The Distance

You love me from a distance

Like there are whole fields and twisting roads between us

Like we set out to meet, but walked right by going opposite ways.

We missed each other by minutes.

I waited alone in the dark.

You sat patiently under the trees.

I orbit wide. I carried asteroids on my shoulders.

And when I finally made it back to earth

You turn away from me like you don’t know who I am, or where I’ve been.

We reach for each other, grasping in syncopated rhythm;

And once in a lifetime the tips of our fingers brush and lock together.

There is something we cannot forget:

The potential that we lost-

That slipped away as we turned apart-

Interrupted by our own journeys.

There is a way it could have been different:

In another world, on another timeline,

When maybe we did not sever or snap with the fierceness of bone.

The First Love After You

The first love I felt after him-

It was when our eyes coming together told me how deeply I had been broken open and emptied out.

I know because in the moments we move together I can feel my skin tug apart and my chest leak an amber colored syrup like thick sap

And with each muscled contraction of my heart there is a pump of pain- a surge of heat, like i am leaping off a cliff a thousand times.

Yes, I am doing it again.

I flake the dirt off my knees.

Six years of falling. And I have finally reached the ground.

I ache for a wild love. A love where we learn how to share bile. To trade back and forth between our mouths the acid that washes into our throats from the deepest places. Burning our tongues with the sharpness of our stories.

But it will not be you.

Six years I fell. And I’ll fall again.

Here I will be once more, brushing the dirt from my knees. Left back at the beginning. Broken open. Emptied out. Ready again. Until my time folds in on itself.

Jealousy and Superiority

“Don’t worry, what we have is different.” “Our relationships is special.” “I could never feel about anyone the way I feel about you.”

It’s so often phrases like this that are used to give reassurance in polyamorous relationships. People remind their primary or central partners that they are the most important, most special- the best. And that reminder is used as a security blanket to help reduce feelings of jealousy.

It’s the most obvious way of dealing with jealousy: to simply remove the surface cause, which in this case is whatever perceived threat of another partner’s superiority that might be present. I find myself falling into this pattern easily, thinking that as long as I can convince myself I am the best at eveything, I don’t have feel jealous. This is the “easy” way, in the sense that I don’t have to confront the actual root of the insecurity that is causing me jealousy, which would require much more vulnerability and both introspective and interpersonal work. But in the long run, it is more difficult. I set myself up for failure because being the best at everything and being better than anyone I feel threatened by is an impossible and absurd goal.

So the harder path is before me: to discover where this need to be the most special and best comes from- why I have to feel superior to others to be okay with myself. I investigate why the reassurance I need to feel secure in a relationship is that I am prettier, sexier, more intelligent, more artistic, more dynamic, more inspiring- more perfect.

Sometimes we are jealous because we are genuinely not getting our emotional needs met. In this case, a frank conversation with those who are leaving us unfulfilled is important. But other times we feel jealousy because of our own feelings of inadequacy. These feelings can come from many different places- negative messages learned in childhood, toxic cultural attitudes that wear our sense of self down- our own learned victimhood that prevents us from appreciating the strengths and joys of others without internalizing it as a defect of ourselves.

There is something here that I feel is important, although I can’t quite grasp it: so for now I just want to keep pondering over. Can I find a way to allow a relationship to be fully its own: can I appreciate a relationship just as something unique and beautiful in itself without comparing it to others. Of course, this is not denying that some relationships will organically become more intimate and significant than others over time, but that no matter what the nature of the relationship is, as long as it is healthy and consensual there is nothing about it being “better” or “worse” in whatever various arbitrary traits I’ve decided are important. It has to do with feeling secure in a relationship because you know that it is simply the unique and remarkable meeting of two people. Not because it is better or because you are better, but because all relationships are special and unique in their own way.

I don’t pretend to think that this way of thinking is necessarily attainable for a lot of people. It’s okay to feel jealous, and it’s okay to be struggling with feeling insecure and inadequate. And hopefully we cope with those feelings the best that we can. But this idea, of letting relationships speak for themselves, and of really letting ourselves see the unique and beautiful connection inherent in all relationships, is something I try my best to hold in myself- even if it’s just to ponder it further.

Authenticity vs. Manipulation in Polyamory

In trying to cultivate healthy relationships, I’ve thought a lot about underhanded messaging. There is a difference between what we say, and what we convey underneath the words. We need to think about both parts of our communication to cultivate healthy relationships. I think engaging with this issue is important in all relationships, but in polyamorous relationships there is particular risk of becoming manipulative or coercive.
The majority of manipulative polyamorous relationships that I’ve witnessed or been involved in are due to this kind of covert messaging. People will negotiate rules and boundaries with each other and agree to them- and yet one partner will emotionally punish another partner for following the rules that they set together.
This can be very subtle and difficult for the manipulated partner to decipher. A couple might agree that they are comfortable pursuing other relationships or going on dates with other people. They might agree that these actions fall within the boundaries of their negotiated relationship. However, when one partner actually engages in these behaviors, although they are simply abiding by previously agreed on boundaries, they receive some kind of emotional punishment from their partner as a result. It may be either the tone in their partner’s voice, the look in their eyes, the subtle word choices in how they refer to it after the fact, or just being otherwise emotionally withrawn towards their partner in the days to come. These cues tell their partner something very different than the previous verbal communication did. It tells them that they can’t actually trust or rely on what their partner says. It creates a generalized feeling of guilt and a sense of “walking on eggshells”- like they never know what is going to upset their partner and what will actually be acceptable. Because these cues are mostly nonverbal, it is often very difficult to decipher that what is happening is actually emotional manipulation.
It is important to be authentic and real to your partners about when you are struggling with jealousy or insecurity. It is important to be able to express these feelings in a real and honest way. It is important to always be open to renegotiation. The problem is not having anxiety or jealousy in your relationships. The problem is when your verbal report and non verbal message don’t match up. It is manipulative to agree to a boundary, and then create an atmosphere of guilt and emotional punishment when your partner behaves according to that boundary. It requires self reflection and self awareness to recognize what you are actually comfortable with, and what kind of relationships you can actually manage through your own self care and reasonable requests for reassurance from your partners. The self reflection required in deciphering these boundaries for yourself can take a lot of work. But the possible emotional damage that can occur as a result of not doing this work makes it your duty as a romantic partner to be constantly asking yourself: Are what I say and what I don’t say lining up?

Intimacy and Scarcity

I see emotional neglect as a frequent problem in intimate relationships. One way this manifests is when there is not a feeling of secure intimacy. One partner finds themself craving for those few and far between moments where they feel loved, cherished, and validated by their partner. In a securely attached relationship, you should be floating in a sea of these moments. It should not be doled out to you one small tidbit at a time. I see so many people in relationships who feel totally starved of meaningful affection and intimacy. With this scarcity model, they ache and crave for those moments of real connection (Franklin Veaux writes more about the scarcity model of relationships, you can read his work here). They feel like they have to be constantly going out of their way to make sure they really “deserve” those moments. They feel like they need to do something really special or outstanding to be gifted that sweet kiss, or that tender touch, or those moving words. Their partner may act like it is a chore to show intimacy- or that showing intimacy is a “reward” for really going out of their way for them in some way.

This scarcity model of intimacy and affection is incredibly toxic. When you feel like they have to “earn” affection, you slowly lose power in your relationships- and your self worth begin to deplete. Humans thrive on open and full exchanges of affection. We feel fulfilled knowing that there is a foundation of intimacy and affection that we can depend on being there. But in our society we have become so merit based that in some ways we have lost the concept of unconditional love. We forget that it is okay to give love freely. We forget that the most healthy relationships and the most secure attachments occur when we can rely on consistently affectionate responses from our partners. If you don’t feel like you are floating on a river of affection- if you feel starved for closeness- you might want to consider if you and/or your partner are existing in a scarcity based model of intimacy.

Grieving the 20%

I’ve heard through the grapevine of polyamorous lore a story that Nina Hartley allegedly once told. If you don’t know who Nina Hartley is, she is a porn actress, sex educator and life long non-monogamist, and has great things to say about navigating long term polyamorous and open relationships.

She was describing a time in her relationship when her husband/primary partner starting dating a new person. This person was not like other secondary or peripheral partners of her husband’s- there was something special about this person, and she could see how enthralled her husband was with this new relationship. She noticed a new feeling she hadn’t processed before welling up inside of her. She spent a long time processing and self-reflecting. She was having a hard time deciphering what this feeling was. She knew it wasn’t jealousy, because she was familiar with the experience of that feeling and this was different. Finally, she realized that the feeling she was having was grief. She was feeling grief at the part of her husband that she realized she could not- and would never be able- to touch.

It doesn’t matter how bonded you are with a partner. There will always be part of them that you cannot touch- that you do not relate to- that you don’t understand. There will always be a little part where your needs for connection and intimacy are mismatched. I’ve heard this part estimated as 20% in pair bonded primary relationships. There will always be 20% of your partner that will never be able to really understand.

This is not a failure of a relationship by any means- it is simply part of the reality of being a complex individual engaged with another complex individual. There will always be parts of other people that you cannot connect to. This is reality- and part of why I appreciate the gifts that polyamory gives. You can be happy knowing that between you and your partner’s other partners- all of the parts of themselves will be touched and fufilled. And simultaneously with relief and happiness, it is also valid to feel grief.

There is a different but parallel emotional experience to this. I first experienced it after I was after beginning to date a new partner that I felt really excited about and quickly conneted to. There was a new feeling welling up inside myself. I spent some time processing and reflecting. I knew it wasn’t jealousy. I remembered the story about Nina Hartley and I wondered if it was grief. Eventually I realized that it was- but it was going the other way. I wasn’t grieving the parts of my primary partner that I couldn’t touch. I was grieving the parts of myself that my partner couldn’t touch.

I feel such deep love and connection towards my primary partner. It is an incredibly fulfilling relationship. I feel intimate with him in ways that are deeply unique and special. But there is always going to be that 20% of me that he cannot touch. There will always be those few points of connection that other partners will be able to fulfill in ways that he cannot. And there is inherent grief to be experienced in that- because I want him to be able to touch every part of me- and the reality is that there is no one in the world who can truly do that. There is fundamental sadness in this, that is mixed with the joy of having an array of partners that will leave me totally fulfilled. And it is a grief that is worth sitting with. It is a grief that is worth acknowledging, along with the joy of having such fulfillment. Because there is also beauty in that mixture of fulfillment and grief- beauty in the intense complexities of emotions that closely bonded, intimate relationships can create inside of us.

Loving More Than One Person

There is a particular emotional experience of loving more than one person at the same time. It is an experience felt in your body. It is an physical sensation. And polyamorous relationships can easily fail when people don’t understand what it is like to love more than one person at once. You can intellectually understand the concept of polyamory, but bump up against the actual lived experience. Without an understanding of what loving multiple people feels like, you can create negative situations with partners simply because you don’t fully understand the impact of your actions. I’ve dated partners who, although they knew what polyamory was, and felt some kind of attachment to me, they assumed that because I also had a primary partner that I wasn’t really attached to them. They assumed I couldn’t actually be hurt by their actions, or take our relationship seriously, because they thought that my heart was already oriented towards someone else.

Even though many people know that polyamorous means “many loves”, not everyone understands the actual experience of having romantic attachment towards multiple people simultaneously. The sensation has been so suppressed in their body through a life time of conditioning that it is not actually a possible phenomenon, so they don’t have a concept of what it actually might look like or feel like in practice.

To love or feel romantically attached to more than one person at a time is an experience felt on the level of the body. When you have only known the feeling of loving one person at a time, there is a shift in both intellectual knowledge and in the knowledge that your body holds that needs to happen. It is a deep unlearning, a massive deconstruction of the values and beliefs in possibilities that you hold in your heart. And it takes work. If you can’t visualize this simultaneous experience of affection and desire, then you can only hold one person in your heart at a time. So when you are with one partner, your other partners fade from your mind and are released from your heart. Partnerships become deeply compartmentalized. This is where unintentional hurt can happen- because you are only “seeing” and “feeling” one partner at a time, and therefore make decisions without considering what another partner’s experience might be.

What is it like to hold multiple romances in your heart at the same time? Some people may be afraid they cannot give 100% of themselves to any one partner- that they have to divide their heart and give a different piece to each partner. This seems logical in a scarcity oriented and consumerist focused world. But the logic falls apart when the issue is put into the framework of feelings and attachment. Attachment and intimacy do not have the properties of material resources. They can grow infinitely and fluidly. 100% of your heart can be stimulated by multiple people simultaneously. You can feel multiple strands of romantic feelings in the same brain, in the same heart, in the same gut, all existing in a cumulative and over lapping manner- not in a limited and divided way. It does not mean that any one person has any less of your attention, focus, appreciation or desire at any given time. Being on a date with one partner doesn’t mean you aren’t still holding your other partners in your heart. You can appreciate different partners for different reasons, while not appreciating any one person less. You can be totally absorbed in the moment with one person in particular and still at the same time be holding space for your others. One partner can be mainly at the forefront of your heart without dominating or suffocating any other partners that also inhabit your heart. You can care for each of your partners all at once, lapping over each other like waves on a beach.