Pitfalls and Pratfalls

This new relationship is shiny and fantastic, but it’s also useful. I’m learning things about myself that I didn’t quite realize before, and I’m being forced to articulate them. I’ve never been good at expressing actual vulnerabilities to someone, but, in order for this to work, I need to be able to tell Carrie* when something hurts so that we can discuss it. It feels like giving someone ammunition against me, and even though I trust her implicitly I find that difficult. Still, if I don’t take that plunge, we won’t be able to move forward.

One of those vulnerabilities is really more related to the end of my last long term relationship than anything in this one. I’ve always had a need to feel uniquely important–as does everyone, I suppose–and that’s much of the reason I was willing to be monogamous in the first place.  I assumed that being The One for someone necessarily followed from being the only one, but it turns out that that’s not true. Toward the end of my relationship with T, I got the impression that it wasn’t that she wanted to be with me so much as that she wanted to be with someone. That’s, in large part, why I broke up with her. I think that impression’s been borne out, since then, by the speed with which she moved in her next relationship, but that’s immaterial. The impression itself is what’s relevant.

Cut to now. I’m not the only one that Carrie has, but I do feel like I am myself and I am important, and that’s what I need. As a rule, she does a fine job of making me feel wanted, but that’s because it’s not a job to her. She just wants me, and it comes across clearly enough that I don’t need to worry about it–usually. However, my own need for that uniqueness combined with flashes of that last relationship cause problems every once in a while, and have done so in two fairly specific ways.

One is that Carrie, as someone who sees a lot of people, naturally draws parallels between me and her other friends. This isn’t a problem, normally, except when it’s someone she’s in an intimate friendship with; when that happens, I lurch a little, and briefly feel like I’m just part of an undifferentiated sea of men she sleeps with. It’s not rational, but it’s there, even when–perhaps especially when–the parallels are entirely superficial. The fact that the last three people she’s dated (including me) were all born within a few months of each other, or that we all seem to be in some flavor of IT (although that’s like saying “I’m in sales”, in that it doesn’t narrow things down much), or when she describes to me personality quirks in me that track with someone else she’s dating, etc. I’ve mentioned that this triggers that seasick sensation in me, but it’s also something that can’t really be avoided; I don’t want to muzzle her ability to talk about her friends with me. As time goes by, I’m learning to deal with this one, and the lurch is less in each instance.

Now, something in a similar vein, but much more painful, requires a bit of explication. Carrie has a quirky phone greeting that she and R (one of her other boys) use together. It’s an odd little inside joke for them. Occasionally, she would accidentally use it with me; in fact, the reason that I even know it’s a thing between the two of them is that it was odd enough that I remarked on it the first time, and it had to be explained. This continued for a while, and it seriously bothered me whenever she would do it. At first, I didn’t say anything, but after a bit I did speak up a bit. Carrie didn’t see it as a big deal, understandably, because she wasn’t actually confusing the two of us, so she was a little dismissive. I let it go for a while after that, but eventually said “I wish you wouldn’t do that with me” after another instance. It still didn’t end, though, and eventually I had to lay out exactly why it was a problem for me and just ask her not to, which, when she realized that it was that much of an issue, she did gladly.

The difference between the two things is that, while both are a bit superficial and irrational, the former is something that I needed to get used to while the latter was simply an easy change, and so, while the comparisons still pop up, the phone greeting has stopped. I think Carrie and I did a fine job of discerning between the two. It took a frustrating amount of time for me to get across how important it was that she answer the phone differently, but that’s because it seemed like such a small thing to her and I wasn’t willing to express exactly how I felt about it, until I just finally had to.  I’m getting better about that, though, and future pitfalls will be discussed as thoroughly as necessary much sooner.

We run into other issues, of course–some on my end and some on hers–but those are for another post. 

* Carrie is “C” from earlier, if that’s less than obvious. She’s given permission to use her name.


So, how does this stuff work?

About two years ago, I broke up with a monogamous partner of six years, and realized that, at 28, I’d never actually dated. I went from one-to-three-night-stands as a teenager straight into commited monogamy (a previous relationship had lasted four years) with nothing in between. I decided then that I would not get into anything serious–which at the time I defined as commited and monogamous. I needed to date around a bit and learn how this aspect of humanity worked. I’d happily get into an ongoing relationship, but only on the condition that I was allowed to date other people.

So I spent a couple of years trying to date. It went poorly. It doesn’t help that I’m in Indianapolis for the nonce, which is a rather terrible laboratory for these sorts of experiments.  For example, Forbes rates Indianapolis as 37th among the largest 40 US cities as a place to be single… and it’s only that high because it’s easy to get a job and cheap to live here.  We’re ahead of such notable hot spots as Salt Lake City and Cleveland.

So, it was hard to find anyone, and even harder to find someone who met my criteria–interesting, attractive, and willing to be in the sort of relationship that I felt was right for me. I’d started to wear down, and decide what all interesting people in Indiana seem to decide; I’d just go ahead and grab the next person to come along and we’d be in the sort of standard relationship that everyone else is. I would have loved to find someone to explore an open relationship with, but that person just wasn’t here.

It turns out, she was somewhere else, but one should be careful for what one wishes.

On OkCupid, I met an amazing woman 800 miles away from me. I was cautious, and assumed that it couldn’t go anywhere; there was the distance, and also the fact that she was involved with other people to the point that her profile said she just basically didn’t have time for anyone else. Also, I knew from past Adventures in Dating (which I’ll no doubt outline later), that it was difficult-to-impossible for me to be involved with someone who was involved with several other people while I wasn’t. Despite my desire for an open relationship, I knew very well that my prospects were severely limited in ways that an attractive woman on the east coast was not. Not that I don’t get my share of interest, but there’s just no one here looking for what I’m looking for.

Well, fast forwarding a few months–as time went by and the electronic equivalent of the wordage of War and Peace was exchanged a couple of times over–whatever objections I had faded. Eventually, I went to see her, because I had to, and was startled when I not only wanted a relationship with her but I fell in goddamn love. All of a sudden, I understood that “serious” and “monogamous” were not synonymous, and I had no real choice but to go forward with things.

I had my misgivings, of course. I’m not a terribly jealous person, but there’s this sense of imbalance that’s wildly difficult for me. It doesn’t bother me that she sees other people so much as it bothers me that I don’t, that I can’t. It bothers me when I find out something, even superficial, that’s similar between me and her other boys. It bothers me that she has this opportunity to live the life that I’ve been looking for these past years and that I don’t. And, yes, it bothers me at least a little bit that she’s slept with someone else since we’ve been together and I haven’t. I am human.

In a much less serious relationship, these things wouldn’t matter at all. I could just enjoy my time with someone without sweating the imbalances.  In a slightly less serious relationship, they would be complete dealbreakers, because the relationship wouldn’t be enough to overcome the problems.

But I love her.  I love her.  Madly.  Obviously, at the moment I’m still in the infatuation stage, but I have some experience living in this head, and I know where this is going. I think this is going to last, assuming I don’t blow it.  So I’m putting in the work to make myself okay with the things that hurt for the sake of the things that are better than I’ve ever had before.

love her.

And I’ve decided that something I can do to help make this work is to post my musings. I’m doing this for a couple of reasons. One is that I think pulling together my thoughts will help me smooth out the rough spots in my head, and see where I’m being ridiculous, or hypocritical, and minimize those. Another is that I simply can’t find many resources for someone in my situation–a person with no other partners getting involved with someone who has several. For the moment, I’m functionally monogamous, and while I’m sure that will change I feel like the healthy response is to learn how to deal with the difficult bits without requiring another relationship as a crutch.

The latter is worth expanding on a bit: it’s both unfair to C (I’m going to keep names in this blog to initials unless someone gives me permission to use their name), and unfair to anyone else I might get involved with. If I’m going to get into a second relationship, it needs to be because I want to be with that person, and not because I want to even up some sort of “score”.

So, here I am, Newly Open after a decade of monogamy and a couple of years single, and learning what that means. The ride has been a bit bumpy so far, but very much worth it, and continues to be. I plan to chronicle my thoughts as it goes along. I hope that this helps someone, not least of all myself.