This is Forty

I turned forty about an hour ago.

Minutes before that, I completed the last act of my 30th year – I turned in all the assignments for the advanced standing section of my coaching certification.

The process was more self-reflective than I imagined it would be. Much of the work I’ve already done. In fact, I went through my blog archives as part of the process of examining many of the “life review” questions I was asked about my childhood and relationships.

I can’t think of a better way to set the tone for the next ten years of my life. I spent the entirety of my 30s working at my current job. It was simultaneously a time of significant change and personal growth in some areas, and a time of stagnation and demoralization in others.

As part of the process, I was asked to idealize what my life as a coach would look like in one year, at three years, at five years, and at ten years.

It amazed me how achievable each one of those dreams is. How within my grasp it all is.

I can do this. I really can do this.

I keep thinking of where I was ten years ago. I wanted a big party for my 30th, and I always loved themed parties. My partner at the time (not yet husband) organized a 60s cocktail themed party at my brother and sister-in-law’s house. It was during the time that Mad Men was all the rage. I bought a pink cocktail dress, got my hair swept up into a beehive up-do, and perfected my cat-eyeliner by tediously studying youtube videos for techniques.

It was the night that the old-school bartender gave me a sampling of all the classic cocktails and I discovered that I love bourbon the most. To this day, a Blanton’s Old Fashioned is my jam.

I was anxious and hopeful that Tony would propose to me that night. Everybody was. He made a speech. We all waited for it. I think he knew that and intentionally decided to wait, just to fuck with us.

It happened a few months later, while he and I were alone on vacation in London.

That night of my 30th birthday party, my brother had just arrived home from his first trip to China. He and his wife had been trying to conceive. My niece will turn ten in nine months.

My brother reminded me that I was ten years off from his prediction – “One day, you’ll turn 40 and decide to write a book. It’ll be a bestseller and you’ll be set for life.”

My future husband laughed. He’d written a best seller. Before he died, he would have written two best sellers.

We were not set for life.

A year later I was married.

Three years later I was widowed.

A year after that, I was here…writing. I found you all, or you found me. I’m not sure which of us is the chicken or the egg.

I spent the second half my thirties undergoing the most challenging and rewarding personal growth spurt I may ever experience. I was confronted with the consequences of 35 years of unhealthy relationship habits and addictions to external validation, codependency, and labels.

Three years ago, the work paid off. I successfully established a relationship with myself that I had previously taken for granted. I have spent the past three years loving myself unconditionally – and in the process, I’ve learned to love and be loved without fear.

These past three years have been, without a doubt, the best of my life. And I know there’s even better to come.

At this point, an hour and 22 minutes into my 4th decade of existence. I’ve successfully completed the first big milestone of the next big step in my ongoing journey. I’m engaged and enthusiastic to continue with the in-person training for the coaching certification next week.

On Monday, I’ll be featured on one of my favorite podcasts – multiamory – as a guest interview on the topic of poly + mono relationships. I’ve had my first paying client (though as I am not yet certified, I asked instead that he donate to a fundraiser I was running for my metamour).

I’m creating a business plan. I’m setting goals. I’m meeting deadlines. I’m networking. I’m investing my time into this dream, and I haven’t felt that excited about anything (other than sex and star trek) in a really long time.

Every time I have a fear, or a doubt, or that little voice of risk aversion in my head that asks me if this is the right thing…. if I should be moving away from a steady career I’ve put 20 years into to start something risky and new…

I think about the woman who had a Mad Men themed birthday party, hoping her boyfriend would propose, who had no idea that less than four years later – every expectation, every plan, and every dream she’d ever had would get thrown out the window.

It’s time for my new dreams to come true.

This is forty. This is when it happens.

I can’t fucking wait to see where this decade takes me.

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The exchange rate for exclusivity: A potentially divisive opinion

Yesterday I wrote a post that took some solid advice from a relationship blogger Ferrett (theferrett.com) to monogamous people exploring relationships with polyamorous people, and added my own nuanced spin as an actual monogamuggle in a relationship with a polywizard.

Basically, if you really must have exclusivity in your relationship, it’s best not to try to force a non-exclusive relationship to look and feel like an exclusive one; but, if exclusivity is not a requirement, then even though you may have some challenges with dating a polyamorous person – it’s still possible to make those pairings work.

Over in the poly + mono facebook group, a frequent topic of discussion is the question as to whether an openly polyamorous person (and by “openly” I mean that they are not ashamed, hiding, or apologetic of their lovestyle) who agrees to exclusivity with a monoamorous partner is similar in scope as the monoamorous partner accepting the non-exclusivity of their polyamorous partner.

A lot of people think that this is exactly the same thing. I do not.

I anticipate that a lot of people will disagree with this post, and that’s absolutely expected and accepted. I get that there are many, many people who do choose exclusivity to make their partner happy, and who have found contentment with and acceptance of their decision. If it’s working for you, great! This post isn’t intended to pass my judgement on you, nor demand that you reconsider your life choices. My purpose is simply to share my take on the topic.

For the purpose of clarity – my definition of monoamorous differs from the concept of “requiring exclusivity.” I am monoamorous but I do not require my partner to be exclusive with me in order to feel satisfied in my relationship. Some people do. Again, that’s totally fine. Not better, not worse, just different.

And in case you haven’t noticed, I generally avoid using the term “monogamous” unless I’m talking about people who also have marriage as part of their relationship goals. I do not, and therefore stick with using “monoamorous” to describe my current lovestyle.

Onward.

As a monoamorous person who has dated a handful of polyamorous partners over the last four years, I am happy to say that I have never had to increase or reduce the number of people I have wanted to be in a relationship with to make any partner happy. Their relationship preference certainly had an effect on how I approach my core relationship values, but they did not physically affect my autonomy in choosing who gets to put their junk near my junk.

On the other hand, if I were polyamorous and either had, was open to having, or wanted to someday have multiple relationships, then choosing exclusivity for the sake of my monoamorous partner would essentially affect my autonomy in deciding who gets to put their junk near my junk.

This is the key difference and the foundation for my position on this debate.

I should also clarify that I am choosing my words carefully because I differentiate between “behaving monogamously” and “being monogamous.” If a polyamorous person has only one partner, let’s say because they haven’t met anybody else in a while, that doesn’t make them any less polyamorous. If a single person is in between partners, but are eventually hoping to meet someone to marry, then they are still monogamous – even if they’re in the “just looking” or “dating” phase of that search.

Likewise, there are some people who are “ambiamorous,” or can find happiness and fulfillment in either state, so “choosing exclusivity” with a partner when there is nobody else on their relationship horizon works perfectly well for them. It is not something that is a hardship for them, and in fact is an agreeable solution.

This is more about the people who feel pushed into exclusivity when it’s not their natural or preferred state. I would (and do) have as much of a problem with the insinuation that because my partner is polyamorous, I therefore must be; and/or that in order to be “even” or “fair” I also have to engage in relationships with other people. What’s “equal” and “fair” to me is that I have as much opportunity as my partner has to explore that option if I choose to.

On Camping and Poly + Mono Relationships

Ferrett wrote this essay with a pretty solid metaphor for poly + mono relationships that centered on camping. The metaphor’s tl;dr is: if you hate everything to do with camping, you should not put yourself in a situation where you are forced (by yourself or others) to go camping.

I support this statement.

But, I am reminded of the classic 80s film, Troop Beverly Hills, in which Phyllis, the uber-privileged Wilderness Girls troop leader (played by Shelly Long) abandons a rained-out campsite with her troop to check all the girls into a suite at a swanky hotel. When the regional director shows up to find them in plush surroundings eating room service, she asks, “You call this roughing it!?”

Phyllis replies without hesitation: “One bathroom for nine people? Yes.”

Of course, not everybody does “camping” the same way, but sometimes – the experience can be made far better with the right company, even if the “roughing it” part isn’t your cup of tea. Similarly, not everyone manages their relationship(s) in the same way, and an incompatibility with one potential partner may not be an issue with another.

Over on the book of faces, I run a closed group for the mono partners of polyfolk. It’s a support group of sorts for those of us who straddle two different worlds and perfectly fit in with neither. Our group is starting to hover near 300 people, the majority of whom are making it work. I also admin another group for both the poly and mono folk in mixed poly + mono relationships, which has a membership of over 9,000.

This morning, someone shared about their feelings of fear and discomfort in the knowledge that their partner was going to be having sexual intercourse with somebody outside of their relationship for the first time. They shared that the kind of feedback they received from their friends (who are all monogamous) vilified their partner, and made them feel even worse.

I say it often – that being in any kind of relationship, is not a guarantee that you are never going to have a bad day, or a bad feeling, or a negative reaction to something that’s happening that is outside of your control. But, finding a group of people who can be supportive, show empathy, and remind you to think of the reasons why you made the choice to explore something out of your comfort zone, rather than judge for them, can go a long way in helping you overcome those negative feelings.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I actually do hate camping – and yet: if my partner reallywanted to, I’d be open to having a conversation about what it is I despise about camping, i.e.: no access to toilets or running water, long hikes to reach a campsite, and things (other than my partner) that bite. Because there are campsites that you can drive to that have showers and toilets within a reasonable walking distance, and there are locations and climates that are less prone to mosquitoes and/or bears.

To be honest, the idea of looking up at the stars, fucking in the great outdoors, and the smells, tastes, and sounds of cooking over and making out next to a campfire does have some decent levels of romantic and hedonistic appeal to me.

But, if I were a Phyllis, and the only type of “camping” that could work for me was one that included a 24-hour room service menu, 10,000 thread count sheets, and HBO access – then I think we can all agree that it’s not reallycamping. And, to that point – I do agree with Ferrett 100%. If you’re going to be in a polyamorous relationship (even if you are not polyam yourself), then don’t try to make it look and feel like a monogamous one to protect your delicate sensibilities. Own the reality you’ve chosen, or choose a different reality.

On the other hand, if you’re the polyamorous person who is dating a monoamorous person, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the responsibility for the emotional labor in finding that poly/mono relationship sweet spot is entirely up to your mono partner. You are also part of the relationship equation, and would greatly benefit from learning how to validate and support someone through their uncomfortable feelings even when they’re inconvenient.

Validating does not mean enabling or agreeing with. It simply means saying “I hear you. I believe that it feels that way for you. I support your efforts to push through your discomfort, and I will make reasonable attempts to address your concerns where it’s in my power and appropriate.”

Yes – poly + mono success stories, though they are still a bit rare, are out there; but it’s important to remember that there is no guarantee that every relationship you want to be in is going to be the right relationship for you to be in. Whether you are polyamorous, monoamorous, ambiamorous, relationship anarchist or any other label that resonates with you – if you are absolutely miserable, then you CAN make a different choice.

Unless you can’t. I have compassion for those who feel stuck for reasons that are out of their control (finances, health, dependents, or abuse). I don’t have answers for those situations, but I hope you find yours soon.

Related Posts:

Change your cookbook: A monogamuggle’s guide to cookin’ with polyfolk

Monocorn Sanctuary

A New Chapter Begins

Hey y’all 🙂
 
An update on me. I *have* been very quiet, not just here, but on most social media lately. My relationship is stellar. Everything there continues to be fantasmical and the most rewarding and fulfilling relationship I have ever experienced in my (near) 40 years.
 
On the work side, though – things have gotten pretty gnarly. I have worked for this organization for 11 years, and in many ways, I think they still view me as the 20-something year old that first started there. The place is terribly mismanaged, as well – but they make up for this with excellent pay and great benefits.
 
Make up for it. Heh. That’s like saying that an abusive partner makes up for it by paying all the bills and providing shelter.
 
About a year ago, I was ready to walk away. I did research on what it would take to become a life coach and start my own business doing something that brings me a lot of joy and fulfillment.
 
But they sensed I was ready to leave and gave me a raise and my fear of being out on my own without the steady income and health insurance made me back away from the idea.
 
I recently attended a workshop where it became very, very apparent to me that I am holding myself back from making a change out of fear of the unknown. Out of thinking that I might have to significantly change my very comfortable lifestyle because I’m not sure if I’m cut out for self-employment.
 
And, in part because there’s a little voice in my head that asks “Why do you feel like you have anything more/different to offer than anybody else who is already doing it?”
 
The idea of becoming a life coach surfaced again, and I did some research into what it takes to become certified. It’s an investment – both in time and finances. And if I take this on, I have to see it through – I have to at least *try* to make the investment pay off.
 
The course begins in late July. By January, I will be fully certified.
 
If I can hang in there with this job until then, I can handle the financial investment *and* start working on building up my own business while maintaining a steady income and health insurance.
 
Everything that happens after that is unknown.
 
And it’s scary.
 
And it’s time.

It’s not “fine.”

I know it’s not the time of year where counseling people to walk away from their relationships is going to go over well. People are afraid to be alone – so afraid, that they’re willing to sit through confidence-destroying behavior from their partners in exchange for a label that proves they’re not alone.

But I see these things described in the advice and support forums that I would never tolerate from someone who professed to love me. These are things I used to tolerate when I didn’t love myself enough to expect better treatment from partners. This is the pattern I fell into when I used to date people who would tell me I shouldn’t have any expectations, or that I was too “needy”, or that any request for external validation was “bad.”

I recently read about a situation where a partner had a negative reaction to their partner spending time with another paramour at a holiday party. She felt like she couldn’t speak up and talk about how much it hurt, because her partner would get upset with her for not being thrilled about it.

There’s a commercial making the rounds on Hulu right now. Every time I see this commercial I remember these people I talk to in the forums. In it, the woman keeps cancelling plans she’s made because her eczema is flaring up. Then she says “it’s fine” while shaking her head and acting all sad and looking completely downtrodden.

IT’S NOT FINE. I want to scream on her behalf. IT’S DISAPPOINTING. IT’S EMBARRASSING. IT’S CAUSING ME TO SPEND HALF MY LIFE HIDDEN AWAY BECAUSE I FEEL ASHAMED ABOUT AN ITCHY RASH ON MY ARM AND NECK.

And what would be the problem with calling attention to the disturbance? “Hey, we have this date tonight but I’m feeling embarrassed by my skin condition. Instead of me saying it’s fine to cancel something I’ve been looking forward to, how about you tell me that it’s fine for you to be seen with me with a rash on my arm?”

I don’t know why it bothers me so much that this commercial is portraying this shit like it’s shameful. WTF? It’s not SHAMEFUL to have a rash. Why does this woman look like she’s making excuses for an abuser when she’s bowing out of plans that she’s making with other people?

The eczema isn’t the problem. The narrative that she should be ashamed of it is the problem. The eczema might be a disturbance, and it can be addressed and treated. Someone who’d walk away from you for having it is fundamentally incompatible with you.

I don’t think acknowledging a rash to the people you spend time with should deter them from wanting to spend time with you.

I feel the same way about acknowledging your feelings.

If you can’t tell the person you love that you are feeling insecure, hurt, afraid, or conflicted about something without them shaming you for having a feeling, then you start to say “it’s fine” to their face, while crying in the forums about how NOT fine you are.

Here’s what’s fine: Having a negative emotion associated with something uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean you’re necessarily right – but it’s okay to have an emotion.

Here’s what’s fine: Acknowledging that there are some bad feelings happening that you want to address – maybe right now, maybe in a little while after you’ve processed them in your own mind.

Here’s what’s not fine: Feeling like the only people you can acknowledge it to are strangers on the internet because your partner is going to be upset with you for being human.

Here’s what’s not fine: When that shit crosses the line into abusive behavior because your partner has groomed you into thinking that your feelings are irrational when they are completely rational.

When you’re saying “it’s fine” and it’s clearly not.

That’s when I want to say “walk away from this.” It’s not your feelings that are the problem. It’s the narrative that your feelings are something you should be ashamed of. Your feelings might be a disturbance, and they can be addressed and treated. Someone who’d walk away from you for having them is fundamentally incompatible with you.

It’s hard to be vulnerable, but think about giving the people who love you a chance to prove that your feelings won’t scare them away. If they do, then for a moment consider whether or not you’re the one who should be scared away.

‘Cause it’s not “fine” to feel like you have no choice but to remain miserable in a relationship. Not even at year end.

Possibilities are not guaranteed

Sometimes I see a pattern – people who want to know if it’s possible to be happy in a mixed mono + poly relationship, and …well, it is…but it’s not a guarantee. There’s not a “Follow these eight simple steps, and you will be a happy monocorn for EVAH!” There’s a lot that has to do with issues of compatibility. A lot of times it’s not so much the polyamorous aspects of the relationship that cause the problems…the problems already existed. The polyamorous aspects of the relationship expose them.

Whether it’s possible to be happy or not sometimes depends on how you respond to those exposed problems. And sometimes even if you did everything perfectly, it still won’t work.

All relationships are a gamble. Poly. Mono. Something in between. Something on another spectrum entirely. There’s no guarantee that it will work indefinitely. You can only succeed if you try, but even then…it’s not guaranteed.

We think “successful relationship” means “never ending.” If a relationship ends, it’s automatically a “failure.”

I don’t think that’s the case. I have learned something profoundly interesting about myself, my needs, and my wants from every relationship I’ve ever been in that didn’t last. Did that make them failures?

Not if the goal is to keep growing.

I’m so happy with my current poly partner that I don’t doubt there are people who hate me for it. My relationship is amazing. I often feel like it’s unfair how happy I get to be all the time.

But I don’t for a SECOND hang my hat up on the way it is right now and expect it never to change. That change might continue to include the two of us in a romantic entanglement together. I sure hope it does. I anticipate it will for a long while.  It might not.

I don’t try to predict the future. I live in the now.

Today, I am happy.

Ask me again tomorrow.

Putting relationships on “hold”

I have such a visceral reaction to the phrase “put my other relationship on hold” in the poly discussion groups. It’s usually a phrase uttered when the following scenario applies:

The hinge in a “vee” has developed a solid and happy relationship with one partner that going swell, but everything in their additional relationship is falling apart. Some versions of that sentence would include “….everything in the additional relationship is falling apart because of the other one’s existence.

I’m trying desperately to stay away from calling either relationship “other” or “first” or “second” because I’m trying like hell not to imbue any of this with implied hierarchy.

My reaction is to the idea that you can put someone you say you love on “hold” because someone else you love is struggling. I don’t care where on your relationship flow chart they live.

The phone company puts me on hold. My partner does not. If you can put your relationship with me ‘on hold’ then we have no relationship. That’s how I roll.

But, I realize that this visceral reaction to this phrase stems from a past experience I had, in one of my early attempts at poly with someone who made a LOT of newbie mistakes that I see playing out again and again in the advice forums.

His relationship with me was solid. The more solid we were, the less stable she was. So when she struggled, he would “dial it back” with me in order for her to get stable again.

Guess what?

She used that. She used it regularly. Every time her jealousy would flare up, she’d have a panic attack or get herself into trouble or blatantly break one of his rules (these were both D/s relationships) and he’d dial it back with me to help her recover.

I’d complain to him and try to reason with him. “It’s like if there’s one kid who always follows the rules and another kid who’s constantly breaking them, so what you do is take away the toy from the good kid and give it to the one throwing the tantrum in order to shut them up.”

“It’s that saying that the squeaky wheel always gets the grease, but if you don’t pay attention to your other wheel you’re going to end up with a flat tire.”

He’d say he understood and things would change, but then he’d keep doing it. He’d keep rewarding her tantrums by denying me. When she felt like she’d “won” then she was fine again.

Guess what I did?

I started having panic attacks. I mean, it worked for her. Why wouldn’t it work for me? But, it backfired. I hadn’t set a precedent for having panic attacks, so when I had them I was told I was “faking” it, and to pull it together.

I wasn’t faking it. I was trying to control something I couldn’t control that I SHOULD have had some control over. The protocols and boundaries of my relationship should have been something he and I discussed and agreed upon together. Our boundaries and protocols should have been the foundation of stability upon which our unique relationship could be built independently of any other relationships he was building with anybody else.

But he kept allowing someone else to pound cracks into our foundation.

And, here’s the fun part… Usually, it’s the “primary” or the “first, and more established” partner that thinks they have a say in how their partner conducts their other affairs. In my case? I was the first one there. She came in three months after me, and it only took three months for her to completely destroy us by shedding the light how little control and integrity he really had.

So now, when I hear people wanting to put one relationship “on hold” I want to tell their seemingly dispensable partner, “RUN. RUN FAR AWAY.”

As the late Patrick Swayze declared, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”