Skip to content

My polyamorous marriage

August 28, 2013

Today is my wedding anniversary. My husband and I have been married for three years, together for more than thirteen. On our wedding day, we’d been living polyamorously for two years. His two partners—and their partners—attended our wedding. So today seems like a good day to talk about why someone who’s polyamorous might choose to get married.

It’s interesting. As a whole it’s not my monogamous friends who are puzzled by my marriage. It’s my poly friends. Why get married at all if you’re not going to spend your life with one person? Isn’t marriage a remnant of couple privilege, or of an archaic approach to relationships? Isn’t it about ownership? How could you decide to get married after becoming poly, when both of you were involved with other people?

So I want to talk a little bit about what it meant to me when I chose to marry my husband.

A note on names: I’m going to call my husband Turbo, a name my former metamour Kiki (Turbo’s ex-girlfriend) came up with, for no particular reason, this past weekend when we were at Polycamp Northwest together, reminiscing about some of our early poly learning experiences. My first partner outside my marriage, a man I dated and was in love with for about two years, will be Rogue. (Rogue and I broke up about six months before the wedding.)

When we decided to get married, Turbo and I had been together for about nine years. We’d agreed maybe four years before to stop being monogamous, but I’d only been seeing someone for several months, and Turbo hadn’t met his other partners yet. My relationship with Rogue had forced a major re-evaluation of my life with Turbo, and in the course of that, we came to the realization that yes, we really did want to spend the rest of our lives together. The future we were building together was permanent, lifelong, and we wanted it to stay that way. And watching Turbo’s father take care of my mother-in-law, severely disabled from a recent stroke, drove home the importance of having people who were deeply committed to you, people you knew you could always rely on no matter what.

On Christmas Eve nearly a decade before, at the beginning of our relationship, we’d had a civil marriage for primarily logistical reasons. So people had always treated us as married—even those close to us who knew we hadn’t (yet) made that lifelong commitment to each other—and it was surprising to us, at least early on, just how much people’s treatment of us as a couple changed just because we’d signed that certificate. So it would have been easy to just decide we were married—become “really” husband and wife by default. But I didn’t want to just slide sideways into being married. I wanted it to be a choice. I wanted to say vows and know what they meant, and to share our commitment with those closest to us.

So we had a wedding. Some of our friends called it a “vow renewal” or an “anniversary celebration” or a “commitment ceremony,” but to us it was our wedding.

I’ve been a Quaker most of my life, and we were married in the manner of Friends—that is, in a Quaker marriage ceremony. The attendees at a Quaker wedding surround the couple in silence for about an hour, and anyone who feels led to speak can do so. Likewise, when the members of the couple feel led to do so, they turn to each other and speak their vows out of the silence. Afterwards, everyone present signs the marriage certificate as witnesses to the ceremony, representing the community of support that surrounds the marriage.

These were the vows we spoke:

In the presence of the Light and in the love of family and friends I take thee to be my beloved, promising to be a loving and faithful partner. I ask you to be none other than yourself. I promise to cherish and delight in your spirit and individuality, to face life’s challenges with patience and humour, to celebrate our differences, and to nurture our growth. I make this commitment in love, keep it in faith, live it in hope, and make it eternally new.

What does it mean for me to be married to Turbo? It means I’ve tied my life to his. It’s not just financial, though that’s a very big part of it: we are creating one financial future together, built on pooled resources that we share equally. We also know that we’ll always be there for each other, our lives are tied together, in parallel if not identical trajectories. Whatever happens to one of us, the other one is in it with them. Each of us will take care of the other if they can’t take care of themselves. In making our choices, we have to take the other person into account—even if we don’t always put their needs first. And each has a responsibility to the other to help them reach their full potential, realize their dreams, through support and even a little pushing, when needed. We don’t share one life, but the path of my life proceeds in cycles that are tied to the cycles of Turbo’s own life, and his to mine. And whatever we might have to face in our lives, we have someone to face it with.

An example of that is this book. The book is taking a lot of my time away from Turbo and from our home. My co-author and I, though in different cities, are in nearly constant communication about the crowdfunding campaign. And Turbo has been completely supportive throughout. One morning while my co-author was visiting, after we’d spent one afternoon working together in the living room, Turbo sent co-author a text message saying how happy he was to see us inspiring each other and working together to change the world. When I broached the subject of co-author and I slipping off for six weeks to write the book, expecting an argument over how much time I was spending away, Turbo’s reply was “Just try not to kill each other, ok?”

This isn’t the first time I’ve become completely absorbed in a project: when I wrote my master’s thesis, during legislative sessions when I worked in politics, and when I opened a museum, Turbo also had to hold down the home front while I threw myself heart and soul into what I was doing and disappeared from everyone else’s radar for awhile. And I know it’s not easy. Turbo says he’s attracted to women who inspire him, and I guess if you’re going to live with someone as inspiring as I am, you accept the fact that they will sometimes be absent, emotionally unavailable, and sometimes just plain hard to live with.

Turbo and I have both been inspired lately by the marriage of Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer: two artists who inspire and support each other, but whose work frequently takes them away from each other—often physically, and sometimes emotionally. We recently saw Neil speak in Vancouver, and when he spoke about his struggles when Amanda disappeared to record her Kickstarter album—the struggle that led to an unexpected novel—Turbo nodded next to me in recognition. Their marriage—like any relationship—is far from perfect, but to me they are a living example of how to cherish and delight in a partner’s spirit and individuality, face life’s challenges with patience and humour, celebrate differences, and to nurture each other’s growth. I see the honesty, courage, grace and understanding with which they support each other’s work mirrored in Turbo’s support of me.

I feel immensely lucky and blessed to have found someone who understands and loves me so much, including the way work fuels my life. Happy anniversary, my love. I’m so grateful we found each other.

Like what you’re reading? Buy the book now.

Integrity

August 23, 2013

310030_10150765715040508_5637521_n

This is the tattoo I got on my left shoulder two years ago this week. It’s a quote from V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore:

But it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us. But within that inch we are free…

The story behind the tattoo is long, but it deals with a very dark time and place in my life—a time when I had no good choices, most of the time. For a long time, my integrity was all I had left, and all I had to guide me. If you know you can’t win, and the people you care about can’t either, and the consequences of any choice you make are completely unpredictable anyway, what do you do? For me, it was hold my head up, put one foot in front of another, and make whatever choice in each moment was the one with integrity.

It seems like those times when you have no good choices, when you can’t win (and no one else can, either) do have a tendency to crop up in polyamorous relationships. We can talk about negotiation and compromise and finding win-win solutions, but sometimes those happy mediums just aren’t available. Or maybe it’s just that you can’t see them. Maybe it’s because the more people’s needs and personalities you put in the mix, the more likely conflicts are to arise, and some of those conflicts only seem to have solutions where everyone has to give something up.

My co-author and I are founding the book on an ethical framework focused on maximizing well-being for everyone involved. But sometimes that does mean minimizing losses rather than maximizing gains, and no matter how you reason your way through it, it feels like crap to make choices that you know are going to hurt people, just because you hope that down the line, they’re going to hurt less than the other choices you could make. And sometimes you genuinely can’t tell: sometimes the long-term effects of your choices are impossible to see, and so you’re faced with a set of choices that feel lousy in the short term and whose long-term effects can’t be predicted.

So when that happens—if you can’t make a move without hurting yourself or someone else—how do you make your choices?

An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

When I’ve come to those places, that’s when I try to centre back on my integrity. But even that can be slippery. After all, what exactly does it mean to act with integrity? Some people define integrity as essentially the same thing as honesty. Others see it as consistency of action, or consistency of action with belief. But the root of the word integrity means “whole.” Focusing on integrity for me means an intense focus on the present moment: what am I doing right now, and is it in alignment with my most authentic self? If in 10 years I were to look back at myself and the choice I am making in this moment, would I like the person I see?

I can’t say the choices I make in those moments are always the right choices, by any realistic definition of “right.” I can’t even say that they feel right. But I’m human, and I can’t see the future. Sometimes you don’t know where the road you’ve taken is going to lead you, and sometimes it takes everything you have just to keep going. And sometimes that’s enough.

I live my life in widening circles

that reach out across the world.

I may not complete this last one

but I give myself to it.

—Rainer Maria Rilke

Like what you’re reading? Buy the book now at Amazon or Powell’s. 

On being a grown-up

August 21, 2013
tags:

Many of us start really learning how to be a grown-up when we go to university or move out of our parents’ homes. When we do that, we acquire certain obligations, and no longer have anyone there as backup for them. Things like getting to class, turning in assignments on time, cleaning the bathroom, or not setting the building on fire. For many of us, those responsibilities also include things like paying rent or tuition or making it to a job to help with those obligations. We have to learn how to prioritize our time to juggle those various responsibilities. For some that means partying all term, then drinking litres of coffee and pulling all-nighters the night before finals. For others it means curbing social time, maybe even taking a break from dating, and committing ourselves to strict discipline. For others it means working two jobs just to pay for rent and food.

The key is that in learning how to be a grown-up, we learn how to make these choices ourselves. We learn what works for us and what doesn’t. And generally speaking, while there are usually people in our lives holding us accountable—a landlord or professors, for example—we don’t usually consider it reasonable for those people to micromanage our lives in order to meet those commitments: determining, for example, whom we can spend our time with, how late we can stay out on dates or whether we will have sex, all in the name of making sure we get good grades or make rent. No matter how overprotective our parents may have been, by the time we’ve been on our own for a couple of years, hopefully we have learned some basic coping skills to scrape through life without having someone else manage—for example—our time, money and relationships.

Somehow, though, a lot of people seem to get this idea that if they’re to allow their partner to have other partners, the only way to ensure their partner honours their commitments is to manage their partner’s other relationships and to have ultimate decision-making authority over what happens within them. Somehow, in the context of multiple relationships, many people assume their partners need to be treated like children. This is where the dynamic of the poly hierarchy can creep in. (This happens in both monogamous and polyamorous relationships, too, of course, with things like finances, scheduling, housework or parenting.)

It’s obvious why we’re inclined to do this. The stakes are high; mistakes can be costly, and learning always involves mistakes—sometimes big ones. Why take the risk of letting them find their own way when it’s so much easier to just do it for them? But doing so breeds resentment among all parties involved, robs your partner of agency, stifles their opportunity to learn and grow, and in extreme cases can lead to some very destructive dynamics. For many people, one of the hardest parts of all committed relationships, I think, can be to accept where our partners are in their growing-up process and to share with them the risks that come with that growth, rather than trying to protect them (and ourselves) from that risk.

Not every adult actually is a grown-up. Some people don’t grow up until their thirties, forties, or ever. The thing is, the solution to not being a grown-up isn’t to hand over control of your life and personal decisions to someone else. It’s to start growing up. And the solution to being in a relationship with someone who is not a grown-up or who makes poor decisions is not to insist on making their decisions for them. It’s to support them in learning how to make good decisions for themselves, have patience for their mistakes, and do what you need to do to take care of yourself and those who depend on you (i.e. children) in the face of their missteps.

And if you don’t have the time, patience or emotional resiliency for that, then it’s also a good idea to make it a habit to only get involved with grown-ups.

Like what you’re reading? Buy the book now at Amazon or Powell’s. 

Getting to Know Me

March 22, 2013

I am an introvert who mimics an extrovert–quite effectively, actually. I do this mostly because extroverts are privileged in our society, but also because I do actually have a fairly strong need for frequent, low-key social contact. My life is contrived in such a way that I am often surrounded by people with whom I interact little, but I am close to relatively few people. In fact, I could count on two hands the number of people with whom I have close, lifelong friendships, people I would call chosen family.

I’ve been told I’m not easy to get close to, not even easy to get to know, and that’s true, generally. Sex tends to hotwire connections for me, as does an intense shared experience (see also sex). But generally speaking, those chosen-family relationships I mentioned have developed over years or even decades. I was thinking this morning about what it does take to get close to me–what kinds of things help me form a connection and, beyond that, a close bond? I’ve come up with a few things that help a lot:

Play with me. I love games: board games, party games, role-playing games. I also love other kinds of play, both grown-up and kid play, from dancing to dressing up for a costume party to playing on a swingset. Anything that involves joy and fun and laughter in each other’s space. This tends to be how most of my close friendships start, but is an element that carries through them. If I lose play in a friendship, I am likely to lose interest.

Explore with me. I love discovering new things with people. This can be going to museums, wandering unexplored areas of my city (or the outdoors), travelling, trying new wine or beer or food, exploring altered states of consciousness… anything that involves a new, shared experience of discovery together. It can even include a movie or play, or reading a book together.

Create with me. This includes creating things, but can also include creating intangibles: I have also become close to people through working to create social or political change, for example. The key is that we have a shared vision and work together to bring it to life. Things I have created with people I love (or come to love people while creating) include meals (from  simple to elaborate), parties, a book, a museum, a political campaign, a local grassroots social movement, a home, a gardens, a play, costumes, and art. That’s just off the top of my head.

Teach me. I am intensely attracted to knowledge. Knowledge combined with expert skill and the passion of someone who absolutely loves what they know is nearly irresistible to me. I love, love, love watching people do what they do best. It doesn’t even matter what kind of knowledge, so long as it is yours and deep and you want to share it with me. I have forged or deepened connections through learning science (all the science!) and math, carpentry (well a little), writing, Tantric philosophy, cooking, dancing, costuming, games, soldering, electronic circuitry, drawing, gardening, rope bondage, and teaching (yes, learning to teach)–among other things.

Accept me. I need to learn to feel safe with you, and that means not judging or labelling me, even if you don’t understand me. We’re different; that’s what makes our connection worthwhile (see also teaching). And chances are you will never fully understand me–after all, if I don’t, how can you? And that’s kind of awesome, too. (What fun would it be if you knew everything about me?) Call me on my shit, yes, and help me be a better person. But also embrace the person I am now, imperfections and all. Make it safe for me to be me with you.

Challenge me. To be able to trust you, I need to know that you will (compassionately) tell me the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. For me to come to deeply value you, I need you to hold me accountable, challenge my ideas, make me a little uncomfortable, at least some of the time. Not only does this make you more interesting, but it shows me you’re committed to helping me become my best version of myself.

Change me. I don’t think you should set out with an agenda to change me, of course (see “accept me”). But the best relationships for me are the ones where I can look back and see how the relationship has transformed some part of who I am. The change can come through a shared experience or discussion, or a challenge we surmounted together, or a conflict we worked through, or simply by you showing me an alternate way of being.

On Being a Grown-Up

February 22, 2013

Earlier this week I posted about my definition of a poly hierarchy. I want to talk about a related concept: being a grown-up in relationships.

When we go to university or move out of our parents’ homes–the time when many of us start learning how to be a grown-up–we acquire certain obligations. Things like getting to class, turning in assignments on time, cleaning the bathroom, or not setting the building on fire. For many of us those responsibilities also include things like paying rent or tuition or making it to a job to help with those obligations. We have to learn how to prioritize our time to juggle those various responsibilities. For some that means partying all term, then drinking litres of coffee and pulling all-nighters the night before finals. For others it means curbing social time, maybe even taking a break from dating, and pacing ourselves in a disciplined manner throughout the term. For others it means working two jobs just to pay for rent and food.

The key here is that in learning how to be a grown-up, we learn how to make these choices ourselves. We learn what works for us and what doesn’t. And generally speaking, while there are usually people in our lives holding us accountable–financially supporting family members who expect us to pass our classes, for example–we don’t usually consider it reasonable for even those people to micromanage our lives in order to meet those commitments: determining, for example, whom we can spend our time with, how late we can stay out on dates or whether (or in what positions we can have sex), all in the name of making sure we get good grades. No matter how overprotective our parents may have been, by the time we’re out of university, hopefully we have learned some basic coping skills to scrape through life without having someone else manage, for example, our time, money and relationships.

Somehow, though, a lot of people seem to get this idea that if they’re to “allow” their partner to have other partners, the only way to ensure their partner honours their commitments is to manage their partner’s other relationships and to have ultimate decision-making authority over what happens within them. Somehow, in the context of multiple relationships, many people assume their partners need to be treated like children. This is where the dynamic of the poly hierarchy creeps in.

Of course, not every adult actually is a grown-up. Some people don’t grow up until their thirties, forties, or ever. The thing is, the solution to not being a grown-up isn’t to hand over control of your life and personal decisions to someone else. It’s to start growing up. And the solution to being in a relationship with someone who is not a grown-up or who makes poor decisions is not to insist on making their decisions for them. It’s to support them in learning how to make good decisions for themselves, have patience for their mistakes, and do what you need to do to take care of yourself and those who depend on you (i.e. children) in the face of their missteps.

Definitions: Polyamorous Hierarchy

February 21, 2013

A post by the blogger SexGeek last month on polynormativity has created quite a stir in my poly circles, with some of the discussion focusing on whether hierarchical poly relationships can ever be ethical. I have lots to say about hierarchical poly relationships, but first I want to clear up one thing: just what exactly I’m talking about when I talk about a poly hierarchy. I’m going to propose a definition here, which I will use and refer back to for subsequent posts. This definition is based on how I most commonly observe hierarchies playing out in poly relationships, but the key here to remember is simply that this is the definition I am using. That is, if you disagree with something I say about hierarchies, but the definition you’re using to ground your disagreement isn’t the same one I’m using, then you’re not actually disagreeing with me. Or if you are, you’re not actually addressing the core of our disagreement head-on, because you’re grounding your argument in a definition that’s different from mine.

I worked hard to get this down to something short, succinct, and more-or-less in plain language. So here is my best definition of a poly hierarchy:

A poly hierarchy is when one person wields more control over their partner’s other relationships than is held by the people within those relationships.

The classic hallmark of such control is “veto” power: the power to require your partner to end another relationship when they would not otherwise agree to. But it manifests in many smaller ways, such as restrictions on how much time a person can spend with their partners, qualifications of potential partners (including, often, ways they must serve the primary couple), where a person can go with a partner or how much money they can spend, whether someone can spend the night with their partners, or even the positions they can have sex in.

Now, I believe most people in exactly this form of hierarchical relationship will howl with disagreement at this definition. They’ll insist hierarchy is in fact something else–reasonable negotiation between adults, for example. In fact, this is what people in hierarchical poly relationships often fall back to when confronted in stark terms with the reality of what they’re doing: they backpedal until they have arrived a a definition that is not hierarchy at all. So let me address a few salient points.

A hierarchy (when it refers to people and not, say, computer programs) is, by definition, about an unequal distribution of power. It refers to rank: first, second, third, etc. (hence the terms “primary” and “secondary”). We speak of hierarchies, for example, in companies and in the military. Generally speaking, though, in interpersonal relationships, we only ever use the word when speaking of poly relationships. We don’t use them, for example, when speaking about a couple with children, or siblings, or an extended-family network, even when such networks may include a complex web of commitments, priorities and interdependencies. So with the phrase “poly hierarchy,” I am referring to a specific structure concerning three or more adults in a romantic network. A poly hierarchy does not concern the distribution of power among other players in a person’s life, which could range from employers to landlords to parents or children. It refers to the distribution of power among romantically connected adults.

A poly hierarchy is also not a set of boundaries. A boundary is a statement about what you need and what you will accept. In a negotiation between grown-ups, an adult states their boundaries and trusts their partner to honour them–and does not, generally, stay in a relationship where their clearly defined boundaries are consistently crossed. A hierarchy, on the other hand, dictates another person’s behaviour with regard to the other person or the other person’s other partners. Examples:

Not hierarchy: To protect my sexual health, I choose not to have unprotected intercourse with anyone who has unbarriered sex with anyone else. If you choose to have unbarriered sex with someone other than me, I may use condoms with you, or even refrain from having intercourse with you at all. However, because I know you value the ability to have unbarriered sex with me, I trust you to check in with me about my comfort level before you choose to have unbarriered sex with someone else.

Hierarchy: I don’t want to have to use condoms with you or stop having sex with you, so you are not permitted to have unprotected intercourse with anyone but me unless I agree to it.

The second example is hierarchical because the speaker is making decisions for their partner’s relationships in which the other partners–the invisible third parties–have a lesser say.

A poly hierarchy is also not the same as providing information to your partner about what your needs are in the relationship. In a negotiation between adults, each person expresses their needs in the relationship and trusts the other to decide what the best way to meet them is. For example, if I need more of a partner’s time, it is for me to say I need more of their time, and for them to say whether they can give it to me, and what other activities they will take that time from. It is not for me to decide, for example, that they must take a lower-paying job or cancel their poker night or stop visiting their mom or whatever it is think they should give up. They must be free to decide whether they can give me what I’m asking for, and how they will do that. Example:

Not hierarchy: I’m being asked to work longer hours and I can no longer take the kids to daycare every day. I need you to help me figure out a solution to make sure they get dressed and ready and off to daycare in the morning. I hope you and your partners will be open to adjusting your own schedules to help me accommodate these new circumstances.

Hierarchy: I’m being asked to work longer hours and I can no longer take the kids to daycare every day. You can’t spend the night with your partners anymore, because you have to start taking the kids to daycare.

Some would say this is a subtle difference, but I disagree. I think people say it’s subtle or hard to understand, or simply an issue of semantics, because they don’t want to confront the truth of what they’re really doing. In the first examples, the speaker is making statements about their needs and approaching their partner as an equal to work with them to solve a problem. They are leaving their partner’s own choices in their partner’s hands not making any statements about the behaviour of third parties (e.g. their partner’s other partners).

The key elements of a poly hierarchy are:

  • The ability to make rules or place limits on what can happen in relationships that are not yours (i.e. your partner’s other relationships).
  • Non-reciprocity: Your partners other partners may not place the same restrictions on your relationship that you can place on theirs.

If it doesn’t have these elements, it’s not a hierarchy. It’s something else.

Additionally, the following are not elements of a poly hierarchy:

  • Expressing your needs in a relationship regarding your partner’s behaviour toward you.
  • Making agreements with your partner concerning your own behaviour in relation to them or commitments you share (such as children) and trusting your partner to keep such agreements with you.
  • Letting your partner make their own decisions regarding how they will honour your needs and meet your shared commitments while building the kind of life they want for themselves.
  • Setting healthy limits on the kinds of relationships you will build or stay in, such as refusing to stay with a partner who consistently breaks agreements.

These are examples of how adults with mutual agency in a relationship relate to one another. These are also the kinds of things people who practise hierarchical poly say they are doing, when pressed to defend their practices. However, the key difference concerns personal agency: who makes decisions for whom.

The underlying premise of the hierarchical approach seems to be that they do not believe their partners can be trusted to keep agreements or honour their relationships when left to their own devices or allowed to make their own decisions–that unless strict rules are enforced, chaos will take over and all hell will break loose.

I guess, generally, I have a higher opinion of people than that. I certainly don’t understand why someone would choose to be in a relationship with someone they felt that way about.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. More on this–I expect, much more–later.

Owning It

January 15, 2013

You see a lot of talk on poly sites and forums “owning your shit.” In other words, taking responsibility for your feelings, your actions, and any emotional baggage you’re carrying around, and recognizing that no one else is responsible for your happiness or for making sure your needs are met.

This is good advice, as far as it goes. But it has a flip side. I see this same instruction sometimes turned around to justify serious lapses in consideration or compassion: if you’re responsible for your own feelings, and no one can “make” you feel something, then I can do whatever I want and am not responsible for the effect it has on other people.

There is also the danger of turning “own your own shit” into “own everyone else’s shit, too”: accepting responsibility that isn’t yours in order to keep the peace. Women are particularly susceptible to this, I believe, be we’re often socialized to believe that if there’s conflict, it must somehow be our fault. It can be very tempting to say, “I’m sorry, this was all my fault,” just to patch things up and move on, instead of staying in that uncomfortable place of conflict—especially when someone else doesn’t want to take responsibility. On the other hand, if your conflict partner happens to be someone with the same habits and socialization, it’s easy to allow them to shoulder the responsibility in order to avoid having to face it yourself.

There’s a fine line between “wow, I was really triggered by that, but also you weren’t behaving very well (broke an agreement, were dishonest, threw a temper tantrum, etc.), so let’s both own our own shit: I’ll figure out how I can be less reactive, while you figure out how you can behave better in the future,” and “wow, I was really triggered by that, and since I was triggered, obviously I was responding irrationally and things must not really be that bad, I’ll take responsibility for feeling bad and you don’t have to change anything.”

I think in my life I’ve fallen down on both sides of this issue. I have been the one trying to take on responsibility for everyone in a situation, whether to get out of the discomfort of conflict or to ease the pain of someone I care about, or simply out of internalized guilt and shame associated with not adhering to social norms. I’ve also, regrettably, allowed other people (usually women) to do the same: own my share of responsibility for conflict, thus freeing me from the pain of owning it myself.

The trouble is, it can be really hard sometimes to know what’s mine and what’s yours. And to resist the desire to be a peacemaker, even if it means sacrificing your own needs.

The Sparrow

January 14, 2013

This is an excerpt from a book called The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, which I read a few years ago. I didn’t love the book, but it has some very memorable passages that are worth reading the book for. Bits and pieces of it come up for me every now and then. In this passage, one of the main characters talks about how she’s been “married four times, to at least four different men”—all of whom were the same man, strictly speaking. The idea is that over a lifetime, people change in pretty drastic and unpredictable ways, to the point where every now and then you look back and realize, we’re not the same people we were five, ten, twenty… however many years ago.

The Sparrow

(screencap from Google Books)

In my own relationships, and in the other long-term relationships where I’ve had the privilege of viewing some of the inner workings, it seems pretty normal for there to come a time when the two new people you’ve become over the years stand there looking at each other and have to ask, “whatever we may have believed or wanted a few years ago, do these two people belong in a relationship NOW?” Someone once described this as having the relationship stripped down to its core, discovering what’s there without knowing if there would still be a core to build back up from. Sometimes the answer is yes: these two new people still want to be together. And then you move forward, perhaps with a stronger relationship than before.

But sometimes the answer is no, it doesn’t make sense anymore. I think this is normal and okay, and yet somehow we always seem blindsided by those events, and angry, and treat them pretty universally in our society as though they shouldn’t happen. In fact, people seem to see them as a betrayal (think “I don’t even know you anymore!”) As though people we’re committed to growing and changing in ways that are different from ourselves should somehow not be allowed, or means they love us less.

I wonder if it makes sense to make lifelong commitments, at least in the way we’re encouraged to. I’m married, but to me that commits us to being family for life, but not necessarily to a particular form of a relationship, if what we’re doing is no longer good for both of us. I wonder if instead of the idea of “breaking up,” where the presumption is that you’ll stay in a relationship until something makes you leave it, people should instead sit down, say, every year or few, and say, “Okay, who are we now? How is this relationship working? Do we like the way it’s going? Should we change something? Does it make sense to continue? Do we even still like each other that much?” as though you had to renew the relationship every now and then—and if you don’t, it’s not a “breaking.”

Found

December 4, 2012

Via S.

Once you’ve put everything
on the table
once all of your currency is gone
and your pockets are full of air
all you’ve got left to gamble with
is yourself.

Go ahead, climb up onto the velvet top
of the highest stakes table.
Place yourself as the bet.
Look God in the eyes
and finally
for once in your life
lose.

—Adyashanti

Shall We Dance?

September 10, 2012
tags: , ,

I’m a dancer. I’ve danced ballet since I was a teenager, though I don’t do it much anymore. I’ve been dancing swing for about 15 years, and N is helping me learn blues.

I love following. I love that you dance a different dance with every lead you dance with. I love practising connecting with so many different people who have so many different styles. I love that I can go anywhere and walk onto a dance floor and find a partner I’ve maybe never met before and know exactly what they want me to do.

I also love the feeling of surrender I have to cultivate in order to follow well. I love the feeling of floating, not knowing what will happen next (actually, the couple of times I’ve been tied up, it reminded me a lot of dancing).

Recently I was thinking of the skills involved in being a good follow, and I realized they make a pretty good skillset for life in general:

  • Keep your back straight, your head up and your core strong.
  • Don’t try to anticipate the next move.
  • Relax.
  • Connect.
  • Smile.
  • Feel the music.