Catching Feelings

I have this very distinct memory from my junior year of high school of being angry at my high school sweetheart because he wouldn’t let me have a threesome with a girl I’d had a crush on for years and her mega-hot boyfriend (ungh that dude was ripped).  I didn’t understand what the big deal was – it was just sex.  It wouldn’t change the way I felt about my boyfriend; he would still be my love.  A year later, I broke up with him because I had a huge boner for someone else, and society says the rule is that you only get to have one romantic relationship at a time.  I was devastated; he was completely heartbroken.  I still loved him deeply and didn’t want to end things, but I wanted to explore a relationship with this other guy and didn’t see any other way that could be possible except to cheat, which I wasn’t willing to do (yet).  The cheating part came later when we started sleeping together again while he was dating one of my good friends.  Teenagers.
Looking back on this now, it’s quite obvious to me that I was never a monogamous-minded individual.  In my early twenties, I cheated on multiple boyfriends with multiple people; I always tried to justify this by telling myself that something was missing from my relationships.  Sure, I couldn’t identify that thing, but something must be broken to make me stray, right?  But… nothing was broken.  I just loved two (or three) people at once.  I can’t imagine how my relationships would have been different if I’d had a vocabulary or framework to deal with and understand those feelings.
Coming off of a gutting post-cheating breakup, I decided that I just couldn’t be in romantic relationships anymore if it meant I was going to keep hurting people.  So I did what any hot young twenty-something would do: I banged a LOT of people and told them all I just wanted casual sex.  I didn’t, though.  I wanted to love and be loved.  I wanted to sleep next to the same people on a regular basis.  I wanted to spend holidays with partners I cared about.  I just didn’t see that as being a possibility when I wanted to be with multiple people. 
I built a fortress around my heart.  Even when, years later, I accepted that I was ethically non-monogamous, I still wouldn’t identify as polyamorous, joking that I was “barely amorous,” so how could I be poly?  But two years ago, out of the blue and much to my consternation at the time, I fell in love – hard – and my heart cracked open just enough to believe that maybe this poly thing could work.  Aaand then it got emotionally sucker-punched by the first person I’d had a real relationship with in years.  The first thought I had in my devastated state (my devastate?) was that I was right – poly wasn’t for me because love wasn’t for me.  Emotions are too complex and uncontrollable.  Tears and anger are for the birds.  I should just have sexual relationships without making myself vulnerable, even if it meant I’d never have what I wanted in my relationships.
And then this miraculous series of events happened.  After Sucker-Puncher left Korea, I read More Than Two over the course of a couple of months.  I stopped talking to him for a spell so I could build better boundaries and do some heavy self-reflection and healing (and when we started talking again, I came to our conversations from a more honest and aware place).  I spent a week on a beach in the Philippines writing out answers (by hand!) to questions from the book to reflect on what I wanted in my relationships, who I wanted to be, and how I was going to get there.  I had this incredible travel affair with a lovely Welsh gentleman, during which I came to appreciate loving connections and successful short-term relationships.  And two months after I came back from vacation, I met The Texan, who loved me in a way I’ve always wanted to be loved and let me be exactly who I am.  I finally figured out that being vulnerable is essential to getting what I want, even if it is trying at times (and it’s really fucking trying at times).  It wasn’t that poly wasn’t for me – it’s that my needs weren’t being met and I didn’t know how to ask for them to be.  Now that I’m able to vocalize and advocate for my needs and desires (and have given myself permission to do so), I’m starting to get what I want out of my romantic and sexual relationships… and it only took twenty years to get here!
I came out to my mom as polyamorous when I was home for Christmas; she seemed completely unfazed.  It was way easier than coming out as bisexual (Her initial response to that was, “But I want grandchildren!”  Sorry, mom.); this time, she just said, “Okay, honey.”  I still haven’t told her that my long-distance boyfriend is married, ‘cause, you know, one step at a time.
2015 was a phenomenal year; it was the year I finally came to love and accept myself wholly as I am (most days, anyway – I am still human), which allows me to love those around me more freely and compassionately.  It was the year I figured my shit out.  It was also the year of the ass!  Really – what more could someone want in a year?  My parents always told me and my sister when we were growing up that thirty-five was the best year of their lives, and so far, it’s been absolutely lovely.

Secondary

Fuck.  I mean, it’s right there in the title, right?  It’s right there.
When we first met, everything was giddy and sexy and I want you and fucking all the time.  When we first met, everything was feelings are messy and I’m protective of my heart and I’m not really looking for an emotional relationship.  When we first met, there were broken wine glasses and watching the red wine seep into my couch and stacks of papers for a moment before putting his cock back in my mouth, not caring.  When we first met it was literally fun and games – we went to an arcade on our first date and I beat him at everything.
And then.  And then I said, “I read recently that you’re not supposed to talk about feelings after sex because your oxytocin levels are through the roof.”  He laughed and said, “I like you, too.”  Later I said, “At the risk of being emotionally messy, I have romantic feelings for you.”  And he said, “I was so relieved when you told me that you had feelings for me because I’ve been feeling them, too.”  And then on a very, very drunk night, he said, “I feel crazy, like I need you.”  He said, “You feel dangerous.”  He said, “I’m so into you that it feels like cheating.” 
And now.  And now I’m so into him that every second spent with him, my heart is soaring.  When we’re together and his phone rings and I know it’s his wife telling him he needs to come home, my heart cringes.  Now I want a say in things.
I’m doing what I can.  I’m feeling and accepting and owning my feelings, not looking to him to fix things – figuring out how I can get my needs met and how he can help me get my needs met and actually telling him.  Telling him how I feel when I feel it and not letting negative emotions corrode my insides.  This is all new for me, but I trust him with my heart because he makes me feel emotionally safe.  Because he tells me all the time how he feels about me, and I never have to wonder.  He asks what I need and how he can help me meet those needs (and I do the same for him), never getting defensive.  He makes me feel loved, beautiful, and valued.  He makes me feel like he’s proud to be with me.  
There are things I can do to protect my heart – asking him to negotiate times with his wife that are just for us and asking her to respect those times.  Prioritizing myself before the relationship.  Dating other people, having lots of amazingly supportive friends, being active and engaged in the world around me.
But what can I do about the fact that I don’t feel like a flesh and blood human being?  That I don’t feel like a whole person because our time together is entirely subject to the whims of someone I’ve never even met, someone who kicks her husband out of the house when she wants time alone with a paramour, then calls him the next morning while we’re in a deep slumber to tell him, alright, come home now?  That I only get to spend time with him when it happens to be convenient for his wife?   
Seriously.  What do I do about that?

Playgrounds are for everyone!

  I first heard of the Life on the Swingset website in a Sex is Fun podcast six or seven years ago (it isn’t being produced anymore, but you can still listen to archived episodes!).  Although I often directed friends toward the Swingset website, I never took a good look at it myself, mostly because I was not a swinger.  Non-monogamous?  Yes. Slutty?  You bet!  But for me, the word “swinger” conjured up images of wife swapping, key parties, and for some reason, shag carpets.  I didn’t think I belonged because I wasn’t married.  Or living in the 1970s.  It turns out I was wrong!

Image result for my life on the swingsetHands down, the best thing I got out of reading Cooper Beckett’s collection of essays / blog posts My Life on the Swingset is that it challenged and changed my mind about the nature of swinging.  About what swinging involves, who swingers are, and the types of relationships and community that swingers have.  This book forced me to think hard about my preconceived notions and examine my stereotypes.

Cooper’s writing is insightful, hilarious, and incredibly personal – as many reviewers (mostly other sex educators) have written about the book, it’s not theory; it’s practice.  There’s a lovely mix of analytical pieces about topics related to sexuality and relationships (some examples include jealousy, porn, divorce, coming out as a swinger, and risk aware sex) and firsthand narratives; however, even when the writing falls on the analytical rather than the personal side of things, it’s clear that every opinion Cooper includes in his writing comes from his life experiences (it feels weird using someone’s first name instead of their last in a review, but his online persona makes me feel comfortable doing so, which is a beautiful thing). 

And he seemingly has a lot of experience.  Enough to make me think: Man, I am missing out!  Can you be part of a swinging community without a partner, though?  Certainly!  …if you’re a woman.  One of the issues that Cooper tackles gracefully in his book / on the website is the double standard of accepting bisexual women in swinging communities and at play parties but not bisexual men.  This is manifested in part by the fact that single women are often invited and encouraged to come to play parties while single men are banned (I realize there are other reasons for this – some of them very good reasons – but I think that biphobia plays a part in it).  He also includes an essay about another issue of inclusivity in swinging: ageism.  It’s nice that in a body of work that so clearly supports and advocates for its subject, there’s still room for constructive criticism of that subject.

For me, the book’s greatest strength lies in Cooper’s thoughtfulness regarding complex and murky issues.  He writes very honestly about changing relationship dynamics and how we have to let go sometimes in order to grow and change.  About experimenting with polyamory and trying to navigate the amorphous landscape between swinging, poly, and ethical non-monogamy.  About the bullshit hierarchy that some folks in SOP communities try to impose on each other despite the fact that we have more similarities than differences.  About feelings of confidence and fear of rejection and how they relate to being able to engage in open relationships.

He even calls on his readers to reconsider their definition of sex (and tells us in no uncertain terms that sex becomes better when you do, which I would attest to).

There are comic pieces, too – how to install a sex swing; a story about an amazing prostate orgasm, making me wish on ALL the stars that I had a prostate; and lots of funny entries about how not to be a dick.  There are a few long-winded pieces toward the end that were written in the wee hours of the morning after fucking all night at Desire Resort in Mexico; reading them was akin to listening to the high ramblings of your one friend who still has dreadlocks even though he’s 37.  I can forgive those pieces, though, seeing as how sex actually makes us high (see Emily Nagoski’s book Come As You Are for more about that). 

Overall, I found the book very enjoyable and would recommend it to anyone who’s considering opening up their relationship OR anyone who just wants to swing along vicariously through Cooper Beckett’s life.  He’s bared it all for us, and it costs less than a fancy coffee house drink, so there’s really no excuse not to read it.  There’s even an audio version if you want to hear it read in Cooper’s ridiculously sexy deep voice.  Speaking of – I had never listened to the Swingset podcast before reading this book, but I do now; I also recommend checking that out!    

Lastly, a personal note: there’s this piece in the book about the joy inherent in making out like a teenager – that kind of making out where your lips hurt afterward.  I had this magnificent two-hour makeout session under a subway station in the pouring rain after being inspired by reading it.  It was all quite giddy and romantic, even when we got yelled at by old men.  Especially when we got yelled at by old men.  So thanks for that, Cooper Beckett!      

Compartmentalization, Reverse Sex Shame, and Passing on the Orgy

A very drunk acquaintance approached me at a public function last weekend with this: “Hey!  I have to talk to you later.  There’s something I think you’ll be really interested in.”  From the way he lowered his voice and said this into my ear, and from the tone of his voice, I knew instantly that whatever it was he wanted to talk about, it had something to do with sex.  Intrigued and a bit nervous, I sought him out later and asked what was up.  He told me that he had recently attended an orgy and that it was amazing — that everyone was really cool and they all hung out the next day.  He thought I’d enjoy it and wanted to see if I’d be interested in joining the next time they met up.  I asked some questions: Did everyone discuss sexual health and STI checks beforehand?  Yes, he said.  How do you know these people?  They were random strangers who approached him on the beach last summer and wanted to hang out.  A tad dodgy, but I said I’d give it a think.

And I did.  I thought about it a LOT.  And the conclusion I came up with is: I’m just not up for it.  Immediately after I made the decision to pass on the orgy, I felt the weirdest and most unexpected feeling: reverse sex shame (shame for choosing not to do the sexy thing).  I’m someone who has talked about sex more than anyone really cares to hear about it my whole life, much to the chagrin of some partners and some of my more conservative friends.  I’ve encouraged everyone I know to me more open and experimental sexually; here was my opportunity to try something I’ve never done before with someone who is not only a person I personally know, but who’s also really attractive.  I’m going to say no, and I feel ashamed for it.  I feel ashamed for passing on a new sexual experience because I’m that girl that talks about sex all the time.  Even though the idea of attending this orgy makes me uncomfortable for several reasons, I feel like I should go and that something is wrong with me for not wanting to.  Reverse sex shame.  

Why the discomfort?  I’ve managed to spend five years in this country without sticking my dick in the neighborhood.  For five whole years I have not fucked one single person who hangs out in the expat bars I hang out in, so I’ve avoided small social circle drama (at least that social circle) and being the subject of locker room talk.  I feel completely comfortable being myself there because I’m not worried about getting into anyone’s pants or anyone trying to get into mine; it’s a safe space where I can just bro out.

Also, I’m just not an exhibitionist (at least not in groups / not while I’m sober).  I cherish my privacy and don’t even feel comfortable speaking in front of a room of my peers, let alone comfortable fucking in a room full of people!  Not much of a voyeur, either.  My kinks — and there are many– lie elsewhere.  I enjoy sex for the connection; even if it’s with a stranger (or two), even if it’s only for a night, I savor the feeling of closeness that comes from learning in depth about someone’s body and desires.  But even as I type this, I’m experiencing a very strange reactionary response to my own feelings and desire for intimacy.

I compartmentalize my life and spend time with a lot of different social groups; doing so gives me a sense of emotional security.  I deeply respect and admire polycules and people whose lovers and friends are the same people and who can be all, “We’re a totally fluid community and we have no labels or separate spaces and just transition seamlessly from one type of relationship to another,” but it’s not my jam.  I’ve hooked up with friends who I was incompatible with sexually and just went back to being friends, no problem… and I don’t look at these people every time we hang out and think, “Eek!  You’ve seen me naked!”  But because of where I know this guy from (sports bars where we hang out with a bunch of dudes), it feels different. 

Maybe it’s because I read so many books and listen to so many podcasts about sex that I’m feeling unnerved both that I don’t want to participate in this orgy AND that I’m feeling shame about that… I feel like there’s a giant question mark floating over my head asking “Where is this coming from?”

More Than Two: A Book Review

More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory
Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert

This book has changed the entire way that I look at and talk about relationships, and I honestly believe that the philosophy behind it has the power to radically transform societal relationship narratives.  It is a long, thorough, and complex book to be considered carefully, while simultaneously being engaging and fun to read — quite an amazing feat!

Although ostensibly about polyamory, the ideas and lived experiences that went into this book are applicable to anyone who’s in a relationship.  Any kind of relationship.  In fact, it applies to everyone who cares about another human being.  The focus of the second section of More Than Two is self-care, nurturing relationships, communication strategies and pitfalls, and jealousy.  Chapter nine, regarding boundaries, is also beneficial for anyone in a relationship.  Even though the rest of the book focuses on polyamorous frameworks, structures, transitions, and community, the threads of section two are woven throughout the book, and the authors continuously come back to them, which makes the entire book a beneficial read for all people, regardless of their chosen relationship model.

As this book is largely about building and maintaining ethical relationships within a polyamorous framework, Veaux and Rickert present two axiomatic ethical principles that underlie the content of More Than Two:  First, don’t treat people as things.  Second, the people in the relationship are more important than the relationship.  Within these axioms are the ideas that all relationships should be consensual (which requires a lot of honesty; you can’t give consent without being informed), that we shouldn’t sacrifice the self for the relationship or expect others to do so, that seeing partners as need-meeting machines dehumanizes them, that one partner’s needs are not more important than the other’s (the needs and desires of everyone involved should be recognized), and that we are not entitled to anyone’s time or love — that being in a relationship and giving our love and time is a choice.  The Relationship Bill of Rights included in chapter three is invaluable as a conversational springboard. 

Some things that I absolutely love about this book:

  • It doesn’t present polyamory in a Utopian or ideal way; in fact, the introduction lays out that polyamory is hard fucking work, that it’s not inherently safe, that growth often includes pain, that it means being vulnerable and giving things up, and that we can’t control and shouldn’t try to prescribe how relationships will grow and change.
  • It presents monogamy as a legitimate relationship model and specifically claims that polyamory is not more advanced, enlightened, or progressive than monogamy.  There are people on polyamory discussion boards who disagree with this interpretation because Veaux and Rickert criticize the relationship escalator and the socialization of Oneitis that stems from fairy tales and romantic comedies; however, I don’t see a critique of the way we’re socialized to believe that we have one true soul mate and that if we don’t find that person we’ve failed as synonymous with a critique of choosing to be in a mindful and ethical monogamous relationship. 
  • At the end of each chapter are self-reflection questions to guide the reader through applications of the theories and themes of that chapter to his or her (or hir) life.  I’m bringing a bunch of these questions with me on vacation and am planning to actually write out answers.  It’s like therapy, but for the cost of a book.
  • More Than Two espouses compassion and non-judgment in all of our interactions with people we care about; it advocates the use of active listening; and it encourages readers to own their choices (and feelings) and acknowledge that our choices have real-life consequences.  It tells us to assume good intention on the part of our partners, which is an incredibly valuable relationship skill.   
  • It presents the idea that self-worth cannot come from another person; it has to be built from within.  That it’s very difficult to have agency within a relationship unless you feel secure, and security is something that has to be practiced.  That you must have compassion for yourself in addition to being aware of your needs, value, limitations, and boundaries.
  • The authors write about their own experiences and how they’ve learned from them.  They don’t present themselves as perfect experts; they present themselves as people who have fucked up, have learned from their mistakes and the mistakes of others, and are in the process of continuing to learn from their relationships and the relationships of others in their communities and networks. 
After finishing More Than Two yesterday, I skimmed through The Ethical Slut again; there are many differences between the two (you can read all about them on poly forums).  One important idea that is agreed upon by both, however, is that our capacity to love is limitless and that love is abundant.  There are many kinds of love in the world – platonic, romantic, erotic, and all the shades between and combining those types – and choosing to give your love to someone in any capacity is a gift. 

I consider myself ethically non-monogamous; before reading More Than Two, I never would have considered myself a polyamorous person, even though I’ve had the experience of being in love with more than one person at the same time.  In fact, I often joke that I’m barely amorous, so how can I be polyamorous?  As an intensely introverted person, the idea of committing the kind of time it takes to make a romantic relationship work with more than one person while still maintaining close ties with friends and family and working and having hobbies scares me a bit.  Or at least it did.  I didn’t realize until reading More Than Two that a lot of poly people have long-distance relationships in which they only see their LDR partner(s) once or twice a year.  Or that relationships can be what you choose to make them, which although it seems fairly obvious, is kind of a radical idea.  So maybe I am poly.  Still figuring that out… and very glad to have Franklin and Eve supporting me along the way.