Tag Archives: relationships

Winnowing

There’s an art to hearing input from confidantes, on private things. It’s a challenge to hear past familiar thought patterns and feelings to accept what wisdom they can add. It takes a fair bit of finesse to tease out the words that come from their own histories, experiences no less valid than your own but perhaps not relevant when spun into advice for you. I…won’t pretend to be an expert.

The Chef and Chi have plenty to say. I told them I’ve only had a couple of dates in the last several months. Felt no excitement after either. “I don’t think I’m looking to start any Relationships right now. Something, sex for sure, but the thought of dating exhausts me.” While we’re together, I let conversation flow, save the critical part for later. There’s a winnowing process, which for me takes some time and quiet.

Wheat. “You should keep in mind what you will want, when you are feeling it. Every now and then evaluate whether you still aren’t interested in a relationship, or you’re just avoiding taking any risks.” Anxiety does tell me to keep myself curled up, treat any hint of intimacy as a threat. My gut is unreliable. I have to untangle the thoughts and feelings I’ve generated whole cloth, or out of association with a past that has nothing to do with now, from the ones that match current experience. I’m not always good at it. I don’t always–ever, really–feel that it’s fair to ask someone new to understand. So much easier to spin a cocoon that never admits someone new. I know better than that, but still, it does help to be reminded.

Wheat. “You have some good friends. You sleep with some of them, it works, maybe don’t be afraid to feel out whether that’s an option.” After I’ve known someone a while, if we haven’t had sex, I tend to assume it’s not on the table. I might be down for it but 95% of the time I’ll assume they aren’t. Of course, the most recent exception has become a particularly excellent (if infrequent) source of sexy fun times. There are tiring things about this–friends-with-benefits situations with monogamous people put me in the tenuous position of playing side-chick with people who are single, knowing I’ll be set aside when they find a partner. I accept this at the outset and I’ve chosen it more than once because I’m avoiding risk of intimacy, but it does get hard not to feel disposable at times.

Chaff. “People cheat. They just do, if you don’t keep them interested. You can’t expect that people will tell you who they’re screwing, I don’t care how open the relationship is.” I can. I do. I will. I have no interest in being lied to, and refuse to just accept that this is The Way People Are.

Wheat. “It’s not about what you need. Fuck that, you don’t need anything. What makes you happy?” I can’t answer that. It’s probably the best indicator that I don’t need to be pursuing anything right now, the fact that I can’t answer that. What makes me happy? Fuck, I don’t know, ice cream? Ask me again when I feel like my housing/income/job situation is a little more solid under my feet. It’ll probably be a while.

Chaff. “You can’t tell men what you want. They won’t believe you. Drop hints. Let them think they figured it out. Otherwise they won’t believe it’s real.” This is too often true. I have no patience for it. I say what I mean. I expect to be believed. It’s not a standard I’m willing to lower.

Chaff…I think.  “Jealousy means they care. You always want to work through jealousy, soothe it away, but you should try cultivating it sometime. the right kind. I got jealous as fuck when he made you scream, but it just made me want to do it to you, too.” I don’t trust jealousy to stay in the realm of healthy competition. Maybe she knows how to keep it there, maybe it works for her, but I’ve seen it get ugly too many times. I don’t know. It’s hard, this one. I don’t know.

Wheat. “Date your friends. Date your lovers. We’re not the same people we were three years ago. I still think of you as my girlfriend but that means something different now, doesn’t it?” It does and I’m flattered and she’s right. Relationships, friendships, all of it stays fluid. People stay fluid. We entwine first branches, then roots. Grow closer some places, have to draw back where we damage each other in other. Sometimes we grow apart. The Chef and I have–there’s so much distance, neither of us reaches out often enough to keep us close–but so far we learn each other again and fall into a new pattern that works. I like this. I like that I don’t feel any pressure to expect that it’ll work out again next time.

It was a long evening of talk, most of it simply sweet and fun. We don’t always agree. It’s something I love about them both, that we can feel safe that not-agreeing won’t devolve into fights. Only more to process. I’m still processing some of it.

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.

Last word

Some words feel too alien to be true, even when they are. It makes them hard to say, even harder to discuss and defend. I don’t handle it well. A sentence causes hurt and denial and anger and pleas and I have no words, nothing to offer that doesn’t make it worse.

This isn’t working.

We’re not–we can’t be–a couple.

We’ve been together more than a decade. We moved states away with nothing but each other, twice. Said vows between the arms of a hurricane. I didn’t want kids, he got surgery so we could be sure. We’ve boosted (or sometimes dragged) each other over the day to day obstacles of work and life and academia. Eleven years, almost twelve. Some of it has been good. Some, unbearable.

It isn’t working.

Too many arguments. Too much damage control, too little ability to understand each other. Too much guilt. Because it can be controlled, all this damage, but one of us is gunpowder and the other is flame. How much time, how much effort, before the hazards of staying together aren’t worth it anymore?

There is shouting, tears. Not so much fighting as being miserable at each other in the same room. First he says fine, I’ll go, find a place to stay right now; if we’re not together I can’t bear to be here. Then it’s please, I can’t live without you, just stay, we’ll figure something out. I try to list steps we can take, so we might do this calmly, though neither of us is calm. I say I’m sorry. It doesn’t help. We’re still broken.

We are both essentially single for the first time in our adult lives. He denies it, and I don’t have the energy to say it again. I slink off to another room, fail to be productive, wish I were alone in a quiet that didn’t touch anyone else’s life, where no one else could touch mine.

There are things I know: that this is my fault, that it needs to be dealt with, decisions made, that I cannot put off or put on him. That I am controlling and hurtful and not to be trusted. That the boundaries I set are not fair, that they make intimacy all but impossible. That this is not going to change. That I am not wholly sane, not wholly sure about the things I think I know.

It isn’t working and I feel like an imposter. How can I write about relationships here when mine all fail so spectacularly all at once? How can I be allowed (yes, really, I am) to provide counseling on sexual behavior and boundaries and the rest? Why do people keep asking for relationship advice and how dare I say “I’ll try” instead of “dear God, run, ask anyone but me”?

I’m shutting down and shutting people out. It seems safer for everyone, though this time I’m aware that it is also selfish. This is terrible timing, though no timing would be good. Final week of semester. Papers and exams and presentations demand attention. Applying for jobs. I am avoiding the necessary conversations, not even sure I can form the right words.

It isn’t working. What else is there to say?

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.

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.

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.

Nice Shoes

This woman fascinates me.

Let’s just call her Z. We’ve been spending a lot of time together. It’s a little awkward: she’s still seeing and living with the Techie, so I find myself trying to steer around my own emotional context when he becomes the topic of conversation. The night of awful conversation and confrontation seems to have knocked down a lot of barriers to completely frank conversation, so shy and awkward as we are, we’re still communicating more than I manage with most people. It’s kind of awesome. She’s super awesome.

I’m pretty damn attracted to her.

We played a bit, before all the nonsense went down in December. She and the Techie co-topped me one night, and we played around with clothespin zippers at a party. She made it clear her interest in doing toppy things at me wasn’t sexual. So we hang out, dye each other’s hair, bake, rearrange the house, talk too late. On Valentine’s day I brought her chocolate and the world’s most awkward card and we spent the evening alphabetizing erotic magnetic poetry. The last week or two, I’ve been over there late–I spent the night last Wednesday, and was there until almost 0300 this Monday. This meant seeing the Techie, which (damn it) is actually not awkward or unpleasant at all.

She’s gotten flirtatious. I figured this was a sign of her being more comfortable around me, not actual attraction, but I enjoy it anyway. I texted about having brownies in bed, joked that if I joined a monastery but could still have this kind of unabashed hedonism in the bedroom, that’d actually be kind of okay.

Z: “Or you could come over here…(this is my less than subtle attempt at seduction)” … “I even have a nun costume!”

Me: “yes you do. You have been quite clear previously about not having sexual interest in me. So this is my confused face.”

Z: “People change, and attractions. The more I get to know you, the more intimate the non sexual relationship becomes, the physical attraction has always been there, but the sexual attraction is new.”

Me: “…processing error…” [I’m so eloquent]

Z: ” >_> I uh…I’m…dammit.
That is…
I mean…
Nice shoes, wanna fuck?”

The thing is, I do. I probably shouldn’t, but I do. Because she makes me smile. Because she’s covered in ink (I can’t resist body art). Because she’s beyond resilient and I am completely in awe of her. Because anyone who can enjoy standing in front of a refrigerator alphabetizing magnets with me for over an hour is definitely my type.

I probably shouldn’t. Because she’s having continuing issues with the Techie, and while I’m not remotely interested in monogamy, I don’t think it’s a good idea to try to form a new relationship if an existing one is thoroughly problematic. Because she lives with him, and I’m a little paranoid that if we were involved he might either become awkward and distant again or overly keen. Because I’m anxious and afraid.

We revisited the conversation, decided to put it on hold until her relationship with the Techie is more stable. It’s the right idea, but still frustrating and unnerving.

So of course we’re going to a play party tomorrow. We’ll hash out what I ought to bring in case we want to scene (now that I’ve organized all the toys). The plan is that I’ll likely spend the night in their spare room again.

Apparently I am very fond of subjecting myself to massive amounts of temptation.

Please let me just say “no.”

I’m sorry.

I’d have said it earlier if I’d known you were flirting.

I’m really dense about these things.

I think we’re better as friends.

Yes, I do like spending time with you.

No, it’s not because you’re fat or short or whatever it is you’re insecure about.

Yes, I think you’re pretty.

Why does it matter why?

I think we’re better as friends.

Maybe I’m happy with the way we are.

Maybe I don’t want to have sex with every friend I find attractive.

Maybe I’m scared of getting closer to you.

Maybe I don’t want to be closer to you.

Maybe I don’t have time.

Maybe I’m picky.

Maybe a more intimate relationship wouldn’t work because we’re glaringly incompatible.

Maybe not all relationships need to level up to maximum intimacy. You won’t get an XP bonus.

Maybe it doesn’t matter why.

Maybe you’re just not special.

Fuck, there’s no nice way to say that, is there.

I mean it when I say I’m glad to see you.

I smile when you text just to say hi.

I like you just fine.

But–

I could say the same about almost everyone in our social circle.

Maybe you’re just not special.

If you’re not special

(breath catching in my throat, fingertips twitching towards you almost without thinking, when my phone buzzes I hope it’s you, I call you before my own mother when something exciting happens in my life, on my mind like Willie Nelson *special*)

Don’t make me tell you.

Don’t make me hurt you.

Please let me just say “no.”

It doesn’t matter why.

I don’t want it. You can’t change my mind and I don’t want you changing yourself.

I like you as you are.

I like us as we are.

Please let me just say “no.”