Gracefully Performing the Splits

Relationships (both lower case and capital-R) end for a lot of reasons.  There are times when there’s a clear-cut breaking point: a betrayal, or a move, or someone new comes along, etc.  But sometimes they just… end.  One or both (or more) parties no longer feel a thing that they once felt.  It’s generally one-sided, but it feels like hell on both sides to have to admit what’s going on.

It’s in many ways worse than a sudden end to something, because the person who wants–needs–to move on (let us say the “splitter) still likes the other party (the “splittee”).  They don’t want that connection gone, but they can’t be in the relationship as it is.  It’s a tough row to hoe, because the splitter is going to have to hurt the splittee, but wants the splittee to remain part of their life.  It’s doable, but it’s going to be rocky.

Having been on both sides of this scenario, and made it work, I want to share some of what I’ve learned.  Some of my very best friends (Stoella included) are either splitters or splittees from past relationships.

Anyway, in ever popular list format:

Splitter:

  • Rip the fucking bandaid off.  This is the most important thing. You are doing no one any favors by endeavoring not to be the bad guy. Splitting with someone is hard, believe me, I know only too well. I think it’s harder than being split with, in my experience. You probably still like this person, maybe a great deal, but those positive feelings have changed and yet you have to, for the both of you, hurt them. But do it. Do it now. The longer you wait the worse the pain will get, for both of you. Let them get a head start on the hard work of letting you go.
  • Give space.  Back off.  Let them heal. If you are going to be friends again, or still, or anything else, you are going to have to let that person come to you.  They might not; that’s their choice.  But trying to keep them in their life when what they need is to scar over first is only going to ruin whatever you might have going forward. (Corollary: don’t live with your ex, at least not right after. I have made this mistake.)
  • Try not to date someone new first. This one is subject to the vagaries of hearts, but if you can hold off until the other party has found someone new, all involved will be better off.  There’s nothing that heals like new <insert preferred form of physical affection>. (For, ah, interested parties reading this, don’t sweat this one for my sake, and anyway you already know that I’ve been dating since)
  • Back off of the occasional social engagement. Don’t make it hard on the splittee; bow out of things you’re both invited to first. They need the social balm, and they also need not to seem petty.
  • Call it what it is.  Don’t be mealymouthed, don’t mince, it’s a breakup. A thing is ending, and that’s sad, but it isn’t a “break” and you’re not “taking some time”, unless you are, and then you’re not reading this.  Don’t tell them you need to take some time for yourself, or blame general circumstances; that’s going to backfire down the road when they see you with someone else and it is ten times worse than if you said what you meant.
  • Take care of yourself. Most resources like this talk about the feelings of the other party, but this is probably going to be a trauma for you, too. You are making a major change and you’re going to, for at least a little while, lose access to one of the most important people in your life.  If it’s really bad, other friends might stop spending time with you in deference to your erstwhile lover’s feelings.  This can all be really hard; know that it’s okay for you to hurt, too.

Splittee:

  • Let it fucking go. Do not cling. Do not try to hold on to someone who needs to move on. You don’t want to date someone who doesn’t want to date you. You don’t want to emotionally coerce continued affection out of someone who has to fake it. Let it be, move on, and you will be better sooner.
  • Take Space.  Walk away, do other things.  Do not see the object of your erstwhile affections. Avoid social engagements that you know they’re attending, even if it makes you seem like an ass.  You deserve it, and you need it.
  • Remove them from your social media.  Don’t unfriend them unless an outlet makes you, but remove them from chat lists, hide their Facebook updates, unfollow their Twitter, etc.  It is astonishing how hard it can be to see your splitter pop up several times a day in various places that you forgot you followed them.
  • Try to date. It might not feel right, and it might be hard, especially if you’re coming off as desperate.  It will be awkward, but there’s nothing that heals like new <insert preferred form of physical affection>.
  • Weep. Rage. Fucking feel it. Don’t hide it.  Walk away from things if you need to, lock yourself in the bathroom, but just let it out.  This isn’t just about catharsis; tears literally pull the stress hormone cortisol out of your system and pump it down your face. You are not above this, you are vulnerable, you are human, let it out.
  • Lean on your network. Don’t hold things in. Friends exist to help you through things like this. And to be helped through, so remember how they helped you when your time to reciprocate comes.
  • Throw yourself into hobbies. Distractions are good. You need to do some wallowing to heal but you also just need to take a certain amount of time.
  • Trust that it will be better. Every time you see the person who dropped you is like a new wound, but only for a while. Eventually, it’s like a bruise, and then it’s like a pinch, and eventually it’s just the same touch you feel with anyone who interacts with you. It will be fine. I promise.

To all my splitte*s out there reading this, whichever side you were on, know that you are damn fine people.  I wouldn’t have gotten together with you in the first place if I didn’t want you in my life.  I have nothing but devout, deep, true, and of course platonic love for you.

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.

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.

Faux

A friend recently ran into a phenomenon I’ve seen in passing on OkCupid a few times but never really noted, which is the “fake single” poly guy* profile. This is a guy who’s status is “single”, but either a) he mentions in his profile that he has a significant other and/or spouse, or b) I happen to know he has one or more people in those roles and doesn’t mention it at all.

This is, I think obviously, kind of skeevy, but more than that I’m not sure what the impetus is. You’ll show up on more searches and may get more interest, but it’ll be from people who don’t want to date you. Is it that these guys expect/intend to be so interesting and charming that someone inclined toward monogamy will go for it with them anyway? That seems like a wild long shot and also a recipe for disaster if it works out. I’m assuming here that these are (as in the case with the friend in question) guys who are at least up front enough to tell the other person when they do go out about their SO. I mean, on some level I understand what’s going on with guys who are just straight up lying about being single.

I suspect that this is of a piece with the sense that some poly dudes* seem to have that it’s unfair for some people not to want to date them just because they’re seeing other people. Like, they should still get their shot. And that seems of a piece with the sense that a lot of dudes* in general have that it’s unfair for someone they’re interested in not to reciprocate.

I guess maybe it’s a sort of poly-Nice-Guy-ism; why don’t these monogamous gals want to go out with me when I’m so great? They just keep dating other guys just because their life goals match better.

Anyway, as should be obvious, I don’t mean to say that a particularly large number of guys who are nonmonogamous/open/poly/&c are doing this, but enough that I’ve seen it multiple times, and that others of my acquaintance have seen it as well. And it’s not… wrong, per se, I guess, just sort of skeevy.

* Women may do this, too, but I haven’t seen it if so. I wouldn’t be likely to notice it.

Pet peeve

People on dating sites, who are polyamorous or open or what-have-you, whose profiles are about nothing except that they are poly or open or what-have-you.  I want to link these people to something describing the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions.  I’d rather contact someone interesting who might possibly be open to nonmonogamy, or at least seems like they wouldn’t be offended by the question, than someone who is interested in seeing other people but has nothing else to say.

It’s a toss-up as to whether this is more irritating to me than people who contact me without reading the parts of my profile(s) that clearly indicate that I’m already seeing someone(s).

The First Date

I’m not a very rulesy sort of person, but I’m aware that other people can be, perhaps especially in the poly/open community.  There’s a level of relationship geekery that lends itself toward it, plus people tend to respond to bad experiences by swearing not to do the things that they did last time.  It’s understandable, even if it’s not really my own preferred response.  I’m certainly not going to tell people that they can’t or shouldn’t conduct their relationships that way.

One rule in particular that’s fairly common is some variation of a “first date” rule, governing how far someone will go on a given date.  Sometimes it’s just “no sex on the first date”, sometimes more complicated-“no making out on the first date, no sex until the third”; “no sex until you’ve met my primary”; “no further than second base until the fourth date”; “no sex on the first date, but then definitely sex on the second date, and then no sex again until the 6th date, then wild monkey crazy fucking on the 7th through 11th dates, then the 12th date is ANAL ONLY, and then just regular missionary stuff until the 303rd date at which point we will start to lose interest and then liven things up with some toys…”-anyway.  Many people have them.

The issue I’ve run into with these, beyond my usual distaste for rules, is that, as someone who does not have such a rule, I’m put in a strange position by not knowing the other parties’ ruleset.  I’ve now gone out with a couple of people who clearly had such a rule–up front comments like “we’re not going to have sex tonight” make it fairly clear–but who didn’t tell me what the rule was, or worse, didn’t bring it up until there was some fairly serious heavy petting going on.

Now, obviously, at these points, the response is to back off, or at least not push to go any further.  And, now that I know there is a rule, I know not to try to overstep those bounds… but I don’t know what the rule is.  My options for future dates are to either continue to be as forward as I am (and I’m a naturally very forward person, at least once mutual interest is established) and risk pushing someone’s boundaries in an uncomfortable and unfair way, or to back off for the next few dates and let them make the first move.  I’m not going to do the former, but the latter, in my experience, means things tend to just drift off into nothing; I think most of my dates are people who want to be pursued in some way, but when that desire is combined with something along these lines, it puts me in a very awkward position.

Now, I am in no way decrying the existence of a first date rule (or a third date, or what have you). But this gets back to that old poly chestnut of communication and its importance–and communication has several elements, one of those being clarity.  It would be a kindness for someone who operates under a rule like this, if it’s explicit to them, to make it explicit to the people they’re seeing. In these specific cases, that would have allowed me to adjust my behavior, backing off no more than necessary, and that would have meant remaining in a territory where the people I was dating were more comfortable.  Instead, lacking this information, the best I could do was to back off and wait for a signal to proceed.

This cuts both ways, too; having discovered that such rules were in place, I could have asked what they were, and in the future I’ll likely do so.  I’m learning that, as someone who likes to have things explicit, it’s on me to make them so.

Transience

Well, that didn’t last long. A and I are not really an item, to whatever extent we were before. We had an unresolvable mismatch on how we view getting involved; A is looking for more of a committed, traditional, poly setup than I’m willing to accept (to whatever extent something can be both “traditional” and “poly”). I won’t commit to not sleeping with people that I’m not already in a relationship with, and A isn’t comfortable with the level of risk that entails.

S’alright; we’re still friendly, and we hadn’t had time to get as attached as we might have. It’s good that this came out early. We’d only really known each other for two or three weeks. Ideally, we’d have spoken about this even earlier, of course, but in that negotiation-plus-getting-to-know-each-other phase there isn’t really a chance to cover everything without some sort of disclosure form. I’m not one to complain about “killing the romance” or what-not, but I’m also not into the idea of running down a checklist every time I’m going to get involved with someone.

It strikes me that people in general, mono or non, tend to act as if all relationships exist on a spectrum between “monogamy” and “polyamory”. In reality, there are multiple axes at work here. Between A and myself, what was more important was a spectrum between “committed” and “uncommitted”. I probably sit somewhere toward the latter end of that spectrum; I’m not a commitment-phobe by an reasonable definition, but I’m certainly relationship-skeptical.

Because we’re all nerds here, or at least I am, and because nerds like charts, check it:

Just a quick and dirty thing I mocked up in Excel, but it gives a good idea of about where things seem to be. My attitude is much more toward the Fuckin’ quadrant than the Poly one, which is part of why I don’t care to identify that way. The poly-monogamy spectrum, as normally understood, really runs along the top of this graph; there are lots of ways to be nonmonogamous without being poly, and lots of ways to be monogamous without being a One True Love type. A, I suspect (and I’m sure she’ll let me know if I’m wrong) is more toward the Poly quadrant, near the intersection of low levels of Monogamy and high levels of Commitment.

The numbers on this chart shouldn’t be taken to mean anything except relative levels of commitment and/or interest in monogamy. It’s not a judgment on which is better, by labeling it either more positive or more negative. Nor are these the only axes on which one’s relationship style can be described; I’m pretty sure that a perfectly accurate chart would require an infinite number of dimensions and values, or at the very least enough space for 8 billion independent points and about as many axes. Still, even though it’s a crude tool, it’s a good visual for getting away from the usual false dichotomy.

It’s also, I think, important for some poly folks to realize that monogamy doesn’t only exist in that upper right hand corner. This is the source of comments like “monogamy is just like polyamory except with more people“; it is a mistaken equation of “monogamy” with “what happens in movies wherein the protagonists get married”.

In summation, I’m not really looking for a white picket fence, no matter how many people are inside it. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the salient one is just that it isn’t what I want, and if I’ve learned anything here it’s to be clearer about that bit up front.

My eyes are only half green

I have not, historically, been a jealous person. So when recently I started experiencing actual, noticeable jealousy, I was a little startled. It’s a feeling that I’m unused to, and so it’s one that I don’t have any defenses against. It’s a rather terrible, vertiginous sensation, and it’s been a learning experience.

When I say that I haven’t really experienced jealousy before, I’m separating jealousy from envy. I have been envious before, and still am. I’m often envious of Carrie for having had experiences that I haven’t, which is not limited to her having multiple intimate relationships; she’s much more of a world-traveler than I, and has worked in more places, known more people, and held jobs that were part of her identity rather than merely a paycheck. I’m envious of people that seem to navigate the dating scene more adeptly than I. I’m envious of people whose opportunities seem to have exceeded mine. It’s generally irrational, and always painful. That’s a feeling that I’m used to, though, and while it’s sometimes ugly, it’s also sometimes inspiration to move forward on something that I wouldn’t have the impetus for on my own. It’s usually an unpleasant feeling, but it’s useful.

Recently, though, and gradually, I’ve begun experiencing actual jealousy toward others Carrie has an interest in, or expresses an interest in. I hadn’t really noted the difference between the two sensations previously, partly because I just honestly don’t have much experience with this one. I have not built up a tolerance. A mild reaction strikes me as one of the worst things I’ve ever felt. It hasn’t gotten past mild reactions, but it’s a disturbing trend.

I finally noticed what was happening recently at Waterfire. Carrie and I had been last year, and one of the same performers was there. Carrie expressed an interest in the guy, as she had the last time, but this time I responded jealously. I (think I) wasn’t particularly bad about it, but it was enough that Carrie saw it; we’re finely tuned each-others’-emotions detectors at this point, but for it to be visible at all is very, very new. It’s wasn’t anything dramatic or spectacular, and I did not make a scene or cause a problem, but I was disturbed.

This is related, I’m sure, to the fact that, as time goes by, it gets tougher instead of easier for me to handle a theoretically open relationship. This is what I was looking for and what I wanted, but, as previously discussed, I have difficulty with the abstract in my life; without the openness as a concrete thing on my side, I feel like I’m in an essentially monogamous relationship with a non-monogamous partner.

Shortly after the aforementioned night, Carrie and I had a discussion about the subject. In it she reassured me that, no matter what I might be worrying about, she wasn’t going to be leaving me. But her leaving isn’t my fear. What my anxiety stems from is the potential of being stuck by myself while Carrie goes out with other people, that my inability to date will continue past the point where we two are as focused on each other as we are. That’s difficult to stomach even as trouble borrowed from the future, so I’ve no idea how I’ll handle it when it becomes trouble existing in the present.

That discussion was awful and painful while it was going on, but cathartic. Afterward, and since, I’ve felt much more comfortable, and that nagging sensation is eminently dealable. I’m not even sure what was said that made me feel so much better, and it may have been something as simple as talking about what I was going through. I’ve been running through this cycle where my tension hits a critical mass, and I melt down a little bit, and then I readjust to the new level and am all right, then I gradually get worse until I crack again. This time, I had tried not to have the break and just deal with mounting stress, and so I was at a greater level of tension when I finally let it through.

But there’s more to this newfound copaceticity than catharsis. Carrie expressed some uncertainty about her future, as well, during our discussion, and that suddenly made this feel like a joint venture rather than merely something I had to carry. She’s been trying to get across to me that our positions are more similar in her estimation than I feel they are; I had put this down to an attempt to make me feel better. This time, something in the way she said it made me realize that she legitimately feels that way, and suddenly this became a joint venture rather than just some burden I was carrying.

I hesitate to declare myself better, but I feel at least as if we’ve hit a milestone. Previously, I felt as if it were my responsibility to get my head on straight and just soldier alone through whatever I’m feeling. Now, I’m realizing that just because obstacles exist in my head, that doesn’t make them any less our obstacles to get past. I’m sure we have/had/will have obstacles in Carrie’s head, as well, and in that case I’d want to be involved in the resolution. In fact, it’s a special kind of unfair to insist that problems that affect Carrie are mine and mine alone to deal with. I wouldn’t be happy if our situations were reversed and she said the same.

I’ve been happy since we got together, but I’ve been anxious, too. That anxiety isn’t gone, but it has lessened and I feel like it’s temporary, now. I may actually reach my goal of just being able to relax and enjoy being in love. If nothing else, I’ve finally fully realized that I have a partner in this.

Adaptation

The past few weeks have seen my social calendar go rapidly from nigh empty to bursting, with very little in between. Making friends seems to be an exponential experience, autocatalytic. After a few months lamenting my lack of a social circle I am embarrassed by my riches.

So, of course, having just evolved legs, I decided that running was my best move.

S is a friend I’ve known for about three weeks now, introduced by another mutual friend at a coffee shop show. She is funny and interesting, and we get along very well. We were spending at least a couple of evenings a week together, and I, being “open” in more than one way, had talked quite a bit about my relationship, its status, and other people I might maybe possibly but probably not date in the future. I’m not sure if being as gabby about this stuff as I am is the best move in a new friendship, but I don’t really know another way to be.

S sent me an e-mail one day to let me know that, while she was fine with my discussing Carrie, talking about other maybe-possibly dates was uncomfortable for her, in part because she found me “mentally stimulating and physically attractive”. I responded to let her know that I found her the same, and that if I a) knew how to ask people out and b) thought she’d be interested in an open relationship, I would ask her out. I assumed that, like everyone else I’ve met, she wouldn’t be copacetic with the idea of dating me under the circumstances, and so didn’t think that would go anywhere.

A few days later, while driving her home from a show, S asked me what the next step would be, if she said that she was okay with Carrie. I, as my blog readers might know, don’t have the faintest idea what the next step would be, and let her know that, but I said that we should talk more the next day. I wasn’t comfortable with making any sort of move right then and there, partly because I didn’t want to spring it on Carrie as a fait accompli, and partly because I’ve never dated more than one person at a time and I just wanted to be careful not to make the wrong move and lose the friendship. I dropped her at her place after awkwardly kissing her on the cheek, and went home to ponder.

S and I went out to dinner the next night, and I explained my nervousness. I let her know that my relationship is more open in theory, at least on my end, than in practice, which I had apparently not yet brought up in our conversations. I explained that I think I’m a bad choice for someone’s first open-dating experience, which is also true. S took this as rejection, and I could not convey the nuance of wanting to date but also wanting to let her know that I think her dating me is a bad idea, so ultimately I conceded that a rejection is the clearest thing one could take from that. Dating me right now is necessarily murky.

We had an uncomfortable dessert, and then I took her home. She said that she’d be all right, and that the friendship wasn’t ruined. I went home upset that I still don’t know how to date, but congratulating myself for not getting into a relationship wherein we’d both be nervous and uncomfortable. I mean, I want to date other people, and I wanted to date S, but what I need right now are friendships. I need to establish myself here. So as much as I’m uncomfortable with being Carrie’s involuntarily monogamous partner, I felt like I’d done well.

A few days later, S’s brunch club got together, and I had a +1 invite. Naturally, I took Carrie. This was the first time that S had really seen Carrie and I interact, having only met her briefly, and also the first real chance that the two of them had had to talk. Carrie and I did our couply, flirty thing the way that we usually do, and while I felt like S was getting uncomfortable toward the end of the brunch that was something expected and something S’d warned me about. I just thought of it as a step on the return to normalcy.

The next morning, I received an e-mail from her telling me that the friendship was ruined. She said that seeing Carrie and me together had shown her that I didn’t really want to date anyone else, that she didn’t need this kind of drama, and that she felt like she’d been roped into some little game that Carrie and I were playing.

I was devastated. This played precisely to my fears and anxieties about this relationship style; that other people can’t grasp that I can still be madly devoted to Carrie and want to date other people. I was sickened that I’d ruined a friendship, and convinced that I’d lost that whole social group that I felt had been such a long time coming. I felt lost, and spent much of that morning crying, which did not have the best effect on the weekend trip that Carrie and I had gone on, although that turned out to be mostly salvageable.

After a day or so, I was less sad than angry at someone who barely knew me presumed to understand what I wanted more than I did. I also thought, from her angry tone and assumption that we were playing games, that she must have believed I was not as devoted to Carrie as I am. I wrote back, saying in no uncertain terms that she was entirely mistaken with her assessment of my motives and that I was more than upset at her presumption, and that it was a shame that we couldn’t be friends but that I’d go ahead and avoid the social groups we were both in so as to minimize contact.

We both cooled off, and exchanged a few more e-mails. I think the friendship is repaired. There’s no real chance of dating, or at least no real desire on my part to do so at this point, and we’re much more lukewarm than we were. Still, though, I have my friends and my social calendar.

In some ways, this is a learning experience: I won’t again let anyone know that I’m interested in them until I’m clear about not only my situation but also my lack of experience, and I won’t try to date friends until I’m very well established with them. In other respects, though, it’s exactly what I did not need: it makes me that much more skittish about dating (something I was already horrendously, awkwardly skittish about), makes me more convinced that I just won’t be able to date while Carrie and I are together, and makes me question that much more whether there really is anyone out there who’s interested in me without wanting to claim me as their own. My preexisting anxieties are magnified, and they were already rather large.

Catching up

The holidays are always a weird time of year for me, almost irrespective of what’s actually going on. I usually need to take a day to be by myself, away from all of the friends and family with whom I’ve been having warm and fuzzy good times, because I have to decompress at some point. There’s too much travel, and too much making a fuss over me (my birthday is on Christmas), too much time spent in others’ spaces and not enough time to think and unwind.

These holidays were, while fantastic overall, no exception to the above. I spent a great deal of time traveling back and forth to see Carrie, her family, and her family of friends, and while I did enjoy myself I also got mildly claustrophobic a couple of times. I love my love, and am developing warm feelings toward her people, and I had a great time everywhere I went. Still, though, I was doing a lot of my usual act of bottling up tension so as not to let it out in public, and then expending it later when it wasn’t appropriate.

This manifested in a couple of times when I felt an intense need to get away, and it took a couple of tries before I fully realized that when that happens I do actually need to get away, and just powering through won’t cut it. We spent nigh unto a solid month together, and it was fine for a week or three, but after that the general sense that being in a relationship threatens my independence pitched up a little too high, and I had to take some time to myself. Carrie, for her part, is used to being the only one with a particular need for alone time, and she was busy enough keeping herself sane; as such, she didn’t really notice what was going on with me, and it wouldn’t have been her responsibility if she had.

One particular manifestation is worth pulling out. Carrie and I went to a party in MA with a bunch of her poly friends, and it was a rollicking good time. Everyone was fantastic, charming, and attractive, and I greatly enjoyed it. I really can’t wait to spend more time with these people.

This being a social circle full of people who are dating each other to various degrees of separation, the situation was a little odd for me. I was a sort of tangent to the room, connected to only one person. Normally, by the end of the evening, I would feel like a full member of whatever group I’d encountered, but that didn’t really happen here. Everyone had a sort of intense set of interpersonal connections that I didn’t slot into, and it was startling to me; I certainly felt welcome, but it’s rare that after a few hours I would still feel like an outsider.

That was already leaving me a little discombobulated, as it’s mostly outside my experience, and thus I had a certain level of tension all evening. And then, by the end, this being a poly social group, the whole thing turned into a sort of adorable cuddle party. It was good fun and great to watch, but made me feel a little more excluded and a little jealous of everyone else. Of course, I choked back on this and continued the small talk until it was time to leave, and then later laid it on Carrie as if it were her fault. I believe I said something about her not having made me feel particularly wanted, when she had spent most of the night playing footsie with me. It was ugly, but I’ve said and will say uglier things, I’m sure. When I do, I’ll try to mention them here.

In the morning I recanted and apologized, because it wasn’t Carrie’s job to make me feel included, nor was it really possible when I was, for very good reasons, fundamentally not included. That’s to be expected, but I was unused to it and reacted poorly. I began to realize that when something relationship-related made me feel bad, I was immediately blaming Carrie without spending the time to figure out whether it was my own head that was the cause; I’ve resolved to rectify that as well as I’m able. I’ll try to do better on these tests in the future, but no promises.

All in all, the holidays were excellent, and I spent them with excellent company. It was wearing toward the end, but I’ve since bounced back. Of course, there have been ups and downs since then, but those will have to wait for another post.