Feelings Are Not Facts

Hey, how are you all? I’m okay . . . mostly. This is a strange time, yeah? 

If you struggle here and there with anxiety, wrestle with the old ghosts of a traumatic past, or are simply human, you may have noticed your threshold for spiraling into your feelings is a little lower these days. Like, super low. Maybe it’s a little washed out? Could just be me.

On the off chance you’re anything like me and you’ve found yourself gazing into your Crystal Ball of Doom™ a little too often, I wanted to acknowledge a couple things:

  1. If you are isolated with someone you love, it’s normal to feel a strain there
  2. If you are isolated away from someone you love, it’s normal to feel a strain there

People . . . we are all dealing with a lot of crap right now.

One of the things I know to be true about myself is that when I am feeling strain in one area of my life, it tends to bleed a bit into others. I am not always cognizant of it at the moment, which makes it particularly insidious, so it ends up coming out sideways. Like when I’m hungry and I bang my head on something and burst into tears; I’m crying because I’m hungry, not because I hit my head. Hitting my head was just the proverbial straw that broke my hungry camel’s back. Likewise, when I’m lonely, (or isolated or bored or I ate too many baked goods and my tummy hurts), and someone I love very much does a totally normal thing that perhaps I would ordinarily just let go but in this moment of isolated-tummy-ache-boredom signifies the end of the actual world, that’s my crap coming out sideways.

Uncertainty is not my friend. In today’s world, it has overstayed its welcome. I’m crabby. But while that’s true for so many of us, we can consider the awareness of it a tool of sorts. Because if I know I’m under strain, I also know I’m prone to letting that bleed into areas it doesn’t belong, and knowledge is power.

So I am armed with this knowledge, yes? The knowledge that I am emotionally overextended due to an undercurrent of uncertainty, (strain, crabbiness, tummy aches, what-have-you). I am also armed with the knowledge that awareness of a situation or a feeling is not enough to act on, and that in order for me to be the best version of myself, I need to spend time accepting the situation (or the feeling) so that I can be objective about what to do about it.

This morning I fed the cats. Then my partner came along and let me know he wanted to wash the cat food dish with the morning dishes, so he dumped the cat food back into its box to wash the bowl before filling it back up again to feed them. Ordinarily this would have been an “okay, dude – whatever floats your particular boat” moment – but no, not today. You see, the world is a strange place, so putting the cat food back in its container meant my partner no longer wanted to spend time with me. DON’T LAUGH, I’M BEING VULNERABLE!! But I also knew my Crystal Ball of Doom™ was responsible for that extrapolation, (powerful magic in that thing . . .), so I went into the other room to be with myself for a moment. In the end there wasn’t anything left to feel bothered about. 

In this time of increased uncertainty, when I find myself compelled to react to things in a way I am aware is out of proportion to the situation, I know to take a moment to figure out where it’s really coming from before losing my shit. Because when I pause, I can remind myself that it’s just a really weird time right now, and the dumbest stuff is going to feel bad in ways it usually wouldn’t. Sometimes I end up crying anyway, but at least I’m better equipped to not cause harm by acting out of misdirected feelings surfacing only due to the proverbial straw.

Blaming the straw is never wise. 

Photo by Tim Trad on Unsplash

Parallel Polyamory Sans Privilege

There are those who prefer little-to-no interaction with metamours, opting instead for what is known as parallel polyamory: a structuring of relationships in such a way that folks know of each other, but metamours don’t spend intentional time with one another. Parallel polyamory can look like anything from: “we can be in the same room, we just don’t care to interact outside of a polite ‘hello’ ” to: “I don’t want to know anything about your time with so-and-so because I just can’t stand them and I never want to see them.”

Sometimes our partners pick partners we simply don’t mesh with! As long as everyone can be civil, it stands to reason that no one needs to be excluded from anything. But there are situations in which that simply won’t work for one party or another.

This becomes sticky terrain when parallel polyamory is implemented in a long-term, heavily enmeshed relationship. 

My approach to partner mingling is this: invite everyone, and let whoever does not wish to interact, opt out. And yes, this means I will have partners who occupy little space in my life as a result, but that is their choice and I respect it. I could never in good conscience limit any of my partners’ opportunities to share life with me based on the preferences of someone else. I could also never require that my partners interact with each other if they do not want to. This approach also means I will likely be in future situations where I have to choose between sharing space with metamours I don’t particularly like, or skipping whatever event they will be showing up at. As long as I’m not making my partner pick between us, that’s all that matters to me.

Couple privilege in nonmonogamous relationships is something to actively be work against if you wish to mitigate its harmful effects on others, as with any inherent privilege. To do this in the case of parallel polyamory, it becomes necessary to view your desire, (or the desire of your partner), as a set of personal boundaries you, (or they), are responsible for.

To frame parallel polyamory as a set of boundaries, the person desiring the parallel situation would also need to accept that they will participate in less of the mutual partner’s life than would otherwise be available. It would be a leveraging of privilege to suggest that a partner exclude their other partners from important life events simply because one didn’t want to interact with them; it is an enforcement of a personal boundary to opt out of situations that result in an undesirable situation for you. 

I understand the implications here, but consider the alternative: insisting that no other partners ever get to participate in these important life events simply because you don’t want to interact with them means their relationship with your mutual partner is prescriptively limited and will not have an opportunity to grow into the shape it would naturally.

A special note to those of you who find yourself in toxic or abusive situations with a metamour: If your metamour is abusive to you, you of course have every right to distance yourself from them. In these cases, while it may be one of the most difficult high roads you’ll ever take, it still behooves all involved to focus on your boundaries rather than insisting your partner do anything different in their other relationships. If you had a close friend who chose to spend a ton of time with a complete asshole, your relationship with that friend would likely change – at least until they stopped being so intertwined with a jackass. When it’s your partner, and you share a life together, restructuring your relationship enough to keep you safe is exponentially harder to do. Ultimately, an abusive metamour can shine a light on your partner’s disregard for your safety and wellbeing, and that should be considered a fundamental incompatibility.

I’m a big fan of walking away from misery. It’s always worth the journey.

Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

Assume the Best

In nearly every corner of the nonmonogamous community at the moment, you’ll find a rousing debate about how folks should be structuring their time with partners who they do not also share a living space with.

With most of the world attempting some type of self-isolation to flatten the curve, there is no shortage of opinions on how those of us who don’t fit the dominant narrative should subscribe to edicts issued by it.

This will not be a blog post about what you should or should not be doing with regard to mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

It will be a plea for you to take a step back and consider a few things before you launch into a judgemental tirade on behalf of the living world.

Perhaps you have found yourself upset with the laissez faire approach some of your fellow citizens seem to have for social distancing in the baking aisle. Or perhaps you’re forced to work in uncomfortably close quarters with other human beings because your job is considered essential (and your income is of course essential to you, personally) so you’d prefer anyone who can stay home, do that please. Maybe you’re up to your eyebrows in school-age children and cannot fathom how anyone would be so careless as to leave their home when they absolutely did not have to, but holy buckets you sure would if you could because omg these kids amirite?

We are all in some version of a stressful situation we weren’t planning on.

All of us.

Every one of us.

If you’re still employed, you are fortunate – particularly if your job doesn’t require you to interact with the public.

If you are cohabiting with someone you love who loves you back, you are fortunate – particularly if you aren’t also attempting to navigate or maintain partnerships across social distances you never planned on.

If you are fortunate enough to have it pretty good right now, please consider how you might find it necessary to do things differently if you did not, and allow for some grace.

In a community that doesn’t subscribe to the dominant narrative, we need to accept that edicts issued from that position should be critically examined. Not rejected, but examined. It behooves us all to consider the assumptions being made before subscribing to them. And to be sure, I’m not advocating for eschewment of educated guidelines, but I am asking for some critical thinking to be done in the areas of equivalency.

So here is my ask: please assume the folks you know are doing the best they can under the circumstances, even if what they’re doing doesn’t look like what you’re doing.

Be safe; be well.

~Rusty

Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

Guest Blog: Acting out of Trust vs. Fear

Fear. 

Outside of our basic survival instincts, fear is perhaps the number one motivator for the human race. Maybe for all sentient life. Acting out of fear rarely gives us the opportunity to show up as our best selves, and this can and will often cause harm in our relationships. This has been true for me and has had dire consequences. 

Fear is pervasive in our society. It’s so common we don’t always notice it when it’s being leveraged or applied. When it’s factored into our decision making process, it often feels like a valid consideration vs. a problematic aspect. Or something that flies under the radar. This creates problems in a number of ways: we take away our partner’s agency, infantilize them, and rob ourselves of our autonomy, opting instead for the decision that appears to limit the perceived harm. Self-preservation is a tricky thing. This is born, at least for me, out of the desire to control the outcome and hopefully mitigate my partner’s bad feelings. Not a healthy move, but it happens.

Fear is a powerful thing. As I write this, I’m dealing with the repercussions of decisions I made out of fear. Looking back, I knew what the right choice was, but opted for the one that I felt would “hurt” my partner less. Doing so led to a host of issues; from unethical behavior to resentment. Doing the right thing would have caused less harm. I probably knew this, but I acted out of fear. 

It’s human nature to seek control when we are scared. In the above example, I was afraid of losing someone important to me. I sought to minimize my fear by controlling their reactions. If I can make them feel safe, I thought, I won’t need to face my fear of them having bad feelings and considering me unworthy as a partner. We can never truly control anything but ourselves, so it’s imperative that we learn to control how we act in response to what happens to us. I’m not talking about the feelings we get when things happen, but rather our behavior in response to those feelings.

The way we do this is by acting out of trust instead of fear. Not only trusting others as I should have in the earlier example, but also out of trust of self. And really, the latter is the most important.

When we act out of trust, we grant ourselves permission to act in our own best interests. We also stop trying to control others since we trust them to act in their own best interests. Both can be done in a way that doesn’t negatively impact others. For me? I was afraid of hurting someone by doing something perfectly normal. Instead I hurt them by acting out of fear.

Psychologists have known a rather complex (and yet oddly simple) truth for decades: external events/people can not MAKE us feel a certain way, even though it seems that way.

We enter into situations with our own expectations and even baggage/trauma. Those expectations directly impact the way we feel about the event or person. Here’s an example Dr. Edelstein provides from Chapter 1 of his book Three Minute Therapy:

Suppose a hundred airplane passengers are unexpectedly given parachutes and instructed to jump from the plane. If a physical situation alone could cause emotions, then all the hundred people would feel the same way. But obviously those who regard skydiving positively are going to have a [reaction] very different from the others.

I made my decisions based on expectations I had of my partner’s reactions instead of giving them the opportunity to have their reactions, own them and show up as their best self.

So what does acting out of trust look like? 

  • Trusting your partner to own their insecurities regarding your actions. 
  • Trusting your partner to share their insecurities without expecting you to alter your behavior. 
  • Trust your decisions and actions are perfectly OK, even if it appears to make your partner feel a certain way. 

In my case, my partner’s feelings were valid and I didn’t trust them to show up as their best self because of those fears. Had I? Things would have gone very differently.

Trust yourself to act with integrity and work to show up that way. Trust your partner(s) to own their struggles and not penalize you for them. Trust that everything will be OK . . . even when it may not feel like it. Trust yourself so that fear won’t control your actions.

* * *

Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was poly in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

Image credit: Photo by Scott Web on Unsplash

The Heart is a Muscle

The heart is a muscle.

That’s a statement of obvious anatomy, but I think of the metaphorical heart as a muscle as well. One that flexes and contracts with a smooth strength as it navigates the emotional boot camp that non-monogamy can be at times. When you’re keeping pace to it’s beat and the endorphins are flowing, it’s a blissfully easy piece of equipment to have. But many of us feel one premature ventricular contraction away from uncharted territory.

If we dare to consider our emotional strength similar to our physical strength, we can begin to look at ways to maintain it in much the same way.

In non-monogamy, sometimes we can fall into a pattern of complacency where it’s too easy to ask someone else to do the work for us while these important emotional muscles simply atrophy from non-use. Asking partners to manage our pain points seems so appealing in the moment, but it does nothing to alleviate the pain long term when what that spot really needs is to be touched, worked on, stretched, and developed. 

My body has been through a lot. I know where my pain points are, and how I’m supposed to take care of them. I know which side is weaker, and which is stronger. The recommended stretches, optimal duration of workouts, professional advice, and healthy habits – all of these are things I’m aware of. Sometimes, I even avail myself of them in such a way that I make actual progress!

The heart is no different, because the heart is a muscle.

My heart has been through a lot. I know where it’s pain points are, and how I’m supposed to take care of them. I know when I feel weak and fall short of my own standards for emotional maturity, and I know where I am strong enough to feel good and stable and safe. When I take the time to stretch a little further, I am rewarded with more comfort in that flexibility the next time. The efforts expended in areas of emotional growth are balanced best with self-care in appropriate doses. My therapist provides professional advice during these workouts. My healthy habits make all of these things more possible.

When I stop taking care of my body, it does things that make me unhappy. I lose strength and my muscles atrophy. I lose my resolve to progress. I compare the weaker version of myself to the one I could have been if I’d kept up with my program. It’s harder to feel good when I don’t do the things I know make me feel that way.

The heart is no different, because the heart is a muscle.

When I stop asking myself to work on the areas of me that need to be built up in order to support the whole of me, other areas overcompensate. If I neglect my mental health, my compulsions will step in and manage my thoughts for me. If I relax my boundaries to make others happy, the part of me that once only had to check for cracks in the foundation now has to pick up the pieces and rebuild with compromised materials. But when one part gets stronger, the areas that had to take up the slack before can go back to their original jobs.

Recently I’ve come out on the other side of some intense emotional work, and I’m beginning to see the payoff. It’s like flexing an impressive bicep after a year of focused training – there is a sense of pride, but also a genuine strength that informs how a body, or a heart, moves through the world. 

Finding time and expending energy to keep my body healthy and strong can sometimes be a chore. It doesn’t always feel great in the moment. I get sore. I get tired. I have days when I just don’t want to and the couch looks so tempting with perhaps a quart of ice cream. But I’m better for sticking to it – stronger, more stable, and far more confident in my abilities.

And the heart is no different, because the heart is a muscle.

Sometimes I’m Lonely

There are those outside of the non-monogamous community who see it as a sure-fire cure for loneliness. All the partners all the time! Lol, no. I am here to tell you that is far from the case.

Sometimes I’m super lonely; sometimes we all are. 

When I share this sentiment in the circles I frequent, many folks suggest getting another partner to fill this gap. To that I say: no one is a substitute for anyone else. In addition, it’s never been my goal to have multiple partners – I am non-monogamous simply because I enjoy my autonomy and not having limits placed on my relationships by anyone outside of those arrangements. 

Being non-monogamous does not guarantee you multiple partners, or any partner at all, actually. When you are partnered, juggling and accommodating the schedules of multiple people, (partners, metamours, families), commitments, (work, recreation, appointments, travel), the commitments of those multiple people, and the others they’re considering and accommodating, add some distance . . . well, you get the picture. It’s more likely that three people will all be available on the same Wednesday evening in a month than each of them on the separate days you’re looking for one-on-one time with them, and when you do want to do something as a group, it will be the week no one has mutual days free. I promise. It’s like a law or something. Ask me how I know!

So yeah, sometimes, regardless of how many partners I have, I am left with more days than I’d like that don’t contain any of them. The same is true of friends as well. And community events. Sometimes there just isn’t an outlet for what I’m craving. And you know what? That’s okay.

I used to treat loneliness as a flaw or weakness, but I’m learning to acknowledge it as just another way to feel at times, and that I can choose to make myself feel worse by not using that time in a way that benefits me to a greater degree than wallowing in it. 

I have a jar. In this jar there are all manner of things written on scraps of paper. Chores, projects, things I do to relax, minor things, major things, errands, treats, you name it. I get a fair amount of joy from letting the universe decide what I’ll be doing with my free time. Sometimes it’s the dishes, and sometimes it’s working on an art project. I know that sometimes I’ll be painting my nails, and other times I’ll be writing a letter to a friend who lives across the country. For whatever reason, taking the decision-making out of the moment eliminates 99% of how I waste my own time, and I always seem to pick something better than just doing nothing. 

Look, I’m not going to cure loneliness. I can’t manifest a solution to that existential longing out of thin air. I can, however, choose to use one of my most finite resources (time) to add value to my own life. And so can you.