sex, love, and relationships for those of us who don't quite follow the rules

Archive for March, 2010

jealousy, mistrust, and other things beginning in “3”

A little background on my personal life is in order here. Shaun, my current (and first) lover, is polyamorous. I’d heard of polyamory before meeting him, and thought it was an interesting idea, but it had never occurred to me to explore it personally. Funny how being completely hot for somebody broadens your horizons, no? So now I’m dating a man who is seeing me and another woman pretty steadily, and occasionally goes out with, or just flirts with, other women too.

It’s going well so far. Raw sexual jealousy is not part of my emotional makeup — jealousy is complicated and many-layered (there’s a great little discussion of jealousy here), and I’ve experienced jealousy springing from insecurity, but I’ve never had the visceral reaction that many people have to the idea of my lover in bed with someone else. Mostly I’m curious about the experience; often I’m a little turned on.

But it’s still uncharted waters for me, and I’m staying alert to potential problems. Bess, the other woman Shaun’s seeing (the names I use for most people here are pseudonyms, by the way), is older than both of us and at least as experienced as he is. I haven’t met her, though I’d like to. Apparently she’s said, more than once, that she’s worried about me because I’m so very inexperienced, and she’s afraid that at some point I’ll want Shaun to be exclusive to me. He had similar worries when we started seeing each other, but he says they’ve mostly faded.

The first couple times he told me about this (Bess’s worry about me) I took it to mean she was concerned for my emotional health, and Shaun’s to a lesser extent. He and I had a conversation last weekend, though, and he mentioned that she had a big traumatic breakup a few years ago, and has a hard time trusting women. Naïvely, I asked, “Wait, was the breakup with a woman?” (It wasn’t.) It’s weird to me that, to someone who dates only men, trust in women would ever be a factor. I mean, I think I get the general idea: the fear is that some devious and manipulative woman will try to steal your man, right? But granted that devious and manipulative women exist, and granted that your man might be desirable to some of them, shouldn’t you be worried more about his actions than theirs? Can a competent human adult really be “stolen”? Or is your fear an indication that you don’t think he’s smart enough or loyal enough to fight off the sirens?

I think I’m being slightly naïve here. I know lust impairs the brain, and I know that a really devious and manipulative person can run rings around someone acting in good faith — for a while, anyway. I’m reading She Came to Stay, by Simone de Beauvoir, and I’ll reserve full judgement until I get to the end, but holy cow do I want to wring the little bitch’s neck. (If you’ve read it, you’ll know what little bitch I’m talking about.) But I still expect any man — or woman — I get involved with to have enough good sense, and enough attachment to me, not to get carted off by some siren. And I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around a frame of mind that thinks differently.

Back to my specific situation: it occurred to me after this last conversation that Bess might be less worried that I’ll insist on exclusivity with Shaun, causing drama and upheaval for all of us, and more worried that he’ll agree to it, causing pain and loss for her. This makes a lot more sense to me (I was a little confused as to why she was so concerned for someone she’d never even met), and at the same time I think it’s completely bonkers. I would be an idiot to expect Shaun to be monogamous, and he’d be an idiot to agree to it, no matter how much he wanted to keep me. He’s tried monogamy, he’s tried nonmonogamy, and he knows what he wants. If I ever decide that I want monogamy, I’ll be saying goodbye to him. Love comes and goes, but strong lifestyle preferences are forever.

Even saying that, though, makes it clear to me that a lot of people probably don’t think that way. Which explains why people who want kids marry people who don’t, or why people who want to be stay-at-home moms and shop at Pottery Barn marry theatre majors.

Anyway. I’d like to know what other people think. If your partner leaves you for someone else, do you blame the partner or the someone else? If you’re anxious or jealous, is your mistrust directed at your partner or at the people who may be trying to “steal” him or her? And am I completely naïve to expect that my partner be able to ward off sirens on his own, or at least have the self-awareness to lash himself to the mast?

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Words I dislike: virgin

I hate the word “virgin.” Really, really hate it. I stopped using it, with reference to myself or anyone else, about four years ago. I hate it because it takes the simple state of not having done a particular thing, and turns it into a defining characteristic. As if, after you have sex, you’re suddenly a different kind of person than you were before.

Of course sexual experience has an impact on a person, but that impact starts long before whatever counts as “sex” happens. I had been making out and sleeping in the same bed with boyfriends many years before I had sex, and I felt perceptibly less virginal than my friends who had never kissed anyone. And when I started masturbating and had my first orgasm, that made about as big an impact on me as when I first had sex with a partner. There are a lot of degrees of sexual experience, and to apply the “virgin/non-virgin” dichotomy at one particular point is pretty artificial. (Not to mention the silliness of hetero kids who think they can have oral and even anal sex with half a dozen partners and still claim virginity.)

I also hate the sentimentality of it; it feels associated with lacy white dresses and Victorian flowers. When applied to a man, it seems to feminize him — and while I like blurring of gender categories, I don’t think the correlation of manliness with sexual experience does anyone any favors.

I hate the phrase “losing your virginity.” It’s so backwards. In what other category of human action would doing something new be described as a loss? In communities that place a value on absolute monogamy (only having sex with one person over the course of your whole life), it makes some sense to use the phrase. Outside that context, it’s just stupid.

And let’s not even talk about the word “deflower.” I pretty much only hear it used ironically these days, which is good; it’s got all the problems of “virginity” turned up to eleven.

The words we use affect our thinking, the mental categories we comfortably entertain. This is one I’d like to see fade out of common usage.

The First

When it comes to sex, I showed up really late to the party. All you 20-year-old, 24-year-old virgins out there feeling like you’re the only one, take heart: I was 28 when I first had sex, and that’s “sex under anybody’s definition,” not just “cock in cunt” sex. I grew up in a religiously conservative community, and I did such a good job of repressing my sex drive that it took a good three years after leaving that community for me to get out and get myself laid.

I wouldn’t recommend waiting until your late 20s to anybody, but there are certain advantages. I come to the sexual arena remarkably free of baggage or bad mental habits. I got to process my school-age insecurities independently of sexual entanglements. Because I also avoided the whole sexually-active culture as much as possible (no erotica, no sex books, no locker-room conversations), I stayed free from some of the ugly, misogynistic and misandristic ideas that breed in that culture, until I was old enough to recognize them for what they are.

There are disadvantages too. The kind of repression that lets you be celibate for fifteen years can’t be shaken off overnight. And I can’t help but feel that being a clumsy, inexperienced 28-year-old is a lot less cute than being a clumsy, inexperienced 18-year-old. And celibacy comes with its own bad mental habits: the most annoying one, for me, being the notion that sex is a game other people play. It’s been a few months since I first had sex (we’ll talk later about how passionately I hate words like “virginity” and “deflower”), and I’m still wrapping my brain around the fact that I’m in the game now. I’m still hanging back, trying frantically to comprehend the rules, figure out how to do it right, not just in bed but in the whole ritual of flirtation and courting and aftermath. My default response to any new situation or experience is to hover in the shadows and watch until I can fake familiarity — but in this case, as with most physical activities, the only way to learn is by doing. So I’m coming to terms with that.

No amount of “the only way to learn is by doing” wisdom will stop me from prolific verbal analysis of my thoughts, my experiences, things, I read, etcetera, etcetera. And why should it? So this blog is here to give me a place to analyze and explore, in public, so I can stop pestering my long-suffering best friend with late-night text messages about the new realization I had. Some thoughts need to be shared, and responded to. I hope you’ll respond, and I know my long-suffering best friend does too. Thanks for dropping by.