Category Archives: Poly Stuff

Bogeyman in a Red Dress

If there’s one toxic, terrifying thing that (straight) monogamy normalizes, it’s the idea that a partner’s friends are a sexual or romantic threat.

You know. The idea that friendships men and women can never be “benign”. The assertion that these friendships will destroy your marriage. The idea that unless it’s couples being friends with couples as a unit, opposite-sex friendships should peter out as romantic relationships become stable. That men and women can’t be “just friends.”

I had to go three pages deep in Google to find one article saying opposite-sex friendships were sometimes maybe okay for people in relationships*, and that one still said there was always going to be sexual tension. It calls that tension and jealousy a bonus–keeps partners on their toes.

So those of you who agree with this. I got a question.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.

Are you literally sexually attracted to every person of your preferred gender?

Really?

If so, don’t you dare ever call bisexuals “sex maniacs” again; your sexuality is clearly an all-encompassing fetish. Seriously. I’m a sex-blogging bisexual with an extraordinarily high sex drive and a preference for multiple partners–and the idea of being attracted to or having a potential relationship with every person I connect with as a friend, even if we restrict to similar ages, sounds absurd.

But fine. Lets say for the sake of argument that any person of one’s preferred gender is a potential partner. If circumstances were different, if they were single, if the right song had played or rain or one too many drinks had pushed them together years ago. If sometime in the future things were different. Of course there are people we wonder that about. Of course it makes sense to acknowledge that potential is there.

We also need to acknowledge that it’s only potential. That friends are capable of choosing to stay friends, that it’s a continual process, and what might have been or what could be are not what you choose, because you value the friendship that is. Banning people from having friends on the off chance that any given friendship could turn into a sexual or romantic relationship based on the slightest hint of desire makes no sense. Anyone with the barest shred of reasonable humanity knows better than to act on every impulse.

If someone is going to cheat,they’re willing to break the agreements of your relationship. Period. It’s not because they were tempted, it’s not because that woman they’ve known since college has been turning up the heat, inching up her skirt and moving too close by increments until he had an affair without realizing it. The cheating partner chose to cheat. Period. Every time. The person or people they cheat with may or may not have known it was an affair. They may or may not have known you existed at all. And if they knew, then yes, they did a shitty thing. But they’re an accomplice. Your partner cheated. Your partner broke an agreement with you. That is not okay. Imposing a rule isolating partners from friends isn’t going to stop them from breaking the relationship agreement and cheating, it just adds another layer of lying and hiding to the formula. If they’re willing to cheat, restricting friendships will not stop them.

Restricting any kind of access to close to half the human population (or all of it, for bi folks) is a pretty extreme form of social isolation.

Isolating partners is necessary for partner abuse. Isolating partners is a form of partner abuse.

I don’t want to hear “It’s for their own good.” You don’t make decisions for adults that are “for their own good.” That suggests they don’t have the ability to make good decisions themselves. It’s demeaning.

I don’t want to hear “It’s a slippery slope.” Your partner will either be honest with you, or they won’t. They will either respect the agreement of your sexual and romantic exclusivity, or they won’t. In either case, it’s unreasonable to ban behaviors that are not inherently problematic to prevent the risk of those that are.

I definitely don’t want to hear “They shouldn’t need anyone but me.” They shouldn’t need you. If you’re isolating your partner to ensure they can’t leave you without being totally, horribly alone, you’re abusing them.

And “It’s not that I don’t trust my partner, I don’t trust those other people” is a lie. It is that you don’t trust your partner. Your partner will not cheat accidentally. If your partner has a friend who is pursuing sex or romance despite knowing that would violate their relationship agreement, then yes, it makes sense to discuss your concerns with your partner, over how they’re setting boundaries and whether their friend respects them. It doesn’t make sense for this discussion to conclude “no friends with this whole gender, ever.”

“My partner can’t have friends of the opposite gender” means “I don’t trust my partner.” That may be fair. They may not be trustworthy. People do cheat, and lie, and the rest. The truth is, people sometimes cheat. If they do, it might mean they’re planning to leave you. It might not. (They might just be lying scumbags who feel entitled to treat partners as things. Why don’t you want them leaving again?) If they cheat, you need to decide how you want to handle that. And it’s hard. It’s fucking hard. I don’t wish it on anyone. If they leave you, of course I offer sympathies. Being dumped is horrible and you deserve ice cream…but they have every right to leave. You have every right to leave. Relationships have to be voluntary. Isolating partners to prevent them being scumbags won’t work, and preventing them leaving (probably) won’t work and it’s abusive if it does.

Oh, and polyamorous people do it, too. “You can play with/fuck/date other people but I can end it/you need my permission.” When rules for protocol surrounding a behavior become more important than the behavior itself…it leads to problems.


 

* Hello, heteronormativity! “relationship advice” is for straight people, unless it says “gay” in the title, and bisexuals just need to pretend they’re [orientation that people assume based on current partner] and use advice for that group.

Kittens Are Not Tigers

“You were my single period, you know? And the stuff we did was incredible. I want that. I want more. But my girlfriend isn’t adventurous like you. What can I do?”

I try to answer kindly, because I remember you kindly. This is how you tell her what you like. This is how you explain to her what it means to you. Here are books and blogs, so if she wants to learn more about kink, about swinging, she can do it on her own time.

But all you can do is open that door. You can’t change what she likes any more than she can change what you like, and it would be monstrous of you to try. Don’t forget to listen to what she likes. Don’t forget to learn what that means to her.

I try to answer kindly, but there is a storm lifting my hair in electric ire. I want to say: Of course it was incredible. I know it. You know it. You’re the one who stopped it. You’re the one who chose a girl for her sweetness. How dare you come back to say “help, I’m lucky enough that this perfect, soft kitten is purring just for me…how do I make her a tiger? Only sometimes. Only when it suits me.” How dare you. Do you know how insulting it is to me, that the wantonness that made me undateable is what you want to cultivate in her now? Do you know how insulting it is to her, to tell her you could be happy with her in vanilla monogamy, when you knew you lied?

Kittens are not tigers. You cannot seek the company of something tame and train it to be wild.

I can promise you this: you won’t forget me. Years from now you will catch a glimpse of red hair out of a window and that will be it. The memory of what we did will hit you so hard you stop mid-sentence. You’ll need to brush the gooseflesh from your arms and shake your head to clear it of the echo of my gasps. You won’t miss me–we weren’t close enough for that–but you’ll wonder, a little rueful, why it can’t be like that with her, whoever she is.

I can promise you this: you won’t find someone who satisfies you, not until you understand that women who like the things you do aren’t too perverse to date. That they’re whole sexual being before you ever meet them, that they can and will and should explore their desire when and with whom they see fit. That as long as you think this taints or degrades them, you must see what you want to do as degrading. That they deserve more respect than that (that we all deserve more respect than that). You won’t find a partner who’s right for you until you stop searching only among women you’d have to change to fit you. Because kittens are not tigers. And they deserve to be adored for who they are, not pushed miserable into who you want them to be.

Playing at Poly

Ferns brings up (as she so often does) a good question, about how it comes across when someone identifies as poly “until they find the right person.”

What this says to me is, “I want to be with you, and I want to have all the trappings of a relationship that make me feel fulfilled and secure, but I want to be able to sever those ties at a moment’s notice when I find The One. But no, I absolutely care about you, how could you say otherwise?”

To me that doesn’t look like polyamory. It looks like play-acting relationships for practice until picking a real one. It looks like fear of being alone meeting fear of commitment. It looks like scatter-planting seeds, waiting to see which seedling sprouts tallest, straightest, most resilient before thinning the rest away like weeds.

It’s the lie that gets to me. Even if it’s not quite a lie, even when they say “I am only doing this until I find The One,” that promise is being dangled. That nurturing is being offered, and that intimacy, and it carries with it a terrible blame. After all, they told you they were only poly for now. That you might be what they were looking for, and really, whose fault is it if you’re not the one they keep, in the end? They did nurture you, after all. Gave you a chance. You’re the one who failed to be perfect.

This creates something sinister, even toxic. A relationship in constant threat of pruning breeds a fear of imperfection, of humanity, even of creative growth. You’re not one partner of several, building something either cooperative or independent: you’re in competition for a limited resource. It’s stifling. You’re reduced, finally, to trying only to be enough, and there’s nothing about that state that doesn’t breed resentment.

It also sets up an untenable situation. Poly-until-The-One people typically expect their ultimate partner-in-monogamy to also be monogamous once their soulmate-status is established. This means rejecting the possibility of compatibility with people who would not choose monogamy (like me).

Oddly enough, I take far less issue with people whose behavior is nearly identical to this but who don’t call it poly. I’ve had fuck-buddies and friends-with-benefits with the understanding that once these partners were not-single, sexual contact would end. Aside from a little sadness over knowing the sexual component of a relationship with me is, for these partners, disposable in a way that it would not be with someone they were dating, it’s fine. And I don’t resent the sexual component being disposable when it isn’t connected to intimacy.

“I’m poly until I find the right person” seems to forget that one’s partners in polyamorous relationships are people. They aren’t to be used and thrown away. They aren’t to be manipulated. And that’s what I see happening. Maybe I misinterpret, and maybe it means I’m missing out, but I wouldn’t date a person who said this at all.

Would You? Could You?

So this is a first: a question from a reader! I’m twitterpated, truly.
Even though you are poly..If you found an absolutely amazing person who wants to be monogamous with you, could you or would you consider being monogamous? Do you think that being poly is such a huge part of you that you couldn’t possibly ever consider being monogamous with someone or it’s a possibility? Why or why not?
[Necessary disclaimer: this is my personal reaction and my personal interaction with monogamous norms and expectations. Nothing here can be extrapolated to other people or other paradigms.]

The short answer? My gut reaction? No. I do not like this, Sam-I-Am.

I’ve never tried it.

I’m not going to.

I used to feel the need to justify nonmonogamy. I was asked to justify it every time I told anyone I was married and also dating. Every time the first thing anyone had to say (after they asked if I was cheating) was “Your spouse lets you get away with that?”

Lets me. Like it was more their call than mine. Like I was getting away with something. Like I needed special dispensation. What upsets me most about this is that I used to feel that way, too. That it was unreasonable of me to ask for independent relationships. That I should feel grateful to be allowed, that I had to be on my best behavior to earn the privilege of making my own decisions on my own time.

I am viscerally disgusted by the idea that a relationship somehow grants a person the right to some part of another person’s autonomy. The way it creeps. The way monogamy is normal, the idea that if I really cared about someone, I’d sacrifice the right to care about anyone else. How careful I have to be, saying this, because I know it’s going to be read as “monogamy is bad” when what I mean is “coercing a partner to be monogamous is bad.” I have NO objection to monogamous pairings in which both partners value and desire to practice romantic and sexual exclusivity. What I object to is the pressure, the normalization, the idea that if it is good and healthy for some then it must be the rule for all. I can be happy for monogamous couples without being monogamous.

I do not like green eggs and ham. I’m failing a kindergarten lesson about prejudgment in saying it, and I’m quite honestly okay with that. I’m a grown adult perfectly capable of making my own decisions. Maybe green eggs and ham are delicious. Maybe I’m really missing out on this amazing thing Sam-I-Am has to offer. But you know what? Sam-I-Am is a dick for pushing. I can like Sam-I-Am without liking green eggs and ham. I can like Sam-I-Am if he eats green eggs and ham three times a day while I have lamb tagine one day and spinach alfredo pasta the next. But if Sam-I-Am can’t respect my choices, or believes my feelings about his breakfast reflect my feelings about him, we’re just not going to be a good fit. (Also, I’m Jewish. Stop pushing your ham, Sam!)

If I met an absolutely amazing person who wanted a mutual agreement of monogamy…they wouldn’t be an absolutely amazing person for me.

Finally, people have asked me this before, and I’ve always wondered: would they ever ask the same question of a monogamous person? Would you, could you have a relationship that wasn’t exclusive? Why, or why not?

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.]

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.

Cat Logic

One of my cats has a terribly annoying habit. She will sit down just out of reach and wait for me or Spouse to move and pet her. Then she will walk away a few steps, flop down, and stare at us until we get up and go pet her again. This continues until (1) we stop following her, (2) we become frustrated by her manipulation and carry her back to wherever we want to be, or (3) she suddenly stops the game to tear around the apartment for no damn reason. Cats do that sometimes.

My theory is that she’s measuring our love for her in how far we’ll follow when she goes away.

Z is acting distant. Saying bitter things that suggest I only spend time with her in order to get to the Techie. Moving away from casual contact–if I touch her she suddenly needs to wash dishes or go outside to smoke. Last night she asked if she needed to leave the room so he and I could fuck, and left before we could answer. (She’s been in too much pain to join in, but still.)

She’s pushing me away, maybe him too. She’s said not to follow, that she’s insulted when it seems like we are babysitting her emotions. I respect that. But it seems a lot like cat logic. If we don’t follow, it means we don’t care. If we do, she keeps moving away. Dragging her back whether she wants it or not is not an option (for obvious reasons).

I’m handling this poorly. It’s hard for me to show compassion when I feel insulted. I spend time with her alone often, invite her to my place, suggest we go to shows. Z and I hang out, talk, cook, etc. without the Techie. The Techie and I only see each other around her. If he and I are alone together, it’s because she briefly left the room.

I do not spend my time on people I do not care about. I’ve told her this, and she’s seen it, but the idea remains that I’m just using her to be with him. It’s hard to handle because I do care. I’m not willing to just roll my eyes and walk away rather than try to resolve this. And I empathize: I’ve pushed people away and shut down because anxiety said it would hurt less than waiting for them to leave. It’s unspeakably difficult not to shut down now, because I don’t know how to handle this. I can’t help but think Z and the Techie would be more secure, happier, if I walked out the door right now and disappeared from their lives. It’s hard to believe either of them when they say that isn’t what they want.

So far I keep following. Keep talking. Will continue to invite her out and ask for her time because she’s important to me. I worry it isn’t enough, that she’s going to keep moving further, keep looking for the spot that’s just too far. I texted earlier:

this is an issue and it’s looking like a lot of that is on me. I’d like to talk it through if/when you’re up for it. Meantime if there’s anything you need, just say the word.

She hasn’t answered. I don’t know. I just don’t know.

Folks, I’m really fucking bad at this. In case you hadn’t noticed.

[Update: conversation has cleared up issues. We had been using the same words to mean different things without realizing it. The Techie had separate conversations with each of us and didn’t relay what was said, we each assumed the content of those conversations had been relayed and were frustrated that the other wasn’t acting on information we didn’t have. And then it asploded. So…oops. Lesson #1: The Techie does not communicate. No assuming things. Double oops.]

Eggshells

We hurt each other.

Not consensually. Not for kink. Sometimes we just do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing. Maybe we have a fight. We know each other too well, emotions are high. We know better, but we feel hurt and want our partner to feel it, too. Words come out. When you know someone well enough, you know which scars never fully healed, how to rip them open again. Or maybe it’s an accident, a blithe comment that reveals a wound you didn’t know was there, or just forgot. It’s not just words. Actions, too: a flogger wraps. Embarrassing, painful. A cancelled date, an unexpected touch, something precious dropped and maybe broken.

We hurt each other.

Whatever the form, when you hurt a partner (or they hurt you), it is compounded by a sense of betrayal, if only momentarily. We trusted you. Maybe not completely, but we trusted you not to hurt us. So (at least) two things need to be addressed: the harm itself, and the aftershock. Confronting the person who hurts you can be hard. Being confronted can be hard. We have to do it if we want to repair damage, but it isn’t easy. Almost no one knows where to start.

If you’ve hurt someone:

Apologize. They may not accept it (and they don’t have to), but apologize. Mean it. If you don’t know what you’ve done to hurt them, find out as calmly as you can. “I’m sorry that you feel bad” is not an apology. It’s passive-aggressive. Apologize for the behavior, not its effect.

Remember that it’s not about you. If someone is telling you that you’ve hurt them, that isn’t an attack. Defensiveness is a refusal to address the issue. I presume you care about your partners. If you hurt them, focus on fixing the hurt rather than maintaining your ego or denying the hurt exists.

People aren’t heroes or villains. Doing something wrong does not mean you’re a horrible person. We all do it. We fuck up or lash out or just don’t know what the hell we’re doing sometimes. These are discrete behaviors. If you’ve hurt someone, it makes sense to feel bad. It’s not so helpful to decide this makes you a Bad Person who should be shunned forever for your unforgivable sin. Acting like that is asking the person you’ve hurt to take care of you, and avoids addressing the hurt.

If you’ve been hurt:

Articulate it as well as you can. A person can’t address an issue if they don’t know it exists or don’t understand it.

Do you know what you need? An apology, space, time, physical contact, reassurance, a commitment to address a certain behavior? Ask for it. If you don’t know what you need, say that. Ask for help finding a solution. Too many arguments move from “I’m sorry” to “that’s not good enough” without ever saying what would be good enough. And maybe nothing is, but if that’s the case it needs to be said.

It’s not about them. People aren’t heroes or villains. Calling someone a monster doesn’t address the hurt; it tells them you think it’s inevitable and irreparable that they’ll hurt you.

It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to not be able to deal with it right away. When emotions are high, productive conversation can be painful, almost impossible.

Often we hurt and are hurt at the same time. There’s triage. There are cycles. I hurt you, the way you handled it hurt me. It takes mindfulness, self-control, cooperation to keep that from building up and up and up. And we fuck up. We fail. It’s going to happen again. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

——————————————————–
Please note that none of this is particularly helpful when dealing with an abusive situation. Just situations where problems or arguments occur and could be more productive. Also, y’know, I’m not exactly good at all this. Could be completely wrong.

Overprocessed

“You’re not saying anything.”

“I’m a sex toy that caters. I don’t figure I get much say.”

Z’s face goes slack. Anger, restraint. “Do you have any idea how insulting it is for you to say that to me?”

I do, and I regret it. “Defense mechanism.”

Too many words, too late at night. They both say they care. I deflect. There’s mention of romantic attachment. I acknowledge, question relevance. I don’t trust hierarchical relationship structures. The Techie doesn’t say anything. Z says she doesn’t know how else to practice poly. I’m trying not to shut down, failing. This can be a conversation, but not at six in the morning, not after four hours of this. I accept the term “dating,” if tentatively. There’s more to discuss.

Spouse is furious. He hates the Techie. He cries, threatens, manipulates, cries. The reaction surprises me. It’s too strong. I can’t manage empathy; I don’t understand. It hurts to comfort him while he attacks. It hurts that he sees self-defense as an attack. I’m frightened and shut down, curled into the closet messaging strangers for support. Wondering why I ever thought human interaction was worth the work.

Two days, more than twelve hours of difficult conversation. I dredged up ancient history with Spouse. I felt forced into it, but no less guilty. Still wondering whether human interaction is worth the work.

Today’s been stable. Work, meetings, listening to Nightvale radio. No difficult conversation. But stress hasn’t gone down. I’m not certain it will.

I do this to myself. Poor choices, I guess.

Little Lower Layer

Food is affection. A room is a right. A key is a promise.

The objects in our lives have meaning, whether we want them to or not. They may mean one thing to us, something completely different to someone else. There can be conflict, misinterpretation, manipulation without an outright lie when a symbol comes into play.

It’s so easy to be hurt by them, and so hard to avoid no matter how well we understand, intellectually, that what is symbolized is not inherent to the thing. Objective truth be damned: food is affection. A room is a right. A key is a promise.

Food is affection.

I could say “food is love,” but that’s a word I use with the care and trepidation afforded hazardous materials, and hazardous materials have no place in my kitchen. I’m an excellent cook. I love the building of a meal, the time and energy, the heat and smells and sounds of it coming together. If I offer to send cookies or make dinner, it’s because I value someone. It’s an offer of time and energy and the tangible form of joy, not just a desire to nourish. Food is affection. It seemed so obvious I never thought it needed to be said. But to some, a meal at home is banal. It means the night isn’t special enough to warrant going out, or a desire not to be seen in public together, or simple pragmatism. I once made a decadent three course meal for a woman who said “I never really thought of food as something you like. I eat because I have to, but I’d rather not think about it.” To her, my hours in the kitchen were a waste of a perfectly good afternoon.

A room is a right.

Having a room of one’s own confers the right to use that room however one likes. This is inherently obvious to small children, bafflingly ignored by too many parents. In Texas, Spouse and I had a two-bedroom apartment. We shared one room, and the second was a library. It was also my room: my reading chair lived there, my photography table. It was a place I could play country music, sequester myself with friends or a lover, or just enjoy solitude and a good book.

We moved to a one-bedroom apartment in New Orleans. I don’t have my own space here. It’s affected nerves: my need for solitude and silence is at times profound. I have shut myself in the closet here more than once, just to try to feel that there’s some small space that only I control.

The Techie and Z have a spare room. It’s where I sleep, when I stay at their place. They call it my room, sometimes. It’s a convenience: I stay there once or twice a week, no one else does. But it’s a guest room, not mine. I can’t assume it’s available or that I’m welcome. I don’t keep my things there, or use it as a haven. It is not my space, simply space I am allowed to occupy sometimes.

A key is a promise.

The first time the Techie offered me a key was over a year ago. It frightened me, the implication of trust and commitment. I declined. He mentioned a few times that he’d like me to have one before we fell apart in December. I never took it. Since I’ve been with him and Z, they’ve both offered more than once. It just makes sense, if you get here and we aren’t in, or are in the shower; in case you leave something and need to get it, in case Z locks herself out, etc. We want you to have it. No big deal.

It is a big deal. A key is a promise: this door is never closed to you. You are welcome, now and for the foreseeable future. My home is your home.

It’s a promise they can’t keep. The Techie has already shown he’s perfectly willing to excise me from his life completely rather than risk a difficult conversation. Z I credit with more integrity, but their relationship is hierarchical. An open relationship, not polyamory. Thing about open relationships is that they can close at any time, and secondary partners are unlikely to have any warning, let alone a say.

I don’t want a key. I can’t brush off the little lower layer. It clings like cobwebs in spite of their talk of convenience, in defiance of their insistence that it’s no big deal.

As of yesterday, I have a key. They’re out of town for a week, wanted someone to be able to get in if there’s an emergency. I can deal with this. It’s practical, and temporary.

But it makes me sick to look at my key ring right now. I’m afraid they’ll try to say I should keep it, when they get back; that there’s no reason I shouldn’t have a key. On the face of it, that may be true. But I can’t separate the thing from its meaning. A key is a promise, and this is not one I’m willing to believe or accept.