Stage 13

So, Stoella and I are no longer an item, which leads to two conclusions.

1. Apparently, we were sort of an item, and my claims of being slutty vs being poly were not entirely true
2. This is my first real poly break up

I mean, I have had experiences of relationships ending, or changing type (various encounters with Step 13), but I don’t think any of those people would disagree that those situations weren’t a particularly Big Deal.

Either those people had expiration dates after which they were moving away, or they were definitely casual partners. It, of course, sucks when someone you’re into moves away, but in none of those situations were any of us hurt, nor were we likely to. I doubt anyone could have been, in the way that a capital-R relationship can hurt. This time I got hurt, and in a way that wasn’t going to fix itself, and in a way that was clearly going to repeat.

I don’t think I’m going to go into details. It’s fresh pain right now, about five days old, and I don’t really want to rehash it. I don’t have enough perspective to be fair, also. And I’m not sure I ever want to go into it here; I’m clearly not a private person, but I think this runs up against what I’m willing to drag into public. That’s partly because it’s not fully my story.

I will say that nothing malicious was done on either side. If I admit to being a little angry at what’s gone on, and that when it was brought up we couldn’t fix it, I will also admit to knowing that isn’t really rational. I skipped trivia last week, but I think after taking a little time Stoella and I will be fine friends for the same reasons were excellent lovers. I don’t want her out of my life, and I believe that’s mutual. I just can’t be involved with her as seriously as we were, emotionally.

A large part of me just wants to go “this serious-but-secondary stuff is for the birds, back to slutting it up for me”, but I don’t think we get to make those decisions. I didn’t decide to invest in this pairing any more than I decided I wouldn’t with previous (and concurrent) non-primary relationships. Maybe some people have conscious control over that; I think I don’t. If I do, it’s in deciding whether or not to get invested at all, and not in deciding how much.

This also comes at the (hopeful) nadir of a series of emotional gut punches. I got stood up a couple of weeks ago, by someone I wasn’t sure I was into and wasn’t sure would show up to the date (that she arranged, damn it), but it’s an ego blow regardless. Kevros moved back to Europe for at least the summer, and we couldn’t manage to get together ahead of time due to dueling schedule conflicts. And life in general isn’t going well, with work stress and family health problems in the mix. I know I haven’t been my usual self lately with the folks who’ve seen me, and for that I’m sorry. I’ll get back there.

The dark side of polyamory is that one can have relationship troubles in multiple relationships at once. On the other hand, having partners and lovers in one’s support network is also nice when going through this sort of thing. Carrie is my rock; thank you, my love. The third side of this is that my normal support network isn’t necessarily much help, as complaining to, e.g., my mom about things that are happening with someone who isn’t Carrie is probably not going to go anywhere useful.

In any event, I appear to be for the moment “dual” again. I don’t think I want anyone in that spot in my life for a while, either. This serious-but-secondary stuff is for the birds. Back to slutting it up for me. For now.

Happy Accidents

Pursuant to previous discussions about approaching friends and the difficulty thereof, I appear to have done so at least once.  So I present to you Nick’s Foolproof* Guide to Hitting on the Hot Librarian Friend You’ve Been Eyeing:

  1. Wine
  2. An invitation to crash on the futon
  3. Possible mild sun stroke
  4. An assist from her roommate
  5. Facing the prospect of spending a whole night kicking yourself for not saying anything
  6. Ten to twenty minutes pacing between her kitchen and living room while working up the nerve to say something
  7. Saying something

In any event, said friend was previously known as K here, and will be referred to as Krisaga should she come up again. Krisaga Silvershaper the Baker, neutral good halfling Loremaster.

To be clear, I give people names as they come up, and not as we hook up.  Relatedly to both that and anxieties, my friend Ravaella (Laughshield, neutral gnome arcane trickster) recently apologized to me for having “objectified” me after a discussion that involved my talking about various cases of nerves that I have around dating and sex.  She had apparently thought of me as “hot Nick with all the ladies”, and thus not fully a real person.  For what it’s worth, I felt like she was treating me as people, but I do tend to develop a reputation as a Casanova of some sort with friends who don’t know me well.  And have done when I deserved it less than I have while Ravaella’s known me, for what that’s worth.  It’s been frustrating, but it’s also not impossible that I kind of cultivate that, if not entirely consciously.  It’s something I’ll try to keep an eye on.

Switching gears slightly, I seem to have stumbled into a sort of quad situation.  Stoella’s boyfriend Thoven Taletreader the Scribe, neutral evil  elven cleric of Kani, the god of knowledge and the trickery used to obtain it, came to one of the parties Carrie and I throw not often enough.  He’s fantastic, and I quite like him, and Carrie quite likes him.  She and Thoven hit it off and have been seeing each other, completing the geometry here.  We have formed a trivia team, but have only done middling well because the four of us have some similar blind spots. We’re getting better, though.  One of the four of us needs to start dating someone who knows sports.

* may or may not be foolproof.  Your mileage, social anxiety, and librarian may vary.

Party on

So I’m going to a party this weekend, at which most, if not all, of the guests will be poly or open to some extent.  Some of you know which party I’m talking about, I’m sure. This is, of course, not an unusual occurrence; many of the parties I go to (or throw) are mostly-to-all poly, although less than you might think.  They’re not usually recognizably different than other parties, barring a perhaps elevated chance of spontaneous makeouts between people who are married but not to the people they’re making out with.

In any event, this one has a sex party component (and now the people mentioned earlier know exactly which party I mean).  It’s a regular party until mid-evening, at which point the regular party continues but there will be designated naked areas with rules posted.

Anyway, if this were all normal party, I’d have no problem with it, and if it were all sex party, I’d have no problem with it but wouldn’t go.  Not out of some sort of prudishness, but because I have a tendency to get intensely, neurotically uncomfortable in three situations at a party:

  1. Someone I am not interested in is hitting on me.
  2. Someone I am interested in is hitting on me.
  3. People are clearly hitting on each other and no one is hitting on me.

The logically-minded among you have noticed that at least one of these is guaranteed to happen in this sort of situation.  2 is the least uncomfortable, for what are probably obvious reasons, but despite my relative success with online dating, when offline I’m nigh incapable of responding to (sincere) flirting from someone I haven’t already established mutual interest with.  It just induces an intense anxiety similar to what I feel when something triggers my OCD.  One of the great things about online dating is that we can get that part handled over email, and then in person I’m fine.

I know, everyone is anxious in these situations.  I don’t think that’s what I’m talking about, but then I’m not in your head and can’t tell you what you think.  This is a convoluted analogy, but imagine that you’re an arachnophobe who really likes lollipops.  Feel free to substitute some other irrational fear for the spider if you like.  Now imagine a box on its side in which there is a lollipop in the back but a spider in the front. You just have to reach past the spider.  You know the spider won’t attack you, because they don’t just spontaneously attack people. It’s probably even dead, or fake, or maybe it’s not there and it’s a trick of the light.  You know you should just go for it and nothing will happen except you’ll get to enjoy a lollipop and/or make out with someone you really want to make out with.  But there’s that damn spider, and you have enough lollipops even if that one is new and interesting and thrilling, and there are a bunch of these little spider-trap boxes at every party and bar and event in the world and you’ll figure out how to deal with them someday.  And also you’re looking at this paragraph and unsure if it makes any damn sense and whether it’s kind of objectifying to use a confection as a stand-in for heavy petting with someone you’re into.  Also you’re kind of thirsty and you’re about to go make some tea.

Okay, back now.

A lot of people can’t, or claim they can’t, tell when someone is really interested in them.  I used to make this claim a lot, actually.  What I really meant is “I can tell but the parts of my brain that do witty banter on autopilot have taken over while the rest of it goes into panic mode”.  I suspect I am not the only one who means this when we say we can’t tell when someone is hitting on us.

Sex/kink parties intrigue me, and if they didn’t I’d still be going to this one because of the people involved and because it’s a party-party as much as a sex party (or, at least, in addition to).  I have previously declined invitations to such parties due to foreknowledge of the kind of anxiety they’ll (probably) induce and the fact that lollipops are available through other, spiderless avenues.  But this is thrown by people I like and trust, and there are other reasons to be there so I won’t feel awkward and like a spoilsport if I get uncomfortable and feel the need to leave early, or if I decide to just continue to hang out in the kitchen all night. I’m looking forward to it.

Order of Operations

I think, before this recent bout of dating (which is to say, the last four years or so), I had a sort of platonic sequence in my head which I’d think one would follow when dating online.  Something like:

  1. Contact someone on a dating site
  2. Exchange a few messages
  3. Learn their real name
  4. Move to another venue, e.g., off-site email or Facebook
  5. Learn their last name
  6. Agree to meet
  7. Exchange phone numbers
  8. Meet in person
  9. Date
  10. Repeat steps 6,8, and 9 until hanky panky occurs
  11. You are now “dating”
  12. Repeat steps 9 and 10 until
  13. You stop seeing each other

I’m realizing lately that this is not at all, in fact, what happens.  E..g., with Stoella, things went more like 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 3, 5, 10, 11, and are currently on 12.  We were halfway through what ended up being probably a “date” when I said “Oh, by the way, what’s your name?”.  (NB: Stoella insists that she is actually chaotic neutral, so I’ll be updating the first post where I mentioned her)

With Kevros Glimmergaunt (new character, chaotic neutral elven rogue), it went 1, 3, 2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12.  We’ve actually skipped a few steps, and this reminds me to ask Kevros’s (real) last name the next time we get together, and I believe the word “dating” would probably cause an allergic reaction.  I know “boyfriend” has.

Zinnaella Homeforger (neutral good gnomish sorceror who I hope isn’t mad at me for deciding she’s a gnome because she’s definitely a gnome) ran through the steps mostly in order, although steps 4 and 5 came toward the end, just before 13*.  Although 13 is a wobbly 13, I think, and there remains the potential for a booty call down the line assuming she’s not upset about the gnome thing.

What I think this means is:

First, I need to let go of (and am letting go of) all a priori opinions about dating. Things just happen as they happen, and the process is individual to the people involved and not nearly as generalizable as I’d thought.  This is good and fine, but does throw something of a wrench into my plans to tell people who don’t know how to start dating.

Second, for some reason I don’t seem to care about surnames in real life.

*Yes, True Believers, I’m now at the stage where I sometimes start seeing someone new, run through the whole fling, and then stop seeing them before I mention it to you.  Which is something of another milestone for me, I guess; I no longer need to obsessively report every small change in my dating life.

Edited to add: I don’t remember the order with Carrie, but it was odd given the distance.  I think we spent a long time on 4ish, and then ran through steps 6 through 12 in about 24 hours.

Cast changes

Things have shaken up a bit in my love life.

L has moved away and entered a monogamous relationship, so we’re extra not seeing each other.  We still talk and I still owe her a box of her stuff, and I promise I’ll send it next week, sorry, you knew I forgetful when you left it with me.  Every time the Big!Andy plushie looks at me out of that box I feel a little guilty.

I’ve also relatively recently started seeing a couple of new folks. I’m going to have to come up with a new anonymizing scheme, though, because at this point there have been three different As mentioned here, and it’s only a matter of time before we double up on initials.  What I’ve decided to do is to use the official D&D Name Generator.

Eilella Glimmergaunt (neutral good Elven Loremaster, previously known as “E”) is a grad student at Brown to whom I owe a picnic that keeps either getting rained out or delayed because of my hectic schedule and/or terrible mood.  Eilella is lots of fun, but quite shy, which is an interesting contrast with my own boisterous nature. She is very physically affectionate, which is nice; I’m naturally very physical, but I tend to hold it back a little until I determine someone else’s comfort level.

Stoella Tumblebelly (chaotic neutral* Halfling Monk) is a comic artist, ertswhile roller girl, and kung fu nerd in the sense of knowing a lot of kung fu rather than being a huge fan of kung fu movies (the latter may also be true, we haven’t really discussed it).  Stoella got me out to my first roller derby match, which was excellent, as was the afterparty; I definitely intend to go to more of these.

I still occasionally see Aliella Serpenthelm (chaotic good human cleric of humanism), who is a good friend but is at least considering monogamy with her prime beau, so hanky panky is on hold and/or over.  We have a great time, but this doesn’t count as “seeing” as per my glossary post at this point.

And of course as always there is my soon-to-be-bride, your Other Protagonist, Carrie (Carella Chorster, neutral good human ranger with a feline animal companion, not that she needs the anonymity).  We are now two weeks out, scrambling to put the finishing touches on the wedding plan and get the guest list settled (yes, we’re still sort of working on that).  She’s also about to take a trip to Rome for the week before the wedding, which is awesome and also hilarious.

There are a few bit players out there who may drift in and out and will get character sheets as appropriate, but this is basically the people with whom I’m romanticosexally involved at the moment.  Your mileage may vary, not all ingredients listed, terms subject to change.

(Also, L will be known as Lady Lorasys Woodsoul, neutral half-elf wizard.  If you’ve been mentioned before and you want me to update you with a new character, let me know and I’ll add it.)

*Stoella has insisted that she is chaotic neutral, as opposed to the chaotic good that I originally had down.  I am not one to get on the bad side of a halfling monk, so I’ve made the requisite change.

Maintenance

Something interesting is that the more people I’m seeing, the more I feel like I need to keep in shape, keep doing interesting things, push my career, etc.  Basically, I feel the need to maintain my attractiveness, and I feel it much more than I did in any monogamous relationship.  It’s sort of the positive flip side of the fact that the pressure to keep meeting people never goes away.

This is true even though, between the job and the wedding planning and the people I’m already seeing, I have essentially no time for anyone new who isn’t going to be a one night stand.  The potential is all it really takes to push me forward.  That, and the more people I’m seeing, the more I feel like I owe some personal maintenance to.

I realized this just now because I’m working on a Sunday, but it’s one of those times when I’m spending an hour or two watching meters fill up.  This was making me restless, and the first thing that came to mind was to do some pushups.  This is definitely a newish habit, somehow even overwhelming my current obsession with playing online Dominion.  I’m normally moderately good about keeping up my workouts, but it doesn’t usually pop into my head on its own when I could be browsing the internet for cat pictures.

And, okay, it’s probably not completely irrelevant that I spent last night partying with rollergirls.

A followup

I want to follow up on this post a bit.  Trigger warnings again.  This post discusses rape and sexual assault.  It also discusses auto theft, for what it’s worth.  It possibly takes others’ experiences and uses them to make a point, but I do feel that the point needs to be made.  These are not my burdens, though, and never will be.

The first thing I want to address, for me, is that some people didn’t catch that it was satire.  Even those that did catch it usually needed to get through a few paragraphs before it became obvious.  Even people  who are very close to me weren’t immediately aware that I was not drawing an actual equivalency between rape and accusations of rape.  It’s a testament to how deeply rape culture and misogyny run that even people who know and love me couldn’t be sure that I wasn’t suddenly revealing a previously unknown and disgusting attitude until they got to the end of that post. A friend likened it to A Modest Proposal, saying that eating babies is also an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but tellingly no one ever believed for a second that Swift was actually proposing cannibalism. We live in a world wherein the idea that someone could suddenly reveal a rape apologist living in their head is far from absurd. And those close-to-me people who read this generally had a sick-to-their-stomach feeling that I think I didn’t need to put them through to make my point.

And here is my point: as far as I can see, we can have two scenarios when someone is accused of sexual assault or rape:

  1. We can have a strong presumption of innocence, as we do now, and we can effectively protect abusers and rapists at the expense of their victims, with the trade-off that very few people will be negatively impacted by false accusations
  2. We can have a strong presumption of guilt, and in return protect victims over their abusers,  but at the same time run the risk of persecuting some number of innocent people.

When this comes up, especially when I talk about my belief that, at least socially if not legally, we ought to operate under scenario number 2, someone nearly always claims that everyone is “innocent until proven guilty” and thereby claims that we should discard these accusations without absolute proof.  But we don’t actually operate that way, certainly not socially and generally not even legally.  The actual legal burden is proof beyond a reasonable doubt; I put it to you that if you know two people had sexual contact, and one says that contact was non-consensual, it is unreasonable to doubt.

If I call the police and tell them that someone has stolen my car, and they find that person with my car, I am not required to prove that I didn’t lend it to them.  I’m not required to prove that I don’t have a history of lending my car out, nor that I haven’t let that person drive my car in the past.  And yet these are all things that are commonly required of victims of sexual assault and rape, which are much more serious than auto theft, lest anyone think I mean to draw an equivalence here.

Even if the cops couldn’t prove that someone stole my car, my friends wouldn’t take sides in the process.  No one would shun me for having my car stolen.  None of my friends and family would continue to associate with the car thief.  And this is all true even if I did give the car to the person I’ve accused.  But of course, faking a car theft is an incredibly rare event and so we quite reasonably assume that, absent other evidence, a theft accusation is true.

This is what we ought to be doing with accusations of sexual assault, which I put to you are almost certainly just as often true.  I don’t, nor could I, cite statistics for you, given the current difficulty in reporting and prosecuting these crimes and the commensurate low report rate. However, given that actually being assaulted is far worse than being accused of assault, we should be operating in a way that discourages assault over discouraging accusations regardless of the relative rates.

We are instead, as a society (perhaps not you and I, dear reader, who are of course enlightened and caring beings) protecting the criminals over the concerns of their victims.  We require a much higher bar for a victim of rape or sexual assault.  We put them through a great ordeal if they come forward, and then we ask them to prove for certain that a thing happened that is almost unprovable and which almost certainly actually happened.

There’s obviously a threshold for this.  I’m not arguing that if someone says to you “Bill Clinton raped me” and you have no reason to believe that they’ve even met Bill Clinton, you should take that super seriously.  But if someone says “X did Y to me without my consent” then so long as you have reason to believe that X actually did Y, requiring someone to prove the “without my consent” part is completely unreasonable and not something that we ask of victims of any crime that is not sexually violent in nature.  Naturally, if X can prove consent, then we can let X off the hook, much the way that if I sell someone my car they’d better get the title from me, or else trust the hell out of me that I’m not going to report it stolen.

And, as indicated in A Nightmare Scenario, this would shift the burden of care.  Men, who benefit from the current paradigm, would suddenly have to have some care with whom they had sexual encounters.  We’d have to vet those people more carefully.  We’d have to trust the people we’re sleeping with, and not just want them.  If we didn’t, we’d be taking our reputation and potentially a chunk of our lives into our hands, each and every time. Just the way women who sleep with men do now, just the way men who sleep with men do now, just the way that trans folk who sleep with cis men must, just the way that people of color who sleep with white people do now, just the way that anyone who is drawn to someone more privileged than they are must do.  The current effective assumption that all accusations of rape are lies without overwhelming proof magnifies and exacerbates a difference of power that doesn’t need any help.

And make no mistake: when you silence victims, you are assuming that they are lying.  When you block them from making “criminal accusations”, the way the Fetlife admins do, you are treating all accusations as lies.  When you ask a victim to be absolutely sure that they didn’t consent, you are treating them as liars.  When we, this society, treat rape and sexual assault as if they required 100% proof, as if without video tape or clear signs of violence they can’t be prosecuted, things we do with no other crime, we are treating victims as liars.

The BDSM/fetish community has a serious problem with this, and its problem sparked this discussion, but it’s one which mirrors the superculture’s obsession with protecting men from harmful accusations of sexual assault.  Yes, if we were to make these assumptions, we would get laid less.  The buzz would be harshed.  That happy invulnerability, that ability to have sex with no consideration of the consequences, that would be dented.  Straight men would get laid less.  I would get laid less.  That is not a reasonable objection.  It is not worth protecting rapists over their victims in order to make sex easier.

Genderiffic

I’m going to riff on something which is only peripherally related to the “mission” of this blog, but I’m sure no one minds.  Right?  Right.

One of the major topics of conversation last night was gender and the expression thereof, and the ways that both of us have dealt with that. For my part, I’ve been mulling these things over a lot lately, in particular since a recent Mass Effect playthrough as a female character (FemShep, in the parlance) pulled front-and-center certain internal assumptions I had about my own gender expression which I was previously not consciously aware of.

We don’t need to have a debate about the value of video games for cultural expression and self-examination, right?  Right.

I’m not a man who is comfortable with traditional masculinity.  This surprises no one, least of all myself.  But I’m still a fairly masculine-presenting, cis man, male.  For a long time, I hadn’t thought about that at all, largely because I don’t need to.  The world is built on the assumption that someone is male, and it’s easy to miss the ways in which one is “default”.  Instead, the focus tends to be on the differences from expectation, but, ultimately, for me, the differences aren’t as great as the similarities.

This isn’t something I’m terribly comfortable with, though.  I have always associated “masculinity” with negative traits–violence, bullying,gender policing, homophobia, tribalism, jingoism, etc.  I was a small boy, and boys are awful to other boys–myself included. I’m still not nearly as comfortable with men as women, and most of my friends remain women.

But the fact of the matter is that I am, and am obviously, male and masculine.  I don’t have to address it, because the world is designed not to throw it in my face, unlike other folks, but it’s there.  I’m making a choice in how to present even if I am merely accepting the default options.  And I’m not doing it because I feel pushed into it; I rapidly and vehemently rebel against those bits that don’t fit right into my identity.  I am this way because I want to be, because it feels right.

What there isn’t, for masculinity, is any sense of choice.  Any way to do it consciously (as opposed to self-consciously), and in an examined manner.  Any way to accept what works while ejecting what’s toxic.  Almost any other gender expression can be done in a subversive way, as an announcement of both the gender itself and also one’s politics associated with it.

I used to follow The Good Man project (no, no link), hoping that it would be, or lead to, a discussion of how to be masculine in the world as it changes.  It didn’t, and (like all of these sorts of discussions) it was quickly co-opted by men who wanted to whinge about their “emasculation” in today’s society, or complain that feminism has “gone too far”, or to lionize those things that are most awful about what’s expected of men. Business as usual.

Guys, dudes, my brothers, look: we are not being left behind. We started out so far ahead.  Other people may be moving faster than we are, but that’s because they have to to catch up.  And it’s no one else’s responsibility to make space for us.  If we want to be allies, or even relevant, we need to be willing to give up a privileged position.  It’s not “emasculating”; no one else can emasculate you.

I like this identity.  I don’t like some of the things that I associate with it, but I don’t have to do those things.  But unlike other possible identities, there isn’t anything to reclaim here, except from my own negative image of masculinity.  So it’s been unnecessary to do it consciously, and in an examined manner.  I haven’t had to decide how to identify, I just have an identity.  I’m starting to think, though, that it doesn’t have to be that way, that maybe there’s a value in the performance.

There are certainly things that are “masculine” that are worth preserving.  Not bullshit about chivalry, or refusing to cry.  Not simple virtues, like “courage” or “steadfastness”, because to claim those belong to masculinity is to claim that they can’t belong to the immasculine (for that matter, I think it’s essentially false to ascribe things like “being nurturing” and “talking about feelings” to femininity).  Not merely biologically male tendencies, like height and musculature.  Not sexuality.  Not even sex or gender, because there isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a reason that anyone can’t take on this image.  But the outward presentation of masculinity, things like:

  • Suits
  • Facial hair
  • Swagger
  • Rolled-up, long sleeve, button-down shirts
  • Leading in social dance
  • Ties
  • Big watches

Anyway, these elements of outward presentation, which I think still have great value that it took me a long time to cotton to.  Take ties, for example: I’ve long claimed to hate them.  Partly, this is because I have a huge neck and the shirts that otherwise fit me don’t easily button to the top.  Mostly, though, in honesty, it’s because I’ve associated them with a bullshit corporate culture that I hate.  But I don’t have to do that. And if I don’t, it’ll be rapidly obvious, and I don’t need outward signals to demonstrate that.

A corollary to the conscious choice here is that all other choices are equally valid.  It’s important, in being both masculine and enlightened, to have looked at all the other choices.  It’s important to recognize the value of those choices, and it’s important to make the decision for oneself without making a value judgment on people who make a different choice.

Done right, I think this belongs in a similar category with various sorts of gender bending.  Pi radians, 180 degrees, is still an angle, and mathematics doesn’t distinguish it in any special way; it’s just one angle of infinitely many.  The phrase that keeps rolling around in my head to describe this is “hard dapper”, and I think a couple of people out there already close to epitomize what I’m going for.  Check out Nick Wooster:

Or Phillip Crangi:

However, I don’t know anything about these guys’ personal philosophies.  I think the key elements here for me, for this “hard dapper” thing, are:

  • Masculinity as a conscious choice of outward presentation, as opposed to a default
  • A recognition that this is not the same as “manliness” or “maleness”. These are not the things that a man “should be” or “should wear”.  These aren’t things that anyone of another gender shouldn’t wear.  In fact, folks of other genders make this sort of conscious choice all the time.  It’s just an understanding that so can I.
  • A recognition that this is a selection from a spectrum, and not only is it only one choice of many, it is many separate choices.  I can mix and match whatever I want, even if I settle on one theme.
  • A recognition that I can jettison the things that I don’t want.  A tie isn’t homophobia.  A suit jacket isn’t bullying men who are smaller than me. Leading my partner in a tango isn’t gender oppression.

I’m not sure where this is going, but it’s a new era of self-examination and I’m looking forward to the journey.  I think I’m going to have some of my shirts tailored and buy some ties.

Ticker

Nick: I’m starting to notice a cycle I go through when I haven’t hooked up with someone new for a while.
Maybe “cycle” is wrong. It’s more like a ticker that just counts upward.
In any event, mundane activities get more difficult if there are attractive people around. It gets harder not to ogle, and I have to concentrate more to hold a conversation with someone I’m attracted to.

Josh: Have you tried trying to sublimate the effort not to ogle into some sort of flirting? Or are these situations in which that’s not really appropriate?

Nick: Well, as a rule it wouldn’t be appropriate for most of my social interactions.

Josh: does social include professional?

Nick: Yes.

It mostly includes professional.

Josh: (thought so. here it’s often used to mean what happens in one’s ‘free time’)

Nick: Ah, I see. I wouldn’t use it that way with some jobs I’ve held, but this one does require a great deal of professional social interaction.

Josh: Makes sense.

Can you sublimate it into some sort of ‘deniable flirting’, by which I really just mean being friendly to people, making/holding eye-contact, and smiling.

s/./?/

Nick: Sure, and I do, and it helps a bit, I think. I’m not sure.

It’s not something I’d really recognized before, mostly because this particular anxiety is one that has been there most of my life.

Josh: I certainly find it does. Especially with students.

Nick: I’ve only recently noticed when it dipped.

Josh: Mhm.

Fortunately, I rarely find people that much younger than me particularly attractive.
And academic-professional interactions tend to happen rather differently from how I imagine those of IT professionals with clients.

Nick: Likely so.

Josh: Do you find people more attractive when you’ve not hooked up with someone for a while?
Nick: I don’t think so, but I find their attractiveness harder to ignore.

Josh: More something else, then? More strongly desired? More like you want to fuck them?

Nick: The latter, certainly. Or, it’s more imperative that I fuck them.

The part of my brain that I’m always tamping down in order not to drool on certain people gets harder to tamp down.
My ability not to overtly ogle people gets compromised, and it’s more effort to control my eyes and head.
And there’s an anxiety buildup. Which doesn’t reduce the anxiety around approaching people, so it’s just more anxiety about the whole process.
Maybe the anxiety of not-approach needs to exceed the anxiety of approach.
Or, you know, maybe I’m a human being with free will making excuses. probably one of those.
Josh: I guess I’m wondering if the desire to ogle is merely that, or if it’s an expression of a desire to fuck either that person in particular or someone in general.

Nick: Probably all of those.

There’s always a desire to ogle and a desire to fuck attractive people, but the desire to fuck someone in general is the variable part.
Although it’s “someone new”, really, not “someone in general”.

Josh: Mhm. I know that feeling.

Nick: I wonder if that’s socialization, or a hormonal cue, or something else.
Or a combination.

Josh: My assumption on these matters is that it’s a combination of approximately 95% socialization and 5% hormonal cue.

That might be overplaying the hormonal cue slightly.

Nick: Perhaps. Or the socialization governs how the hormonal cue expresses.

Josh: Or how we respond to it, which is more or less the same thing.

Oglingology

One of the little oddities about being in an open relationship is relearning how to deal with the urge to look.  It’s no longer entirely forbidden, and I’m with someone who won’t mind–provided I don’t constantly drop out of conversation to ogle.  It’s no less rude than it was before, though, and to some extent having lost the taboo makes it more ambiguous as to when it’s okay.

I don’t know how other people experience the urge to stare at folks they find attractive.  To me the sense is almost like a physical force, like something has grabbed me by the back of the head and is directing where I look.  It isn’t a thing that I’m doing on purpose much as a thing that I have to resist consciously.  And I do, because I find it problematic–for all the high-minded reasons, of course, but also just a sort of personal resentment of my own lizard brain’s attempts to usurp control, damn it.  I also do it for the people I’m with, because there is little I find more annoying about having conversations in a group of straight men than that point when an attractive woman walks by and all discussion ceases until she’s out of view jesus christ can you not control yourselves we were having a really interesting epistemological debate no stop elbowing each other why do you think this is something you should congratulate you should not lose all ability to articulate just because someone in short shorts is stretching nearby.

Anyway. I mean, I do get it, because I know how it feels for me on the back end of those eyes, but it’s still frustrating.  It’s something I associate with straight (or straightish) men because that’s when I see it the most; if I’m with a group of mixed genders or orientations, no one feels comfortable letting loose like that.  I have no doubt that other homogeneous groups have similar tendencies on their own.  And as annoying as it is, when I’m by myself and not publicly visible, in my car or behind a pair of sunglasses, it’s a bit like finally standing on solid ground after treading water for hours.  I don’t have to resist that force any more.

So, on two ends, I know what to do: in company, do not ogle (to the extent that is possible); while alone, ogle freely if you won’t get caught.  Being out with someone I’m seeing used to have such a clearly defined line, which made it–not easy, but simple.  Now, when the lizard grabs my neck while I’m out with someone I’m seeing, there’s a moment of confusion.  What do I do here? Okay, keep talking and don’t look away if she’s talking but right now we’re just looking at the menu but I’m kind of in public and also I’m sure the waitstaff is sick of being stared at because holy crap they’re all really attractive in here and okay let’s just keep looking at the menu until the words resolve again.

Rule of thumb: if you are moving from a monogamous relationship into a nonmonogamous one, the skillset you need is the same but everything is going to be about five times as complicated.  It’s worth it, but only if it’s really important to you.

This is one of a list of things that I’m a little uncomfortable with about myself, most of which are in some way traditionally “masculine”. I try to be conscious about gender and performance, and especially those things that people consider “men’s things” but I know are in fact either socialization or just tendencies.  It just bothers me to be so traditional in these ways.  But oh my asses are awesome.

Edited to add: this post is awfully gazey of me, I know, and I apologize for that.  I’d love it to be as neutral as possible, but the fact of the matter is that it’s mostly about a mostly straight guy looking at mostly women.  Although it is in fact about a mostly straight guy mostly not looking at mostly women, and the fact that that’s physically difficult.  I don’t know a way of addressing this with more delicacy that I’ve used here, and it’s something I want to talk about, but I know it has the potential to be discomfiting.