Puzzling out the need to help at all costs

If you ask me for help with something, I’m likely to go out of my way to provide it.  At times this means putting my own needs aside, even when they are more pressing, or trying to be there for almost complete strangers to the extent that is expected for close friends.  I’ve been examining this in recent years and trying to puzzle out why this is such a driving need for me.

I think one aspect of it is rooted in the fact that I’m not someone who typically asks for help.  I struggle through trying to find every way I can to deal with a problem on my own before I ask for assistance.  Or I don’t, I leave something unsolved rather then admitting I need a helping hand. If I were one of the seven deadly sins, I would be pride. So, when someone comes to me for help, I see them making a sacrifice even in the act of asking.  Maybe they aren’t as obstinate and prideful as I am, maybe for them it isn’t hard to reasonably reach out for a helping hand when they need that.  But I don’t know that, and I liken it to my own experiences and don’t want to let someone down if they struggled intensely to even reach that moment of asking.

Another aspect is that I do derive a lot of joy and purpose from helping others.  I’ve always felt most comfortable in tight knit community settings, where I feel connected with a group that works together for our mutual benefit and shared closeness.  When I help someone else, I feel I am helping myself, because I truly get a deep satisfaction by seeing others succeed and flourish.  And often those people are the ones I’m close to, and their well being does directly impact mine.

I think the factor I’ve noticed the most though, relates to my experience with mental illness.  I questionably have ADHD, I’ve been given the diagnosis, but that was many years ago and I question if I have the associated traits at this time.  At times though, focus is hard and executive dysfunction makes doing the do quite impossible.  I also have bi-polar disorder, PTSD, and anxiety.  These days I’m starting to add chronic pain to the list, though I haven’t sought out a doctor to determine the cause of the constant back and joint pain I’ve been experiencing increasingly for a year or so.  It all culminates in being very low on spoons most days, and having an inability to do basic things, a fact I beat myself up for.  I am not pleased when I’m anything less than extremely productive, so when my anxiety can’t handle asking an associate where something is at a store, or my chronic pain makes me put off cleaning for another day, I feel like a bit of a fuck up.  I know that’s not the case, I would never think that of someone else, but it’s easier to be hard on yourself I suppose.  But, here is the thing.  When it comes to most of these issues, there is a magic little switch in my mind that flips on when someone else asks for help.  I may be on the verge of a panic attack thinking about asking generic Target Comrade where the decorative soap dispensers are, but if a friend I’m with need to ask for something and is too anxious there’s a little click.  They need me to do a thing, the switch is flipped, and I’m marching right up there to make sure I ask, and do it damn well, and figure out exactly where the singing unicorn photo frame my friend desperately needs is kept.  I can brain hack past most of my mental illness as soon as I’m doing it for other people.

This happens to me with Kelev a lot.  We share many of the same diagnosis, PTSD, bi-polar, anxiety.  Neither of us is a completely functional human, though we both manage to survive alright on our own if need be.  Sometimes though, he just can’t manage the facade of being okay some days.  If I’m in a fucked up headspace and trying hard to direct myself towards thoughts of sushi and glitter but instead keep dwelling on how lovely it would feel to run my car off a bridge, and then suddenly I become aware that he isn’t doing okay, the switch is flipped.  I’m not focused on my suicidal ideation  or existential dread anymore, I’m focused on what I can do to make his day a little brighter and my problems just float away.  And since most of my issues aren’t actually based on any real life problem, but just my brain meat deciding that life is awesome so we’re gunna have a shitty time anyway, often those consuming thoughts has dissipated entirely by the time I come back to them later.  I don’t know where the switch came from or why it is there, but I know that if I feel someone needs me, I am able to do things and handle things that are well beyond my capacity to do on my own, hard as I may try.  So I like that, it makes me feel a bit like a superhero, because I’m performing feats that are just simply beyond my best efforts on a normal day.  And if I can ease someone else’s burden a little bit, I’ll feel the day was worthwhile.

So, I like to help.  I like being asked, I consider it an honor with how hard even that act can be.  I like feeling purposeful and seeing the improvement in the lives of those around me if I can assist them.  And I like that while I may be a slightly broken worn out human specimen, I can shut that off for a little while and wear the cape of Captain Assistance for as long as it takes until everyone else is okay.  One day I’ll figure out if this all is healthy for me, but for now, it feels good and it’s useful, and that’s all I can ask.

 

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How to cultivate compersion

Compersion is the joy you experience in seeing another’s joy, often used in polyamory to explain the happy feelings you get from seeing a partner experiencing love with their other partners.  Not every polya person feels compersion, but it seems to be a goal many strive for.  It is completely normal for polyamorous, relationship anarchist, and other non-monogamous folks to struggle with jealousy, and feel hard feelings or even indifference at seeing or hearing about their partner’s happiness with other people.  What sets non-mogogamous relationships apart from monogamous ones, is instead of jealousy being seen as a testament to how much you love someone, it is viewed as a normal emotional response, but one you don’t use as an excuse for poor behavior, and one you work through in a hopefully healthy way.  A lot of non-monogamous folks aim to feel compersion, they strive for a goal of not only working through jealousy or any other hard feelings at their partner being with others, but getting a positive rush of feelings instead.  I have learned to absolutely love compersion over the years, it is an amazing heady rush of joy, and feels gratifying knowing you are feeling this wonderful joy simply for another’s happiness with no reward of your own.  In realizing how amazing it feels, I’ve tried to study it and find ways to further cultivate it within myself, and open up to feeling it more frequently.  In doing so, my jealousy has also decreased and become easier to handle each time, so that is an added bonus.

The first step in cultivating compersion is really cultivating joy from things that don’t benefit or directly effect you.  For me, I started practicing mindfulness first, learning to really live in each moment.  Then I directed that outward, I reached out for the feeling of joy in seeing happiness in others.  I would stop and watch my partners do simple things, inhale spices from a pan as they cooked and smile, lovingly arrange his wrestling figures with clear happiness in cherishing each one, get excited over a movie that was coming out that I couldn’t care less about but which clearly thrilled him, light up with a grin after they took a perfect photograph of sunlight playing on tree branches at the park.  I would look for joy in those moments, and taught my body how to respond with happiness when I just saw the people I loved experiencing their individual moments of joy.

Once I had learned to be in touch with and feel happiness when seeing the people in my life happy, compersion began to come more naturally.  When I would see a partner light up with happiness at something to do with one of their other partners, part of my reaction was to have a bodily response of joy at their joy.  At first though, that response was still small, and often overshadowed by jealousy or insecurity.  Those are powerful feelings, and it is easy to have them consume you and cause strong visceral reactions.  I had been teaching myself for years how to not lash out because of those reactions, but that was learning how to control a behavioral response, not quite eliminating the initial emotion entirely.  To handle working through those emotions I needed to really dive into the threads of them and untangle them so they could be processed and I could leave them behind me.

When I would feel jealous, I started really digging into the reasons behind it.  I asked myself what I was afraid of happening, and then what that made me afraid of, and so on, following it down the rabbit hole.  Often times it was insecurity, that someone would be a better partner then me, either sexually, emotionally, in giving advice, etc.  The scary thing was, often it could be true, I’m not super sexual with a lot of my partners, and I’m a much better person emotionally now, but I’m not the best, and when I first started doing this I was working through a lot of issues and was sometimes still kinda shitty.  So I accepted and acknowledged that.  I took into myself the fact that yes, my partners might have other partners who were better then me, in one way, or many ways.  Where did that lead?  I traced that to a fear that they would then leave more for those people.  Dissecting that it was really two fears.  The first was that they would leave me because the other person was better and that person would ask for exclusivity or they would just prefer to be with that person and not want to make time for me. The second was that in being with someone better, they would leave me because they would recognize I was shitty and not good enough for them.

Okay, so the first I couldn’t really fix, if a partner who really seemed to want to be polya then decided to be exclusive with another partner and cut me out, I couldn’t change that.  If they no longer wanted to make time for me, that was their choice.  So I asked myself what would happen then?  Well, I’ve survived some wretched things, I’ve lost a relationship one of the few people I loved the most deeply and was most attached to.  I’ve dealt with abuse and trauma from relationships.  And I’ve survived a lot of non-relationship related trauma.  If I could survive that, I could survive more loss.  Once I confirmed that in myself and recognized those fears, that jealousy mostly dissipated.  When it would come up, I would just have to remind myself that I could survive whatever happened, and I could make it dissipate again.

The second fear source was still there though, what if a partner left because another partner being better just made them realize I wasn’t good enough?  I could have worked through that one the same way, but the insecurity would still have been nagging at me.  So I worked on myself as a person.  I changed anything I was not satisfied with, that made -me- feel not good enough.  I went on a rapid path of self improvement.  So now, if a partner feels I am not good enough for them, I know there is nothing in myself I would want to change because I am good enough for me.  So I can accept that, and again remind myself of my ability to survive without them, and alleviate that fear in the same way.

That path dealt with most of my jealousy, but not quite all.  The rest was born from seeing someone else getting something I wanted.  I still felt jealous at times because a partner would be sharing something of themself with another partner, and I wanted to experience that as well.  That was my last big roadblock that would rise up and drown out my compersion.  That was also probably the hardest one to deal with.  First I would look at what it was I felt I was missing or not getting enough of from them.  Once I identified what I wanted, I asked if it was feasible to get that.  For example, when one of my long distance partners was giving time to another partner, I was jealous because I wanted more time with them.  It was easier for them to give more time to the other partner who lived nearby.  I had to figure out on my own and with them, if there was a way to increase how often we saw each other.  When there was not, I had to let it go.  When that jealousy would crop up, I would remind myself that they would love to give me more of that if they could, but it wasn’t possible, and them not doing so didn’t mean any lessening of their love for me.  Sometimes I realized that my partner just wasn’t aware of or wasn’t focused on my wants, so I could simply ask for them to be met.  If I saw another partner getting a lot of affection and realized I wanted more of that, I could let my partner know I was hoping for cuddles sometime soon and ask if they could provide that.  Often that was enough to solve the issue, and I made sure to center those conversations on my wants, and not as a response to what they shared with someone else, but at an appropriate time where they could focus on what I was asking.

The really hard part came with when they didn’t want to meet those wants.  There have been times where I wanted something like more affection from a partner, saw another of their partners getting that from them, and then asked for more of that, only to be turned down.  I had to learn to accept that.  Mindfulness came back into play here, sitting with my emotions and letting them exist, and then letting them go on their way.  I learned to accept that just because I wanted something from a partner, did not mean they wanted the same with me.  Them wanting that with someone else, did not mean they would want it with me or owe it to me.  Often times it wasn’t because of anything I was doing wrong, it was out of my control, and just something I had to acknowledge, and lower my expectations for.  And again, once that was done, I could redirect myself to compersion.

Now when I see my partners being happy with other partners, it does usually fill me with joy.  I’ve taught my body how to feel happiness in their happiness, and I’ve learned the skills in handling emotions that might come in and disrupt that.  Those other feelings do still interject at times.  I have to process and handle them, especially in new situations, or ones that hit old surprising triggers I’ve forgotten about.  I try and communicate about it and work through it both with my partners and on my own.  And once it has been resolved and I’ve let those feelings go, I can once again focus on that amazing feeling of compersion.  It is a hard but worthwhile process for me, because my life used to only be filled with joy I got from how the world effected me.  Now that I feel joy from the happiness of those I love, I have a hundredfold more happiness in my life and that is an existence worth working towards.

Making a long distance relationship work

So I talked about yesterday how I decided to open up again to the idea of long distance relationships, and how I now have a few dynamics that are long distance.  Today I’m going to go over some ideas I’ve come across or come up with, in making a LDR as functional as possible.  I’ll split this into a few categories that I feel are helpful in making a LDR work well.

Expectations

LDRs can be incredibly rewarding, but they offer a lot less in terms of actual in person contact then most relationships between people who cohabitate or live close by.  For many people, a lot of a relationship is sharing experiences, intimacy, and moments of vulnerability as you go through the ups and downs of daily life. These can be a bit hard to recreate when someone isn’t there in person a lot of the time.  I think its important then to make sure your expectations are reasonable.  In a relationship with a nesting partner (person you cohabitate with) you may expect or want to depend on them to prioritize comforting you when you are not doing okay.  It is reasonable to want this as well from a long distance partner, although the comfort might take the form of a phone call, text, or video chat instead.  It is important to remember though, when you expect this of your nesting partner, you are also able to see if they are also going through a hard moment, or in the middle of something urgent, or just unable to provide that at the time.  It can be harder to see those things in a partner who is not physically there, so limiting your expectations so that you are not getting upset with a partner for not being able to provide support, when you may not have the whole picture, helps minimize conflict.  Of course if having that emotional support is important to you, and your partner is constantly falling short of providing it, you need to discuss if there is an incompatibility there.  But as a whole it tends to relieve a lot of stress on long distance relationships when we remember that the other person is living their own life that we aren’t privy to every moment of, and being generous in your compassion if they are embroiled in something else at times.

Also, different people need different levels of contact to make a relationship feel fulfilling.  Because you don’t have the convenience of knowing you live with someone, and at some point you’ll run into them on a mostly daily basis, it can be hard to know exactly when or how often you’ll connect and communicate.  It helps to define this with each other, figuring out both what you want in regards to frequency and type of communication, and what your bare minimum is to keep the relationship functional, during times where time is hard to find.

It is important to remember that every relationship has periods of greater and lesser intensity.  With a LDR, the lack of constant or in person contact can make it easier for insecurities or feelings of abandonment to take root and grow.  It is normal though for a relationship to be very intense with lots of flutters of NRE (or ORE) and overwhelming emotions at some points, and at other points to be more of a comfortable steady connection with less extreme highs.  This can manifest in periods of constant excitable conversation, and other times with somewhat less contact or contact that is more based in checking in and sharing your day than being overcome with rushes of emotion.  Accepting the waves of intensity and low-key stability as they come and go, helps in keeping an LDR functional.  Of course if you feel your partner is not keeping in touch and feel neglected it is important to speak up and ask if they can meet your needs.  But don’t worry if your communication does not always have the same highs it did when starting out, or if the emotional intensity varies some as your focus shifts between your long distance partner, and attending to things in your every day life.

Rituals

Relationships tend to develop rituals over time, either out of habit, or constructed intentionally between partners.  Rituals can be especially helpful in LDRs, in having something to help you reconnect when you see each other, or in having something to do together during the time you are apart.

I try and say good morning to my partner Hoffy every morning, and good night before going to sleep at night.  This is a ritual we didn’t plan, but that developed from how our communication took shape early on.  It is something I can look forward to, I love waking up to a good morning message from him, or getting up early enough I can send one first.  It helps me connect with him from the very start of my day, and that helps facilitate sharing more of my day in conversation as it progresses.  When I say goodnight, though he often goes to bed a few hours before me, it comforts me to know we are thinking of each other at the start and finish of our days, even if we aren’t able to see each other in person for those moments.  I feel like this ritual helps keep our relationship healthy and make it a little easier with the distance between us.

That said, it is important again to keep reasonable expectations, ones your partner is okay with, and to be compassionate when what they can provide or commit to does vary.  In one of my very first LDRs as a young teen, I used to say goodnight to my partner Kyuu every night before bed as well.  The difference there was that I struggled a lot with insecurity about the distance, so I elevated that ritual in my mind and clung to it for reassurance.  It led to me being controlling, and getting upset with them if saying goodnight to each other was not the very last thing we did before going to sleep.  I was trying to recreate the feeling of actually going to sleep next to each other, but instead I just made it so we had to constantly coordinate sleep schedules whether that worked for us or not, and prevented him from having other conversations once I was asleep, or else I would get upset.  It was not something I would have taken to that extreme in an in person dynamic, but having that distance, especially because I had other insecurities at the time and was worried about abandonment or betrayals due to past experiences, I turned what could have been a lovely confirming ritual into a issue of control and tension.  That is something to definitely avoid doing, rituals should be enjoyable and not create extra pressure or be a medium for exercising control.

These days, sometimes Hoffy falls asleep before saying goodnight to me.  Occasionally I’m the one who falls asleep before I remember to text a goodnight.  While we never agreed on the ritual as a specific commitment we made to each other, we usually apologize for this in the morning if it happens.  There is an understanding that this is a thing we try and do because it feels good for both of us, and that we are sorry if we miss out on this particular shared moment.  But there is also no control or upset outburst if it is not fulfilled, no massive significance attached to the ritual that there would be a -something must be wrong- moment of fear or anger if life happens and someone just falls asleep.  This kind of understanding and flexibility within the structure of this little ritual helps to keep it as something enjoyable without any pressure or tension attached.

Other good confirming rituals are ones shared during the times you are able to be together.  Shara and I always cook something when they visit, or go out to eat one of our favorite foods.  Often we make onigiri together, one of my favorites, but a recipe I just can’t seem to get to taste quite as good without them here.  We also often watch Love It or List It, a somewhat ridiculous guilty pleasure show that we enjoy poking fun at together.  Having these comfortable routines we settle into with each other brings stability to the times we share, and creates the feeling of the same comfortable safeness that I feel with partners I do cohabitate with.

Ways to connect over distance

One of the hardest things in LDRs is how to connect over the distance.  Many LDRs start with talking online, and progress through messaging, talking on the phone, or videochat, between the periods of in person contact.  After a while things can get a little stale with what to constantly talk about.  It makes sense, in person relationships are often built on shared experiences and physical intimacy as well as on conversation.  It can be hard to figure out what else to build a foundation on over distance, aside from conversation, which can be hard to keep up to a very active engaging level during busy times.  Here are some ideas of other ways to connect and share experiences over distance.

Watch tv or movies together – you can coordinate this by choosing a show or movie that you both have on DVD or on netflix and starting it at the same time while on the phone or videochat, or by using an app such as Rabbit, watch2gether, or gaze.

Write letters or share a journal – while texting or messaging is the norm in LDRs and you usually have the option of daily contact, there is something the just feels really good about reading a letter or written message from someone (assuming their handwriting is better than mine and you can read it).  Writing letters to each other or having a notebook you each keep and write in for a few days or weeks before mailing it back to the other person, can offer a wonderful way to share your thoughts with a bit of extra excitement attached.

Play games together – My housemates are long distance at the moment while one of them is on tour, and they often play Overwatch together as a way to connect.  They play while in person together as well, as gaming with a partner is often a great shared hobby.  If you aren’t really into gaming, or the same games, there still may be some fun games you can try together.  Facebook has some fun games like words with friends and draw something, which can just be a great way to enjoy something fun with a partner that you can play on and off throughout any day.

Have online date nights – you can get really creative with this.  I like to suggest picking a recipe you can both make, making it together while chatting or on the phone, then setting up a videochat to eat dinner together and watch a movie or play a game afterwards.  Really though, you can do a lot of creative things with an online date.  Videochat on your phones and each go for a walk, showing each other the sites around your neighborhood.  Bring your laptop or phone to a coffee shop and chat and send pictures over coffee and ask each other all sorts of dorky first date sort of questions, you may already know the answers if you’ve known each other a long time, but it can be fun to see how they’ve changed.

These are just a few suggestions for ways you can cultivate experiences together over distance.  I highly recommend folks who are in a long distance relationship who are struggling with ways to connect pursue further resources as well.  Here are a couple that have been recommended to me and that I’ve found useful.  And good luck, I’ve found my LDRs to be incredibly fulfilling and I hope you find joy in any you pursue!

https://www.lovingfromadistance.com/

https://surviveldr.com/

 

 

 

Deciding to get into a long distance relationship

Some of my first serious relationships were long distance.  It was hard, but as a teenager it was a little easier, simply because I was still living with my parents and stuck going to high school every day, so living with a partner or having the freedom to go out on adventures any time we wanted wasn’t an option.  So I had a few relationships that involved eight hour phone conversations through the whole night, ending sleepily as the sun rose.  Figuring out how to use a webcam in the early days of chat messengers, and sometimes leaving it on as we went to sleep so we could see each others peaceful faces during the night if we woke up.  It was hard at times, I was deeply lonely and felt very isolated, and we would eagerly count down the days until they could visit.  When we fought, because in at least one dynamic we had our share of problems and fights were unfortunately frequent, there was no ability to offer physical comfort or intimacy to mend our closeness afterwards.

Once I had my first relationship in college, where we moved in together within the first week, long distance became harder.  I got used to a constant presence of a partner, the ability to take an impromptu midnight run to Taco Hell, or walk through the woods together when we needed an escape from the world, and share a moment of intimacy on the bank of a stream. I got used to sharing a bed, something which I was extremely attached to for many years after, until I re-discovered my ability to be independent and learned the equal joys of sleeping alone sometimes. I had a few long distance dynamics in my early adulthood, but after a couple years I decided I wasn’t willing to put myself through the inevitably painful part of missing someone so much and struggling to connect in every day life.  I set a boundary, I would not do long distance relationshipping anymore.  I kept to it for quite a few years.  The most I was willing to do was start relationships that were long distance for a short time, with the goal of quickly narrowing the distance and moving in together.  Not a hard thing to do since I had an ever fluctuating household of partners and friends, and we always managed to cram another person in when the need arose.

Well, that changed again, probably when my partner Shara went from living with me, to moving back to their hometown a couple hours away.  Our relationship improved in some ways, they were in a place that was healthier for them when back home with their group of friends, and we worked hard on figuring out a communication level and visit schedule that worked for us.  Because it was an already established relationship of a few years at that time, I was willing to put in what it took to make long distance work.  Then I got involved with Kwik, a partner in Canada.  I hadn’t considered beginning a long distance relationship that I knew would stay long distance, but I decided on a whim to give it a try and was happy with how it functioned.  When I met Hoffy this past year, I had already changed my views and was willing to get into LDRs again, and I’m glad for it, because that has grown into one of the most impactful relationships of my life.  So, I do long distance relationships again.  They are not easy, they require a lot of dedication to work well at times, but for the right person I have found it is worth it for me.

I think it also might be easier when polyamorous, or a relationship anarchist.  Polyamory accepts more then one relationship at a time.  With a long distance relationship, a lot of the struggle is often a lack of physical affection and intimacy, and not being able to share little every day moments as well.  If you have the possibility of a relationship in your life that already provides those things, it can be easier to not feel starved for them when getting into an LDR.  Of course you may miss those things with that particular partner, but you don’t get so touch starved overall that it impacts your mental health even more.  As a relationship anarchist, relationships are custom build from the ground up, made to fit the needs of the people involved with a respect for autonomy, and limiting expectations only to what both are comfortable committing to.  Because of this absolute possibility of fluidity in structure, you can go into a dynamic with the knowledge that you will see someone infrequently, but leaving behind societal and cultural expectations that a relationship is less valuable if you don’t cohabitate or spend time together daily.  While not having certain regular daily interactions may still be painful, you remove the societal expectation that things must be a certain way to be valid or real, so that pain is not compounded upon.

Tomorrow I’ll go into ideas I’ve compiled over the years for making LDRs work well.  I’ve found them to be a very integral part of my happiness because of the wonderful partners I have, and am grateful I opened back up to the idea.  Still, they are difficult, and I hope I can offer some helpful suggestions on how to connect more with someone even when not there in person.

A never-ending lust for learning

“What are you up to?”

“I’ve been doing homework, or pre-reading for class”

“Oh, that sucks”

“No, it’s really exhilarating!”

It’s true though, despite the looks of confusion I get.  I love to learn.  I love the feeling of stretching my mind to add in new concepts and ideas.  To storing knowledge away knowing that there will come a time where one piece of it will provide that perfect ah ha! moment, that click as I solve a puzzle.

While most of the people I surround myself with seem to enjoy learning and growth in some way, the folks I interact with that are part of society as a whole often just shy away from it entirely.  I grew up in a household where my parents read the paper every day, delighting in some new article about a topic they hadn’t heard of before.  I have a lot of privilege in that way.  While most parents struggle to make ends meet and get enough sleep after their two or more jobs, mine were talking me to performances and plays.  I wonder how much of my absolute lust for knowledge comes from them.

Kelev brings up a few new movies he got when we talk on the phone before bed.  He loves watching documentaries, especially about history or famous figures.  His favorites seem to be the ones that show a side you never really expected.  He’s like an eager puppy digging up a favorite bone when he finds some new treasure trove of knowledge about an event or person who we all thought we knew and took for granted.  I love watching how excited he gets, I can practically see his tail wagging and his exuberance is contagious, soon I’m wagging along with him.  I’m happy that a lifetime of shitty retail jobs and mind numbing tv shows, of institutionalized education in a fucked up school system, hasn’t killed his curiosity.

James shares an article with me, something he read that really spoke to him.  It’s intriguing, and some of the concepts require I read over it for a third time to really begin to grasp them.  We discuss it, coming at it from very different perspectives, and I’m grateful that it didn’t just show up on my feed one day.  Reading it has already stretched my mind, but hearing how he views on it pushes me even further.  I’m thankful for that moment of growth, it invigorates my whole day.

I eagerly share it with Hoffy, and am surprised when he reads it right away and discusses it with me.  I am still getting used to having partners who are so interested in what I share with them.  Our minds tend to work in a more similar way.  With James, I was stretching to get another perspective, with Hoffy, there is more of a shared understanding.  It feels like home, and it cements a strong foundation, so when we talk about what we are thinking, we can keep building upward together on our own discoveries.

I continue to pass on threads of the conversation to Kyuu or to Witty.  I discuss it with Kelev as we talk before bed.  I learn more from each person and delight in how my day is just filled with that bright happy light of discovery and innovative thought.  I remember how I felt so numb, with drinking, with depression.  This is the opposite of numb.  This is growth, this is wonder, this is what I think of when I think of education.

It is back to schoolwork the next day and the feeling persists.  What I’m learning in nursing school isn’t often of the same nature as an article shared to me about communication styles or societal power structures. It isn’t the same as a documentary with a whole new take on a historical event that gives you insight into the minds of another culture or country in that snapshot of history.  It has the same glow though.  One day I will be teaching what I’m learning to a patient, or discussing it with a fellow nurse, and someone will say something that expands my perspective on it in another burst of light. I still have a lust for such learning after all this time, it will persist through my whole life.  So yes, I am excited to do my homework, I’m excited for just about everything these days.  The more experience and knowledge I can pack in my brain the better, and while I’m sure I’ll need periods of relaxation and silence again soon, I’m immersing myself happily in the hubbub of learning and growth right now, and I feel at home there.

Utilize the momentum of good moments

I love new beginnings.  Today is the first day of a new semester, and it has been a hectic day so far.

One of the cats recently had dental surgery and has been getting medication in the morning.  The medication is finished, but he’s on soft food and needs to be fed separately, which means shutting him in the bathroom to feed him.  Because he still expects me to catch him and give him meds, he gave me quite the run around when I was trying to corral him into the bathroom for feeding this morning.

The dogs were let out to run in the yard for a few hours, Dawson absolutely adores the snow and was bouncing around like a maniac.  I went to break up the ice in their water bucket and fill it with fresh water.  The only watering system that works for them is a large industrial bucket, chained to the kennel by two point.  Bowls or dishes filled with water, or even less heavy buckets or ones not chained down, are two much fun for Dawson to toss around.  He won’t do that with his food bowl of course, just anything filled with water…you know, the thing that needs to be always available.  So, of course I broke the water bucket when trying to get the ice out.  It has a nice crack in the bottom and some of the rim shattered off.  I should have remembered that would happen, this isn’t my first winter, but instead of bringing it in to defrost and them dumping it, I tried to knock the ice out against the concrete.  Now we need a new bucket.  I found another that had a handle too thick to clip onto the chains to hold it down and filled it, hoping that since the other was immovable for so long, that he wouldn’t think to go back to his old habits of tossing them around.  He’s my little monster though, so of course five minutes after I fill it I see him happily tossing a now-empty bucket around the yard.  So we need a new bucket.

On a normal morning this all might have seemed tedious, but it’s the first day of a new semester.

I’ve been working on my pre-reading and homework for my nursing class.  If I don’t get ahead, I’ll get behind, so I wanted to finish the homework for the next couple weeks before class started.  We had gotten a preliminary copy of the syllabus, but the module assignments due didn’t actually match the online modules available.  Some of the ones listed on the syllabus don’t seem to exist, and some of the ones online that seem relevant to the reading, were not on the syllabus.  I figured it might be because it was just a preliminary copy, so when our online platform for the class opened up, I checked the new syllabus hoping for updates.  Nope, it was the same.  So, I fired off an email to the Professor hoping to clarify what actually needed completed and handed in.  The online modules are constantly changing, and I imagine they don’t always update every single teacher who uses them, that they have been changed, so I’m guessing that is how that confusion happened.  I could wait until class in person tomorrow to discuss it, but I’m hoping to possibly here back today so that I can work on it tonight after my first ceramics class.

Normally this would all be very frustrating and create a lot of anxiety, but this is the first day of a new semester.

I just can’t help but get excited at new beginnings.  It’s like when it first snows, and you run outside and make the first footprints in the flawless blanket of white.  I just love the wonder of a fresh start, the ability to do everything from a pristine organized standpoint.  That feeling of having my shit together.  And I don’t have my shit together, as you can clearly tell from my brief summary of the morning.  But I feel like I do, because I took that fresh start energy and handled each problem with a wry grin and a laughing shake of the head.  I did not let it pile on pressure and anxiety, I just took life’s curve balls, small ones that could easily overwhelm me on my anxious hot mess days, and I rolled with them and felt accomplished instead. I love to utilize that new beginning energy for as long as I possibly can.  It is one of my own little life hacks, taking something I know that makes me feel good, and using it to circumvent the anxious low-spoon state of my every day life for as long as possible.  If I get it right I can sometimes move fluidly from the fresh-start-I-can-do-anything feeling, to a wow-I-handled-shit-great-I-got-this feeling of success that keeps me on a forward trajectory even one the shiny newness has worn off.  That is the goal, take the pre-made good feelings in life, whatever they may be for you, and build on them until you get enough momentum that it can carry you through the rough patches for as long as possible.  Life won’t always feel this effortless, but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

How do you deal with unrequited love?

My first experience with love was a boy named Dan.  I was in sixth grade and he was in fifth. He had tousled dirty blond hair and a crooked smile, the sort of smile I’ve learned I have a weakness for.  I did not fit in among my class at all, though I went to a small school and everyone was always polite, it was the sort of place where in a class of 20, everyone was invited to birthday parties.  Dan had friends in his class, he wasn’t a popular kid, but he was well enough liked and had no shortage of people to trade pokemon cards with or chase around in a game of tree tag.  Some recesses, I was one of the ones he spent his time with, and it was the first time I craved a person, felt a constant burning desire and elation when I was around them, and a devastating loss when I was not, as though the world were a bit more empty.  I didn’t know before then that the quality of the world could change like that. I hadn’t realized that when a person occupied the same space as me, they could bring not only themselves and their presence, but could change the very air around them and the colors in a room, so it all was suddenly so much more alive.  We played hockey together, I got extraordinarily good at playing defense despite being someone who would have been more suited to an offensive position.  He was the goalie, and I wanted to be as near him as I could be at all times.  I never told him how I felt, though I wished every day to just be lucky enough that it would be one of those days that he spent time with me.  I used a birthday wish to wish that he would move in next door, and when the neighbors put up a for sale sign unexpectedly a few weeks later I was ecstatic, but a young couple moved in instead.  I went to a different school for seventh grade, and aside from a couple bar mitzvahs here and there, I didn’t see him again.

There was a boy named Han in my Japanese class in high school.  Another boy with a crooked grin, prone to laughter and easy with his smiles.  He sat behind me and I was the one he would often whisper his jokes to.  Walking into class and seeing him sitting there was so often the highlight of my day.  It was more then that, my world was a hell of depression, all flat like a paper cut out.  He rendered it in 3-D and brought the colors back, when my heart saw him and fluttered it felt like the first time that day I had taken a breath.  He confided in me about his crush on one of the girls in the class, it broke me a little to hear but I tried to encourage him to tell her and give it a shot.  I never told him the way he made my days bearable just by existing, or how I imagined his laughter in my dreams.

As I entered into the world of relationships, I connected too strongly, or not strongly enough.  I was a flurry of NRE (new relationship energy) and neediness, trying to finally satisfy my desperate cravings for a person of my own.  I wanted to possess someone, consume them, take in their brightness and hold it inside me so I would never feel that crushing loneliness that had lived within me again.  Often I made grandiose commitments and thrust myself into ill fitting partnerships without a second thought and found myself later trying to pretend that my love matched theirs.  As I was with one person after another who loved me more strongly over time while my feelings bordered on apathetic once the NRE had passed, I was wrought with guilt and overbearing discomfort.  The few times I felt a more enduring passion, I was paralyzed with fear of losing it and sought control just to hold on to my grip on the world. I was disgusted with myself for my needs, my desperation, how I saw myself leading people on more and more, the realization that I was failing to maintain emotional intimacy and was left in partnerships where I had to pretend or cause someone else the heartbreak I felt when my affections weren’t returned.

Even writing this I want to stop a moment and remark on it, since I haven’t looked back and viewed myself through this lens in quite a while.  Sweet gibbering fuckweasels I was unhealthy.  I was beyond a hot mess and the folks who put up with me through my teenage years deserve a fucking medal.

As I entered into adulthood, or at least left my parents home and began having more relationships that involved responsibility and cohabitation and emotional nuance, I began to take significantly more care in how I got involved with people.  I made a nice neat stack of mistakes in the last ten years as well, but I moved forward, gaining more self awareness and becoming more conscious of the commitments I made.  It took me many more years to work past controlling tendencies, but I started to improve, and I talked about in another piece how I learned to be honest and devoted myself to that ideal to an extreme. With that came a lot of one sided relationships.  I won’t say I didn’t love many of my partners, I did, but not to the extent they loved me or in the same ways.  It was something discussed to varying degrees, often times I was very blunt with what I could or could not provide, what could be expected of me, and where feelings matched up versus where they diverged. I began to see the effect of unrequited love on my partners, or at least an unmatched level of love and desire.

Over the years I’ve known both sides of unrequited love.  I’ve spiraled through a dozen ways of dealing with it, most of them terribly toxic.  Something changed in recent years.  When I was a teenager I was severely depressed for a handful of years.  Everything was constantly numb, and love was a brief blinding high in the flat twilight grays that were my existence.  As a young adult I was an alcoholic.  I had hated the numbness of depression, so I recreated it, because maybe without it I was too much.  I broke free of that, and I broke free of a lot of toxicity with it.  When I transitioned, when I embraced my independence and autonomy, when I learned what truly made me feel rooted and good, I was able to be a person with emotions that were often still too intense and too much, but that I didn’t need to numb down into nothing.  I studied mindfulness, it meshed well with my long held personal beliefs that there are few real negative emotions.  The emotions most people thought of as negative, sadness, lonliness, heartbreak, anger; they were all close friends that I embraced after years of solitude with nothing at all in my mind.  I learned to sit with them and trust them to just exist, to be, and then to move along.

These days I love the intensity of NRE as much as ever.  I’m careful not to make grandiose commitments during it, to try and spare the feelings of people who I am loving for a moment but maybe not for a lifetime.  When it passes I make my commitments sparingly, to the few people who capture me in such a way that I want to be drawn to them with that exuberant overzealous devotion.  Sometimes my feelings aren’t returned, or are mirrored back with a reflection that is far less intense and clear.  Where that once would have been devastating, it is now intriguing and tolerable.  My sadness and loneliness in those moments is exquisitely sharp but like a masochists pain, it feels good in equal measure as it does bad.  It is easily dispelled by the sheer joy of experiencing love well up from within me.  I can study my loneliness and the pain of unrequited love and be content just to let it exist.  No one is obligated to love me back simply because the intensity with which I burn for them is overwhelming.  It is no great tragedy if they don’t.  When I am the one loving less or with a different quality to my love, I try my best to be as honest as I can, make as few commitments as possible, so as not to lead anyone else down that road.  But these days the road of unrequited love is one I walk without fear.  Loving is the goal, being loved back is not a prize to win.  I would simply rather relish in the absolute joy of being in love, even when it’s laced with pain, than miss the journey of loving someone.

 

Finding purpose in polyamory – how love spirals outwards

Not everyone can understand the purpose of polyamory, why someone would want to have multiple relationships to begin with.  I rebel against the very idea of institutionalized monogamy, but I recognize that some people just prefer a deep romantic closeness with only one individual, and that is fine.  Aside from the fact that at my very core I have never been able to regulate the wonder in my heart for closeness and vulnerability and adoration and love to one solitary person, I also am so grateful for the beautiful moments I find in polyamory that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

This morning I was laying in bed, having already gotten up to feed all the critters, clean the litter boxes and ferret cage, let the dogs outside to work off some energy.  I got back into bed to snuggle up to Kelev, who almost always sleeps later than I do, and was softly snoring in a way that melts my heart.  I love how when he’s sleeping, when I tell him I love him he always says it back, even though he’ll have no memory of it when he wakes.  This morning I was watching him sleep and whispering sweet nothings to him about how he’s a glorious demon ascended into human flesh, his black heart wreathed in flamed and filled with the power of the millions of souls he’s devoured.  You know, the usual romantic stuff.  We may have a slightly twisted view of romance, but who’s going to judge? He smiled and softly woofed at me in his sleep.  The moment was just so precious and I texted Hoffy about it, wanting to share my warm-fuzzy-joy-feels.

Think about what you value in partnership.  The amazing connection with someone where you want to tell them everything that is good in your life, every spark of joy just bubbles over and you want to share it with someone you adore.  The vulnerability and closeness you have with someone with whom you can share your sappiest feelings, who can hear about your squishy bright happy feels and will celebrate them with you.  Think about those tender moments of seeing someone you love so peaceful, with their hair all messy as they sleep, all the worlds troubles smoothed away with rest.  I am so grateful to be able to share the most loving and sweet moments of my life that bring me the most joy, with more people who I share that love and joy with as well.  To revel in the sheer happiness of love with equally loving and accepting people that I am vulnerable and open with.  I wonder who monogamous people tell those moments to?  Do they have a best friend who they feel the same intense closeness with that they do with their partner, who they can share those happy feelings with, who will feel warm and fuzzy at the adorableness of it all instead of rolling their eyes?  I sure hope so.

Yesterday I was talking with my partner D.  We recently got involved in a DD/lg kink dynamic, and she also got involved with Kelev as well.  She has a long distance romance with the Brit, as I’ve taken to referring to him in my mind, a fantastic individual with a voice that makes me melt a little.  She was telling me of a conversation she was having with him, and he made a joke about my love of his accent.  The way he described me in this little snapshot of humor she shared with me was absolutely spot on.  It was so absolutely sweet, the exchange they had, that he had remembered me in it, that she had then shared it with me.  The humor spiraled outwards, and I was graced with being a part of it.

That is what I love about polyamory.  There are so many wonderful moments shared between people who love each other intensely and sweetly, and in sharing my heart with so many people and having partners who do the same, the joy spirals outward.  When we tell each other exuberantly about a snapshot moment of love, and when it is received lovingly and happily as well, it just compounds those emotions.  I don’t have less love for any one partner because I share my heart with many, I have a thousand more opportunities each day for that love to be multiplied as moments are shared and enjoyed in this outward spiral of connection and acceptance.  That is the purpose of polyamory to me.  Just as one of the beauties in cultivating a garden is sharing the fruits of your labor with family, I cultivate each relationship with healthy respect and passion and communication and vulnerability.  And I am able to share what grows of those seeds far beyond just the person I grew them with.  That bounty of love is available to nourish us all through the hard times and invigorate us to grow more in the good times. It all spirals outwards, and I hope if you are on this journey as well, one day that spiral reaches you.

Productivity is my best friend and my worst enemy

I feel good when I’m productive.

Earlier today I was reading an interpretation of my astrological chart.  I’m not sure what my feelings on astrology are.  I have a cousin who is an astrologer, I believe he’s done it professionally for a long time and writes for a few newspapers.  I took an interest in it many years ago and he sent me some things to learn from, and then I read some here and there teaching myself a bit more.  I find it interesting, but like anything I relate to spiritually, I’m always skeptical.  I can believe in something, or in the possibility of something, while at the same time realizing that what I perceive is real in my mind, but not necessarily measurably real in the material world.  As the same time, I love aspects of spirituality as I do perceive them, and astrology is enjoyable to read from time to time.

Anyway, the interpretation I got on my full chart had this section in it.

“The work that you do, and the services that you offer, are very important to your sense of identity. In order to feel good about yourself, you need to be busy with daily activities and to produce work you can be proud of. Focus on finding a suitable and rewarding avenue for expressing this part of you, being extra careful to choose an occupation in which you can express yourself. You are sensitive to criticism about the work you do, and you work best when you can create your own schedule. Positive feedback for the services you render is important to you, but be careful not to over-identify with the appreciation you receive from others, as your work and your health suffers when you feel under-appreciated. Motivation to do a good job should come from within.”

Regardless of the accuracy or lack their of, of the planets and what they say about a person, this happened to be quite accurate to me.  When I came out of my years of alcohol induced haze and inactivity, what I did any given day became very important to me.  Productivity, usually in cleaning and de-cluttering my house, was my measure of success.  Then it was my ability to work.  When I got my first job as a vet tech, I unintentionally based a lot of my self esteem in my ability to handle that job.  I worked fourteen hour days, sometimes longer, with a head vet/owner who was verbally abusive at best some days.  The turn over at that clinic was frightening.  I remember one person who was hired and quit within two days, not because the head vet treated her terribly, she was still in the honeymoon period where our insecure boss was sucking up to her and trying to curry favor.  But the new tech saw how those of us who had been there a while were treated and left, with that as her reason, because she wasn’t willing to tolerate that sort of toxic environment.  I stayed for nearly a year, much longer then I should have.  I was miserable and stressed and almost at my breaking point, and even when I had other job offers at much better clinics with higher pay, I felt guilt for leaving.  Because I had based some of my sense of self in who I was there, in being someone who could stick it out and take the abuse, and in the first career in which I really got that satisfaction of productivity from my workplace.  I left before it fucked me up beyond reasonable repair I think…I’m not sure, it was a close call and it took another six months before I could de-stress to any reasonable degree.

When everyone moved out of my household over the summer and I had the chance to live by myself for a few months, I was the only one to do what had been chores we split between the whole household.  It was a huge boost to my mood each day when I finished all the morning chore list I had made for myself.  I measured my mental health, my self worth, my success, by my productivity.  “In order to feel good about yourself, you need to be busy with daily activities and to produce work you can be proud of.”  That is me to the letter.

These days I’m wondering if that is really a good thing.  It wasn’t really helpful when it kept me at a toxic job for long enough to come close to really damaging my mental health for a good long time, and doing a considerable bit of short term damage.  It hasn’t been helpful recently when I’ve struggled with an increase in the symptoms of my bipolar disorder coupled with a lot of difficultly getting enough sleep.  I’ve been less productive, my morning chore list goes half finished some days.  This last semester I did my best for the place my head was, but it wasn’t the best I could do for me at top shape.  And I really beat myself up for that some. I feel defeated many days because I do what would have been a whole hell of a lot for me a few years ago, but which isn’t close to as much as I did at my most productive times at jobs or when folks first moved it. For someone who gives few fucks about what others think of me despite death threats at times in my life, I’m terribly demoralized by a lack of cleaning the kitchen counter tops for a few days.

It can be a good thing.  It really motivated me when I was trying to stop drinking, it helped me stay sober because of how much joy I got from being a wonderfully functional being.  It pushed me to be better at my jobs, to seek a new career and pursue further knowledge and growth.  It helped me de-clutter and get rid of about 2/3rds of my material possessions when I was nearly drowning in useless crap. My need to keep myself busy and do a measurable amount of useful shit in a day to feel good get things done.  Until I hit a point where I need to relax and de-stress and can’t get things done for a bit because I’m just fucking out of spoons, and then it really isn’t helpful.

So I need a balance.  And I need to find a way to utilize this particular aspect of myself to my advantage without letting it hurt me.  Right now I’m a bit too much of my own worst enemy, and I’d like to be a fabulous rainbow of joy again.  I’m still figuring out quite how to do that, but at least today was a productive day, so hopefully I can start to do that tomorrow from a satisfied confident frame of mind.

Facing judgement for non-traditional relationships

When folks ask about large scale changes in the dynamics of my polycule, often its simply interest in my personal life, because the asker is someone I’m close to.  Often is curiosity, humans lives are interesting and how we relate to others is one of the most interesting aspects of them.  I’m a nosy little fuck, so I completely understand why someone would want to know details of my personal life to satisfy their own curiosity.  Sometimes though, especially with large changes that face a certain amount of societal judgement, it is hard not to feel as though someone is asking so they can pass their own judgement on a person, usually not positive.

This is something I encounter more these days as a relationship anarchist.  My dynamics are tailored to fit what both individuals in them want and need at the time,  and are fluid, so they can shift as our needs change.  This has served to create great dynamics with a much higher degree of comfort and intimacy, because we can establish trust that we truly respect and nurture each others needs and wants.  It has also served to create greater longevity, because needing to change the structure of a dynamic does not as often necessitate that it end, simply that it change shape.

When Kelev confronted me with his decision to move out, that was a moment that may have well shattered many typical monogamous or relationship escalator based mono or polya dynamics.  In fact, despite us practicing relationship anarchy and having been fluid in the past about -big- things, such as sleeping arrangements, relationship titles, kink dynamics, and room sharing, he was scared to bring it up.  I had proved again and again in practice that I was more then happy to adapt to dynamic changes, and our emotional connection would endure and strengthen through them.  But society is not as flexible, so even with years of past experience of me being understanding and adaptable, he had many more years of societal conditioning that this was something you are broken up with for. This is a thing that causes people to walk away, that will create enough anger for someone to cut you out of their life, etc.  When he expressed the fear that I would do those things, I immediately supplied reassurance, but it was sadly not hard for me to see the origins of those fears.  So many people are willing to toss a wonderfully functional healthy dynamic to the curb simply because it does not take the perfect shape they always dreamed of, or disappoints certain expectations.  I support realizing what you do need to have a relationship be worth while and having boundaries for yourself of course.  But with polya folks where often you do not live with -every single one- of your partners, there is still a large contingent who would end things if a nesting partner suddenly stopped nesting, because they center their needs for that relationship in particular, over their connection with the person.  They would rather attach themselves to the role they fit that person into, than attach to the person themselves in a way that allows people to grow and change while maintaining intimacy.  So even within a very fluid and adaptable dynamic, there is still sometimes fear of judgement.

It isn’t surprising then, that when people ask about those kind of large scale changes, the sort that often spell doom in society’s rigid relationship structures, I wonder how what I say will be twisted around into a negative judgement.  When I told my parents about his decision, I did so with considerable apprehension, ready to leap to his defense.  I knew his decision was not a betrayal, it was not a reflection of any damage or cracks in our relationship, but I also was prepared for it to be seen that way and to fight those assumptions off.  I was waiting for them to suddenly see him as less of a partner, and terrified they would treat him as such, especially knowing how much their love and acceptance has always meant to him.  I felt like I had to balance my words just right, find the exact placement for them when giving my explanations, so that the message could be conveyed with absolute understanding.

I suppose what it came down to was, our relationship was not existing in a vacuum between the two of us.  We had built a beautiful dynamic from the ground up, tossing off societal norms and deciding to love each other completely without rigid rules and structure and expectations that would stifle our growth.  We wanted to be able to change and grow as individuals, have fluctuating needs in the moment, and enhance our intimacy by embracing that in each other and providing support and companionship through those changes.  But other people in our lives related to our relationship, they had ties of love and family and friendship to our dynamic as well as to us as individuals.  So, while we had dropped the silly notion that society should tell us certain changes should feel like our relationship was less strong or one had committed a betrayal, they may not have done that emotional work and might feel for us, something we had decided made no sense for us to feel.  You see this often with polyamorous people just coming out. Their friends decide to feel righteous anger and indignation for them, for their spouse cheating on them, despite the couple having done the emotional work to detach feelings of betrayal from the idea of sexual or romantic fidelity.

This all results in a feeling I’ve had with big relationship shifts, like deciding to un-title things, deciding not to cohabitate, deciding to have a platonic dynamic, that I must justify and defend these choices to people in my life so that my partner is not judged harshly for them.  Or at times, so that I am not.  Sometimes it is a matter of finding reasons that allow it to be understandable or forgivable to people who do not relationship the way we do.  Sometimes there are no explanations that would fit into societal norms, so that isn’t possible.  When that is the case, what I really am asking of people is that they do the emotional work we have done, not nearly to the same extent, but enough so to look upon us favorably for the love and intimacy we share, instead of condemning one or the other or both partners for violating a societal taboo of what happily-ever-after must look like.  It is their right to choose not to do that work and pass judgement instead, but I always hope that won’t be the case.  Because if you do bend your mind to step into our wonderful fluid polyamorous or relationship anarchist world for a moment, you will find not only the relief of not having to judge harshly the “betrayals” that are hurting no one, but you may also get to enjoy some of the beautiful growth and personal discovery that makes this life worthwhile for us.