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.

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.

Then and now

A few years ago, at parties with people I didn’t know well:

I, uh, so you know, I’m in an open relationship, right? Um.  Okay, so… well, my, uh, girlfriend, I guess? Was over, and…

Now, at parties with people I don’t know well:

Yeah, I found out that Providence’s overnight parking list isn’t for people who live in town when I was dating a Brown student.

A few years ago, when asked if I was poly:

Well, I don’t really like the word, per se, but I’m in an open relationship or two. “Polyamory” just has so much baggage associated with it. I don’t really care that it’s heteroradical, though, which seems to be most complaints about it.

Now, when asked if I’m poly:

Yeah, basically.

A few years ago, pondering dating:

I wonder if this will work out. I know people can manage open relationship, I just don’t know if I can manage it.

Today, pondering dating:

I wonder how I’m going to find the time for all these people.

A few years ago, writing to people on OkCupid:

ARGH this is like DYING

Today, writing to people on OkCupid:

And… send.

A few years ago, how I flirted with someone I was interested in in person:

Today:

 

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.

What about STDs/STIs?

This was the question that I got asked the most when I solicited, and it comes up a lot when talking to monogamous folks. I put most of this down to internalized sex-negativity, honestly. Concurrent partners aren’t a greater risk than successive partners, and whether sex is protected or unprotected is a much greater risk factor, and all of my sex is protected.  Another important risk factor is the infection status of partners, and whether that’s known, and all of my partners get regular testing.

In fact, Carrie and I have all of two hard-and-fast rules for getting together with new people:

  • Always use a condom
  • Ask about STI health and testing

These two, very basic, rules are also in play in most of the other poly/open relationships whose rulesets I’m aware of.  Frankly, a monogamous person who doesn’t check with partners and isn’t strict about protection is at a much greater risk of infection than I am. When I was single, I was at greater risk, because I would have a similar number of partners in a year but wouldn’t check with them about their testing regimens (I still always used protection).  I would be at theoretically lower risk in a monogamous relationship only provided that it was a multi-year relationship.  I have approximately the third-lowest risk profile possible, only slightly above long term strict monogamy, which is slightly above, you know, virgin.

As I said, I think much of the hemming and hawwing about STD risk these days comes down to internalized sex negativity.  STDs come in two flavors, risk-wise (in the US, at least); there are your HPVs and Herpes simplexes, which if you’re at all sexually active you’ve almost certainly been exposed to regardless of your number of partners, and then there are STIs that show up in less than 1% of the population.  Aside from people who have unprotected sex with strangers–and if you do that, fucking quit it, because you’re raising the risk for all of us–STI risk is either essentially universal or wildly overblown.  Some studies show that the number of partners is almost irrelevant, and that rather it’s the number of unprotected sex acts that governs STI risk, although the marginal risk per partner is not well studied.

If you’re having sex, be it monogamously or not, you should be using protection and checking with your partners about their health.  Aside from abstinence or long term monogamy, those are the only ways to reduce your risk.

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.

Troika

I get this question a lot, mostly from people who are not in but curious about open or poly relationships:

Have you ever had a threesome?

To which the answer is “yes”, but to the implied question–“Do you and Carrie seek out/date/sleep with people together”–the answer is “no”, or maybe “we haven’t”.

I have had sex with two partners, but only when I was single (I don’t have any experience with foursomes or moresomes or sex parties or such).  It was fine.  My limited experience has led me to the conclusion that–for me–multiple-partner sex is all right, but not enough better than single partner sex to justify the added logistical difficulty.

Partly, I think I just lack that particular fetish, which means that I don’t find the situation inherently hot.  I like looking at naked attractive people as much as the next human being, but it doesn’t go beyond that for me.  Also, my particular kink pattern tends to include a sense of responsibility for everyone else’s pleasure, which is fine one-on-one but starts to get distracting with multiple partners.

I also suspect that the majority of people–or at least men–with this particular fantasy haven’t really thought it through.  Can you rub your belly and pat your head at the same time?  Some of us can, most of us can’t, and that’s without the other distractions of sex.  Three is a weird number–at least one person has to be doing two things at once at all times, or doing one thing while something very distracting is happening, or else someone is likely bored.  I really enjoy giving oral or manual stimulation, but doing it right requires some real concentration.  It’s also for this reason that “69” stuff is less interesting to me than it’s apparently supposed to be.

In any event, many people–Carrie included–have suggested that maybe my relative lack of interest stems from the circumstances of my forays into this territory.  I.e., hooking up with strangers always sounds hotter than it is, and the dynamics are entirely different with someone you know and have affection for.  Which is possible, but the other thing about multiple-partner sex is that it just takes a lot of arrangement or else a weird confluence of circumstances.  In general, someone has to be really into the idea, and I’m not and Carrie is only circumstantially so.  Most couples that go down this route seem to end up spending a lot of time and energy unicorn hunting, and neither of us is strongly inclined to do so.  We’d probably have to be hunted down by some enterprising unicorn with a couple crush.

Which is mostly to say that, much like the “what, you mean like two girlfriends” stereotype, the questions that people tend to ask before getting into open relationships are mostly the wrong questions.

Dating site roundup

I’ve been trying to branch out a bit as far as dating sites are concerned.  OkCupid is fine, but it’s getting less fun as they’ve been successful in killing off the journals, and there aren’t a lot of folks in Providence on it.  My searches all end up sending me to Somerville and Cambridge, which are fine places and which don’t seem all that far until you start traveling there once or twice a week for dates.  I feel like that would be fine for someone I’m seeing, but for just the getting-to-know-you stage it’s a bit much.  Makes first and second dates logistically difficult, because I have to:

    1. Work out that I have an evening free.
    2. Contact one person to see if they’re available, because the last thing that one wants is to double book an evening (again).
    3. Wait for that person’s response, and:
      1. If they’re available, nail down scheduling
      2. If they’re not available, repeat steps 1-3 with someone else

It has proven easier not to deal with it, and just to contact friends if I’m going to be Bostonish of an evening.  Although “easier than dating” is, in general, a low bar.

So.  Dating sites.  I have decided to try some, and while it’s probably too early to tell, I can at least give you my preliminary assessment.  I try these things so that you don’t have to.

OkCupid is, of course, the premiere dating site for the geek/nerd continuum, and also for poly folks.  Thus, it is the premiere squared site for geeky poly folks.  Except that premiere is 1 and 1 squared is 1 and blah.  Anyway.  This is the place to start, and to put the most effort.  You probably already know all about this place.

PlentyOfFish is both the world’s largest free dating site and the world’s most hideous, with site design that rivals old Angelfire pages.  I’m convinced that it’s the “largest” primarily because they refuse to let you leave the site.  You can’t delete your profile, nor can you prevent them from emailing you afterward.  You can check out any time you blah blah eaglescakes.  Don’t sign up for this site. It is terrible and it will stay with you forever. It is the internet equivalent of having your friends force you to watch John Waters’s Pink Flamingoes and then never being able to wash the terrible out of your brain.

xdating is PlentyOfFish but worse and with more fake profiles.

Fetlife  isn’t a dating site per se, but is often used that way.  It’s probably second only to OkCupid among the poly set, and could be worth signing up for.  It’s worth noting that your profile on Fetlife is probably going to be way worse for your career prospects if an employer finds it than your profile anywhere else short of Adult FriendFinder.  It’s also way NSFW in general.  It’s also no use if you’re completely vanilla, but I honestly don’t believe such people exist.

Match.com, eHarmony, and basically all traditional, paid dating sites don’t allow for nonmonogamy at all.

Date Hookup is pretty bare-bones.  It’s got an okay philosophy, but not much functionality.  There’s little to sort users by except superficial characteristics.  If you really care whether your potential date is a 25-year-old atheist latina, it may be a good choice, if any such people are on it.

PolyMatchMaker has such potential, but it’s lightly populated and locks much of its functionality behind a paywall.  It’s okay.  There was one other interesting person in all of Rhode Island on it, and we went out a few times. Worth trying for free.

CasualKiss does so many things right.  It has a lot of features that I want OkCupid to incorporate.  You can have both a sexuality and a “looking for”, solving OkC’s eternal problem of bisexuals who are nevertheless only looking for one sex right now getting swamped with inappropriate messages.  It expands the possibilities into couples, as well.    It allows you to search distances more granular than 25 miles.  You can search by what type of relationship someone is looking for, like a fling, or just friendship.  And it is completely empty.  No one within 50 miles of me has been “online recently”.

So, I would say that if you’re poly/open, looking to date online, and don’t have any profiles yet, you should sign up for, in this order:

  1. OkCupid, and as a distant second:
  2. Fetlife, unless you’re one of the handful of truly vanilla people and then:
  3. PolyMatchMaker, and when you inevitably find no one there, go back to OkCupid for a while, then maybe
  4. CasualKiss for the novelty of it.

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.