Friends.

When something bad happens I want to talk to her. When something good happens I want to tell her. When I need advice I want to ask her. She helped prepare me for my job interview (I got the job), gave me advice on contraception, told me how much to contribute to my pension, showed me where to get a good haircut when I couldn’t go to my usual place. I want her to be at my birthday party, at my club night, everywhere.

I don’t know, maybe I lucked out with Hannah [name has been changed for some semblance of privacy] – maybe another like her won’t turn up again. But either way, I’m so, so glad she did, because in one go, I learned everything I needed to know about the life-altering benefits of being friends with your partner’s partner.

You can’t force things, and I believe you should reserve every right to not like your partner’s partner. You’re under no more obligation to them than any other human. But especially when you’re both women, the fact remains that we’ve been so deeply socialised to view other women as threatening, negative forces on your position – especially your position in a relationship – that it’s almost a miracle if you can come up with a better situation than that. And I’m so glad we did.

In a weird twist of fate, the first time we spoke was as a result of this blog. I wrote a post about that very thing – the unfortunate experience by feeling pushed out by another one of my boyfriend’s (mercifully short-lived) then-partners (compounded by the fact she was also a certifiably terrible person; with hindsight I should have had no qualms about posting it). Hannah messaged me to say she saw no reason why we wouldn’t get along, and that she didn’t want us to fall into the same dynamic of weird passive-aggression that had arisen with the other partner.

The funny thing is, in the beginning we were struck by parallel but opposing fears. She thought ‘how can I compete with her? She’s been around much longer than I have, they have an established relationship; how do I work with this?’ while I was thinking ‘how can I compete with her? She’s shiny and new and fun and I’ll just become irrelevant.’ We both found our own ways to be threatened by each other.

Things weren’t always easy or fun for us. We had some rocky patches in the beginning, possibly motivated by old, hard-wired feelings of jealousy and insecurity, throwbacks to old relationships and old lives. Possibly some situations were mis-managed by our partner. But it was almost those that made it possible for us to be friends: to see that each other hurt, and was human, and needed things, and could feel weak. To know that we weren’t just perfect, ruthless, heartless super-women who never got sad and never got anxious and never got insecure meant that there was some basic common ground. It meant we could trust each other, in a way.

We would hang out without our boyfriend, and hardly ever talk about him. We’d talk about loads of other stuff, like tattoos and films and politics and OkCupid. I don’t remember if we studiously avoided him or if we just had too much other stuff to talk about to devote much time to him.

Getting to know her showed me, in hyperfocus, everything that’s good about female friendship. All of the bits that are selfless and unguarded and hysterically funny and heartbreakingly, life-changingly sad. Even when we didn’t know each other well, and had only met a couple of times, we still found it in ourselves to talk through painful, challenging feelings and experiences and create solutions that showed respect and love.

Essentially, a friendship between us was facilitated by a mutual romantic relationship. It sounds simple and sort of obvious, but it seems as if society expects so little of women as to make that impossible. Whenever I would mention her in conversation, friends who didn’t know her, or perhaps, friends who didn’t know me very well, would try to prod it out of me that I secretly hated her. That, or they wanted to know if we had threesomes. We never did either of those, in case you were wondering.

We’re both great women, and in the most basic sense, a really great man should bring us together rather than drive us apart. There’s no logical reason that that particular ‘shared interest’ should be a minefield, rather than a flowerbed. In the beginning, our common ground was someone I love so deeply and so wholeheartedly, and that’s a pretty great place to begin, right? It grew and changed into more than that, and I don’t know at what point it stopped being about him and started being about us.

My friendship with her has outlasted her relationship with him. But I’m no consolation prize; she and I are the real deal. “Relationships should always be about bringing out the best in people,” she wrote in her first message to me (which she probably doesn’t remember, I just dug around for it). True. Her relationship with my boyfriend brought out the best in all of us. To call it a rare gift in a harsh world feels like an understatement.

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On rejection.

I was watching Annie Hall with my new-ish beau on Friday night. There’s a scene on Annie and Alvy’s second date when they’re walking fast along a street, and Alvy stops her and asks her to kiss him. Annie is taken aback and replies “Really?” to which Alvy says, “Yeah, why not, because we’re just gonna go home later, right, and then there’s gonna be all that tension, we’ve never kissed before and I’ll never know when to make the right move or anything. So we’ll kiss now and get it over with.”

This technique is actually not so different to the way my first kiss came about with the aforementioned new-ish beau. On the dancefloor at the club night I run, I said “I need to go queue up Robyn now, but before I go I would make out with you”. He was obliging, but taken aback by my unsubtlety and abruptness.

As I watched that scene in Annie Hall, I realised where I’d got that awkward approach from, but also realised that it’s something I stand by. Saying what you want in clear, unambiguous terms gives the other person room to accept or reject. And I suppose that’s why a lot of people avoid it. Because rejection is scary.

So this post isn’t really about my awkward and abrupt ‘seduction technique’, but about rejection.

My fear of rejection is on its way out. It’s almost all gone. And that’s for two reasons.

Firstly, the reasons for rejection. When I was growing up, I was convinced that the fact I was fat would be the one and only source of rejection for my whole life. If someone didn’t fancy me, it was definitely because I was fat. I suppose in a way that was the main area where I wasn’t happy in myself. Not the being-fat, but the being-rejected-cos-fat. Of course someone would reject me, and they’d reject me because I was fat. The word ‘rejection’ swirled around in harmony with the word ‘fat’: they were intertwined. Now I like my fat, and I like my body and I like my looks and I’ve had abundant life experience that tells me that other attractive people also like my fat body and my fat face, it’s not the go-to setting anymore. If someone doesn’t want to fuck me, I’m not going to assume straight off the bat that it’s because they’re repulsed by my figure. It could be any number of things that make us, at that moment, incompatible.

Unpicking what ‘rejection’ meant to me (it meant someone could see I was fat and didn’t like it) simultaneously to feeling confident and empowered in my existence as a fat woman has improved my ability to cope with rejection enormously. I’m not scared of being rejected anymore because now I’m less likely to assume it’s a ‘me’ thing and more likely to assume it’s an ‘us’ thing. (is that egocentric and evasive? I don’t know; it sounds healthy to me somehow)

Secondly, the source of rejection is less likely to cause me anxiety. I’m filling my life with people who make me feel safe and happy and comfortable, and I hope so desperately that I’m someone that also makes others feel safe and happy and comfortable. So if I made a tentative awkward advance on someone who didn’t share my curiosity for that particular thing, I genuinely trust that a rejection would be coming from an honest and compassionate place rather than ‘lol why would you think that u weirdo’. I’m operating in spaces where enthusiastic consent is key and in order to have that, there must be room for rejection. We must be people who are capable of hearing and tolerating a ‘no’. Even if rejection means we’re not getting what we want, we must be able to hear and process that our interest isn’t shared, that that kiss isn’t going to happen.

Yes, rejection can be painful and embarrassing, and I wish everyone’s attractions tallied perfectly in the right times and places and ways. Since they don’t, I applaud the creation of social spaces and groups where advances won’t be met with derision, and communication and honesty are valued more highly than personal pride. It’s not a site of teenage angst anymore. Rejection isn’t all about my personal shortcomings.

Feeling more at ease with being rejected myself has put me in a better position to be assertive, which has always been something I’ve struggled with in romantic situations. Last night I had a first date with someone. I just wasn’t really feeling it. He wasn’t unattractive, wasn’t unintelligent, wasn’t un-charming, but it just didn’t happen for me. So on the walk to Vauxhall bus station, when he asked outright what my intentions were and whether I wanted to see him again, I answered truthfully. “I had a nice time, but I don’t think I would do it again. I don’t think we had any chemistry”. This in itself opens a whole can of worms of ‘what is chemistry’, but essentially I made my point fairly unambiguously that it hadn’t been a great romantic and sexual success for me. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but it was what I needed to say.

So if, on the dancefloor, I had been met with a quizzical expression and an ‘I’d rather not, thanks’, I could have heard ‘no’, and gone to queue up Dancing On My Own and gone about my business. It wouldn’t have killed me, and it probably wouldn’t have stung too much. Rejection: it ain’t so bad.

The Words To Say.

Maybe it’s the years of labouring under the impression that no one would ever find me attractive, let alone people I found attractive myself, but even after years of dating I still can’t make a move. It doesn’t matter how strongly I’m desiring something, or how much I want to express my feelings, I find it extremely difficult to be the first to act. In some ways, I benefit from the patriarchal stereotype of men doing the work, doing the asking, making the moves (and that only occurs when I’m in a male/female pairing), but in the long run I feel disempowered, and as if I don’t own my sexuality or romantic desires.

Half of it is surely fear of rejection. Fear of finding out you were misguided and had misread all the signals. The other half is not even having the vocabulary to express what you want.

There are two areas where I’m particularly cautious and inarticulate: feelings and fucking.

Feelings : I’m working on this. I’m not used to actually liking someone I have a date with. Usually, I want to have sex with them, then get the hell out of there and never see them again. Or I think they’re an insufferable bore and I smile politely through a couple of pints and answer their annoying questions about my nonmonogamy. But on the odd occasion I find them beautiful and interesting and charming and funny, I don’t know what to do. I hope, desperately, that they understand that I like them. I hope they will do the work, and push things forward. But what if they don’t? What if we both feel something but neither of us act? I hate the thought of that. I actually hate it enough to be doing something about it. Recently I’ve had a couple of dates with someone I like a lot. I get good vibes. I want to know about her. I like looking at her. She’s the first person I’ve met in nearly a year I’ve wanted to have a second date with. And I know how easy it would be to awkwardly shuffle around the point, to shyly avoid addressing the situation. I know that I would regret it. Because we’re both women there isn’t even the ingrained patriarchal expectation that one of us is socialised to take the lead. So I did it, and for the first time in my life I actually managed to say ‘I think you’re cool and I want to keep seeing you’. See? I’m working on it. Baby steps.

I’m trying to get better at owning situations. The feeling of being led, of being the subject of someone else’s whims and choices because I can’t act myself, doesn’t sit well with me.

And then there’s sex.

The skill I would love to possess more than most others is the ability to say ‘I want to have sex with you’. I just can’t. I hate it, I hate not being in control of my own sexuality and desires and impulses. The closest I’ve ever come is saying ‘You could get the bus with me if you want’, hoping that they would understand that me putting them in my home was the first step to having sex. I can’t explicitly state a desire to sleep with someone, or even to make out with them. The greatest gift has been examples set by partners who are good at being assertive. I can’t tell you how relieved I was for someone to say, after a couple of drinks, ‘Do you want to come back to mine and have sex?’ literally in those words. It meant I could make an informed decision about whether or not I wanted to go to this person’s home, and their honesty and directness meant I actually felt I had a choice as to whether or not I said yes.

Sensing I was completely oblivious to all his subtle advances (I’m probably the only person in the world who could think someone doing the arm-stretch thing to put their arm around you just means they want to stretch their arm), my now-boyfriend had to say ‘I want to make out with you’ on our first date. Otherwise I wouldn’t have got it and I’d have skipped off home, convinced I’d just had a date with someone who didn’t fancy me. Signals are hard to read. Humans are easy to misunderstand. You can never really know what kind of insecurities or assumptions people are carrying with them. Sex and feelings are important things to navigate in terms that are mutually understood.

So, I’m trying to get better at being active, rather than trying to interpret codes and signs. I want to be involved in what happens to me, I want to make choices, I want to express myself earnestly and with enthusiasm. It’s just going to take some practice.

Image taken from Flickr under Creative Commons license

Ghosts.

I was walking home yesterday afternoon, thinking about nothing in particular. Then all of a sudden, a memory popped into my head. I was reminded of sitting on the sofa in my old house in North London being in floods of tears: loud, unstoppable, totally out of all control, despite the efforts of my best friend. I was crying because of my boyfriend. Not because we’d broken up (we hadn’t, and we haven’t), and not because he’d upset me, but the opposite. I was crying because I’d realised I really liked him.

Really liking someone is one of life’s greatest pleasures, especially when they’re into you too. But for me it was the one thing I couldn’t bear, and the one thing I’d been avoiding for almost two years.

I try to keep my wild emotional impulses under control: if I didn’t, it would be like a Greek tragedy. But the floods-of-tears-on-the-sofa is just one example of the way I get haunted by the past. I was about to write ‘we’ve all been there’ when I realised I desperately wanted to believe we haven’t all been there: the breakup to end all breakups. The time in your life where you’re so completely wounded you’re not yourself anymore. When you just retreat and retreat and you sleep all the time to avoid being awake because when you’re awake you have to feel everything. When you cry every day for a week, at least, and crying is preferable to not-crying because not-crying just means everything is building up inside you and your internal organs feel like they’re turning black. When you genuinely and quite sincerely believe you will never be happy again. How could you? How could you possibly be happy without them? And people try to cheer you up and distract you and you’re so grateful that they try but it doesn’t make any difference.

Anyway. That. I had all that. And that, to me, is a massively compelling reason to never fall in love and to never have a relationship ever again.

And there I was, realising it had happened: after two years, I was in a relationship again. And being in a relationship again meant coming to terms with the very real possibility that I would feel like that again.

But… is that the case? Sure, I will absolutely have to endure breakups again in my life: that is all but non-negotiable. But the greatest contributing factor in me experiencing that utter heartbreak the way I did was the way my former partner chose to treat me. The way he went about the relationship, its beginning, its middle and its end were all wrong. The way I let him do it was all wrong. I had no power. I had less than no power. I was a person that I now can’t believe existed. I am quite sure I will never experience heartbreak on that scale because I will never have another partner that makes me feel so irrelevant.

The single biggest lesson I’ve had to learn in my current relationship isn’t anything about nonmonogamy at all. That all came far more naturally to me. The greatest hurdle has been separating my current boyfriend from the one before. I don’t know how explicitly I’ve ever stated it to him, and if I haven’t, then I’m sorry, but it’s the root of almost all my woes. When I’m unkind to him, and when I behave irrationally, and when I need reassurance, and when I ask to hear, for certain, that he cares about me, 9 times out of 10 it’s because I’m being haunted by the past. I’m punishing him for choices another man made a long time ago. I’m punishing him for someone making me feel completely insignificant, unloveable and disposable.

It’s taken me many, many months to meaningfully confront it. I acknowledged it for the first time when I was crying on Charlotte on the sofa, but I couldn’t do anything about it yet. Now, whenever I could push my boyfriend away when what I so desperately want is to pull him closer, I try and try and try not to do anything. I try to breathe deeply and think carefully about how different they are. How they have nothing to do with each other. How this can’t possibly be a conspiracy against me. How he’s kind and sweet and gentle and generous and has brightened up my life for the last 10 months, not changed me into a person no one recognised.

I might always be haunted by the last one, and hopefully he’ll be as bad as it ever gets. But the only thing I can do with those horrendous feelings from two years ago is vow not to let them ruin what I have now, or what I’ll have in the future. Promise not to punish good partners for the sins of the bad one.

Image taken from Flickr under Creative Commons License

How It Feels To Not Want To Have Sex with Someone But To Do It Anyway.

I met a really nice man earlier this year. We had a great first date, he was cute, interesting, mature, respectful, a feminist. We didn’t have sex on our first date because we both had plans that evening. I saw him again a few weeks later. We had a lovely second date. We walked and talked and he was still nice. We went for dinner, which he paid for. Not because of any gender bullshit, but because he knew I was a student, and because he knew he could afford it, and that one day I’d be in a position to help someone out by buying them dinner, and that I would. See, thoughtful. I remember I still liked him while we were eating dinner.

After dinner I went back to his house, and as I sat on the sofa, I started to go cold. Literally and metaphorically. I could feel myself withdraw. The hairs on my arms started to stand up. I didn’t want to be there anymore. We made out on the sofa and it was like an out-of-body experience. We’d made out before, so why was this any different? I was going through the motions.  I was letting him kiss me. My mouth was moving but the rest of my body was still. I didn’t turn towards him, I didn’t wrap my arms around him, I wasn’t overcome with the desire to be on him, to be touching him, to be close to him.

We kissed for a while then went to his bedroom. I was shivering. A weird kind of adrenaline, like ‘fight or flight’. And I still didn’t say anything. I just went along with it. I lay back and sort of thought of England. I tried not to cry. I tried to focus really hard so I would come, and he would stop. The situation was not ideal.

As soon as the whole thing was over, I grabbed my phone and WhatsApped my (now) boyfriend. I asked to see him the next day because I knew he was one person who wouldn’t make me feel like shit even though I’d only known him a couple of months. I needed some kind of reassurance, from a cisman I could trust, who wouldn’t judge me. I lay awake with tears in my eyes, wondering why I’d just gone through with the whole stupid thing.

I knew for sure I was somehow massively fucked up when, at the tube station in the morning, before he took the tube to work and I went to the library, he said ‘Do you want to see me again?’ and I said ‘Yeah sure, but I have exams coming up so it’ll have to wait ’til after May’. Why did I say that? Why, even then, was I still unable to say ‘No, I don’t want to’?

This wasn’t ‘sex I later regretted’, this was ‘sex I wished I wasn’t having as I was having it’. I don’t blame him personally. I blame the patriarchy. I blame patriarchy for the fact I blamed myself. For thinking that being bought dinner and being in someone’s home meant I had no right to say no to sex, even when I was with someone who would absolutely have understood.

There’s a line in a Smiths song that goes, ‘But you could have said no if you’d wanted to… you could have walked away, couldn’t you?’. I thought about this as I lay there. I shouldn’t have gone for dinner. I should have walked away. I shouldn’t have gone home with him. I should have walked away. I shouldn’t have kissed him. I should have walked away. I shouldn’t have gone to bed with him. I should have walked away. Yes, I could have walked away, but why was I in that position in the first place?

I’d talked openly about my nonmonogamy, because he was nonmonogamous too, and I even thought ‘well he knows I sleep with lots of people so it’ll look really bad if I don’t sleep with him’. How fucked up is that? Like because I was having lots of consensual sex it was as if that consent was no longer being individually applied, but was somehow derived from my general attitude to fucking.

I felt like a bad feminist. I felt like I’d let the side down. I still feel like that now, a bit. Like I have no right to complain about this, because I did nothing in the moment to reposition the dynamics. I ‘missed an opportunity to teach someone an important lesson about consent’.

What I learned is that patriarchy is so all-encompassing and pervasive that it is simply not a question of ‘just saying no’. It’s not about ‘just walking away’. I’m known as being an angry person, a troublemaking person, a brave person, and I still couldn’t tell a nice man I didn’t want to fuck him. The rhetoric of ‘just say no’ is not enough.This is about power relations, and that’s bigger than me just saying no. When you’ve got a girl over a decade younger than you, in your home, who you’ve just bought dinner, and she’s usually chatty and charming and now she’s silent and sad and immobile, it’s probably not active desire that’s operative; it’s a lot of power, and if that power isn’t matched with enthusiastic consent, then… how much fun can you have?

(he messaged me a couple of times afterwards, which I rudely ignored. I have not seen him since)

Image taken from Flickr under Creative Commons License

Why Even a Bad Date is Not a Wasted Date.

I first started dating when I moved to Montréal and I was ‘a bit of a mess’ after a breakup. I joined OkCupid because I was in a new city where I didn’t find any of my new friends dateable, and I essentially wanted to check that I wasn’t completely broken and was still capable of attraction and affection. I went on a lot of dates in Montréal. And I went on a lot of dates when I moved back to England. But the funny thing, and the thing that people find hard to believe (knowing me as they do), is that between joining in November 2010 and February 2012, I didn’t so much as kiss anyone I met on there. And I’m not exaggerating when I say by that point I must have been on around 40 first dates.

Roughly speaking, in 90% of them, I didn’t find the other person attractive. In 5% of them, I liked them but they didn’t find me attractive. In 5% of them we just accidentally never saw each other again despite the fact we were both interested.

But that doesn’t change the fact that those 40-ish first dates were completely essential to me becoming the person that, in 2012, was able to choose the right partners with which to have romantic and sexual relationships. In those 13 months, while I didn’t make out with anyone I met, I totally repositioned how I felt about an awful lot of stuff. I had a brilliant date with a sex worker who loved her job (something I knew nothing about beforehand). A year before I started to explore nonmonogamy, I had a date with a polyamorous guy (something I knew nothing about beforehand). I made a couple of friends that now, I can’t imagine doing without. I learned how I acted on a date. I learned what behaviour triggered me feeling uncomfortable in the company of (almost always) a man I’d just met. I learned from the sheer volume of dates what behaviour I personally displayed when I was unhappy or bored or attracted to someone. The 40-something dates I had that led up to my luck changing were as useful to me with no romantic or sexual payoff as they would have been with it.

Even saying my ‘luck changed’ doesn’t really take into account the transformative power of repeated bad dates. Maybe my luck didn’t change; maybe I repositioned what I wanted. I started out my OkCupid life believing what I wanted was a monogamous relationship with a male my own age. Because that was what I was used to. By the time I was in a position to meet people I did find attractive, and act on it, I had realised that the idea of having a monogamous relationship of anyone of any gender was not right for me anymore, and that I especially struggled to be attracted to males in their early twenties who were seeking a monogamous relationship (incidentally, exactly the group of people I would be most likely to meet in real life).

There were periods that were extremely bleak. Bad date after bad date after bad date. I think December 2011 / January 2012 were particularly low. I would agree to dates with people who proved to be dull, unattractive, hard work, that I had to sit through with a fixed smile and a falsely cheery tone of voice. I wondered if there was anyone out there that matched me just right. Weirdly, I didn’t give up. You’d probably like to believe that 40 dates leading nowhere would make a girl desperate, but instead it just made it all the easier to know a good date when I saw one. By the time people worth dating/sleeping with turned up, I knew what it felt like to be sitting across a table for someone who provokes absolutely zero feelings in my swimsuit area, and that this time was different. Honestly, if I’d met my now-boyfriend at the beginning, I would not have known what to do with him. For me, practice made perfect and I was able to see pretty clearly what I wanted, what I felt I deserved, how I showed that I was interested and how to proceed. By the time decent folk turned up, I knew it wasn’t just a case of ‘settling’- I could have done that a long time ago.

So even when it wasn’t really ‘working’, it secretly was. I learned so much from good, bad and mediocre dates that ‘led nowhere’.

Image taken from Flickr under Creative Commons license

In Defence of Internet Dating.

Maybe I’m not very romantic. But maybe that’s because a lot of ‘romance’ seems to involve a relinquishing of power and control. That’s why I love internet dating. Although it’s definitely, definitely losing its stigma, a lot of people are still weirded out by it.  It feels like it’s ok for me to do it, but the idea that they might do it is tragic, hilarious and kind of gross.

The truth is, I just don’t meet people in real life. I mean, yes, I meet people, but we’re almost in November now, and I have not met one single person in 2012 in everyday real life that I could realistically have had a romantic or sexual relationship with. I have not met anyone this year who was available, with whom there was a spark. Not one person. (If you know me and you know this to be untrue, please remind me because I really honestly cannot think of anyone)

So I look at dating and relationships and sex a bit like I look at employment: I don’t sit around waiting for someone to offer me a kickass job. I think about the kind of job I want, then I go look for it and I apply for it and I see if it works out. That’s especially how I view and value internet dating. It allows people to represent themselves as they wish, and then I can assess what they want me to know about them and see if I think it would be worth meeting. Now, I have the added bonus of being on OkCupid, which I consider to be the greatest of all dating sites because a) it’s completely free b) there are loads of hotties of all genders c) it has uses pretty sweet and reliable algorithms to determine the compatibility of each member with every other member.

I sort of ‘mated for life’ with OkCupid, and don’t feel the need to try any other sites because I’ve had such great results, but that means when I talk about ‘internet dating’ I’m really just talking about OkCupid.

It’s not always good, and I don’t always fancy them, but honestly, if you want to make yourself feel better about not doing it by telling yourself the internet is exclusively populated by weirdos and rapists then be my guest. But it just ain’t true (the first time I went home with one man, he told me he had an enhanced CRB check so he probably wasn’t going to murder me. He didn’t murder me.). Pretty much every time I go somewhere interesting, like a gig by an artist I like, or Unskinny Bop, or the anarchist bookfair, I see people I recognise off OkCupid. It’s a hive for people who are into cool stuff, and because of the matching algorithms, it’s highly likely that if you’re into one cool thing, you’ll end up matched highly with someone who also likes that cool thing. How much I like someone is often dependent on how good they are on Twitter, and most people who are really good on Twitter are also on OkCupid.

The best thing about internet dating is the ability to be extremely uncompromising with what information you give people straight away. For a nonmonogamous person it’s especially useful because you can be upfront about your nonmonogamous status. Unfortunately it’s a dealbreaker for some, so it’s nice to be able to filter out those people that, realistically, you just don’t want to be meeting romantically. Personally, I don’t want to meet anyone who isn’t a feminist, so I make my feminist-ness prominent on my profile. I don’t want people to contact me if they’re solely monogamous, so I say that you should only contact me if you’re into nonmonogamy. I have a full-length photo of me so if they hate fat people, then they don’t message me. I make it clear that I Am An Internet Person so if they’re going to be all icky about meeting someone from the internet, then they should probably talk to someone else. I’m upfront about the fact that, among other things, I’m interested in casual sex. In some cases, things that it’s extremely difficult to scope out in someone you’ve first met in real life before it’s too late, and things that I’m really grateful I can screen people for.

If you want to tell me it takes the ‘magic’ out of meeting someone, I’ll tell you that a one-night-stand with a cute Norwegian who’s only in town for the weekend is kind of magic. But more to the point: of all the people I’ve had great dates with, of all the people I’ve had sustained romantic relationships or sexual encounters with, I wouldn’t have met any of them in real life. Our social circles are just so different. They’re generally a lot older than me, and/or socialise in different ways to me, and/or are from different parts of town to me. But the internet was able to bring us together for mutual enjoyment/fucking/whatever.

It would be kind of cool if I didn’t just meet all my romantic/sexual partners on OkCupid so, er, if I know you IRL and you want to ask me out then please do that. But I’m kind of at peace with the fact that the internet is my medium. Although it’s a bit dry at the moment and I feel like I’ve exhausted the men of OkCupid (literally and metaphorically) and the women never like me very much anyway, I still have hope that the pool will refill itself.

Not gonna lie, I think it’s kind of cool that my boyfriend and I were brought together by a robot.

Image taken from Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Trouble in paradise.

In my last post I wrote about how it’s not all that difficult to be in an open relationship. This one’s about lying awake at night, worrying about your open relationship.

This is not a post about catfights and girl-on-girl hate. It’s not a post about female jealousy. It’s about the terrifying and isolating realisation that I didn’t like my boyfriend’s other girlfriend.

Some Personal Stuff

He met her in the same week he met me. I always felt we were on even footing, and I really liked that idea. It was important to me to believe everyone was separate, equal and happy. An important part of the way I conceived the relationship was the understanding that what happened in his relationship with someone else had nothing to do with me. That it was happy on its own terms and not happy because it felt superior to my relationship.

We’d been together for about 4 months when the feeling began to creep over me that maybe to her, I wasn’t so separate and equal after all.

I had never met her, and to this day have only met her once. But, petty as it sounds, I began to feel that she was trying to assert her importance against me. I felt that she wanted to be recognised as more important than me. That she wanted to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind as his girlfriend, at my expense. I wondered what I’d done to make her feel that she needed to do that. Unless you’re trying to argue about feminism with me on Twitter, I’m an extremely, almost embarrassingly polite person. I conduct all my relationships with a near-paranoid consideration for other partners. I ask how they are, I want them to be well-looked-after and I want them to feel like I’m with them, rather than against them. There is no advantage to existing in opposition to someone who basically wants the same thing as me.

This feeling of being slyly undermined via ~a popular social networking site~ coincided with the realisation that I found some of her… shall we call them ‘politics’ or ‘ethics’… troublesome. I ran an anecdote past a couple of friends whose opinions I trust and they were just as shocked and weirded out as I was. In the most basic terms, she struck me as a mean person. And a mean person who was trying to make me feel small.

I stewed in my unhappiness for a couple of weeks, gritting my teeth when he mentioned her until it felt too much. At the bus stop, in the rain, on our way home after a night out, I confessed.

I felt guilty for speaking up because by speaking up, I became the aggressor. I was rocking the boat. If I said nothing, then I wouldn’t look bad. I wouldn’t look like I was making trouble. But I couldn’t keep it up. I would literally lay awake at night wondering what I’d done to make her feel like she needed to make me sad. So I spoke, and, because my boyfriend is a kind and generous person, he understood.

In the beginning, I pushed him a little bit. I wanted to know if he’d noticed her weird behaviour too, so I remember being slightly drunk, on the top deck of the bus saying ‘DO YOU REALLY NOT KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT? YOU CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING SHE’S DONE THAT I MIGHT BE UPSET ABOUT?’ until he quietly mumbled something about Facebook. Knowing it wasn’t all in my head was a huge relief. I explained how sorry I was and how guilty I felt about falling into the one trap I didn’t want to fall into. I told him how I never wanted her to feel like she needed to act up or prove she was important and that I wasn’t sure how it had come to this. He said he wished he’d introduced us in real life, and earlier on, so we ‘understood each other better’. We both knew it was too late. I was angry and stressed but I didn’t issue any ultimatums. There wasn’t even a hint of pressuring him into choosing who he cared more about. I just needed to tell him she was making me feel unhappy and anxious. I guess that’s my one ‘lesson’ from this experience: the thing I know I did right is never, ever saying ‘it’s her or me’. Getting it off my chest was enough. Stating my case, on its own terms, was enough. Being listened to was enough. Being told no, I wasn’t being paranoid, was enough.

I don’t know if anything really changed after that, but feeling like I wasn’t hiding some secret shame, alone, really helped. He mentioned her to me less, and understood when I voiced disagreement. Even if nothing tangible changed, I felt better for trusting my boyfriend to accept my worries. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Some General Stuff

This was a time I was painfully aware of the lonely position of the nonmonogamous person. I sat on my fears without saying anything to anyone for longer than I should have, and I did that because I felt my nonmonogamous relationship would be judged as a failure.

I feel enormous pressure to be Good At This. I feel enormous pressure not to live up to many people’s banal expectations of the pitfalls of open relationships. I felt like a failure, and I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to who would understand. I guess that’s part of my motivation in writing this blog- the desire to put another voice out there expressing an experience of nonmonogamy.

But as it was, it was difficult. I didn’t want people looking at my relationship and seeing a cliché of ‘female jealousy’. I didn’t want people seeing this as being narrative when it was only incidental. I didn’t want to undermine the generally extremely happy landscape of my relationship. It showed, in particularly sharp focus, the scrutiny I felt I was under and the pressure to be a perfect partner because my ‘rareness’ as a nonmonogamous person made me feel like I was being held up as an example.

Some Gender Stuff

I feel that because I am a woman, it is expected that I will compete with other women. I will especially compete with other women for the attentions and affections of a man. Nowhere will that competition be more obvious and more anticipated than in an open relationship with multiple female partners. I feel that, as a woman, I have a huge amount of responsibility not to fall into these traps and clichés of ‘female behaviour’. They are at the forefront of my mind, and it was this pressure that made the situation particularly stressful. I felt that I was living up to the expectation of a female partner in an open relationship. Of course I would have a problem with another girlfriend. Of course I wouldn’t like her. That’s what women do, isn’t it?

But I knew all the while, even when I felt guilty, this wasn’t about women. This was about me relating to another person. I wasn’t jealous of her, I just didn’t like her. It wouldn’t matter what space she occupied in my life, and it was just unfortunate she was in such a sensitive one.

I knew this wasn’t about women because there are lots of ‘other women’ in his life that I really, really like. Women I would love to meet and talk to. Women I’ve loved meeting and talking to. Women whose work I admire. Women past and present. Women who make me laugh and make me nod my head in agreement. I really mean this, in very real terms: I seriously admire and would actively pursue friendships with past and former partners of this same guy. Kickass women make the world go round and I want there to be great women in his life because he deserves great women.

This was never about women.

Boyfriend and I bumped into her several months after the initial issues were raised. This is the only time I’ve ever met her. She was rude. I was still embarrassingly polite. He stood up for her. I was pissed off at him. I was pissed off at him until I realised I would rather he defended her to me than defended me to her. I don’t want anyone to need to defend me. 

Image taken from Flickr under Creative Commons license

(if, somehow, this falls into the hands of the subject : I’m sorry if this makes you feel bad)

I make it look easy because it is to me.

Sometimes people want to talk to me, or more formally, interview me, about my experiences as a nonmonogamous person. One of the questions that always comes up is about how difficult it must be, emotionally and logistically. There’s an assumption that the choice to have open relationships requires a great deal of ‘work’, that they are extraordinarily laborious and that all the partners involved spend much more time talking about the state of their relationship than doing anything else.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m an extremely sensitive, soft, easily-wounded person, so if you’re assuming you have to be particularly cold and heartless to be nonmonogamous then you’re wrong. It’s not easy because I don’t care. I’m neither cold nor heartless, but I stand by the belief that it’s just not as difficult to organise your relationships like this as many seem to believe it is.

I’ve read the ‘key text’ for nonmonogamists, The Ethical Slut, cover to cover twice. Even the bits that were irrelevant to my situation, just so I didn’t miss anything. I read it once when I had a vague idea that this was what I wanted to do, and then I re-read it once I was cheerfully ensconced in an open relationship. What I found when I read it for the second time was that it was predicting lots of problems to come as standard that just weren’t happening to me. For example, it has still never occurred to me to set up boundaries in any relationship beyond ‘let’s see what we want from this and try not to hurt each other’s feelings’. Setting limits beyond my own is an alien concept to me. Aside from when a partner asked if they could ask out a colleague of mine, I don’t think I’ve ever said ‘I’d rather you didn’t do that’. It seems to predict massive scheduling conflicts and preaches the virtues of online diary-sharing. I’ve never found this to be a problem.

I’ve been asked the question ‘what if you’re out for a drink with your boyfriend and he goes home with some girl in the bar?’. I wouldn’t know because that has literally never happened to me. That’s not part and parcel of an open relationship!

I check in every so often (every few months), awkwardly asking if ‘everything is going generally as you want it to’, but it’s not a constant process of talking, negotiating, validating, reassuring. Most of the time my bonds just neatly tick along much in the way that friendships do- requiring deep analysis only when a particular obstacle comes up.

The truth is, there just aren’t that many obstacles. And even fewer obstacles worth turning into an object of discussion. (I’ll do some deep thinking and consultation before I write about the one part of my relationship that has caused me theoretical and practical angst rather than skimming over it here).

To reprise an earlier phrase: ‘it’s not easy because I don’t care’. It’s easy because I know what I care about. I don’t care what my partners do with other people, but I do care about what they do with me. And it’s just as easy to manage that bond as it is to manage any interpersonal relationship. I don’t care about seeing any partner more than once a week, but I do care if things are intervening to make this not happen. Knowing what’s important to me and what isn’t makes this whole enterprise pretty manageable.

It’s not always easy, but it’s not that difficult.

Photo taken from Flickr under Creative Commons license

Emotionally unavailable? Not in my back yard.

 

Image

One of the easiest accusations to level against a nonmonogamist is that they are a commitment-phobe. It happens over and over again. In casual conversation or in comment threads, it’s there. A couple of choice examples from the comments on an article on polyamory that the Guardian ran earlier this year: ‘It’s like all these people have given up on the idea of fidelity and intimacy, and they have just settled for screwing around‘ , ‘Emotional unavailability, nothing more less‘ (I assume there are some missing words in that comment but whatever). I’ll politely let rude and antagonistic people air their views about the way I’m doing stuff until they pull that one. If you try to tell me I do this because I’m incapable of real emotion then I will stamp on your toes and poke you in the eyes. Maybe some nonmonogamists are emotionally unavailable, but so are a lot of single monogamous people. Nonmonogamy is not characterised wholesale by an aversion to commitment and emotional availability. I am more than capable of committing, and I do it.

One of the reasons I do this whole thing is because my cup runneth over. I don’t date multiple people because I don’t have enough feelings, but because I can’t make my brain restrict those feelings to one person. I’m not incapable of affection, I’m too capable of affection. To me there’s nothing worse than ring-fencing myself into one romantic relationship when I know that I’ll always be inclined towards sharing my affection with others. 

The argument that nonmonogamists are emotionally unavailable is a hollow one. It quite clearly implies that the only thing motivating us is sex (and that in turn implies that sex isn’t a good enough reason to do anything) when most of us know that isn’t the case. It’s really fucking difficult to avoid attachment if you feel it. Dating 10 people wouldn’t make your instinctive response to them any less clear. Going over to your FWB’s house for an afternoon doesn’t make you suppress the warm, fuzzy, stomach-flipping feeling you get when you think about that nice guy you’ve had a few dates with. You don’t avoid it by diluting the numbers. You don’t avoid it at all. 

Why have we taken it for granted that commitment and monogamy are synonyms? Why is it such a surprise that you can be emotionally available to more than one person? When I commit to a partner it is implicit that this means they can trust me with their feelings. That I’ll be cautious and not try to hurt them. That I want to dedicate time to them. That I find them attractive on their terms (not more attractive than someone I’m already seeing). That I want to engage with them and know about them. And this is just as true for the way I treat a casual sex partner as the way I treat someone I ‘date’ in more traditional terms.

The structure may suggest avoidance and unavailability but really it’s about knowing your emotional resources aren’t finite. That you’re an adult and you’re capable of figuring out if you have enough warm feeling towards a potential partner to be kind to them and treat them in the way they deserve, even if ‘all’ you do with them is have sex. That commitment does not mean exclusivity, and you can build something fun and special and remarkable with more than one person while always looking after their feelings.

 (Photo of love locks taken from Flickr under Creative Commons license)