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.

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8 thoughts on “Pitfalls and Pratfalls

  1. Hi Nick,

    I’ve never been in a position to practice polyamory, despite having a strong inclination to do so, but I have read widely about it and followed many people’s postings over the years. If there’s one thing that everyone involved seems to agree on – and I include both people I’d like to meet and people whom I think of as assholes – it’s that honest, open communication is the one absolute requirement that all poly relationships must have in order to survive. It’s described as painful, exhausting and extremely hard work, but also as being monumentally rewarding.

    You say in this post “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.” I think that’s exactly right, and from all I’ve read, that’s the seed from which all growth in the relationship must come.

    I hope this helps. And if I babble on too much on your blog, please feel free to tell me. I have frequently been accused of giving advice too readily, so I’m trying to be cognizant of that and keep to a reasonable level.

  2. Yeah, I’ve noticed that. And this is probably something for another post, but Carrie and I don’t really consider ourselves “poly”, just open. “Polyamory” carries a lot of implications that aren’t really applicable here; e.g., we don’t really have an “agreement” beyond “I love you and you’re allowed to see other people”.

  3. Get. Out. Of. My. Head. Seriously, this reads as though _I’m_ the one writing. I sympathetically felt your nausea. Oh boy. I recall early in my last relationship two different instances when, during the height of passion, we accidentally called one another by our ex’s names. I just got that sinking feeling both times. It was funny in hindsight, but made me feel insignificant at the moment. Funny, that. I should have been focused on the fact that I was privy to share this intimate and loving act with her.

  4. Oh, my. Luckily, I’ve never called anyone by another name in the throes of passion as of yet, nor been called. I think that would cause one hell of a meltdown.

  5. Okay, I feel I should weigh in on this a bit, being one of the protagonists.

    I find myself trying to split the difference between being sensitive to Nick’s needs and engaging in behavior that is not sustainable. Sure, the phone answering thing was easy enough – though it did involve breaking a habit, as it was a general thing that I’d do with people I’m close to, and not just R – but I would not consider, say, the notion of “no longer drawing parallels between Nick and anyone else I’ve ever been intimate with” sustainable. It’s simply no way to live. I don’t want to be with a person I can’t tell these things to, for fear that he’ll shatter. I have no reason to think that Nick is prone to shattering, of course, with reasonable consideration for his emotional health. He’s just a little sensitive right now.

    And certain things are going to hurt. Some things will hurt me; some will hurt Nick. I’m in new territory, too, in many ways. I’ll talk about that a little more later.

    When it comes to open relationships, I’m the one leading by example, and in most cases I feel that I would serve the relationship better by acting the way I usually act: treating some things as a big deal, other things as a small deal, being alone when I need to be alone, and so on. In some cases, I am making a point of being honestly casual about something that I know Nick is not yet casual about, to gently let him know that it’s okay to be casual about it. Does that make sense? Again, I’m not trying to be insensitive, and I make the concessions I feel like I can make without sacrificing the character of this extremely important relationship. But I do feel like there’s such a thing as compromising too much.

    Then again, one of my issues is the fact that I’m used to living alone, calling all my own shots, and caring deeply for people while not tying their existence to my own. This has defenestrated itself soundly since I met Nick. Maybe I’m more selfish than I’m giving myself credit. Maybe I just don’t know it yet.

  6. Indeed. And if it’s not clear, I think that Carrie’s done the right thing in each of these situations, as well as many others that will no doubt be mentioned later. I’m sure the amount of hand-holding that I need right now is frustrating–I know it’s frustrating me–but it really is necessary for getting me past this early bit and to the stage where I can, you know, relax.

  7. Pingback: Clumsy come-ons | Newly Open

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