beyond briefly acknowledging that their relationship is “serious,” for instance. Digging in to what monogamy means to each of them could normatively be perceived as looking for a loophole. The discussion itself can communicate intent to violate the terms of the relationship. That particular issue is lessened for those of us who practice relationship styles well outside the norm–D/s or polyamory or to a certain extent queer relationships–but there are other norms we’ve internalized. We all have; one can’t live in a society without picking up some of its customs. It’s work to understand that conversations that challenge those norms aren’t loaded. It’s important work, and the results can be transformative, but don’t dare pretend it’s easy.

Silence communicates.

Shutting someone out can send a clearer message than any words. When someone shuts down, they’re often communicating avoidance or anger or hurt very clearly. What they aren’t doing is allowing communication to be productive or reciprocal. It’s topic-ending, which can be okay, even necessary. If the shutdown is complete, and you can’t talk at all…well, it stops being a relationship at that point, doesn’t it.

Listening communicates.

Silence isn’t always negative. Attentive listening can show that you care when no amount of telling your side could. Stopping to absorb information creates communication that is genuinely two-way.  Being careful to understand what your partner means by their actions and words, saying “what I hear you saying here is this, is that what you mean?” is not just listening, it’s learning their language. We may think we’re speaking the same one but we never are, not completely. You will always be translating each other into your own native tongue. That’s okay. In fact that’s unspeakably beautiful, when you’ve learned how. Finally, silence stifles impulse. A pause helps to process and think before a reply. Sometimes it has to be long. I’ve seen them last for days, when a matter requires  a great deal of consideration. Most issues, most people, have neither the need nor the patience for that, but a few moments to collect and speak with care is well worth practicing.

The body communicates.

Snuggling closer, smiling, reaching for a partner’s hand. Shrinking away, looking down, folding into oneself. Running a hand up their thigh, a grin that shows teeth, letting down one’s hair. We read these. It’s a kind of intimacy, learning the look that means joy or lust or grief that is unique to this person. There’s a reason many people find text messages and IMs problematic–words alone can convey so many things. Tone is difficult enough to read in person. Over text? Near impossible. Was that an accusation or a joke or flirting or–? We read each other when we talk. The topics that make my voice go flat and my eyes hit the floor, the ones that bring me bubbling up with excitement, most people tread around them differently.

Human coding sucks.

We none of us use words to mean the same thing. Not exactly. I have a friend/ex who says “I love you” often and easily. The first time, I almost bolted from his apartment. Those are words I don’t say and don’t like to hear. They’re frightening. What they mean to me is frightening. To him, it’s hardly more than “I feel affection for you, I care about you.” No big deal. Abstract terms are most volatile. “Respect my existing relationship”…okay. Define “respect.” What does it look like, what crosses a line? Even in research, on forms carefully calibrated to minimize confusion, people pause. “What do you mean, anonymous?” “Did we use a condom? Well, kind of, it’s complicated.” On those forms it’s easier to see ambiguity, I think. We look at them expecting to be misinterpreted, judged. We approach them with specific goals to clarify what we mean. Social interaction, especially romantic interaction, we expect to flow more naturally. We feel understood, and that we understand. It’s part of intimacy. But we also make mistakes because of it.

No amount of communication can overcome insecurity or mistrust.

You could be the most articulate, honest, compassionate communicator in the world. If the person you’re talking to doesn’t trust you at least a little bit, it won’t do a damn thing to solve your issues. If everything is run through a filter of paranoia and insecurity, it will be interpreted in a way that seems to justify insecurities and fears. I’m prone to anxiety. I have to set it aside until it seems reasonably proven before acting on it, else I will literally never have a healthy interaction with anyone. One of my relationships just ended in large part because of insecurity and mistrust. She thought I was lying, using her, manipulating. She thinks that her (our) partner choosing to be poly is an aggression, that it means she’s not enough. It’s wrong and it’s hurtful, but there’s nothing for it. No matter what I say or do, it goes through that filter and comes out hurting her.

We don’t want to hurt the people we care about.

Words can hurt. “I don’t like mushrooms” can easily sound like “I don’t like your cooking…or you” to someone who’s just cooked you a mushroom-laden meal. Remember, our coding sucks. When we’re asked a question that’s loaded, we know that a true answer may not convey truth, but saying so will seem to convey avoidance. So many people hear “you’re not good enough” in so many statements that do not actually mean that. It makes people reticent to speak, that fear of being misunderstood.

Something is missing.

No two people prioritize quite the same things. You can’t say everything. You can’t know what details your partner will fixate on, think are important. A few things are norms: whether you have other partners, risk behaviors with them. Not disclosing that is never “oops I didn’t think you’d care.” Others need discussing. Is it cheating to flirt? Do you need to know the person I’m texting is an ex, when I show you a random meme she’s sent me? When do I have to “come out” as bi, poly, kinky? (I hate this, because people should not get angry that assumptions they make are wrong and it happens all the time. People don’t have to stop on or before a first date and say “by the way I’m straight/gay, monogamous, cisgendered, vanilla. Does that bother you?” but if a person is anything else and doesn’t lead with it, they (we) are lying scum. The assumption is kind of unfair, folks.)

…that was a longer than expected tangent. Anyway, some things that should be said won’t be. It’s problematic but often they’re only not said because your partner honest to goodness had no idea they needed to be. Dietary restrictions come into this a lot. Polly Pocket has a pretty limited palate. It took a few meals to realize I couldn’t just say “I’m making vegetable and beef wontons, is that ok?” because it didn’t occur to her that I’d use “weird” vegetables and it didn’t occur to me she’d think they’re weird. Some people are not comfortable being in a house with a gun. Gun owners don’t tend to expect this, and do tend to keep them out of sight unless they have a large collection. And on, mostly minor things we’d never think to mention because they’re part of our daily routines. We don’t communicate because we don’t know we need to.

Communication without action means nothing.

Sometimes communication goes well. You get to the root of an issue, discuss solutions, agree on a course of action, and all is well.

Until two days later the agreement in violated. You forgot. He lied. Whatever. Having that same talk ad nauseum will continually bring you back to a workable (or at least agreeable) solution, but a blueprint for a house you never build is just an unwieldy sheet of paper.

Communication is important. Maybe one of the most important things. “Communicate” is great advice…but saying just that and nothing more is itself an example of poorly communicating a plan. Communicate how? What actually needs to be said, is it what I think it is or something deeper? What are the barriers, how can they be overcome?

Communication is hard. It’s an insult to wave it like a magic wand of relationship repair. It’s a process and it’s work and it’s delightfully, horribly complex. So if you want to tell someone to communicate more and better in relationships, best be able to say what that means.